It comes as no surprise that the beautiful and stylish Interior Designer, Mai Kaufman, would find herself on the country’s most fashionable lists. She was one of Philippine Star‘s 10 Femmes of Fashion for Culte Femme and Women of Style, ABS-CBN’s Us Girls‘ Best Dressed Celebrities, Preview Magazine‘s Best Dressed, one of Mega Magazine‘s Most Stylish Ladies, Pond’s and Plains and Prints‘ Fashion’s Finest and Beauty’s Best, Highly Stylish, Most Beautiful and Glamorous Faces. In the Philippine Daily Inquirer with Look Magazine, she was among the country’s “most photographed women and men” and “consistent Best Dressed Lister.” She has been a muse for different fashion and jewelry designers, a brand endorser/ ambassador, modelled for Philippine Fashion Week (Pond’s Red Collection) and has been featured in different magazines and TV shows.
At one point, she actually struggled about continuing on the fashion scene. She had already committed to ramp model and be the muse of a designer (who is her dear friend) during Philippine Fashion Week but she was afraid it would glorify herself more than God. “I didn’t want my life to be just about me, me, me. I cried to David [her husband] because I didn’t know how to back out.” It was her [bible] disciplers, Danette Vizmonte and Joy Soriano, who encouraged her to go ahead and do it for God. If He expanded her borders, He could use it for His glory.
After she proceeded with the ramp modeling stint, Typhoon Ondoy came. A post she put on her Facebook account to help the devastated survivors brought on a response she didn’t expect. Many people generously sent medicines, boxes of milk, diapers, mattresses, new shoes from a shoe factory, clothes, toiletries, food, and other much needed aid supplies, even sacks of new pajamas from a manufacturer. It was then that she understood what her disciplers meant. “I realised that God could use anyone of us. The donors trusted me that whatever they give would reach the ones who need them,” Mai recalls. “Who am I? An ordinary person. But we got calls from different people. Offers and invitations poured in, left and right. God used many people to open bigger doors for me and my family.”
She, along with David and their two daughters, Alexa and Calista, have been offered to be brand ambassadors for leading products and organisations.
Recently, The Asian Parent Philippines has also featured her as a poster girl for homeschooling moms [Supermom Mai Kaufman: Homeschooling All Over the World].
Here is a little chat I had with Mai when she came to the shop:
How did you get into homeschooling? I was asked to speak at Ivy Marquez’s Hybrid HomeSchool class and talk about self-esteem and embracing one’s uniqueness. That was my first exposure to homeschooling. I got to speak to the homeschoolers and meet some of them again outside school on different days for a movie date and lunch. Some would come to our place for a more personal Question & Answer bonding time so I became more familiar with the concept of homeschooling.
When Alexa used to go to a conventional preschool, I felt uncomfortable that she was rushed almost every day when she woke up, ate breakfast, worked on something she was passionate about, and more… The routine of every day just felt unsuitable for us. We started considering homeschooling as an option so our children could live through experiences and have more happiness and freedom to think, speak, grow, make mistakes, learn, to be who they are, and to completely enjoy life.
No wonder your hashtag #unhurriedliving! I believe in taking the time to live every day in peace and harmony (nothing forced), making the most of what we have and what we are presented with. We only have one life. After my Mom’s passing because of cancer, I realized that it was God’s way of teaching me to value life and relationships more. He impressed upon me the importance of leaving a good legacy which my mom did. What, to you, is the most difficult part of homeschooling? It only becomes difficult if you allow yourself to be pressured by the world. I prefer to let God lead.
How do you recharge when as a homeschooling mom, you are with your students practically all the time? Our daughters are very easy to manage. They respect my space. After doing our lessons, they are free to do anything they want to do. That’s when I get to recharge my body, mind, and soul.
How do you get a day off? I am happy when I share my day with others. That is my day off… either spent with my family or friends.
It seems overwhelming to take on the task of teaching one’s children everything they need to know. How do you manage? It just seems overwhelming when there’s comparison and competition. We take our time and enjoy when we homeschool. We are a team. We explore even the academic side together not just with books but also through experiential learning. We don’t worry about our children not learning enough because we have a guide. We are lucky to find a good and engaging curriculum that my kinesthetic children enjoy.
