By Eric Tegethoff
Washington News Service
SEATTLE – Syria will enter its fifth year of a civil war next month, and since the fighting started nearly 4 million refugees have fled across the country’s borders.
The displaced refugees end up in camps in bordering countries such as Jordan and Turkey, where medical supplies are hard to come by, especially for pregnant women and their newborn babies.
Although the needs of babies born in these refugee camps may seem distant to Washingtonians, Rita Zawaideh, executive director of the Salaam Cultural Museum, is providing a local solution.
“Kits are put together by us here in our office, in the Seattle office, and we just ask for donations of everything that needs to go into a kit,” says Zawaideh. “It’s given to a mother that has just delivered, and it will be items that a mother would need from the first day of delivery of a baby up to one year of age.”
Zawaideh says her organization sent about 200 kits to a refugee camp in Jordan six months ago, and the museum’s Medical Missions program is in the process of making more. The museum also has received quilts for babies from knitters across the nation.
According to the United Nations, nearly half a million Syrian refugees and internally displaced women are pregnant.
For children born in Syria, the conditions are especially harsh because of the lack of reliable facilities. Zawaideh, whose organization also sends prenatal vitamins and baby formula to refugee camps, describes some of the conditions expecting mothers face.
“With poor access to water, facilities and hygiene, there’s so many infections and premature deliveries,” she says. “And she wants her baby, so, you know, anything that we were able to give them.”
After the Paris attacks in November raised security concerns over refugees from the Middle East, 31 governors vowed to close their states to people resettling in the U.S.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee was vocal about doing the opposite, saying that his state would “embrace compassion and equality.”
Zawaideh says she sees that sentiment among people.
“That they are bringing high chairs and booster seats and bringing clothes in, and bringing in games for the kids, and all the stuff that we can turn around and hand out to people,” says Zawaideh. “Washington has absolutely been fantastic.”