Canada: New Life for Syrians

 

Hundreds of refugees have been positively overwhelmed by the warm welcome from the Canadians, many who greeted the newly arrived Syrian families with balloons and flowers at the airport.  What a sense of relief to finally have a chance to put down roots and settle into family life.
Initially Amurtel offered free English classes to the women living in the temporary housing set up by the government. These were met with tremendous enthusiasm. After a month or so, the families were moved to permanent housing, and our team continues to visit with individual families, providing support in learning the ropes of living in a new city/country/culture. Many families do not yet speak enough English to get by and so rely on the Amurtel volunteers to help sort out bills, navigate school enrollment forms for their kids, etc. Team members also find much needed supplies for each family, helping them create warm and cozy homes. Maher, a man stricken with polio as a young boy, had been dragging himself around with crutches, something that was both painful and debilitating. He and his family were ecstatic when Amurtel delivered an electric wheelchair. He said he felt his whole life had just opened up for him.
Many of the families Amurtel works with speak of the grueling last few years with fear and sadness.  They have recounted to us the terror they experienced as their homes and neighborhoods were bombed while they huddled with their children in basements; the long and dangerous journey to flee the battles, trying to protect their children as best they could. These people were nurses, engineers, teachers, farmers in Syria, living normal family lives in close knit communities. And then the war came to their towns and they were forced to flee with whatever they could carry. Slowly those memories are being balanced by ones of their children excited to make new friends and learn a new language, of making new friends themselves, both within the Syrian community and with the Canadians who have stepped forward to welcome these new neighbors. It is wonderful to see the healing and transformation a hand extended in friendship can bring to an otherwise bewildering and often scary journey.

Right now there are more people fleeing their countries than at any time over the past 50 years; people desperate to escape violence, famine and persecution, seeking a safe place to raise their children.  The United Nations High Commission for Refugees 2016 Global Appeal projects there will be approximately 60 million refugees and internally displaced persons each year from 2014 through 2017.  That is one person for every 122 people worldwide.  Service in this area is desperately needed and currently Amurtel is working with Syrian families in Ottawa, Canada and Athens, Greece as well as Dominicans of Haitian descent seeking safety in the Anse Pitre area of south east Haiti.

Haiti: Refugee Crisis

haiti newsletter camp 2
haiti newsletter camp 3

In 2013 the Dominican Republic made a change to the country’s constitution that would lead to the deportation of thousands of people of Haitian descent.  In response to an international outcry, the DR ‘officially’ suspended this controversial deportation, but has turned a blind eye to ongoing wide-spread violence against Haitian. Many families we talk with have shared harrowing stories of escaping with just the clothes on their backs after their homes were fire-bombed and crops destroyed, and the humiliation and despair they feel of losing all they had worked so hard for over the past many years. The refugees are scattered across the drought-racked, barren land near our center in Anse aPitre. They subsist in tents fashioned from sticks and cardboard.  With little protection from the heat, no reliable source of food or water, facing each new day becomes a challenge.

For almost a year now, Amurtel has set up child friendly spaces for over 500 children, providing a hot meal each day for the children and pregnant and nursing women. The conditions are appalling, and with the spring rains, cholera is on the rise. These people, families struggling to stay together, understand despair, but as our Amurtel organizers have told us, they also understand the power of endurance.  There is hope- there is always hope, as the women began to participate in Self Help Groups and the children manage to resume their education. ◆

Haiti: Children’s Home Update

haiti newsletter new baby

Report from Joni Zweig:

With 19 kids under 10 running around, singing, laughing, riding bikes, wanting a cuddle, needing a refill on their plate, life in our children’s home in Port au Prince is never dull (or quiet!).

Our children are incredible, and watching them blossom is one of the highlights of my visits to Haiti.  Usually, after checking my bags for treats and getting a hug, the first thing they do is bring me their school notebooks, excited to show off their accomplishments. We were told by so many to expect these kids to be slow to learn due to the severe malnutrition they experienced in utero and immediately after birth. What we have seen is the opposite- children assuming leadership roles in their classes, and embracing learning with joy and success.  Perhaps the formula of healthy food, lots of playtime, a strong emphasis on art and music, and unconditional acceptance is a strong factor in encouraging the well-being of the children, each one an individual with special talents and abilities, and all responding so positively to the love and nurturing that is the foundation of the home.

On my most recent visit, Lola proudly showed me the prize she had won at an intercity school competition. The youngest in her category, she won top honors for her beautiful drawing on the environment. Kristamin, who arrived with one of the worst cases of eczema anyone had ever seen, was beyond proud of her ability to read and write. Although close to 8 years old, she had never attended school due to her skin condition. She had also rarely been touched or held. She is glowing now with the healing only inclusion and unconditional love can bring. Her skin condition is still a constant challenge, but a new world has opened for her that includes school, playmates, and lots of snuggles. In a small space with so many needs and wants, it always amazes me how the children look out for each other.  These children recognize they are a family, and embrace the security that knowledge brings.

