AMURTEL Greece is providing antenatal and postnatal care programs for infant and young child feeding, and safe spaces for mothers and babies to gather at our Mothers and Babies Center in Athens, Greece.
Our teams have been present in Athens since September 2015, responding to the dire challenges so many women refugees were experiencing. Following our work based at the port of Pireaus and other camps, we now have a Mother-Baby Area in the hub of downtown Athens. More than 4,500 refugees currently live in urban settings, and with public transportation allowing access to downtown for those in the surrounding Athens camps, our center enables us to reach the greatest number of people.
Within the last 6 months, more than 1000 mothers from Syria, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Iran, Algeria, Morocco, and Greece have come to our center, some pregnant and many with their infants, finding a warm, safe and friendly space. These women and children are vulnerable but seeing their strength and graciousness every day is beautiful to witness.
It is amazing how many mothers tell us that they are afraid their breastmilk is not good because they eat so poorly, or because the food in the camps lacks nutrition. Those living in apartments often don’t have enough money left after paying rent to buy nutritious food.
We began our food distribution program last year when we were in the camp at the port. There was one woman I remember so well. She was almost crying when she first came because she felt weak all the time, thought her baby was not getting well-nourished through her breastmilk and told us how fussy he was when he nursed and didn’t seem to like her milk.
These are the common stories we hear continually from many. We had supplemental food from the UNHCR which we gave and she came regularly to receive it. I will never forget the day she came by when it was not so rushed and we had a Farsi translator to sit and talk a bit. Again she was almost crying but this time from joy. She could hardly contain herself when telling how strong she felt now and how good her breastmilk was and how much her baby loved it…she went on and on, even flexing her muscles while grinning and laughing. And she said it was all because of the food we gave!!
To be honest, it is not only the food. It is also that they know there is a group of women here who care about how they and their babies are during this very cruc ial period of pregnancy and infancy. They come to our center often just to be in a woman’s space where they can sit and drink tea and visit with other women while the older children play. They miss very much the extended support they are used to of having mothers, sisters, and women friends around them all throughout pregnancy, birth and infancy.
One in five refugee women of childbearing age (15-45) is likely to be pregnant (United Nations Population Fund). Pregnant women and newborns are disproportionately harmed by disasters, with more miscarriages, premature births, low birth weight infants, and birth complications than an average population.
Lack of adequately nutritious food, a scarcity of drinking water, fragmented or no health care, unfamiliar surroundings, and the often unending psychological stress put pregnant women and infants at great risk.
At our Mothers and Babies Center we are able to provide prenatal and postnatal exams by licensed midwives, birth preparation and assistance at births whenever possible, postpartum care of mother and infant, supplemental food and water during pregnancy and lactation in order to help cover nutritional needs and prevent dehydration.
We also offer infant feeding assessments for mothers with children under 2 years of age, and assistance for mothers to increase their milk supply and resume lactation if possible.
Mother-baby areas provide safety, reassurance and resources for mothers to feel supported and access information, particularly in relation to infant feeding. These spaces evolve from the needs and skills of the mothers themselves, and AMURTEL is there to help with all the resources can provide.