Wednesday, February 25, 2009

"our baby has been sick all winter...we can only afford to buy half of the formula she needs" - Feb 22

Adnan, his wife, Furdor and their only son, Saif, traveled by bus from Zarqa to come to Maha's flat in Amman for food assistance. The distance they traveled was so great that if they had taken a taxi, it would have cost them 14JD roundtrip ($20) They could barely afford the 1 JD bus fare but they were in such desperate need of food that they made the long trip

The couple have four children: Maria - age 8, Tlesnem - 6, Saif - 5, and their baby, Shayma - 8 mos.

Adnan is from Baghdad. He left Iraq 10 years ago when Iraq was suffering under the US-imposed sanctions, hoping to be able to work and support himself in Jordan. He met his wife, a Palestinian refugee, and married. Adnan told me that they lived in a Jordanian Palestinian camp but decided to leave after someone threw a metal pail at him from a window. Things are rough in the camps where poverty leads to frustration.

When I asked about their living situation, Furdor told us that they now pay "expensive rent" -- of 80 JD per month (about $100) I was shocked as 80JD is what some of the other families we know pay in Amman for a hovel. Furdoe says they will probably move back to the refugee camp for affordable rent - perhaps 40 JD per month.

They have just been told by UNHCR that they are eligible and will begin to receive the small monthly cash grant next month. I asked how they have been getting until now as Abu Saith cannot work because he has disc problems in his back. She tells us that their families have been helping them out a little, when they can.

We ask about the children. "All are well, al-hamdiallah!" (thanks to God) "but the baby has been sick all winter. We do not have enough money to buy her the formula she needs. She needs ten cans and they cost 4.5JD each". They can usually only buy, at the most, half of what is needed for their baby. I ask what they do when they do not have enough for the entire month. They water it down to make it last. This is distressing. Watered down formula may quiet a hungry baby by causing it to feel full but the nutrients are dilluted and there is a very real risk of the child not growing properly and of suffering from diminished intellectual ability.

This is not the only family we have met who are having a hard time affording formula for their infants. Breastfeeding is the best choice in providing adequate nutrition to infants and is free. However, some mothers have impediments to breastfeeding. These can be health-related - such as Um Saith who has an infection - stress, depression, or poor maternal nutrition. Some are advised by their family or older women that formula is the best way to go.

In many cases women can be taught and supported in switching back from formula to breastfeeding, but I have not yet discovered if there is anyone here who is providing this type of support. It is a difficult process for mothers because infants find the bottle much easier to get milk from than the breast. Initially they are likely to reject the breast and cry with frustration. A crying infant who refuses the breast will only cause more stress on a mother without good support during the transistion.

There is some support to help women understand the nutritional and financial value of breastfeeding over formula feeding but, from what I know now, it is only available from one clinic that provides health care to some Iraqi women here. In the coming weeks, I hope to explore what support may be available here to both support women in breastfeeding through difficult circumstances and, if there is no or inadequate support for this in place, if any organizations are providing free or low cost formula to those who need it but cannot pay.

We purchased a half-month of infant formula for Shayma and provided this family with a food assistance box and a package of lamb meat contributed by an Iraqi donor. Furdor went through the used clothing in "Maha Mall" and found enough to fill two large size garbage bags.

Young Saif helps his parents by dragging one of the bags of used clothing to the bus stop