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We All Belong with Sara Momtaz



In this episode, Alex meets Sara Momtaz, who is the founder of We All Belong and Mou Mou and Friends. Sara is the mother of Amani (MouMou) whose life completely changed upon receiving Amani’s Trisomy 21 (Down syndrome) diagnosis. Eventually overcoming the desperately dark days of trying to understand what Down syndrome is, to grappling through extremely testing times of dealing with Amani’s open heart surgery, the surgeries that followed and all the therapy interventions Amani will need, Sara grew increasingly more confident that she can overcome the challenges that lay ahead.


Sara was overwhelmed with the fear of the unknown, and what the quality of life will look like for Amani as she gets older. That’s when she decided to leave her successful corporate career to spend time to just enjoy Amani and all the miraculous joy she brings to everyday life. For it is indeed true when people say, it is not what you want, but what you need that will bring you true happiness and a sense of purpose and existence.


Amani for Sara is exactly that, and through MouMou and Friends, Sara hopes to bring that joy to others, and to celebrate the beauty of people in whatever form, in a world where “We All Belong”. Mou Mou and friends will be launching on October 15th, 2022.


Listen here!


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You can find out more information about the book series here: https://moumouandfriends.co.uk/. Follow me on Instagram @alexmcrobs and check out my offerings in yoga, meditation and coaching at http://themindfullifepractice.com/.


Transcript


Alex: Hi friend this is Alex McRobbs founder of the Mindful Life Practice and you're listening to the Sober Yoga Girl podcast. I'm a Canadian who moved across the world to the Middle East at age 23 and I never went back. I got sober in 2019 and I now live full-time in Bali, Indonesia. I've made it my mission to help other women around the world stop drinking, start yoga and change their lives through my online sober girls yoga Community. You're not alone and a sober life can be fun and fulfilling, let me show you how.


[Music]


Alex: Hello, hello. Hi everyone, welcome back to another episode of Sober Yoga Girl podcast. Now, I am really excited to be sitting down today with Sara Momtaz and Sara is a friend of Khaled’s who I do a lot of work with with yoga and hypnotherapy and a lot of people in the community know him well and he's connected me with Sara and Sara is the creator of a new book series that's launching actually later this week called MouMou and Friends and when he told me about this project I just thought it sounded so amazing and Sara would be an amazing guest for the podcast to tell us more about the project the stories and where her passion came from behind it and um sort of what is coming forward from all of this so welcome Sara how are you?


Sara: I'm very well, thank you, thanks Alex. Thanks very much for having me um and thank you for this opportunity. I really appreciate it.


Alex: And so you're all the way in the UK right now so I think it's the morning for you or what time is it like 1pm?


Sara: it's, it's just after two it's about quarter past two.


Alex: Okay.


Sara: So it's just I'm we're up and awaken about so it's all good.


Alex: Yeah, so and I'm of course in Bali which is about seven hour time difference so it's the end of my day here but uh I uh it's cool to be able to connect through Zoom to people all over the world.


Sara: Technology is fabulous, absolutely.


Alex: So tell me a little bit about so MouMou and Friends just for everyone's listening I'll, I'll tell you a little bit about um this project so it's a book series and each book that Sara is releasing there is um a different character with a special need and the goal of the whole project is just to make other children aware that there are other children out there with different needs and um the the company that has created all this is called wab which is we all belong and so I just think it's so beautiful and I was wondering if you could kind of give us a little background and tell us what made you interested in creating this project?


