"It seems that Brescia is one of the most polluted cities in Europe. There are issues related to some industries of the area (it is the second largest economic city in Italy) dumping chemicals and other toxic rubbish into the rivers and lakes that populate the area and most land, including the playgrounds and gardens of schools and houses are brimming with pollutants and pcb. Tap water is also of major concern as it seems to contain chromium or some dangerous substances. Schools gave children tap water to drink but thanks to a fight carried out by us parents they are now given bottled water for a while, until some tests and results are available. It is very sad, because the city is very beautiful, and people grow really beautiful gardens. However it is hard to feel safe when you know that the earth has not been tested or its origins cannot be traced. I wish I knew all this when I was deciding where to raise my children. We have now moved out of the city, in the very close countryside to try to avoid at least some of this, hopefully." (LM, April 2014)
What is your name, age, where do you live and how long have you lived in Brescia?
Hello! I am Lavinia Muscat and I have just turned 38. My husband and I moved to Brescia end of 2004 and after having three children, we decided to move out of the city. Two years ago we bought a little Bio-house in Flero, which is still really close to the city though.
Do work, and if so what do you do?
After having twins I had to leave my job and slowly tried to build something flexible and that I could possibly do from home too. At first I started teaching English to little children. Once my children started pre-school, it was easy to meet other mums and make new friends. Upon their insistence, and word-of-mouth, I managed to put together a couple of classes. Lately I got involved with Usborne books, and I became an official organiser. I organise book parties at the homes of other mums and teachers who are interested, and sell wonderful books to Italians who are keen on teaching English to their children and getting them in touch with the English language. They love the books and so do I!
What is your professional background?
I am actually an art history and archaeology BA Hons graduate at the University of Malta. I have always worked in art foundations, museums or for international art magazines. Covering various positions, and also mansions. Luckily, in Italy, I always managed to find a job quite easily due to the fact I spoke and wrote English fluently, even as personal assistant in big companies.
How has your previous professional experience helped you in this new venture?
Having also worked in the advertising department for some magazines I easily grasped the commercial aspect of ordering and selling books, even though, everything is already so well organised at Usborne, and my mentor is of such constant help, that it wasn’t at all difficult. I love being in contact with other people, and since I got hold of these books while I was looking into buying them for my own children who also really love them, it was actually a pleasure to try to build a little business with something I already like so much.
How can other mums get involved?
It is very easy to join. I am also trying to build a team of other organisers spread around Italy and I am ready to help start up in any way possible. If someone is interested I would be very happy to give all the details and answer any questions (firstname.lastname@example.org) and once you become an official organiser you receive the first box of books and stationary worth over £150, and can start ordering books for parties or for friends and family, and anyone who asks you for them.
How have you found the whole experience of starting up your business? Were people receptive from the beginning?
This is not the first time I try to set up my own business. The first time I tried, I invested a lot of money and time, and work. It was a contemporary art gallery. It was also going quite well, and even if I had it for only three years, it grew, and developed, and gave me great satisfactions. I still miss it. It was impossible though, for me, inexperienced new mum with two (not one) newborn babies. I couldn’t travel or go to fairs as I used to and had to close the business. With Usborne it is different. I work at my own pace. I speak to my friends about it, and other mums or my children’s teachers, and in just a few months the news spreads and I get many requests, for the books themselves or to organise book parties. It has been received very well, and I feel people trust me more because I am foreigner, and English speaking and ask for advise on what would be more suited for their children. Both children and parents enjoy the books very much, and they are so beautifully made.
What advice would you give to other mums wanting to start up their own business?
Read all the information very well, and ask a lot of questions. Find someone who is willing to guide you and answer your questions. Ask for other people’s experience with the same business. But also, if it is something that strikes you and you would like to do just go for it. With the right passion and drive you can achieve great things. It will always entail investing some money in starting up a new business but if you believe in yourself and the product/project then it is worth it because it will definitely pay in the end. And there’s nothing better to be the boss of your own self! And have flexibility. Especially if you’re all alone in a foreign Country as I am, with kids who need to be driven here and there all afternoon!
What nationality are you and your partner?
I am from Malta, a little island in the Mediterranean Sea whereas my husband is Italian.
How many children do you have and what are their names and ages?
I have three children. Two lively twin boys, aged 5, Oliver and Jamie. (Don’t laugh please, we didn’t do it on purpose!), and a sweet little girl, aged 2 called Margherita.
How did you find the process of relocating to Brescia with your children/having a baby in Brescia?
