A Mother and baby corner - a place of health and serenity
Support for refugee and migrant women in Serbia
Belgrade, Serbia, 18 December 2020 – Sharife Yusufi is a mother of four. Her oldest child is already a teenager. Her youngest son is eighteen months old and has two names – Shahir, a reminder of his native Afghanistan, and Milos, in gratitude to the doctor who, at the Centre for refugees and migrants near Bela Palanka in south-eastern Serbia, helped take care of Shahir Milos, who was born with congenital heart disease.
“I raised my first three children in our house in Afghanistan, in a different setting,” recalls 36-year-old Sharife. “Milos was born at a Reception centre, here in Serbia. We have been changing addresses ever since. We are currently staying at the Asylum centre in Belgrade. These are all difficult circumstances, where I, as a mother, don’t set the rules. And I find it very difficult.”
That’s why Sharife is happy every time she visits the Mother and baby corner. The nearby Community centre, run by the humanitarian organization ADRA, houses just such a mother and baby corner, whose work is supported by UNICEF through the project ‘Strengthening Refugee and Migrant Children's Health Status in Southern and South-Eastern Europe’, co-funded by the Health Programme of the European Union (the ‘RM Child-Health’ initiative). Here, mothers can spend time in a safe space for women, change their babies’ clothes and nappies, access hygiene items for their children, breastfeed in privacy and put their children down for naps, as well as participate in workshops. And most importantly, because they are living in challenging circumstances, they can talk to a doctor about the nutrition, hygiene and early childhood development and immunization of their small child, but also about their own health and the health of older children. This is particularly crucial during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The first piece of advice that mothers receive in the Mother and baby corner is always about breastfeeding – a source of food that is always available, hygienically safe and nutritious, and which boosts a child's immunity.
“Breast milk provides all the nutrients a baby needs, but it also stimulates development [and] develops immunity. It helps the child to calm down, sleep better and be settled. This also helps me be calm,” explains Sharife with a smile on her face.
Sharife is an experienced mother. Even so, she is very grateful for the advice she has received from the doctor at the Mother and baby corner. When Milos was six months old, she introduced solid food into his diet, while she continued to breastfeed. She recalls that Milos’s first solid food was rice cereal, and then later on vegetables, fruits and meat.
“Milos likes best the carrot and apple puree I make for his snack,” explains Sharife.
The needs of refugee and migrant women, according to social worker Andja Petrovic, have shaped the development of ADRA’s Community centre, where they would, as a rule of thumb, almost always come with their children. In order for women to be able to attend creative, recreational and educational workshops at the Women's centre, they needed a Child-friendly space for older children and a Mother and baby corner for women with infants. These spaces make it possible for mothers to participate in language classes, sports activities, creative workshops and, most importantly, in workshops about women's health and rights, while their children are taken care of and safe.
In these challenging times, mothers really appreciate the chance to talk to a doctor about the health status of their children.
“The most important thing is that all the advice from our doctor is in line with their economic circumstances and current living situation [in Reception centres],” explains Andja. “The advice is tailored to their life and I think they particularly like that, because they can see that their situation is acknowledged. Because when they go to a doctor [in other facilities], they get advice that they can’t follow because they don’t have the [living] conditions for that.”
Dr Zivica Lukic explains that she talks to mothers mostly about nutrition, hygiene and how to respond to their babies’ needs. “We support mothers to establish and maintain breastfeeding, as it has not only economic benefits, but for mothers it also has emotional and physical ones. We know how healthy breastfeeding is for the child, but it is equally healthy for the mother, because it soothes and creates a strong bond between mother and child. When the baby is six months old, it’s necessary to introduce solid foods. I advise [the introduction of] vegetables that can be pureed well, such as potatoes and carrots, [as well as] rice.”
Social worker Andja describes Sharife as a dedicated mother, who gladly takes advice about her child's early development. From nutrition and hygiene to regular vaccination and learning through play which stimulates child development.
“Milos is an irresistible child and Sharife is a dedicated mother. She has other children who are great students, who are willing to learn and develop despite the difficult situation they are in. Milos has someone to look up to. And we are doing what we can to help.”
The bright young boy with big black eyes with two names can now communicate in three languages. Mostly in his native Persian, but also a little in English and Serbian. He is also learning about colours and shapes and is growing up to be a very creative child. His mother is visibly proud and happy when she watches him cheerfully wave and send her kisses.
For Sharife and Milos, the Mother and baby corner is a safe space: a place of serenity.
This story is part of the Project ‘Strengthening Refugee and Migrant Children’s Health Status in Southern and South Eastern Europe’, Co-funded by the Health Programme of the European Union (the ‘RM Child-Health’ initiative).
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