Sara: Sure, absolutely. Um so, I my, I have a daughter. She'll be three in December. Her name is Amani. MouMou is her nickname um and she was born with Down Syndrome um and she had a number of kind of health conditions including, she had severe heart failure, she's actually had three operations on her heart. We had a very difficult time the first sort of 18 months of her life um and about that time it was during Covid which made it even worse. Um so, it was very challenging time and you know she was a surprise baby. She wasn't planned um you know, myself and my husband our children are, are older. It's both of our second marriages um and our plan was to kind of um you know, travel the world and have a bit of fun and retire and grow old together as it were and then Armani came along and decided no that's actually not going to happen um because you're going to have a baby and not not just a baby but a baby that's going to be presented with a number of challenges. Um, from a health perspective and I knew absolutely nothing about Down syndrome. I knew absolutely nothing about how her medical condition is going to affect us how we need to deal with it and, and all of the things that were presented to me, um including from health professionals were extremely negative you know. It was, it was a case where we're really sorry about your baby's got this and we're really sorry that she's got down syndrome and you know it was just a really awful time and I remember going through, I would definitely say the darkest days you know that you know and I'm in my 40s so I've lived pretty reasonable life and had some ups and downs but it was definitely the most challenging time just trying to deal with the fact that you know, I have this unhealthy baby. Um, and you know what do I do? What does the future hold for her? And what kind of quality of life is she gonna have? And then the more I kind of looked into it and actually done research with people and families that have got down syndrome and, and have some of the medical conditions that Armani has. I, I realized that actually that there is no fear there and there is a kind of stigma when it comes to people talking about disability and the biggest stigma being that it's something to be feared and the reality is Armani has just brought absolutely nothing but delight and love and passion. I mean to everybody that, that knows her, that encounters her on a daily basis. She's just such a remarkable child in terms of her determination, in terms of her development and how she really tries hard to do the things that we, we all take for granted. So, just to give you an example, so she's not able to walk at the moment. She's not talking at the moment, these things will come. They're just going to be delayed and she's a little bit more delayed because she's had quite a few surgeries so it's kind of pushed her development back. Um, and I think she's probably around about three months old when, when the idea came to me because I was thinking how can we reach this out to a wider community in terms of there really is nothing to fear here? How do I teach other children that and the one thing that I've um really notice especially in the past I'd say a year or so because um having interacted with children from her Nursery is that children don't have any inhibitions. They don't really care what you look like or what you can and can't do. They will find a way to interact with you. So like I said, Armani doesn't talk. Armani doesn't walk but she is the actual beaver of her nursery so when she comes in there all the kids run up to her they hug her, they kiss her, they want to play with her, um and it's just such a beautiful innocent thing to see and witness and you just think, wow where do we lose that as children. Get older and then I look back at my childhood and I said to myself, I don't actually ever remember engaging with, with people that have disabilities. I don't actually remember going to school with anyone that I mean any disability. The, the only one thing that I do remember is I think there was a child in my secondary school that was deaf and had an hearing aid and back then the hearing aids were quite visible so you would notice it but other than that I didn't have any interaction um and then you see things you know like if you just be out walking on a day-to-day basis, be in the park and you'd see um a family with a disabled child and then another family where the kids would be staring um and then they'd say oh don't don't stare it's rude. By saying that what you're actually saying is don't engage because the child. That's how the child interprets it. Parents intention is very good because they don't want the child to stare at you know, a disabled child but really what they're hearing is don't engage and these are the kind of barriers that I want to break down. So, the concept of MouMou and friends as you mentioned so, I've established a company called WAB which basically stands for We All Belong and we're pushing the WAB culture. So, everything we do is all about why so we are beautiful and we all belong is really what it stands for um and the reason I created MouMou and friends is not to focus on disabilities not to talk about special needs but more to really create awareness amongst children um that you know we're all different you know, a lot of the the books that are out there at the moment that talk about disabilities are very much focused about I'm different, um you know? Accept me for what I am, it's just a very kind of negative perspective. I mean me and you are different. I'm sitting here talking to you Alex you've got blonde hair, I've got brown hair you know where, where does that norm actually start and where does it finish? It's not about differences, it's more about embracing who we are in whatever form we're presented in. So, that's really the concept of what I wanted to do with MouMou and friends now MouMou obviously being Armani um so she's got these special superpowers and her superpowers very you know interestingly enough are just an exaggeration of what she normally does. So, Amani's got some sensory processing challenges so she likes to throw things and she is very quick um at throwing objects and she can throw them very quickly and you know at range so I've taken that and I basically twisted it so one of her super powers is that she's like an expert in, in martial arts because we call her Jackie Chan or as a joke because she's so quick at kind of you know, throwing things and and and and kind of displaying her strength skills in that respect and another one of her superpowers is that she can talk to animals so the other two characters that feature in all the books are Enzo and Harvey. Um and all these characters are actually based on um real being. So, Enzo is the cat that belongs to my brother and his family um and he's a very wise character in the stories um and like in real life. So Enzo's a house cat he doesn't like to come out the house. He kind of fears people um but he's very smart. He's very wise, he's the one who kind of comes up with all the ideas and plans for MouMou and Harvey and Harvey who is a Bichon frize puppy was the puppy of one of my very very good friends actually incidentally in Dubai um when we were living in Dubai, so um his superpower is that he's a supersonic puppy. He runs and dashes around the place and he basically can get from A to B in a Flash and the the stories are they have these amazing adventures and in each one of those stories a character is introduced that has got a disability or a special need but we don't talk about it so that the focus is not on talking about the disability. It's just oh by the way, it's like for example with MouMou when we introduce the book um it actually starts off by saying you know meet MouMou an extraordinary girl who just happens to have an extra chromosome. Which is what she's got. She's got extra chromosome 21 hence Down syndrome so we don't focus on it and what I'm trying to do is to really start a conversation between the child and the parent so that they ask questions, oh what does that mean? What does this mean? Um and it's worked wonderfully. So we've had a couple of focus groups, so just to give you an example, in book two one of the characters has got cerebral palsy um and in book two um when it's mentioned, when we had the focus group that the children were asked, asking the parents what does this mean? And some of the parents didn't know you know, understandable they're not going to know so they had to go away and research it and the feedback that I got from that group was that it was really interesting to be able to learn about something with their children um because they didn't have the answers for them and that's really what it is it's all about. Having a conversation, talking amongst each other as a family and just learning about the the different abilities um within society you know and I'm really hoping that as these children that read these books grow older and as they go into school and into the workplace. When they see somebody with a disability, whatever that is special need, additional need, whatever you want to call it. It's unremarkable they won't look twice you know. It's a very standard thing for them because they've learned about it at a very young agent stayed with them and hopefully as we you know progress generation to generation that's what it'll be, it'll just be something that's very unremarkable.


