Raising Kinderen on the Camino

A handmade sign directing guests to Casa Familia

Jos and Heidi Kleinleugenmors, owners of Casa Familia discuss how they’re able to balance five kids, pilgrims and work.

In search of a place that fit their Christian vision of life, Jos and Heidi Kleinleugenmors loaded their five children into a camper van and spent six months searching for somewhere in Europe they could open their home to guests to share family life.

On January 10, 2017 they opened Casa Familia, their family home and garden, to guests and pilgrims on their journey to Santiago de Compostela.

Four months later, on the day of their 14th wedding anniversary, Jos and Heidi are upholding their vision as they welcome eight pilgrims into their home and enjoy a community meal along the Camino de Santiago.

When asked to describe what their vision of life is, Jos explains, “We like to share; we like to share life and we like to share about our life with God. We also like to be inspired by others. I think that’s the vision, to not just be alive for our own family.”

Heidi, mirroring those sentiments, also emphasized the importance for their family to grow up close to nature. “We also homeschool our children, so it’s a complete kind of living for us,” she says.

Jos and Heidi were both born and raised in the Netherlands, but met in Croatia while they were both on vacation. Heidi studied English at Universiteit Utrecht and Jos studied social work at Landstede in Harderwijk.

Jos and Heidi Kleinleugenmors sitting with (from left) Noèl, Jona and Lize.

They have five children together, Boas, 11, Fera, 9, Jona, 6, Noèl, 4 and Lize, 1.

“Our journey towards founding Casa Familia started in Holland,” says Heidi. “We wanted to live close to nature, have a big garden and extra space for guests. This was impossible for us to find without having to take a mortgage based on two incomes. We were introduced to the Camino even before we went travelling. We felt it would be good to explore the Camino as a part of our trip, since we had planned to go to Spain anyway.”

When they first arrived in September 2016, says Jos, “We did some volunteering at other albergues (hostels) and we walked some parts of the Camino with the kids… I guess we got the ‘Camino Fever’.”

One month later, they found the perfect home just 100 metres off the Camino. The two-story house is on five kilometres of land, overlooking the small town of Melide. In January 2017, they moved in and began making the home pilgrim friendly. Along with two guest bedrooms in the house, Jos recently completed the construction of a magnificent tent to house more guests and provide them with a more private space. The tent contains one double bed, two bunk beds and a seating area indoors and outdoors.

View inside the tent

The land also has a construction shed for the Kleinleugenmors’ ongoing projects. For the kids and guests, there are two brightly coloured hammocks

to relax after a long day of walking, a magnificent tree swing built by Jos and Boas, a tire swing, a chicken’s roost and two very large sheep.

Adriaan Paap, 63 is also from the Netherlands and is volunteering for the family. After finishing his hike on the Via de la Plata, the longest Camino route in Spain, he found the family through a Facebook post seeking help and work as a volunteer. At Casa Familia, Paap does a variety of odd jobs with his young helper, Boas. “In a certain way, I feel like I am apart of this family. I eat with them, I work with them. You get close, very close,” he says.

Paap loves watching the family work as a unit to help others. “Even when they have to raise five children and have guests and work to do, they find the time to volunteer at another albergue. I think it’s amazing. For me, it’s something special.” He continues, “That’s the social way of living for them. They are happy if you are happy.“

Jona, 6 putting away the dishes after lunch

How they make it work?

To balance it all, Jos and Heidi take turns with the housework and homeschooling. “During the week,” she says “we have our own schedule and then we do some lessons for a couple of hours in the morning. One of us does the schooling, and the other one cleans the house and we just take turns. This allows us to receive guests quite spontaneously.”

Along with subjects like Spanish and math, growing up with pilgrims coming in and out of the house is a very important part of the children’s learning. “For them, I think it’s also very interesting and very good to learn about the different nationalities, different cultures,” says Heidi. “Also, to teach them that we are able, that we have the privilege to give something to people. We are very blessed together as a family and in life. To also know God and be able to share that with other people, that is something that I want to show the children in a natural way just by inviting people.”

Concerned about the repercussions of moving their children away from friends and extended family, Jos and Heidi continue to wonder if they “are doing the right thing?” When the children were told about the move, their eldest daughter Fera expressed concern about leaving behind her friends. It’s a concern for every parent, and to help overcome these feelings, Jos and Heidi love to welcome families into their home. “It’s hard for families, because many albergues have one room for 40+ pilgrims. Here, we have a private room and a children’s cot if need be,” says Heidi. It also allows the children more opportunities to play with children their own age.

Last month at Casa Familia, Jos and Heidi welcomed a student from Switzerland into their home for the month to help her explore and practice homeschooling with the children. She taught Fera how to play the piano, and now Fera loves entertaining pilgrims with her new skill.

The future for the kids is not set in stone however, “In a few years I can let them go and I’m sure they can fly out and [know] that we did our best,” says Jos. “For my wife and I, maybe another project, maybe here, maybe back in Holland. Everything is open. We live life, follow God’s word and what we like to do.”