The idea of moving into a new community can be a daunting one for most families. Add to that the responsibilities of raising a new-born or a toddler and any mother will have her hands full. Often expat women feel they have no local support system to fall back on. This is where neighbourhood groups come in. Property highlights five of these informal groups in different neighbourhoods around Dubai. Read on to learn more and decide which one works best for you and your child:
Organiser: Deepika Gupta (Indian)
Where: Jumeirah Beach Residence/Dubai Marina
Number of members: 1,200
Raison d'être: A bunch of mothers, with kids in tow, met at the plaza level of JBR in 2007. These like-minded women began meeting for informal playdates in Deepika's living room. This has morphed into a vibrant group that meets for kids' activities once a week, coffee mornings with guest speakers and workshops on everything from paediatric issues and toddler nutrition to table decorations for special occasions.
Meet-up joint: Back garden of Rimal near the Virgin Mega Store every Thursday.
Activities: Story telling, arts and crafts sessions, animal mask making, sand castle sculpture, beach picnics, etc. Activities are run on a first-come, first-served basis. Check the Marina Mums' Facebook page for events and RSVP quickly.
Admission: Entry is free but mothers need to pay a nominal fee for the activity if the event is not sponsored.
Pet peeve: When summer sets in, Marina Mums does not have an indoor air-conditioned space to conduct events on a regular basis. So the group gets passive.
Organiser speak — Deepika: "I was bored at home after quitting my job. I formed this group out of sheer desperation to meet people. I wanted to find mummy friends and neighbours after having just moved into JBR from The Greens. I thought my life's coming to an end [upon realising] I had no help and parents here. But I've met all my friends through Marina Mums. There is an entire group in the neighbourhood who I can socialise with. I've managed to meet people from such different backgrounds and with various talents. Eighty per cent of members in Marina Mums are based in Dubai Marina and JBR. We've also got mothers coming for playdates from Arabian Ranches, Jumeirah Lakes Towers, The Meadows, etc. Daddies are also allowed to come for the playdates. There are many offshoots from Marina Mums. We run a book club called Beach, Books and Babes and a night-out group too.
"All the mums in our group have no immediate family in Dubai. So we quickly run by and help them out when they have concerns. When a member recently had a baby, we pooled in and took along home cooked food for her."
Member speak — Amal Talib (Singaporean): "You get to meet a lot of people through Marina Mums. But the friends you meet originally will always remain. I have met most of my friends through Marina Mums. Mothers socialise and meet up with each other even outside the group. But it would be nice to get prior notice from mothers if they are not able to attend a playgroup so that others can be accommodated."
Organisers: Lucy Franklin (British) and Fati Kemahli (Iranian)
Where: Mirdif and surrounding areas
Number of members: 120
Raison d'être: The group started in 2002 with Bonnie Scott-Laws, a stay-at-home mother who started the group in her front room to meet other mothers and to give children the chance to socialise.
Meet-up joint: At the Al Areesh Club in Dubai Festival City between 8.30am and 10.30am every Monday; at a park on Wednesday afternoons.
Activities: Playdates for kids, socialising for mothers, park picnics and movie nights once a month.
Admission: Members need to pay an annual fee of Dh100. They get a membership card that entitles them to discounts.
Pet peeve: It's hard to pre-determine the turnout for a playdate since a kid may fall ill or a mother may have a doctor's appointment etc.
Organiser speak — Lucy: "When stay-at-home expat mothers move to Dubai, it's difficult for us to meet new people. We understand how hard it is to join groups. So we try to make it as friendly as possible and introduce all members to each other. We want mothers to come out and socialise. Mothers from Mirdif and surrounding areas such as Al Warqaa and Dubai Festival City can become members in our group. Our activities are mostly centred in Mirdif or Dubai Festival City. We have members coming in from Al Khawaneej and Dubai Silicon Oasis as well. Retailers, especially those based in Mirdif City Centre, are willing to support us. Welcare Clinic Mirdif recently organised a talk on breast cancer awareness at Etisalat Academy. Companies, such as Fitness First, Kidville, Little Explorers, offer our members discounts."
Organiser speak — Fati: "When your kids go to school, it's easier to find friends since you can socialise at kids' birthday parties etc. However, when you're a stay-at-home mother with a new-born, you can't meet people so easily. This is the perfect venue for such mothers. We know mothers who joined Mirdif Mums a few weeks ago, and are already socialising outside the group with other members. It is a stepping stone to meeting new friends. We release a newsletter in the first week of every month. It details healthy recipes for children, discount offers from companies, photos of the previous playdates and a calendar of events."
Member speak — Elin Bin Hendi (Norwegian): "I live in Al Warqaa. I joined Mirdif Mums in January 2008. I had quit work and had a new-born. I was feeling lonely and used to go for playdates in Jumeirah and Jebel Ali but found them too far. I have met some of my best friends through Mirdif Mums. I get to socialise a lot and have met several interesting people. When I had my first baby, Mirdif Mums emerged as a support system. I get suggestions and recommendations from fellow mothers on parenting, nutrition etc. While my son can meet playmates even when playing outside, I need this support system and would recommend it for rookie mothers."