Alex: Yeah and I and I love that, that idea of just making it unremarkable um just normal, just part of our everyday culture because as you said um you know in, in my childhood experience we did have some special needs children at the school. Um so, I was sort of a bit, I was exposed to them but I definitely know what you mean and I've seen it in different societies like I worked in the Middle East and in the Middle East it was very uncommon to, to see people with special needs out and about and and in society and so when I did experience it for the first time actually remember I went to the Special Olympics in Abu Dhabi in 2019 because my friend's brother was competing and I remember the whole experience. Me just being like, this is remarkable, like this whole thing is just so incredible but it should be part of our everyday it should be woven into our culture these people should be part of our everyday culture and just normal and, and we should know about um about their different needs.


Sara: Yeah, absolutely and that you know, that's what it's all about. So just by having the conversation you know just learning about whatever disability and I'll just give you an idea so this is, this is book two. I don't know if you can see that beautiful.


Alex: yeah.


Sara: A little sneak peek because nobody's seen this before but just for you oh and by the way um Harvey there so that's MouMou and Harvey and Harvey's wearing a policeman's uniform here and one of the jokes is basically that Harvey's mummy um always dresses him up in all this flamboyant outfits. So, in each of the episodes you'll see him in these crazy outfits but the the girl that we talked to in episode two this is Ava so that's the character for Ava um and Ava has cerebral palsy um and I wanted you know there's so much detail that's gone into it because if you can sorry, I could have mentioned that before her we all cheer for example it's very snazzy it's very Jazzy, you know I wanted to make it look very very attractive um because a lot of people and children with cerebral palsy not all of them um but there are a few that actually do um use a wheelchair in everyday life and without giving too much away the concept of story. Two, is that it's the sports day at MouMou school um and Ava is um by her team she was you know, she's basically been thrown into the team last one chosen and the team captain doesn't want her to participate in any of the races. Um and you know he's like this big jock and he loves sports and whatever and cut a very long story short he has a very unfortunate accident and basically ends up in a wheelchair. Um, and it's you know, he, he understands the the kind of day-to-day life that Ava has to go through um and basically apologizes for being mean to her and it's you know, we talk about wab throughout the stories. We talk about um you know different perceptions and and we we also bring in a lot of the characters parents as well um and, and the really important thing is that I've had focus groups for the books that I've written so far and each one the children had a different perspective to the parents and you know that really made me really happy because it just goes to show that there's so much to learn from these stories. Um, and the most important thing being that they they do talk to each other. So, some children depending on their you know, reading ability will sit down and read it alone and start to ask questions to the parent. Other people like to read as a family but all of them had the same sort of responses in terms of questions raised. One of the kids for example the very first thing that he saw because MouMou wears the wab T-shirt as you can see, I don't know if you can see that?