Over the past year it has become very apparent we are out of space. When I walk around the house at night, there are small bodies, sleeping on mats everywhere.  With 2 bedrooms, 19 children, and 5 adults, privacy is a rare luxury.  Imagine these same numbers as teenagers and you can understand the concern.  Additionally our current location in Port au Prince is no longer safe. The nearby river offers relief from the tropical heat, but each heavy rain, brings floods that cut us off from the road. Violent crime is also moving into the neighborhood at an alarming rate.

With all this in mind, I traveled with Didi, our country director and main ‘mother’ of the home, to our center in Anse aPitre. There we have to build a new home for these children, one that has space for them to grow and flourish in a safe environment.
Now comes the challenging part- drawing up plans for the school and raising the funds to build it. It would be wonderful if we could break ground a year from now- and by the end of next summer, have our children settled into their new home and ready to begin their school year. Would you like to be part of creating this dream for the children? There are plenty of ways to plug in- we need ideas for the design of the home; people with expertise in architecture, solar engineering, large and small fundraising event planning- you get the picture. If you are interested in being part of this grand endeavor, please let us know. We are all excited about creating a more sustainable future for these amazing children.

 

Greece: Mother & Baby Care for Refugees

greece-kiddos

For the past 10 months, Amurtel volunteers in Greece have been working with refugee families, providing support for pregnant and nursing moms and newborn babies. This wave of migration is unprecedented since WWII and is changing the face of Europe and the Middle East. It’s also changing the way relief organizations operate. Amurtel, as the only NGO focused solely on the needs of women and babies from pregnancy through infancy, works together with many of other groups, to create spaces and services for these most vulnerable of refugees.

Excerpts of reports from the field:

“It was a swelteringly hot day in Victoria Square, downtown Athens. Inside one of the many refugee tents sat a very pregnant woman with two small children at her side. Even from the pavement we could see sweat on her brow as she fanned herself continuously. Seeing how swollen her feet and legs were, we asked how pregnant she was. She falteringly answered, “Nine.”  Nine months pregnant? This was still the time when refugees walked from the border of one country to the next, sometimes for days on end. I could easily imagine the horrifying thought of her going into labor in the middle of nowhere.
The desperation and urgency in the minds of those transiting through Greece on their way to northern Europe is staggering. Statistics tell us that amongst refugee populations, pregnancy and childbirth complications are the leading cause of death among women. Our team of midwives, doulas, and breastfeeding specialists, are present in the camps in Athens and periodically on the island of Lesvos to meet these women and babies and offer support.
We’ve seen many mothers ready to give birth any day and newborns sometimes days old. A brief maternal or infant check can go far in reassuring the family.. For these mothers, fear for their children’s safety constantly grips their minds. While moving from camp to camp, from boat to bus to train to going on foot, it’s a constant worry. Being shown how to use baby carriers has offered great relief for mothers and fathers alike. Knowing the child is on them and with them at all times creates a sense of safety and helps shelter the child from some of the traumatic effects of the journey. As one mother said,  after being given an infant wrap that let her wear her two month old close on her chest, “I  feel more at ease. My hands are free for my older children while my heart takes care of my baby.”

greece didi moms

With the closing of the borders at the end of February, camps are gradually being moved from the port into the countryside and people will be staying for longer times.  In May, Amurtel outfitted a small camper as a mobile clinic, allowing our team to meet with women in multiple camps.

A more recent field report:

“It’s a hot day at the port. The sea breeze coming over the water helps cool down the mothers and babies waiting outside our small camper.  We’re parked outside the port’s stone warehouse, a large windowless building converted into a temporary refugee shelter. Located midway between the few other ferry terminals that have also become shelters, we’ve been able to serve some of the thousands left stranded at the port when borders closed at the end of February. Since then, our midwives, breastfeeding specialists and other women volunteers have shown up daily to keep the small but amazingly functional space going.
The inner sanctum of the camper has turned into a safe space for examining pregnant and postpartum women and for breastfeeding counseling. The more open spot towards the entrance is the baby bathing area. Taking turns using the one tub, mothers move their littlest ones in and out, feeling relieved for this bit of cleanliness in the often grimy environment. These services, plus the nuts, seeds, and dried fruit we give daily to the pregnant and lactating mothers to supplement their meager meals, create a steady flow of regularly returning mothers and babies along with new ones arriving every day.”

In response to the changing conditions, Amurtel is moving into a new phase of care, addressing the longer term needs of these families, with our focus on working with mothers and babies in the perinatal period staying unchanged.

