Like a boisterous toddler, 15-month-old social group Doha Expat Mums and Kids is growing daily and continually expanding its horizons. The brainchild of American expat Roxanne Davis, it now has 550 members covering 65 different nationalities, and rising. ‘I used to be one of the organisers of a mother’s group when I lived in Houston,’ Roxanne explains, ‘and when I knew I was moving to Doha I looked around for something similar, but it didn’t exist. So I decided to create it.’
The group’s aim is to be a safe place for mothers and their children to make new friends, and for parents to exchange advice and information about daily life in Doha. It organises up to 70 different events per month, including evenings out, coffee mornings, playgroups organised by age, excursions and even weekly football for dads. On its members-only website there is a busy forum, a classified advert section, and a
busy calendar of upcoming events around the city.
Roxanne says the group has developed beyond her expectations, which she attributes to the expatriate way of life. ‘It makes a big difference. For example, the members of the Houston group already had their own individual social networks, but out here we’re far away from home and are nowhere near our families. We don’t know what to do and who to talk to, but a group like this gives you instant answers to these questions.’
A mother to two small children, Roxanne is no stranger to expatriate life, having lived in Brazil and Australia before coming to Qatar. She founded the Doha Expat Mums and Kids website before she arrived in the country to see how many people were interested. A hundred members joined within the first couple of months. Membership is free, the only prerequisite being that prospective members attend an event such as a coffee morning before they apply to join online.
Volunteers run all the group’s activities. I went along to a New Arrivals coffee morning at Landmark and met one of them, the Canadian Natalie Mulcahy. She has two young daughters and has lived in Doha for nearly a year, and loves it. She hosts a weekly meet-up in a park for families, and also organises special parties throughout the year for big events like Christmas, Halloween and Easter. I asked what her motivation was. ‘This group made my whole experience of Doha better,’ she says.
Although Natalie is a serial expat – having lived in Taiwan, France and the UK – this is her first posting since the birth of her children, which she says made a huge difference to her experience of moving to a new country. ‘But the group meant I was able to combat the inevitable loneliness of arriving in a new place, and make new friends immediately,’ she says. ‘And then I decided I wanted to help the group do that for other mothers like me.’
I put it to her that some people might feel too shy to join a group like this. She nods. ‘It can be very scary coming to meet a big group of people for the first time. When we meet in the park every week, sometimes I see mums arrive and look at us from a distance, and then go and sit elsewhere and pretend they weren’t coming to the group. But then usually they come along the following week. It just takes time for some people to work up the courage to approach us, but once they do, it’s worth it. When I first came to an event I was so nervous, but Roxanne spotted me immediately and made me feel welcome. And that’s what I now try to do for others.’
Roxanne has big plans for the group’s expansion. In the pipeline is a re-launch of the website including a detailed guide to nurseries across Doha, something she hasn’t been able to find anywhere else yet. ‘I’ve asked the nurseries all the questions every parent wants an answer to, from basics like when do you open, how much do you charge and what languages do you speak, to whether they have a grassy area for the kids to play on outside.’ She is also planning a savings card with discounts she has negotiated at local stores, and a blog written by group members.
Inevitably, though, I ask her about what she thinks will happen to the group once her husband’s posting ends and she has to leave Doha. ‘At this point I don’t know what will happen to the group when I leave and, though I know that day will come, I’m honestly not ready to even think about leaving,’ she says. ‘But far too much time, effort and love has been put into the group by far too many people for it to simply fade away. It’s the members that make it special, and they will still be here whether I’m around or not.’
For more info, go to www.dohaexpatmumsandkids.com.