Alex: Yeah.


Sara: Uh on on everywhere basically so that's her, her um kind of brand and the very first question one of the kids asked was, oh what does that mean? you know and you know it's important because I wanted those questions to be asked. Now another thing is not sure if you can see that but if you see a MouMou's hair clip.


Alex: Yeah.


Sara: So she's got the yellow and blue down syndrome sign. So, it's the yellow and blue ribbon and it's also on her shoelaces. I'm not sure if you can see that there and that's just a little touch that I kind of put in because I want to celebrate who she is. Um and I want her to be able to kind of um you know be proud of who she is and, and represent people a down syndrome and it's like I said the really important thing Alex that I want to stress is this book is not for children with special needs. Um, it's not targeted at a particular audience. It literally is for everybody um and I've also tried to write it in a, in a way that there are some kind of jokes and twists that parents will enjoy. There's a couple of lines in there that are specifically for parents so I've really tried to do something that will bring families and you know people together to really get them talking about, about this whole thing and again you know like you said just try and normalize um people that aren't necessarily like you.


Alex: Yeah, that's amazing and who did the illustrations? Did you do the illustrations?


Sara: I would love to claim the illustrations but no I didn't. So I, so basically what I'm doing I'm self-publishing the book. Um, and there is a company that I've been working with who specialize in illustrations um and so yeah I went to them, talk to them about the concept. I mean it took a long time so this is something that I've been thinking about for about a year and a half now and I started probably back in February to start producing and putting together the books. It's a very long process. I, I didn't realize how long it takes to actually you know put together a book, particularly a children's book. So the whole, the whole process of you know writing the script um having that proofread um then coming back with storyboard so they would make some suggestions on illustrations. I was very specific about what I wanted um so MouMou, Harvey and Enzo um they're all been um Illustrated based on what the actual characters look like. So, MouMou obviously resembles Armani, Enzo resembles um Enzo and Harvey resembles are Harvey. So, very specific to, to that and also to the detail of what I wanted so as you go through the books you'll see the WAB logo features a lot because we want to get that message out there you know. We're trying to really adopt this WAB culture um and spread that throughout the world, quite honestly so the logo is really important and the logo itself what it represents. Um, I'm not sure you know how well you can see it because I don't think I've got a large, large enough one to show you so it's a circular logo um but inside are all these kind of different dots and switches and lines and whatever and they all represent different people, um being different sizes and different shapes um but they're all enclosed together within the world so that's how that logo you know basically come about um and what you know we, We Alll Belong is something that I think is quite familiar. People, people have heard the phrase before but we've put a twist to it to just say WAB you know, and it's all over the books um hence the name of our company is WAP. So, I'm really trying to promote the WAB culture um and most importantly just want people to enjoy these stories. They're fun stories, like I said there's no focus on disability um you know, it's just, it's just a different concept and also more importantly particularly for a children's character. Um, what I would like to do is make it mainstream um enough where you've got a character who is really the main character of a whether it's a book series, animated series or whatever that has got a disability and we don't have that now you know. We don't have, I can't turn on the TV um and tune into any of the you know, even any of the big feature films that have been created by um big Hollywood Studios. Where you've got the main character even an animated series, um that has any kind of disability and that's really where I want to head. So my ultimate aim is to make this into an animation series um and then yeah see where we can go from there and then hopefully you never know one day it might even be a feature film so there is no limits to what we're trying to do.


Alex: That’s so amazing and I'm wondering before you got started, do you have any experience like writing? Did you ever imagine that you would be an author of a book? Like where, where did that kind of passion come from?