Louisiana Flood Relief

AMURT and AMURTEL (Ananda Marga Universal Relief Teams) are responding to the floods in Louisiana that have now caused 13 deaths and has been labeled the worst US disaster since Hurricane Sandy. However, despite the severity of the situation, the disaster is not getting the attention that it deserves. Read more

Kenya success stories

Kenya has long been a venue for many of AMURT’s service projects over the years, but new challenges continue to affect millions of residents. Education, healthcare, HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, job creation, and care for orphans and vulnerable children have all been areas of emphasis and continue to be a large part of AMURT’s presence in Kenya. Read more

Interview: Food For All Site Coordinators

Kathy and Graeme have been serving Food For All as site coordinators for 7 years. They organize the logistics of packing and transporting food, motivate the volunteers and maintain the efficient yet relaxed culture of the food program. Read more

Spring Update on Greece

Smiling baby after bath
Smiling baby after bath

 

It’s a hot day at the port, more like June than April. The sea breeze coming in over the water helps cools down the mothers and babies waiting outside our small camper cum Mother-Baby Area. We’re parked outside the port’s stone warehouse, a large windowless building converted into a temporary refugee shelter. Located midway between the few other ferry terminals that have also become shelters, we’ve been able to serve some of the thousands left stranded at the port when the northern European borders closed towards the end of February. Since then, our midwives, breastfeeding specialists and other women volunteers have shown up daily to keep the small but amazingly functional space going. The inner sanctum of the camper has turned into a safe space for examining pregnant and postpartum women and for breastfeeding counseling as well as just talking when a mother’s emotions or pain are running high. The more open spot towards the entrance is the baby bathing area. Taking turns using the one tub that fits snugly into this tiny corner, mothers shuffle their littlest ones in and out, feeling relieved for this bit of sanitation in an otherwise less-than-hygienic environment. These services, plus the nuts, seeds, and dried fruit we give daily to the pregnant and lactating mothers to supplement their meager meals, create a steady flow of regularly returning mothers and babies along with new ones arriving every day.

During these nearly two and a half months, camps have been erected at different areas throughout Greece and the refugees are being gradually moved from the port. By Easter, May 1st this year, the remainder of them are scheduled to be gone. This signals for us a movement into another phase, from the more immediate emergency response into longer term care. The where and how of that care is still evolving but our focus of mothers and babies in the perinatal period remains unchanged.

Inside the stone warehouse
Inside the stone warehouse
Bathing baby in the camper
Bathing baby in the camper
Mother and children in the camper
Mother and children in the camper
Greece.Eva at camper

AMURTEL Assists with Syrian Refugees Resettlement Program- Ottawa Canada

AMURTEL Assists with Syrian Refugees Resettlement Program- Ottawa Canada

Canada is setting an excellent example of welcoming Syrian Refugees in a massive effort to resettle 25,000 by this spring. Syrian families began arriving in November of 2015 and as each plane would touch down, dozens of Canadians would be there to greet them with balloons and flowers.

From the very beginning, Amurtel team members began planning how they could help these families settle in to their new home. After an initial meeting between Amurtel Coordinators Jane and Fadwa and the newly arrived women, it became clear that learning English was one of their top priorities. So Amurtel set up free English classes in the temporary housing where the women were living. The classes were met with tremendous enthusiasm and very well attended. After a month or so, the families were moved to permanent housing, and as the Government began setting up English classes, Amurtel switched gears to work with individual families, all of whom had previously participated in our English classes. Jane and Fadwa created an ‘adopt a family’ program, where Amurtel volunteers would work closely with individual families, being a ‘go-to’ resource to help with the many challenges that come with living in a new city/country/culture. The families do not yet speak English and need assistance in interpreting electric bills, navigating school enrollment for their kids, etc. Amurtel volunteers also match specific needs, such as household items and children’s school supplies, with local Canadian families who can provide these items, then pick them up and deliver them to the Syrian family, helping create warm cozy homes.

The families we are working with are so obviously relieved to finally be settled in a safe, welcoming environment. It is wonderful to see the faces of the children excited to be starting school. Many children share with us stories now of making new friends, of learning English, and showing us papers from their favorite classes- math, science, English. A big change from the heartbreaking stories we have heard as families recounted personal stories of fleeing from their homes as they were bombed and bursting into flames, of the loss of family, of leaving behind not only all their possession, but their livelihood, their professions. The appalling stories of life in refugee camps in Jordan – of being constantly wet, muddy and cold, with little food or clean drinking water.    To finally be settled in a place that is safe, that offers a future for their children- and most importantly perhaps, where they truly feel welcome, has made life something each family now looks forward to. And for our Amurtel volunteers- it is an honor to be part of this new chapter.

© Copyright 2017 AMURT