Refugees, Action Against Hunger, homeless, syria, war, refugee camp, crisis,

A mum fears for her unborn child

Khounav is pregnant with her much wanted second child, but instead of excitedly planning for the arrival of her unborn daughter she is worried.

By Action Against Hunger

Feb 25 2016

Here at Action Against Hunger, we believe that ensuring every child – no matter where they are born - is able to fulfil their potential begins with good nutrition. This article is part of our #HealthyMumsHealthyKids series focusing on the importance of good nutrition for children and their mums.

"I’m afraid…of everything," says Khounav, 29, a Syrian refugee and mum. "I have nightmares all the time. It’s like I’m pregnant for the first time. I know that sounds odd, but being here I feel lost, like I’ve forgotten everything. I really need advice."

Khounav is pregnant with her much wanted second child, but instead of excitedly planning for the arrival of her unborn daughter she is worried. Six months ago, fighting in Syria forced the young mother, with her husband and six-year-old son, to flee their home, leaving everything behind - their families, jobs and way of life.

Stepping off the bus into an Iraqi refugee camp in the middle of nowhere, Khounav was devastated by the terrible living conditions – a  small plastic tent with no facilities and very little to eat. While facing a very uncertain future, Khounav discovered she was pregnant.

Even in normal times, pregnancy can be a daunting experience, but being pregnant in a refugee camp with no real home, clothes or money, and the nearest hospital miles away is a truly harrowing. 


A friendly face to provide hope at a difficult time

Desperate for help and comfort, Khounav looks forward to the visits from Action Against Hunger’s psychosocial team, who regularly visit her tent. They provide support and a friendly face - someone she can confide her worries to. 

Her biggest fear is giving birth in the camp, far away from her family and good medical care. ‘In Damascus I had a great obstetrician, but here…I don’t trust the camp doctor. I’m afraid of the pain and who will look after my baby if anything goes wrong,’ she says. ‘Last week I fell and was in terrible pain. Naturally I was very worried about the baby so I went to see the doctor, but he sent me home without doing a scan or anything. He didn’t tell me anything, I don’t know what happened, he didn’t even reply to my questions, maybe because we don’t speak the same language. It made me feel so isolated. There is a Syrian doctor in the camp but all the pregnant women want him to look after them. I really hope my baby is ok.’


'I had a great life before'

Khounav’s meetings with aid worker Suzanne are a highlight in her week, giving her a chance to have some company, and sometimes just to reminisce about her old life in Syria. ‘I had a great life before,’ recalls Khounav with a catch in her voice. ‘I had a beautiful home, life was good. I used to work in a food company where my husband was a supervisor.’

Today, her husband does odd jobs from time to time but has no steady work, which he finds very difficult. Being fairly new to the camp the family has no money and rely on their neighbours’ kindness to dress their son and donate clothes for their unborn baby. ‘Everything is difficult here. I even sewed up the bottom of the tent to keep out scorpions and snakes. I’m scared of fires too, there have been some recently,’ she says. ‘And there are lots of attacks here. The people are aggressive with me and tell me off for getting pregnant while I’m a refugee. My husband doesn’t say anything but he knows what I’m going through. He’s not happy either but he copes with it all better than me.’

Khounav is also concerned about her son, Aras, and confides to her social worker that getting him into school would go some way to alleviating her stress.

Aras, Khounav's six years old son, hugs his mum. Copyright: J. Belusa for Action Against Hunger

Recently, the family’s living conditions have improved. They now live in a new raised tent with electricity, individual toilettes and just recently an air conditioning unit was installed, which makes life tolerable when temperatures soar to 50°C. ‘Without the AC, I think I would have kept the baby inside,’ laughs Khounav. ‘I love it when Suzanne visits. It gives me the chance to get advice, information on what I need to do when the baby comes.’

During the birth of her son, Khounav’s mother was at her side throughout, but this time there is no guarantee her mother or any of her family will be there to help. Fortunately, part of Action Against Hunger's psychosocial team’s remit is to support Khounav during the birth so that she won’t be completely alone. They will also continue their visits once the baby is born, holding Khounav’s hand through one of the most precious and most vulnerable times of her life. 

We are committed to helping families who have been uprooted from their homes restore their health, both physically and emotionally. By providing counseling to expecting and new mums, we are helping them find a sense of security during a volatile time and providing them with the crucial support they need to ensure they and their children are healthy.

Top image: Action Against Hunger psychologists and displaced people during a psychosocial group session aimed at helping families overcome the trauma they have experienced. Copyright: F. Seriex for Action Against Hunger