Carriers for refugees

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.

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Elderly Syrian refugee Halima Ali holds her granddaughter Amal, 4, while sitting outside their tent at an informal settlement near the Syrian border. Photo: AP

 

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.

7 Responses to “Carriers for refugees”

  1. A thousand times yes. Very well said.

  2. Absolutely love this Brie. My sentiments exactly

  3. Thank you for this detailed and thoughtful post. I am a Babywearing Educator in New York with Babywearing International. I’ve shared this with members in my group who are passionately soliciting for donation drives. Could you please share your source for the average cost you give for s&h of a carrier donation? Thank you very much!

    • hi Jenna,

      Thank you for sharing my post. I am happy to share how we reached that figure.

      We started with a base cost of $40 for every carrier.
      Cost to ship within Australia – $15
      Cost per carrier to ship overseas (even in bulk) -$10
      Customs (probable) – $10
      Time spent packing and unpacking 30 minutes – $10

      If we consider that it is likely only one in three carriers sent are used by a caregiver then the costs involved in getting a carrier from Australia to the individual is actually tripled.

      All of that time and money can have a greater impact elsewhere.

  4. Thanks for this. I worked with refugees in the Middle East for a few years, and the other day I wrote a very similar post on FB, which met with a bit of resistance from some babywearing mamas across the globe. I understand and admire their passion, but, for the reasons you stated above as well as many others, their time and money could be put to MUCH better use elsewhere.

    Thanks for being another voice of reason during this unreasonable time!!

  5. Hi guys, I’m leading up the Australian collection for baby carriers.

    There are many different ways to provide support to a humanitarian crisis. Our campaign to collect baby carriers was started in response to a specific request from organisations working on the ground, directly with refugees, as baby carriers are hard to find in these areas (certainly in the quantity that is needed). We know that three quarters of the millions of refugees coming out of Syria are women and children, and these items will allow children to be carried more efficiently by carers, who will be able to keep their hands free for other necessities.

    You raise some great points about the cost and risk of doing this from Australia that we are doing our best to mitigate.

    We have secured a sponsor to provide free shipping for all of the donated carriers, which removes one major cost of this endeavour. The great news here is that we have raised a lot of money to cover shipping, so that money can now be donated directly to the charities working with refugees to help with distribution and allow them to buy other resources.

    We are also printing instructions for use (pictorial instructions and instructions translated into Arabic) as well as TICKS guidelines and will be including this with all carriers. Our carriers will be packaged into boxes of like items – one box of ring slings, one box of stretchies, etc etc, which will make distribution easier. All items will be screened for safety and usability prior to going into the boxes. Finally, we are part of an international effort that actually has sent, and continues to send babywearing consultants from Europe to work with the volunteers who will be distributing the carriers.

    There are still challenges that we are working through (like customs in Europe), but we have only been operating for a week – we are exploring several options and I have no doubt that we will find a solution to this within the next 2 weeks before our shipping agent takes our goods.

    One positive from campaigns like this that I think is often under-appreciated is their capacity to inspire and involve members of the community who would not otherwise act. We have many hundreds of people who have liked our page and donated carriers and money – some of these people would have donated anyway, but many wouldn’t have.

    All that said – I am more than happy for you and your readership to sell your carriers and donate the money to the refugee crisis. Or even donate the postage that you will avoid by not sending your carrier to me (or overseas). If this campaign does nothing more than inspiring more people to donate money, it is still a massive win for me.

    I am proud of the fact that setting up this collection effort has prompted this discussion – and hopefully, prompted a lot of people to donate (whether in-kind or cash) who otherwise wouldn’t. Thanks for reading this lengthy reply and thanks for your support of the refugee crisis xx

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