Women & Children
Moms Supporting Moms: How One Nonprofit is Helping Refugees
Within 24 hours of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, many Ukrainian mothers became the sole caregivers of their families, including children and older relatives, while under the relentless stress of war, displacement and uncertainty about the future. We talked to Laura Deitz and Sara Gilliam, of the nonprofit Carry the Future, about how their organization is helping Ukraine women and children still in the country, as well as refugee families everywhere.
- Written By
- Jenna Gabrial Gallagher
Dignified Support For Refugee Moms
If you’ve ever traveled alone with children, even for just one day, you have an inkling of the difference a simple thing like a baby carrier can make in the life of a refugee.
“Carry the Future launched in 2015 when thousands of Syrian refugees were arriving in boats to Greece every day,” Laura Deitz, a board member and former chief response officer for the nonprofit says. “You’d see images of women dragging suitcases with all their belongings, while struggling to hold a toddler and a baby. Our founder Cristal Munoz-Logothetis wanted to give dignified support to these women on their journey to safety.”
Within two months of starting a collection for baby carriers, Munoz-Logothetis and nine other women were in Greece distributing 3,000 carriers. Today, Carry The Future has a team of 50 volunteer staff–-mostly moms themselves—and 5,000 volunteers from all over the world, serving displaced families in Ukraine; Greece, where the strollers they give to families who have just arrived at refugee camps work overtime as sleeping accommodations for babies, shade cover and small storage; Cyprus; Yemen, where 3 million people have been displaced and 70 percent of children don’t have access to clean water and sanitation; Serbia; Afghanistan, where mothers and their children are among the most vulnerable—and most hidden—victims of the Taliban; Jordan; the U.S./Mexico border, where they partner with the Humanitarian Respite Center, and wherever there’s an urgent need.
They’ve expanded their services to include three core programs centered on women and children: Emergency Response; Community Development, including early childhood learning centers and women-friendly spaces; and Welcome Baby resources such as clothing, blankets and diapers for refugee families to care for their newborns (refugee camps only give out one diaper per day, per baby). After distribution workers noticed that many older children were still wearing diapers due to the lack of safe toilets that were accessible enough to build a consistent habit, they began providing training toilets and a toilet training education program. They also distribute hygiene kits and sanitary supplies to mothers.
“Every refugee crisis has a gender component that’s often misunderstood,” Deitz says. “There are lots of reasons why families may not be able to settle together at their destination, and women often carry a disproportionate responsibility for managing the family during a traumatic time.”
The Special Challenges of Providing Aid to Ukraine Women Right Now
For Ukrainians, this gender component may be more pronounced since men between the ages of 18 and 60 have been forbidden to leave the country, leaving nearly all Ukraine women refugees to single-handedly navigate their family’s new normal.
Given that the world is still officially in a global pandemic, Carry the Future, like many organizations, does not yet have people in country like they normally would, but they are sponsoring a dedicated fundraiser and working closely with partners on the ground, like Refugee Support Europe and the International Rescue Committee, to ensure that the money donated is being put to use in Ukraine within hours. Deitz is hopeful that Carry the Future will soon have the capacity to establish a physical presence in the country. “Our first priority will be to get emergency assistance to the areas where women and children need our help most. We want to set up some safe spaces for women as quickly as possible and be able to give children who have endured so much something to anchor on, even if it’s just a small toy or a blanket, that feels like home.”
Turning Crisis Into Precedence
Deitz says that the global response to the situation in Ukraine has been much more positive than it has been to other refugee crises. “There is a groundswell of support across Europe right now,” she notes, citing the U.K., program offering households 350 pounds (about $456) a month if they shelter refugees for at least six months.
She and her colleague Sara Gilliam, vice-president of the Carry the Future board of directors, contrast the stories of two families they know of: one from Kyiv, who were issued their social security numbers and began receiving aid payments within a week of arriving in Ireland; the other from Yemen, who are two years into the process of resettlement in the U.K. with no resolution in sight. “The approach that countries are taking with Ukraine refugees is what we aspire to. It creates a precedence,” Deitz says.
The Power of Me-to-You Activism
The Carry the Future team also sees the current crisis as an opportunity for Americans to change how we view the refugee experience. Although the U.S. recently agreed to take in 100,000 Ukraine refugees fleeing the war, Deitz says most Americans don’t realize how undignified and brutal the resettlement process is.
“As parents, we should all be aware of what’s going on and how we can support refugees in our local communities,” Deitz says, noting that refugee support and resettlement is unique among global crises because there are so many ways individuals can act locally to make a tangible difference. Some of these include:
• Volunteering with a church or organization in your community that supports refugees.
• Asking your employer about matching contributions (or offering to match if you are an employer).
“We’re almost all moms, and almost all of us have full-time jobs,” Gilliam says, “But we’ve established a network of like minded women who want to use their free time in the wee hours of the morning to help other women.”
She calls the inner workings of Carry the Future “me-to-you activism,” referring to the running What’s App text chain that keeps their leadership team in constant contact, sharing links and opportunities to help refugee families.
“I think that’s special because it’s given me, a 45-year-old mom from Nebraska, a chance to have a loving and meaningful impact on a worldwide crisis. We may not get to meet every recipient of the aid we provide (especially during Covid), but we’ve been able to interact with moms on their journey and have these magical moments of connection that supercede country of origin and religion and are just about being mothers.”
Jenna Gabrial Gallagher is a writer and editor who specializes in topics related to lifestyle and design, families, women entrepreneurs, travel and sustainability. She has three little girls.