Maria - Atlas

“I have always loved architecture, design, textures and colours. Anything that requires a creative way of thinking has always excited me. As an architect a challenging project pushes me to look for new and better solutions. It pushes me out of my restrictive thought process and puts my brain to the test. Recently, I started working on ecologic and sustainable architecture projects, which forces me to experiment with design and materials. It’s a process of trial and error but once these projects are finished, I feel so satisfied. It confirms my independence and makes me feel like a capable working woman.”

“As a child I was sure that I would become an architect. I grew up in a very creative environment because my mother was an architect as well. When she was drawing her designs, I would often grab her crayons and paints to draw designs like she did. For every birthday, or Christmas I would ask for Lego. I loved to play with these colourful blocks, creating spaces and cities gave me a sense of fulfilment. Even now, creating viable spaces proves to me that I am contributing to society.”

Life lessons

“My family is very caring and loving, and I feel extremely lucky because of that. We’re very close, and I consider my older brother and younger sister to be my good friends. We have always gone through our hardships together, and I know that if I have a bad day, I can always call them. My parents taught us to always be yourself, and to respect and accept others. That is why I always feel comfortable and appreciated when I’m with them. They don’t judge me, and they let me walk my own path.”

“Ten years ago, I was in an accident at a construction site where I was working. I fell into a hole in the ground and broke my back which left me paralysed from the hips down. The doctors said I would never walk again. I was so shocked at first. But I decided that I wouldn’t let this define me. I believe in something bigger, a connection in the universe. The moment I could wiggle my first toe, I thought ‘this is the miracle I wanted, but now I have to put in a lot of effort.’ I went to various therapies for years, and now I can walk anywhere I want to. That is the strength of willpower.”

A home

“I miss my family, and my home. I grew up in Bogotá but moved to Belgium ten months ago to be with my boyfriend. Moving here wasn’t really a difficult decision but living here isn’t easy. I moved to a country with a different culture, a different and difficult language, a different way of life. Sometimes I have doubts about my decision. I miss Colombia, I miss the fruits. I miss my friends. I miss speaking Spanish. I miss the nature, and all the green. I miss the mess (laughs). Belgium is so neat, clean and organised. But then I just make my home messier (laughs).”

“I live in Kallo, which is 10 minutes away from Antwerp city centre. It’s a quiet and peaceful place, with lots of green. My home isn’t necessarily a certain place, but it’s where I feel free to do as I please. I think this is because I’ve lived in many different places. I still feel like a tourist in Antwerp, but I like this feeling. I explore around the city a little bit every day, looking for hidden secrets. Central Station is my favourite place in Antwerp, as an architect I love how they combined the old and the new. It’s a very unique building which fits into the character of the city.”

Future

“I came to Atlas after I first moved to Belgium. I was learning Dutch at a university and they advised me to do volunteer work here to practice my Dutch. Being able to help other people who are new in the city makes me feel like a valuable part of society. I know first-hand what it’s like to migrate, and I think a lot of people underestimate it. Atlas creates a safe place for new people and wants to make them feel at home in Antwerp.”

“I have a hard time finding architecture related jobs in Antwerp. Because of this I hope I can make helping other people into a career. I used to be a life coach, so I would like to do something similar in the future. I see a lot of holes in the society here, people who get sick from not talking about their feelings. I’m very open, so I would like to help them with this, because it helped me as well. My boyfriend and I also bought land in Colombia and would like to build a hotel, we also brew beer. So, we have many options, I’m not worried about my future. I will get where I want to be.”

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