Sara: I'm so glad you asked me this um, no it's the answer and it's, it's really interesting because I'm quite a spiritual person um and I genuinely believe that Armani has been brought into my life for me to do something like this because I'm not a writer. I've not been known to write anything um of any kind of significance quite honestly and if I'm frank, I'm not a great reader you know. I'm, I'm probably the person who prefers to watch the movie um then opposed to reading the book you know. That's, that's me in a nutshell and the way the idea came to me and the way that, that the whole journey has kind of progressed from the start to here. It really is something that is an act of God I've got to say and, and I genuinely believe that all of these things that have happened you know, Armani, me going through all the challenges you know from her surgeries to where we are today, the therapies that she said oh and she continues to have um I I just think it's brought me to a place where I'm able to create something um that is not conventional um but also very appealing to other people and particularly children and, and I think the passion where that passion comes from is having seen it work you know. We talk about inclusivity a lot uh in modern society but it's it really isn't you know, we've made a lot of progress that I've seen when we're looking at particular kind of demographics whether it's a race, whether it's nationality, gender preference, all of these kind of things but we've really not made that much progress when it comes to talking about people with disabilities and people with disabilities cross all of those demographics um and statistics actually tell you that one in um um five people have some form of disability. So, that's 20 of the population. That's a lot but we, I, I'm actually working on another project. Side project which is called the All Play Project where I'm actually working with our local government to implement an in truly inclusive park and recreational area where people of all abilities can basically come together and play. We don't have those kind of resources readily available, not just here in the UK but across the world. So, it's very rare for you to go to a park and you know see, let's say a child who is in a wheelchair play with the equipment alongside the other children um you know. That's not something that you see every day but it's there should be provisions in place that allow for children that do have mobility challenges to play just like other children. So, that's another project that I'm working on um and incidentally this morning I had a before coming to talk to you, I had a meeting about that and that's going really really well but these are the kind of things that you know Armani has really inspired me to do. This and I and, and I hadn't told anybody about this even you know, um close friends. Nobody knew until I was ready to, to launch. So maybe around about a month ago I started to talk about it but the, the people that are very close to me, that we're aware of it so obviously my husband and my family you know, all of them kind of said to me you're, you're that sort of person that will take something like this and try and turn it around to do something better for other people and and I genuinely think that's the reason why my life has taken this, this turn because I was, I had a great career back in the UAE um doing very well from a kind of you know corporate background and you know this suddenly happened and it's just literally like a 180. I mean, I would never would have imagined that I'd be doing anything like this a few years ago and here I am today and I'm absolutely loving every single minute because I'm just getting to learn so much about life. Um, I'm you know everything kind of I'm seeing with a completely different perspective um the actual substance of value um I've, I've understood that genuinely um and, and I'm really hoping that I can spread that message to other people but in a, in a really fun um and kind way you know. So I, I've got a lot of passion for MouMou and friends um but I do think this is something that's been given to me as a gift from God. I genuinely do because I, my life was not heading down this track at all Alex. I've got to tell you it's just um, I've completely gone off in a different direction but I'm absolutely loving it so no complaints from me.


Alex: And, that's so beautiful. The way you were able to kind of take this journey and turn it into something that's going to help and inspire so many people.


Sara: I hope so I mean that, that really is the aim if you know even like today when I had that meeting for the parks even if there is one child that wasn't able to play in their local park you know before our project started and now they can that's enough you know. If even, if there is one child that reads this book because I'll tell you something like bizarre so tell you just how miracles come alive, I recently um a couple of days ago went to our local park to get some to kind of shoot some content for our social media platforms for MouMou and Friends and then there was a little girl probably about seven or eight years old and she also had Down syndrome. Now you don't really see people with Down Syndrome much um just anywhere really and it just took, was just by coincidence that she was there with her family and we were asking other families to get involved in, in the shoot and they absolutely loved what we were doing you know they just got involved, the whole family. She was there with her younger brother and it was just such a lovely atmosphere that you know and I remember she looked at the book and she looked at MouMou um and she actually said you know this, this is like me you know. So, that kind of representation it, it's really really touching and I thought yeah that's right, why can't you be on the cover of a book? Why can't you be leader a leading children's character? There are no limitations. What, what, what is it that is unusual about um a child with, with Down Syndrome? Other than the fact that you don't really see them much you know um but like I said it's not about the disability, it is a children's book to be enjoyed by all, by all children. It just so happens that the leading characters got down syndrome you know and, and that that's how it's, it's going to be portrayed. It's just oh by the way, you know it's a not, not a matter of fact. It's more like oh by the way, she's got down syndrome it's not significant it's not important um it's just really a conversation starter.


Alex: Yeah, that’s so amazing and so what do you like if you had a dream or a vision for where WAB and MouMou and friends would be in like five or ten years? What would that dream be?


