Supplies and TLC in ‘baby boxes’ for Syrian refugees

A “baby box” is full of the basic supplies needed for the first months of life, from clothing to diapers, and even includes a safe place to sleep — the box itself. (Photo by Ken Lambert for The Seattle Times)
A “baby box” is full of the basic supplies needed for the first months of life, from clothing to diapers, and even includes a safe place to sleep — the box itself. (Photo by Ken Lambert for The Seattle Times)

Imagine the challenges of a new baby — the sleepless nights, the constant feedings, the endless diaper changes. Now imagine navigating those first few months of parenthood in a refugee camp.

In Jordan’s Zaatari Camp, where hundreds of babies are born every month, it’s a grim reality.

Moved to help, a group of local volunteers has started assembling and sending baby boxes, full of handmade baby supplies, to Syrian families struggling to survive a world away.

“We really emphasize socks, sweaters, blankets. You know, all the basics, because they have to live outdoors in tents or less,” says Jackie Lambert of the Tri-Cities, who organizes a group of knitters and crocheters called Hats and More for War-Torn Syria.

Lambert has teamed up with Quilts Beyond Borders, an organization that produces handmade quilts for international causes, and Salaam Cultural Museum, a nonprofit that delivers supplies to refugee camps in the Middle East. Together, they hope to send 200 baby boxes to Zaatari this year.

A baby box is full of the basic supplies needed for the first months of life, from clothing to diapers. It even includes a safe place to sleep — the box itself.

The tradition comes from Finland, where the government started supplying a box to expectant parents in an effort to combat infant mortality. The country now has one of the lowest rates in the world.

“This is for the new mothers, the first-time moms,” says Brenda Pierce, who works at Salaam Cultural Museum and helped send 125 baby boxes to Syrian refugees last year. “These people arrived with nothing. They thought, ‘Oh, we’ll be going back to our homes within months.’ [But] as they realized that they’re going to be there for a long time, they’ve started getting married. They’ve started families.”

The boxes headed to Zaatari are inspired by the Finnish version but have a few special touches, most notably colorful handmade clothing and a baby quilt. On the day I visited the museum, the small office was piled with bright, tiny sweaters and beautifully patterned blankets.

“We love children and we love quilting,” says Susan Schmidt, who had traveled from Oregon to deliver 57 baby quilts from Quilts Beyond Borders volunteers. “There needs to be something in the midst of all of this … A sense that someone cares about them.”

A Syrian father and son receive a handmade quilt from Quilts Beyond Borders. The child's mother died in delivery six months earlier while the family awaited entry into Jordan as refugees. (Photo courtesy of Salaam Cultural Museum.)
A Syrian father and son receive a handmade quilt from Quilts Beyond Borders. The child’s mother died in delivery six months earlier while the family awaited entry into Jordan as refugees. (Photo courtesy of Salaam Cultural Museum.)

To emphasize that idea, each handmade item has a tag, often in the shape of a heart, identifying the name of the knitter or quilter. It may seem small, but it’s a personal touch that resonates in a population that feels mostly forgotten by the world.

“It really made mothers cry,” says Rita Zawaideh, founder of Salaam Cultural Museum and herself from Jordan. She helped deliver a previous batch of quilts to Syrian refugees and will be traveling with this year’s first shipment of baby boxes in July. “The mothers and the kids are like, ‘These are made just for us. People in America are not forgetting about us.’ ”

The experience has also been powerful for the volunteers, seeing their crafts as symbols of compassion to vulnerable families.

“I just love to do it,” says Lambert, who was moved by photos of her handmade clothes being delivered to camps. “I’ve seen my stuff being given out. It’s a really big deal.”

If you’re not particularly crafty, but still want to contribute to a baby box? Visit the online campaign at www.crowdrise.com/new-baby-welcome-kits-for-refugees-in-jordan.

Jackie Lambert, left, Susan Schmidt and Brenda Pierce are part of a volunteer group assembling “baby boxes,” which include handmade quilts, in Seattle. (Photo by Ken Lambert for The Seattle Times)
Jackie Lambert, left, Susan Schmidt and Brenda Pierce are part of a volunteer group assembling “baby boxes,” which include handmade quilts, in Seattle. (Photo by Ken Lambert for The Seattle Times)

Sarah Stuteville

Sarah Stuteville is a print and multimedia journalist. She’s a cofounder of The Seattle Globalist. Stuteville won the 2011 Sigma Delta Chi Award for magazine writing. She writes a weekly column on our region’s international connections that is shared by the Seattle Globalist and The Seattle Times and funded with a grant from Seattle International Foundation. Reach Sarah at sarah@seattleglobalist.com.
Sarah Stuteville

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