Which homeschooling curriculum are you using now? Bob Jones University.
We also have a co-operative learning group (Homeschool Co-op) wherein homeschooling families get together weekly to do activities together like science experiments, values, art, music, physical activies, etc… parents take turns in teaching what they’re good at.
What do you think is the most rewarding part of homeschooling? Experiencing what God has in store for us together as a family.
Your husband is also participating in homeschooling? Yes, my husband leads our bible devotions. Sometimes, he helps me with Science, Geography, Math, Music, Art and PE.
How can fathers who work do that? I am grateful because my husband has his own business.
What are the aspects of homeschooling you appreciate most? Learning through active living. I love that the girls wake up naturally… without being rushed. We do things together at a relaxed pace. We are free to travel anytime, together. The opportunities for learning and for experiencing life are endless when you have your own time. Everything flows spontaneously.
How does the homeschooling system ensure that if sometime in the future you decide to mainstream a child into a conventional school, she can cope? At the end of the day, it really depends on the parents’ passion, commitment, and competencies. Having said that, an effective homeschooling program will help the children’s overall learning because of the prescribed curriculum, primary and supplementary materials like textbooks, teachers’ guides, lesson videos, activity books, training, guidance, assessment, among others. My daughters are enrolled with Victory Christian International School (VCIS) under their Homeschool program. VCIS provides most of our learning materials. The curriculum they provide from Bob Jones University is complete and aligned with our Christian formation, the world, and Department of Education (DepEd)-prescribed standards. Online exams and standardized tests are provided by them to ensure that the curriculum is covered accordingly. They also take care of our records and requirements for DepEd. We want to make sure that everything will be in order if we decide to transition to a conventional school in the future.
In your homeschooling journal photos, you look like you are walking through a three-dimensional book. I am grateful for a husband who loves to travel. [laughs] It helps in our efforts to develop open-minded, globally-conscious children. We are very happy that homeschooling is working for us.
Not all homeschooling families need to travel, do they? No, not at all. It’s just that my kids are tactile/ kinesthetic learners so they learn best when they experience things.
How about for families with tactile/kinesthetic learning kids who are on a tight budget, how can they approach homeschooling? Active learners learn best with stories, visuals and body movement. They engage more when the approach to teaching is fun and multisensory. You can study everywhere (homeschool room, on a rug, inside a coffee shop, at a library, interactive museums, parks…)! Instead of just answering workbooks, I let the girls solve math problems or compose words using whiteboard colored markers and write on glass boards or non-porous table tops.
We do a lot of hands-on activities using flashcards, blocks, puzzles, wooden numbers and letters, objects, and toys to teach and reinforce lessons. We do Math with card and board games, Spelling and Vocabulary with Boggle or Word Search. They love being outdoors! We get to cover different subjects when we are out. There are many learning opportunities like field trips, games, art and crafts, experiments, role-playing, and more.
What advice can you give someone who is contemplating homeschooling but thinks she doesn’t have the patience to see it through because I’ve heard a psychologist say that if you tutor your kids, “You’re gonna kill!!” of course, in jest. My advice is, Just go for it! and Try it. It’s enriching and fun. From my observation, impatience arises when there’s pressure, competition, and deadlines. Homeschooling is more relaxed. It’s life changing for us in many ways, all beneficial.
From an interior designer’s point of view, would you like to give tips on preparing an area for doing your homeschool activities at home that is most conducive to learning/teaching?
- When I designed our home, I wanted to make sure that all areas would be utilized with pleasure and ease. I thought of incorporating the learning styles of my children with the designs for every room.
- We wanted to develop in them early the sense of being responsible so I made sure the height of the cubbyholes and drawers are reachable so they can get their own clothes and be able to put their things and toys back after use.
- I made sure we have a lot of storage space to keep books and things in order.
Do you have a long-term plan to homeschool? As it goes.
