A couple of days ago my Facebook feed, like that of many others, was filled with photo after photo of a dead child. Like so many other children and adults fleeing war torn countries, little Aylan is dead. He will not grow older, learn to read, ride a bike or just blow out 4 candles on a cake.
The photos that went viral have created a desire to fix the problem however we can. It hurts us terribly to see images like this and many people who previously have been unaware of the seriousness of the situation have been moved to act.
At this time millions of people are displaced from within Syria. Estimates say over 1.6 million are children. Over the last months the trickle has become a flood and families are making the hard decision to risk their lives in the hope of finding a new, safer home. A place to build new businesses, get an education, bring up children without fear. Those who can afford it will be journeying by plane, boat, car, train. Some families are walking with almost nothing. Governments around the world are responding with varying levels of compassion and practical support. Our (Australian) government is committed to keeping the problem, and the people in crisis, away from us. We are cutting international aid, encouraging other countries to consider closing borders by force and refusing to resettle any of these families here.
Babywearers want to help. We see families – small babies and little children – walking along roads, floating in the water, sitting in tents. And we think that the least we can offer is a carrier to help the caregiver look after her/his baby while in crisis. There are people working to collect and send carriers to organisations in Serbia and Greece and elsewhere. Some people are sending carriers that they have already but don’t use. Some people are buying carriers specifically for the purpose of sending them over.
This is a well-meaning project spurred by a desire to help. Babywearers know how much a carrier can help a parent/caregiver meet the child’s needs. But I will not be participating or promoting for a number of reasons.
Firstly, I have managed donations in the past, and continue to do so. It is a huge job to sort, organise and confirm the condition of the carriers that will be sent. Unsafe carriers will need to be weeded out; and there will be some of those. The carriers sent will range in value from op-shop carriers of doubtful vintage to new or nearly new buckle carriers. Invariably there will be slings and wraps sent too. The people on the ground supporting these families will need to take time away from other vital activities to work out what they have, divide into piles and distribute to families who are likely cold, hungry and in need of medical care. It is extremely unlikely that there will be babywearing educators on the ground who can ensure that the carriers are used safely and appropriately by their new owners. It is important to ensure that we do not add another possible risk factor into an already unsafe situation. Five metres of stretchy fabric with no instructions, or instructions in a language that cannot be understood by either the volunteer support person or the recipient will not be useful, and will cost – as will other carriers – approximately $65-$150 before it reaches the recipient.
There are more useful ways to spend that money. The humanitarian organisations charged with providing food have run out of money. Organisations like the Red Cross and Doctors without Borders are struggling to meet the needs of the traumatised humans who have nowhere to turn. The situation is dire, many people have been tortured and/or have witnessed unspeakable horrors. With many countries failing to offer financial aid that is even close to enough to cover the vital work, private donations help keep people alive.
Sending over a carrier or some baby clothes feels good; it feels tangible. Selling said items and donating the cash is more likely to help. $30 provides 8000L of drinking water to a community of 1600 people. $200 donated to Save the Children provides a houshold kit for a family of six. UNHCR oversees maternity clinics in refugee camps that provides prenatal and postnatal care as well as supporting women giving birth, as well as providing food to millions of people every year.
If you have a carrier that you would like to donate I would consider a few more local options. The ‘Safe Space to Sleep’ project that is coordinated by Babywearing Education Australia collects carriers to be distributed to families seeking asylum in Australia. These families have their basic needs met (as far as our government will allow), they are fed and have access to clean water and medical care; inadequate as it may be. The project sends new or as new buckle carriers with instructions to volunteers who give directly to families living in detention or in the community. We also work with St Kilda Mums to provide carriers for families in crisis in Melbourne, whatever their story. Other places to offer your used carrier include: your local domestic violence refuge; programs supporting young mothers, or those at risk; foster care agencies; or local babywearing groups. Many of these places will be able to absorb a carrier into a library as a teaching tool, distribute to someone who needs it, or sell it to help provide support for families looking to wear their babies.
Consider spending the time you would have spent on shipping the carrier making a phone call to your local member asking them to press for more refugees to be allowed into the country, or writing letters to our Immigration Minister Peter Dutton. Possibly send the carrier directly to the Department of Immigration asking them to remember that there are babies in unsafe conditions and we have the capacity to help.
If you particularly want to help the people fleeing war in Syria – as well as refugees from Afghanistan, Eritrea, Somalia, Sudan and Burma – please consider sending the money it would cost you to mail the carriers to one of the organisations linked in this post.
All babies deserve a safe space to sleep. All caregivers should have access to a carrier or system that allows them to keep baby safe and close. But first every human needs access to water, shelter, safety and basic medical care.
And once their basic needs are met, we can work with people on the ground to get carriers to families.
I’d like to thank the businesses that have supported Safe Space to Sleep: Babes in Arms (Ergobaby), Viva Connect (Lillebaby), Ankalia and Wrapture. And also the individuals who have sent us money and/or carriers. All families with babies who are in Nauru, MITA and BITA have been provided with carriers and we are ensuring that there is supply to meet demand as more babies are born or arrive.