These mums mean business
Carla with her daughter Scarlett and Antonia with her daughter Matilda
Meet some supermums who have been inspired by their kids to turn entrepreneurs
Who: Carla Lewis & Antonia Ellis
Company: Yum By Mum
Antonia Ellis, who hails from Aberdeen, Scotland, moved to Dubai about five years ago. When she joined an FMCG company in the region and met Carla Lewis, who moved to Dubai from England in 2005, the duo hit it off instantly. After all, they worked in the same company, came from similar regions and both had young children. They also discovered that they had another similarity - and it's an issue that's common amongst mums.
"When we came to Dubai, I found it a challenge to get nutritious options for my daughter Jemima, then two years old," explains Antonia, a mum of two. "Most options were heavily processed and had preservatives. As a working mum, I'd be up late at night making meals for her to eat the next day and then thought 'there's got to be a better way'".
"Antonia and I first talked about the frustrations of feeding our children at the end of 2016 when I had begun to wean my daughter Scarlett," adds Carla. "We couldn't understand why, in one of the most innovative cities in the world, it was impossible to get 100 per cent fresh baby food instead of long-life products off shelves."
The two mums decided to do something about it and Yum by Mum, a fresh baby food and children's meal provider, was born. The meals are made using locally-sourced, organic produce and can be chosen according to a child's stage of development. All parents have to do is choose for how long they want the meal plan to run and healthy, ready-to-eat meals for kids are delivered to their doorstep.
"We believe that when mums know their little ones are getting fed healthy and nutritious food, they can do great things. With one less thing to worry about, mum can spend more quality time with family, grow their business, contribute to the community and get more 'me' time," explains Antonia.
The recipes and meals offered are based on foods that the mums feed their own kids (as Antonia says, "we didn't want to re-invent the wheel!"), but the duo also worked with a team of chefs to refine the meals and pack more vegetables into them. For example, a cheese and tomato pizza they serve has over six vegetables pureed into the sauce!
"Often, mums try really hard to cook nutritious meals only to have them soundly rejected by a belligerent toddler", says Antonia. "This way, kids end up eating veggies they might have normally rejected which is great for both child and mum!"
Now pros in the art of cooking and feeding children, the mums have some advice for fussy eaters. "I've realised that eating with my daughter really helps as adults can lead by example," says Carla.
"There are certain foods that, even as adults, we don't like and it's the same with kids," adds Antonia. "It is okay for your kid to not like everything you make, and it is important to not feel like you're failing when this happens."
Last but not least, the mums want you to know that it's okay to ask for help - be it from friends, family or a doctor. "Every day I wake up and do my best; sometimes I succeed and often I don't," says Antonia. "There is no perfect way to be a parent, but the best advice I received was from my mum: Your children will teach you how to be a mum. They will tell you what they need, what they don't, and you will keep learning for the rest of your life."
Who: Elham Al Qasimi
Company: The Natural Laundry Company
Emirati national Elham Al Qasimi is not one to shy away from challenges. If you're wondering why her name sounds so familiar, it's because she made headlines in 2010 for being the first Arab woman to set foot on the North Pole. The expedition saw her ski about 80 miles and brave temperatures of minus 30°C, but it was the mental exertion of the journey that she recalls the most.
"During the journey, we skied continuously for 10 to 12 hours a day in a single file in relative silence. Not even an iPod was allowed to keep you motivated as it freezes in these conditions. So, the mental journey was an expected and significant challenge throughout. It's interesting, the thoughts and worries that creep up on you when you're silent every day, trying to overcome the greatest physical challenge you've ever experienced. But you can't succeed in a physical journey if you don't prepare yourself for the mental journey along the way," she says.
It was undoubtedly the journey of a lifetime, but it's not her greatest adventure - that honour is bestowed to motherhood. Now a mum of three, Elham is the first to admit that becoming a mother filled her life with as many twists and turns as it did fulfilling moments.
"The experience I went through during the North Pole expedition had a direct influence on my journey of motherhood. It solidified my belief that hard work is worth it, showed me that I am limitless in every role I play and proved that I can face any challenge life throws my way."
So, when life threw her a challenge, Elham forged ahead to help not just her child, but other UAE residents. It all started when her first son was born with a number of allergies as well as eczema. Ehlam immediately took to educating herself about the condition and looking for safer, natural alternatives for everything that would touch his skin. That's when she learned about perchloroethylene (called 'perc for short) - a liquid solvent used by many dry cleaners that is known to have long-term health hazards, including cancer.
"After reading up on perc comprehensively, I couldn't help but wonder how something this toxic could be a part of our normal everyday lives," says Elham. "I looked for alternatives, and when I couldn't find one, thought it was a non-negotiable need for UAE residents to have a safer option."
Which is why she decided to launch The Natural Laundry Company, a dry-cleaning service that uses biodegradable solvents. Today, Elham urges all residents to use normal laundry or handwashing methods as opposed to dry cleaning whenever possible. In particular, it is important to make sure bed sheets, duvets and pillowcases are not dry cleaned as you could breathe in the fumes all night long if they are, says Elham.