I guess, that’s really all you can do… “the lamp unto my feet” guidance that God provides is really just for the next step. When asked to speak in schools, I share with the students my experiences and where God has brought me when I simply followed His lead and embraced what I had. I share with them the importance of not manipulating nor altering His best plans for us. We are all different from one another in beautiful ways, each having much to contribute.
How did you come to know the Lord more intimately? Growing up, I had a very prayerful mom. She would remind me to be good. But when I had a challenge for the first time that was greater than what I could handle, it made me seek God seriously. [Mai shared a personal challenge but since it involves people other than herself, I decided to leave it out]
I don’t ask God anymore for anything specific for me. When I pray, I simply say, “Thank You Lord for_____; Please prepare me for what’s to come— whether good or bad. Use me mightily for Your glory. You know what is best for our family.” Then I lift up my loved ones who need prayers.
How does knowing God’s Word impact your life? Knowing God’s word keeps me grounded no matter how bad or strong the shaking is. I know that I only have One audience to please (God). The Bible is a book of wisdom, truth, and revelation. It is nice to read, study, and understand it because God wants to transform and enrich us. If we read His word and follow Him, we will experience His love, His greatness and His fullness (everything He has to offer).
Can you tell me about your encounter with cancer? My husband had been convincing me every year to join him for an executive check-up. Always thinking I’m healthy and since I don’t feel anything odd, I would always reply, “no need.” This year, for some reason, I said yes. I didn’t know that there was such a thing as Stage Zero Breast Cancer but that’s what I had: Stage 0 Breast Cancer, Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS); it is when the abnormal cancer cells are still contained inside the breast milk ducts and have not yet spread outside.
What’s the remedy for that?
Full breast mastectomy.
Why not just part?
I had two clusters of cancer cells that were of high nuclear grade.
Are you wiling to share that?
It’s okay. I know that God wants me to share His story. The clinical diagnosis of my mammogram said, “possible suspicion for malignancy” and the biopsy result said that I have two clustered micro calcifications of high nuclear grade DCIS. We saw more than a dozen doctors after that. My husband was already coordinating with surgeons in Singapore but after seeing several doctors here who have had working experiences there, they all said that there is not much difference if we do it here or there; they said it was best to just stay and recuperate here. After two weeks of consultations with different doctors, we went ahead with the full breast mastectomy and immediate TRAM (transverse rectus abdominis muscle) flap reconstruction—this technique uses flaps of your tissue taken from the lower abdomen which is then reshaped to form a new breast.
You remove tissue from the lower abdomen; nakaka-sexy pala ‘to? Yes. See, how awesome God is?! Another gift from Him! [laughs] It’s like His way of telling me “Just do this for Me so you can see and experience the many surprises I have in store for you and your family.”
Didn’t Angelina Jolie undergo reconstructive surgery using silicone implants for this? Would that have been less invasive? As much as possible, I didnt want any foreign object inside my body. We also learned from doctors that possible risks of infections or leaks may occur. There is no set lifespan for a breast implant but it will usually need to be replaced at some point and further surgery will be required which I prefer not to go through.
When you first heard the diagnosis, how did you take it? In shock. Only five close friends from our travel group knew. I also shared the news with my Victory [Christian Fellowship] bible study group. They were so helpful. A good friend in New York, Tina Aquino, sent me many encouraging messages and bible verses when she found out I had breast cancer. It really helped.
She said, “God is about to launch you on what is yet to be your greatest victory. This will not end in death and fear. God’s strength and joy will be made perfect in your weakness.”
That really made me stronger. I felt peace and I was reminded of how good He is with the many blessings my family and I continue to receive. I was very sure that He wanted me to go through this so I can share the good news with others. Two nights before I got operated on, my homeschool friend, Anna, sent me a photo of the Eiffel Tower with a rainbow [sign of God’s covenant]. I had tears of joy because I felt it was God’s way of telling me to just get on with the operation for it is already a battle won…that they’re already rejoicing, enjoying the celebration and just waiting for the celebrant… me. ️
How did you tell your children you had breast cancer? When we saw doctors almost everyday for two weeks, the girls would ask why we were out everyday and why they couldn’t come. I just told them that we discovered something inside Mommy’s breast that can be harmful and might spread if we don’t take them out right away. I told them that God is good and gracious because it had not spread yet. I told them to pray and thank God for letting us know about it early and for sparing us from misery and inconveniences.
