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Motherhood in the midst of humanitarian crises

13 May 2018


For women living in crisis, the challenges of motherhood can be overwhelming. To commemorate Mother’s Day, here are the stories of five strong mothers who received support from OCHA-managed Humanitarian Funds to help them care for their children in some of the most difficult circumstances imaginable.

Faduma in Somalia: “My son was dying, but together we managed to save his life.”

Credit: WOCCA

Faduma Hussein Abdi, 48, fled conflict in the coastal town of Adale. She didn’t have enough money to flee with all of her seven children, so she brought only the youngest three. They temporarily settled in Balcad IDP site in Banadir, where Faduma struggled to access assistance, and she sold tea by the roadside to make a little money.

Over time, each of her children lacked sufficient food to thrive, but Ahmed, her youngest, became very sick. “I asked my relatives for help, but they suggested to let him remain in bed, as there was nothing they could do. There is no hospital there. I started to panic. My son was dying and I didn’t know what to do.”

But Faduma didn’t give up. She found out about a nutrition centre managed by the local NGO Women and Child Care Organization (WOCCA). The centre, supported by the Somalia Humanitarian Fund, admitted Ahmed immediately so he could receive intensive treatment.

Just one week later, Faduma was able to bring her son home and continue the treatment with ready-to-use therapeutic food provided by WOCCA’s outpatient programme. Less than two months later, he was completely fit. “I was counting the minutes to see my son recover. Now I can go back to work, and he is well, he plays and laughs. I am very grateful.”

Fatema in Syria: “We will be able to live in what we now can call home.”

Credit: Al-Inshat Association

In September 2012, Fatema, her husband and their two young daughters fled intense fighting in Aleppo. Together with many other internally displaced families, they reached Al-Ashrafiyeh, which was considered a much safer neighbourhood.

The family had limited financial means and struggled to pay the rent of their new house. On top of the expenses to support her family, Fatema has to take care of her disabled 11-year-old daughter, Hamida, who is paralysed. “When our neighbourhood in Aleppo city became accessible, we were eager to return to our apartment, but it was badly damaged,” she said.

The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East (GOPA) received funding from the Syria Humanitarian Fund (SHF) and could offer reparation works to displaced families, including Fatema’s. Power was restored, walls were rebuilt and painted, and wooden doors, frames and windows were installed. She explained: “We even managed to restore the water supply to the house, and now we are working hard on replacing all the furniture that was stolen. Step by step, we are rebuilding our home.” In July 2017, Fatema and her family moved back into their home.

Like GOPA, other organizations have greatly benefited from SHF funds to help displaced families restore their homes. In the old Homs city area, for instance, the Inshaat Association has rehabilitated some 350 houses and apartments, providing manual work and material to repair houses. Inshaat prioritized families headed by women, people living with disabilities, and vulnerable families living in crowded houses or shelters.

Drag the icon left or right to see before-and-after examples of rehabilitation work done by the Inshaat Association on some of the houses in Homs.

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  The Al-Inshat Association worked hard to rehabilitate homes in Homs city. Credit: Al-Inshat Association/Homs/Syria/2017

Through its restoration work, GOPA aims to reduce the vulnerability of residents and returnees in east Aleppo through the rehabilitation of living spaces so they can offer a secure, private and hygienic place for families to live. The project aims to support the rehabilitation of some 200 apartments that will be repaired at an estimated $450,000. The project focuses particularly on IDPs who want to return to their original homes in locations that have become safe, in addition to residents whose homes were damaged during the fighting, to encourage them to stay and move on with their lives.

The project prioritizes female-headed families, large families, families without an income, the elderly and families with members with disabilities.

Rafiya in Sudan: “This is the happiest moment of my life.”

Credit: Global Aid Hand

In the village of Um Khair, in Abyei, Sudan, Rafiya was able to give birth at night with light for the first time. She said: “I named my baby Aldaw [baby of the light]. This is the happiest moment of my life. Throughout my pregnancy, I was worried about what would happen if labour came at night. Many women suffer or lose their babies or their lives [when giving birth] here.”

With funding from the Sudan Humanitarian Fund (SHF), national NGO Global Aid Hand (GAH) renovated the local health clinic and installed a solar power system to maintain the cold chain for life-saving vaccines and medicine, and to provide lighting for key facilities.

GAH’s work made the difference between life and death for Rafiya. “Most labour starts at night and babies are born at home,” said Fatma Alasir, baby Aldaw’s grandmother. “This is an example of how a simple thing can make a big difference. Now with the light, we do not take these risks anymore.”

Medical Assistant Elsadig Mohamed Abdalla said many women die because they give birth without a trained health worker. To reduce maternal mortality rates, the GAH project includes outreach to women in the area. Elsadig explained: “We are now seeing more pregnant women come to our clinic, as we now have qualified staff and a well-equipped antenatal unit.”

In 2017, at least 78 per cent of all children born in Sudan were delivered with support from a trained midwife. This is thanks to SHF funds, which were instrumental in providing power to health clinics and posts in Darfur, and contributing to an environment for safe deliveries.

Marie in Burundi: “I didn’t think my baby and I were going to make it”

Credit: OCHA/Christian Cricboom

In January 2018, over 8,200 Congolese refugees arrived in Burundi over nine days. Fleeing fighting in South Kivu’s Fizi territory, they crossed Lake Tanganyika to reach the coastal provinces of Rumonge and Makamba. The journey was dangerous and exhausting.

Pregnant with her fifth child, Marie undertook the long journey with her husband and children, arriving at the Rumonge reception centre in the first wave of refugees. Within days, she went into labour. She was scared, her body still recovering from days of incessant walking and just small amounts of food to share with her family along the way.

“I didn’t think my baby and I were going to make it,” she said. “I was scared for my husband and for my children. What will they do without me?”

But Marie made it to Rumonge hospital with the help of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and its NGO partner GVC. Within days, she and her new son, Justin, were united with the rest of the family in Musasa refugee camp in Ngozi Province. “Now we can be a family,” she said.

UNHCR, WFP and UNICEF received US$2.3 million in CERF rapid response funding to prepare for the refugee influx. Having the money up front and in time not only speeds up and scales up the response, but also makes it more cost-effective.

Maryam in Nigeria: “The team saved my baby Aisha”

Credit: Action Health Incorporated

With 7.7 million people in need of emergency assistance, Nigeria continues to be one of the most severe humanitarian crises in the world today. In the past 7 months, over 100,000 persons have been displaced from areas that are hard to reach for aid workers in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa, the country’s three worst conflict-affected states. These women, children and men desperately need the basics: food, water, shelter, blankets, clothes and medical services.

The situation is particularly critical for pregnant women, who often end up without any medical assistance and no safe place to give birth. The lack of medical facilities, trained staff and life-saving drugs, as well as the high concentrations of displaced people, mean these areas have high rates of maternal mortality and morbidity.

This is why the Nigeria Humanitarian Fund channelled part of its first ever allocation, in June 2017, to a project run by the Nigerian NGO Action Health Incorporated (AHI). With funding totalling $217,200, the project focused on providing reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health services to the most vulnerable people in the towns of Fufore, Mubi, Michika, Madagali and Hong.

Maryam, 20, was heavily pregnant when she found out about AHI’s mobile clinic services, and the nurses and midwives ensured that she had a safe delivery. She explained: “The AHI team saved my baby Aisha. Before, I never knew the danger of not having antenatal care.” Since last year, over 12,200 women and children have benefited from AHI’s reproductive health services.