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 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
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
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.
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.
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It was a swelteringly ho
t August day in Victoria Square, downtown Athens. Inside one of the many spontaneously erected refugee tents sat a very pregnant woman with two small children at her side. Even from outside on the pavement, we could see sweat on her brow as she fanned herself continuously and looked miserably uncomfortable. Seeing how swollen her feet and legs were, we asked her how pregnant she was. She did not speak English but her husband falteringly answered, “Nine.” Nine months pregnant? “Why don’t you stay here and have the baby and then go on north?” we asked. 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. Shaking their heads vehemently, all they could say was, “NO!” pointing north with a determination that nothing could change.
The desperation and urgency in the minds of the hundreds of thousands of people transiting through Greece on their way to northern Europe is staggering. Of the thousands arriving on Greek shores daily, statistics tell us that 20% of the women among them of childbearing age are pregnant or have small babies. Statistics also tell us that amongst refugee populations, pregnancy and childbirth complications are the leading cause of morbidity and mortality among women. Our teams of midwives, doulas, breastfeeding specialists, concerned mothers and proactive women are present in the camps in Athens and periodically on the island of Lesvos to meet these women and babies and offer su
We’ve seen many mothers ready to give birth any day and newborns sometimes days old. Many long for reassurance that their babies are allright. A brief maternal or infant check can go far in calming their fears. Many mothers are not able to fully breastfeed while en route, even though breastfeeding is the norm in their cultures and some have successfully breastfed one, two, three or four children previously. While they are well aware that stress is the cause, many of these mothers are unable to relax as they move constantly from one unknown country to the next. Talking to them about breastfeeding while traveling or helping with safe infant supplementation can provide not only information but also the simple woman-to-woman support they need.
For most mothers, fear for their children’s safety grips their minds the most. While moving from camp to camp, from boat to bus to train to going on foot, it’s a constant worry, especially for infants and toddlers. Being shown how to use baby carriers can so oft
en be a great relief for mothers and fathers alike. Knowing that the child is on them and with them at all times creates a sense of safety and subsequently, helps to shelter the child from some of the traumatic effects of the journey. As one mother said after being given an infant wrap, letting 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.”
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. At least here in Greece, the majority of refugees stay as few days as possible, sometimes only one or two. The numbers are so massive, the turnover so rapid, the languages spoken so diverse, the cultures so varied, the reasons for fleeing so complex, and the pressures on the host countries so great, that aid agencies are having to reinvent policies designed for relatively stable or homogenous populations in times of disaster. Scores of individual volunteers and spontaneous volunteer groups have sprung up, particularly on the Greek islands where the refugees cross from Turkey in inflatable dinghies. Amurtel, as the only NGO focused solely on the needs of women and babies from pregnancy through infancy, works together with many of these groups, with La Leche League (an international breastfeeding organization), and with the Athens municipality to create spaces and services for these most vulnerable of refugees.
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As thousands of refugees rea
ch Greece’s shores daily, Amurtel focuses on the crucial needs of pregnant women, birthing women and mothers with small infants. These women and babies are greatly affected by the lack of stable shelter and routine, nutritious and culturally familiar food and emotional support. They often look exhausted and desperate to stop and yet they go on. The AMURTEL team of midwives, doulas, lactation consultants, concerned mothers and women with skills in the area of childbirth and infancy go regularly to the refugee camps in Athens and the island of Lesvos to offer support for breastfeeding, infant care, postpartum care of new mothers and assistance during birth if necessary.
We also supply emergency birth kits to the camp medical tents if they don’t already have one. We attempt to provide a warm woman-to-woman touch and offer infant and mother care supplies that are as close as possible to what mothers are used to in their own countries. We also continually search for ways of being emotional supportive in an appropriate cultural context.
Donations are greatly appreciated! Be sure to mark the donation as being for ‘Refugees Greece!’
In the white afternoon sun and dust, about a dozen children run through the barbed wire gate of the camp to one dirt hill after another, urging their plastic bag and stick kites into the air. Their numerous brothers and sisters stay behind with parents or the families living in shelters close to their own, sitting in shade where they can find it, fanning themselves in the relentless heat. Behind where they sit are five hundred families more, all sharing six latrines and with no access to water. While the rain would be a welcome relief, it would also destroy the shelters, mostly constructed of cardboard boxes and old T-shirts whose colors and designs have long since faded in the sun.
More than 60,000 people have left the Dominican Republic to live in camps like this. After the Supreme Court of the Dominican Republic agreed two years ago to uphold a law stripping citizenship from thousands of people of Haitian descent living in the Dominican Republic and an increase of acts of racism and intimidation against Haitians in the country, many Haitians and Haitian-Dominicans have settled in camps just across the Haitian-Dominican border with little water, food, and support of any kind.
It is in this environment, where children have little to nothing do all day and find their educations disrupted that AMURTEL has begun offering summer camps for youth. In two of the three camps in the southern border area of Ansapit, AMURTEL offers summer camps for about 200 young people. The camps provide children with educational activities, a hot meal and water, and time to play and be kids.
In a recent study, Columbia University and World Vision found Child Friendly Spaces like these summer camps to be effective in providing psychosocial support to young children experiencing trauma. “CFSs provide young people with a safe place to play…and experience healing from any trauma they’ve experienced. They also allow children to return to healthy routines and experience a sense of normalcy again,” says Health MacLeod of World Vision.
Child Friendly Spaces are nothing new for AMURTEL Haiti. Since 2010, after the devastating earthquake in Port-au-Prince, AMURTEL has facilitated activities for displaced children and children living in poverty. Now, as the crisis of displaced people worsens along the Haitian-Dominican border, AMURTEL, which has worked in Ansapit for almost ten years and runs schools and empowerment programs in the area reaching more than 700 families, is well positioned to support these vulnerable individuals and, in particular, children, for whom the trauma of relocation, hunger, and insecurity is most acute.
In fact, in enrolling children in the camps, the biggest challenge that AMURTEL staff faces is limiting the size of the camps to a group facilitators can manage. With more funding, AMURTEL could expand the size of these summer camps and provide more robust meals to the participating children.
Mcleod describes, “We know the long-term impact of [children’s] exposure to traumatic events can be huge if not addressed.” It is precisely as these families decide where to go next and how to manage their family’s new and uncertain future outside of the Dominican Republic that their children are most vulnerable. And it now that proven programs like Child Friendly Spaces are most important for those children’s futures.
A refugee woman from Syria gave birth to her son on the shore of Lesvos as soon as the boat transfering her family arrived from Turkey. The mother and the baby are safe and healthy thanks to the volunteers and doctors who were there.
We are looking for volunteers who can commit time on a regular basis, i.e, once a week (or more), once every two weeks, once a month, etc. The most crucial need is for women with expertise in areas of pregnancy, birth and mother-infant care, such as Lactation Consultants, La Leche League leaders, Midwives and doulas, etc.
Other volunteers are welcome to help with the donation, collection, sorting,
and packaging of the relief items.
Contact us at