How did they respond? They responded like adults. They understood right away what was happening and what was to be done. They prayed over me before David and I would leave the house.
Could you describe their faith at that time? I asked Cali if she was confident that Mommy would be healed before. She said, “Yes, I knew you [would] be healed because I kept praying to Jesus.”
Do you think their faith is impacted by your homeschooling? I think our being with them everyday while homeschooling gives them a better understanding of who we are. It helps when they see how we approach people, circumstances, and life in general. It also helps when they see how our friends are when they are with us. They are cool and fun but they also love and prioritise honoring God. They’ve seen our friends pray over us many times.
Has anyone ever asked you, If God is a good God, why does He allow people to go through something like cancer? No one has asked me that yet but if someone did, I’d smile and share that going through something like this is not a bad thing or something to be sad about. Sometimes, we have to experience something unusual and uncomfortable to appreciate what we have. Strange as it may sound, it was a beautiful experience for me and my family. I thank God for making us go through this. He was with us from the beginning until the end. All we did was pray and trust Him. He did not and has never failed us. He even gave us so many wonderful surprises after —leaner, healthier body…hahaha…He opened many incredible doors for me and my family. He brought us to many beautiful places. We have met a lot of interesting and admirable people. We have grown so much because of the many life-enriching lessons we have learned; our annual Homeschool immersion trip abroad which we thought wouldn’t push through anymore, an amazing time spent with loved ones, many fun moments, the love, gifts from many friends, and many more.
Pre-cancer and post-cancer, how did your relationship with God evolve? It’s even stronger now.
What would you like to share with someone who’s new or struggling on the journey of cancer? Put God in between you and whatever it is you are going through. Let Him go before you and be delighted with what He will do. Bask in His presence. Rest in Him and know that all will be well. Keep reading His word. Allow Him to use you . Let His good, pleasing and perfect will be apparent in your life. If there is something I did that I know worked, it was my total surrender to Him. Make wise choices in life and use the Bible as your guide. You can either blindly follow what other people are doing, compare yourself with others and lose your unique personality and individuality OR you can walk on the path God lit for you to take and be enriched every day. If you understand, follow, and share Him with others, your life will be rewarding, fulfilling, and joyful. These are things money can not buy. It’s also nice to have a support group.
I like what you said, “Put God in between you and whatever you are going through.” I think that applies to everything! What is your life verse? It’s a passage I’ve held on to since I was single about leaving my comfort zone because God has a purpose for my existence and He will be the one to take care of everything.
Genesis 12:1-3 The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
What is your life message in this season? Psalm 34:8 Taste and see that the Lord is good; happy is the man that takes refuge in Him.
Live each day wisely, not on people-pleasing, hurrying, trying to achieve so much for personal gain and glory. It’s nice to slow down and take pleasure in what we are presented with. Embrace life–good or bad–– and live it to the fullest. Don’t feel guilty for slowing down to really live- really hear, really smell, really taste, really feel, and really see. God wants to lavish us with many gifts but we miss them when we are too distracted and busy.
You are a picture of hope for others.
Thank you. I pray that more will have the courage and faith to let God lead and simply take the journey with Him and enjoy.
I told Mai she is a picture of hope but she is also a picture of faith, love, perseverance, joy, kindness, and excellence. The world of homeschooling with the unexpected episode of cancer are rather different from the glamorous world of modelling she was in where the spotlights showcased her beauty and style. Mai turned the direction of the spotlight beam towards God who has enabled her to embrace even the challenges with gratitude. She is modelling with style her surrender to God to let Him accomplish His best for her.
Lord, thank You for Your beautiful story in Mai’s life. May You continue to use her to encourage all of us to embrace our challenges with (full surrender) style. May You bless and protect her, David, Alexa, and Calista and use them to be a city on a hill, shining Your light where they go for Your glory in Jesus’s name amen.