Sara: Oh wow so, again people that know me will probably agree with this, I I have I'm very ambitious in terms of dreams and, and I really do dream very very big and you know a lot of people think I'm not sure that's realistic um but dreams aren't supposed to be realistic, are they? Surely but they're you know, do you know what I mean? There's kind of like a kind of like a very, very faint borderline there but for me for WAB um what I'm hoping to do with WAB, we are going to be launching it next year so


Alex: Wow.


Sara: We're going to be doing apparel um and WAB is really kind of um we're looking at sort of teenagers young adults um really everyone. I mean there's going to be a range for everybody from children all the way up to adults but it's very kind of casual wear day to day wear and we're going to be doing things like a merchandise you know. I mean Cutlery bedding, Crockery I mean you name it, it, WAB is just going to be something that you know kind of sports bags, hats, caps all of that kind of thing. It's just going to be one of those brands that is going to be hopefully used in everyday life because it's a culture that we're trying to spread and then as for MouMou and friends um what I'm hoping to achieve with you know obviously write some more stories. I've already got a few more in mind um and they're going to be you know based on children with you know other disabilities or special needs and there's quite a few that, that we've already kind of started the framework for so the ones that we've already done like I said, talk about a girl with cerebral palsy. The third book talks about a boy with autism um and autism is um basically he's quite a wide-ranging um non non-typical neuro disability, I think I've said that correctly um so there's a lot of aspects to autism we can talk about that quite a lot and it's a really fun story um but what I'm really hoping to achieve with MouMou and friends is to get it um as an animated series. So I'm really hoping that people love the stories they you know, they buy the books they follow us on our social media, they kind of get involved with the whole WAP culture um and then at some point I'm going to be approaching these um big uh kind of Hollywood production houses to see if we can do something and and we you know turn it into an animation series and hopefully at one, one day even a feature film and then maybe a couple of feature films following that. So I've already got in mind I know who I want to play the roles. I know who I want to do the voices you know. It's all there, so it's just really a matter of um of getting started. So yeah I'm, I believe in it a lot and and I think it's just like with anything you do if, if you have a passion and you genuinely believe in this you know passion, that you have especially if it's going to improve the lives of other people um I don't see why it's not going to work you know all we have to do is just get MouMou and friends out there and and the more people that are exposed to it um hopefully will join the wab journey with us.


Alex: It's so amazing and so when your book comes out it's coming out um in a couple of days where can people find it?


Sara: Right? So we're launching on the 15th which is this Saturday um and depending on where you live in the world. So it's going to be available I believe it's around $39 retailers worldwide.


Alex: Wow.


Sara: On Amazon for example, all the major bookstores, Amazon, Foils, Waterstones, um you know, Barnes and Noble. Our website, so our website is www.MouMouan friends.co.uk so MouMou is spelled m-o-u-m-o-u. You could buy the book there, it really depends on where you are around the world um so somebody that lives um in, in the US for example will probably be better off buying it over there from Amazon. Um, anybody that's in the UK and wants to buy from our website you know it might be better off doing that it. All really depends, it's the same price everywhere. It's going to be released at seven pounds 99. um and we're going to be releasing book one and book two. So, book one is more of an introduction to the characters. So you're gonna give you a bit of a background about the the concept and the story um and the characters and then book two is um like I said the sports day um story and then book three we're going to be releasing in early 2023. So you can I mean you can Google MouMou and friends I think it's actually showing on Amazon. Um and I think I saw it yesterday on um Barnes and Noble and quite a few other places. It's on our website as well but unfortunately you can't buy it until the 15th so that's when it's um going to be released and yeah please get out there and buy it and read it and, and leave reviews this is so important to me. I'm really interested in what people think of the book so for those people that do buy it um please give me your feedback you know. You can send me an email, um you can reach me through our website, you can reach me through our social media which is at MouMou and friends. We're on Instagram, we're on Facebook, we're on Tick Tock. We've not really done too much in terms of advertising yet, only because the book's not available so I don't want to you know, kind of um create a lot of awareness and hype and then people want to buy the book and they can't. So, literally from the 15th onwards hopefully you'll see a lot more of MouMou and friends um and yeah just let me know what you think I really really hope people enjoy it.