When we moved to Brescia we did not have any children and both of us travelled a lot. It was more of a base for us. All my children were born in Brescia right when we were thinking of moving to Milan, where my husband works. However, we preferred to stay in Brescia because, whereas it is a city with all comforts and amenities, it is smaller in size and still people-friendly. My first birth experience was not very positive, but I had no experience, no contacts, and the situation was a particular one. The second time I had more contacts, got better care and on the whole it was a very positive experience.
Why did you move to Brescia?
I moved to Brescia to follow my husband for work reasons.
How well integrated would you say you and your children are?
My children all have a local accent!! It makes me smile! It was very easy to integrate in the community once they started school. Before we never really had time, and where away a lot, we considered it only a temporary home. Even once we moved to Flero it was quite easy; all our neighbours have same-aged children and we couldn’t be happier of our surroundings.
What language do you speak to your children?
We speak mainly Italian at home. I try to speak English as much as I can and they understand everything I say. It was very easy before they started going to school, but now they feel more comfortable expressing themselves like all their little friends.
What has your impression been of childcare and education in Brescia so far?
As far as the teachers and support-staff is concerned I was blessed with very caring people and as hard as it was to let go and separate from my children I knew they were safe and well taken care of. Unfortunately as far as public management goes, I guess it is the same everywhere. School and education does not seem to be the priority and the excuse is always “there are no funds”. We asked for a simple railing to help the children go up the stairs from the garden and we were told there are no funds. The lamppost broke and has not been replaced. There are no funds to send replacement teachers or add to support staff. I have heard of schools with no toilet paper and classes being closed. I went to presentations of primary schools to choose for my elder sons, and in public schools we were told that English, computer studies and sports will only be on the syllabus if they are given the funds to have the teacher. It is a shame really. There are always funds to build the umpteenth parking lot or other such projects. Luckily we found a very good, yet private, school for them.
Where you live, how good are facilities for children (shops,restaurants, activities etc)?
On the whole there are many activities organised for families and children. They tend to be crowded though for our likings and we do not participate too often. Perhaps there are not so many places where to hold a party without having to resort to particular food-chains, or inflatable games where children get all sweaty and crazy but they seem to have a great time anyway! There are also quite a lot of parks and playgrounds, although none is covered from the scorching sun in summer! We also found restaurants and shops which are children- friendly and tend to go mainly to those. As far as shops for all your childrens needs and non-necessary items or clothes there are plenty, for all pockets and there doesn’t seem to be any crisis in this sector!
What do you think are the main advantages and disadvantages of being a parent from the International Community living in Brescia?
As a foreigner I found that when we were in parks or playgrounds and I spoke in English to my children grandparents, and some parents would not let their children play with us. Now that my children are at school and have their own friends it was easy to make friends with their mums too! One advantage my children might have is the fact that they are constantly exposed to English, which is not very well taught in schools, and to travelling experiences. They often share with their teachers and schoolmates the differences they notice when visiting family and friends outside of Italy and enjoy it.
Is there anything you think would improve children´s lives in Brescia?
One thing we noticed when we came to Brescia, even when we had no kids, is that everyone relies very heavily on private cars and transport. We adapted to this and have our own cars. We go everywhere by car, and I don’t even recall my children ever taking public transport. Perhaps enhancing and making possible to move easily with public transport would be much better.
Also, one thing I noticed is that there are indeed many playgrounds with new games and slides but most of them are not covered from the sun and when the weather is nice it is sometimes impossible to play because the heat and the sun are too strong. There are some which are shaded though….and we tend to prefer them even if they’re not close to us!
What do you wish you had been told before you came to Brescia?
It seems that Brescia is one of the most polluted cities in Europe. There are issues related to some industries of the area (it is the second largest economic city in Italy) dumping chemicals and other toxic rubbish into the rivers and lakes that populate the area and most land, including the playgrounds and gardens of schools and houses are brimming with pollutants and pcb. Tap water is also of major concern as it seems to contain chromium or some dangerous substances. Schools gave children tap water to drink but thanks to a fight carried out by us parents they are now given bottled water for a while, until some tests and results are available. It is very sad, because the city is very beautiful, and people grow really beautiful gardens. However it is hard to feel safe when you know that the earth has not been tested or its origins cannot be traced. I wish I knew all this when I was deciding where to raise my children. We have now moved out of the city, in the very close countryside to try to try to avoid at least some of this, hopefully.
What advice would you give for anyone thinking of relocating to Brescia with children?
I am not sure what to answer here. First of all if you are coming here with children perhaps it would be worth checking which are the areas deemed at risk of being polluted in the ground and avoid them. And not to give up looking for a house with a garden or to be scared to live slightly outside the city. Brescia is surrounded by many towns and villages which are only a few minutes away from its center, with ampler spaces and bigger houses.