"I hope my effort to raise awareness and educate UAE residents will trigger a change in habits," says Elham. "Let's make magic moments with our children that are both fun and safe."
Who: Danielle Wilson Naqvi
Company: The ZB Foundation
Danielle Wilson Naqvi's story is one that we have told before, but it does not cease to amaze. The British expat was over the moon when she adopted baby girl Zahra Beau from Northern Pakistan in 2011. But what started as a fairytale soon turned into a nightmare for the new parents when the three-and-a-half month-old-baby fell ill. After spending 17 days in the ICU, she was diagnosed with a rare form of metabolic disorder, and passed away only hours later. The reason she had not been diagnosed earlier? Zahra had not undergone a heel prick test - something that is a necessity in the West but was previously unheard of in Pakistan.
"I started to research the heel prick test and the results horrified me as Pakistan is one of the only countries in the world that does not provide screening at birth," says Danielle. "They didn't have the facility to do so and most of the doctors in the country didn't even know about the test. We immediately knew what we had to do and we also started to realise why Zahra had visited us for such a short time."
It all boiled down to the launch of the ZB Foundation, an Islamabad-based organisation that provides free new born screening tests to babies in the country. Setting up the organisation was a tiring process, admits Zahra, especially since she was based in the UAE, but she was determined to make it work.
"We first needed to receive our licence andNPO certificate from the Pakistan Centre for Philanthropy, which isn't easy and then had to wait a year to receive the paperwork to get our lab machines into the country without paying duty on the machine. As our charity is in our daughter's name, it's a tight family run operation headed by my father-in-law. However, we are growing rapidly and now have a staff of professional lab technicians. We run the charity on an essential requirement and everything we do is 100 per cent based on transparency and ethics."
In December 2017, the ZB Foundation reached a huge milestone - testing 10,000 babies in Pakistan, and thus saving many lives. The institute now works with all hospitals in Islamabad and the north of Pakistan, with many cities supporting the cause.
"Since losing Zahra I now believe that your children pick you," says Danielle. "Zahra knew that her mummy and daddy would have the determination to never let a child go through what she did. In a very short time, I then became a mother of three kids, two of which are twins and only a year younger than their big sister. I truly and deeply believe that Zahra gave me my wish to be a mother again."
"Our aim, through ZB Foundation, is to make new born screenings a birth right with the support of the government," adds Danielle. "I believe, in my lifetime, this is doable."
Who: Rehana Abou El Hosn
Company: Babies & Beyond
(Above) Rehana (in the middle) with some members of her Babies & Beyond team
The launch of Rehana Abou El Hosn's business is directly connected to her own experience of being a new mother. After having her first child four years ago, the Lebanese national, who spent most of her life in the UAE, struggled with different aspects of parenting. There was the breastfeeding, the sleepless nights and when it got a bit overwhelming, she started experiencing symptoms of postnatal depression.
"I think it all came about because there was this insecurity as a new mum," admits Rehana. "I didn't know what I was doing right or wrong and I didn't know what I could do to help my baby. Coupled with sleep deprivation, it had a direct effect on my mood."
Luckily, Rehana had incredible support from her family, and it helped her pull through. But it did get her thinking about other Dubai mums who did not have the support they needed. "A lot of mothers think they have to do it all alone. For many expats, your mother or mother-in-law can come and help with the baby for a while but they can't stay forever, and the first year is always the hardest."
It was the beginning of an idea that would lay the foundation for Babies & Beyond, a holistic healthcare company that offers expert health and guidance for parents - from pregnancy to parenthood. This includes everything from newborn care and postnatal home visits to breast feeding support and babysitting services. It goes beyond that too; Babies & Beyond also offers a number of seminars and events, many of which are free. Their Mommy and Me Mondays, Parent Talk Tuesdays and Wellness Wednesdays attract hundreds of mothers every month. On Thursdays, they hold free clinic sessions where mums can weigh their babies and speak to lactation consultants.
"These days, you can actually get a lot of information on the Internet but I think it makes a difference when it comes from a credible expert who is licensed," says Rehana. "That's our mission - to support as many families as we can."
And it's clear there's demand for the service too. In the years that Rehana started the company, it has expanded rapidly, growing from 4 employees to 90 and expanding outside the UAE. And when Rehana was pregnant with her second child, having the support of other women made all the difference.
"Speaking about postnatal depression shouldn't be a taboo because we need to normalise it," she says. "Other mums need to know that it is okay to feel that way and that they can seek help. Motherhood can seem lonely - you may feel like you're the only one going through the situation and new mums need someone to listen to them, support them and tell them it's going to be okay. It takes a village to raise a child and we want to be that village."
Rehana leaves us with some words of advice: "Support can come from various forms. It can be as simple as getting dressed, going to an event and grabbing coffee with other mums who are facing similar problems. Most importantly, trust your instincts when it comes to your baby. Women are superheroes - believe in yourself and you'll be fine."