Organiser: Ruby Powers (American)
Where: Arabian Ranches
Number of members: 40
Raison d'être: There was a need to have a parents' group in Arabian Ranches as the community did not have one. Ranches Mums was formed on October 9 this year and is similar to a parents' group in Houston, where Ruby used to live.
Meet-up joint: Weekly playgroups are organised at a park in Saheel in the Ranches. Playgroups have also been organised at Magic Planet in Mirdif, Fun City in Oasis Centre, Kidville Motor City and at members' homes in the Ranches.
Activities: At a soft play area within a mall, the kids play while the parents chat, get coffee, snack, or have lunch together. Ranches Mums also has age-based playgroups, walking groups, a book club, parents of multiples support group, support of expectant mothers and more.
Admission: It's free of charge. Members need to be from the geographic area around Arabian Ranches. Even fathers and grandparents are welcomed as members. You must have a referral from two other members to join the group as this ensures the privacy and security of all families.
Pet peeve: Despite its growing numbers, Ranches Mums has yet to organise speakers at its playdates.
Organiser speak — Ruby: "When I arrived, I used to ask so many questions to anyone I could find and only after I talked to a lot of people did I have a better understanding of how to get my family settled. I saw many new expats doing the same thing. So I thought there should be a place for us to compare notes, stop reinventing the wheel, and share local information with others in our area to ease the settling process, especially with children. These playgroups have helped tremendously in promoting community camaraderie. For example, through this group, members are meeting their neighbours and expats are developing stronger bonds with their community while they raise children abroad, away from their extended family. Plus we have fun. We have women and kids coming in from Arabian Ranches and some other neighbourhoods nearby such as Motor City, Victory Heights, The Villa, Falcon City etc. A weekly report is mailed to members."
Organiser: Angela Thomson (Australian)
Where: The Greens and Emirates Living communities
Number of members: 130
Raison d'être: The group was formed in a café in 2007 by new mothers who didn't want to start sending their toddlers to nursery just yet.
Meet-up joint: Al Sidir community room or playground in The Greens every Sunday.
Activities: Craft lessons, sing-along sessions and painting canvasses outdoors. The group also organises Easter egg hunts, Christmas parties and other celebrations for special occasions.
Admission: Free of charge.
Organiser speak — Angela: "The community has come together through this group. We talk about kids' sleep patterns, nurseries, schooling, and other day-to-day activities. Mothers enjoy it better than the children since it gives them an opportunity to let their hair down and talk. If they have any queries, the best people to get answers from are usually other mothers. Mums from The Greens, The Springs, etc. come for the playgroup. From this group, there are sub-groups as well. Mothers get together to have coffee if they have babies of similar age. Women who have older children do activities in the afternoon. Of this, typically eight to ten mothers come for the playgroup every week. I update our Facebook page once a week about the playgroup, whether it's being held indoors or outdoors. People contact me over telephone to get more details."
Member speak — Betsy (American): "I've made my base of friends through The Greens playgroup. Even though I moved to Downtown Dubai a year ago, I come here every Sunday. I am a stay-at-home mother and my daughter doesn't go to the nursery yet. So I try to create an environment five days a week where she is around children. This playgroup is one day of the week. On Monday, we go to the Jebel Ali Church playgroup. I don't want my daughter to be confined to the four walls of my home or watching TV all the time. I want her to be out and about in a park with children. They grow up so fast. I try to make it as much fun as possible for us. When my elder son is out of school, he is usually here. You see double the number of mothers and kids at this playgroup during the holiday season in Dubai."
Organiser: Stefanie Nooij (Austrian)
Where: Green Community (GC) East, Dubai Investment Park
Number of members: Six, and growing.
Raison d'être: The group was formed at the end of the summer this year. The absence of playgroups in Green Community and the long drive to other meet-ups in Dubai inspired Stefanie to form one of her own.
Meet-up joint: Depending on the weather, members meet at 10am every Tuesday, either in the playground behind the tennis court in Green Community East or if it's too hot, they meet in Stefanie's apartment.
Activities: The kids play while mums chat, have coffee, talk about any concerns they have with their babies and other interests.
Admission: Membership is free of charge; dads are welcome too.
Pet peeve: No mums from GC West have attended the playgroup so far.
Organiser speak — Stefanie: "I put up some fliers about the playgroup in the Choithrams in The Market, notice boards in the GC apartment blocks and around the swimming pools. I wish there was a provision to put up such notes on the Green Community website for everyone to see. But that doesn't seem a possibility yet.
"We don't have a community forum as yet. We try to spread awareness by word of mouth. I send e-mails or text messages to members about upcoming playgroups. Anybody is welcome to join us. The more, the merrier."
Member speak — Ruth (England): "I live in the Arabian Ranches. I come here primarily for Mathilda, my second child. I tend to do everything with my first child, a four-year-old boy. Mathilda doesn't get to play with babies her age too often. This playgroup allows her to do that. When my son was younger, I used to live in Dubai Marina. Then I used to go to the JBR Sandpits Club."