18 January 2013
The vibrant cry of a baby burst out from a small room in the Khan Eshieh refugee camp in southern Damascus. Forced to find refuge in a shelter housing another 15 people, Mayada Yahya gave birth in a small room with no privacy.
The room has provided shelter to Mayada and her husband ever since they fled the fighting in Daraya, near Damascus, a few months ago. Little did she know that she would be delivering their child in this same room months later.
Makeshift maternity ward
“I received a call after midnight asking for my help for a home delivery. I examined Mayada and realised that her pregnancy was a risk due to her narrow pelvis and that she needed to go to a hospital quickly”, said Fadia, a midwife at a United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) health centre who assisted Mayada with her delivery.
But Mayada and her husband were unable to reach the nearest hospital due to the fighting, Fadia explains: “Suddenly, I found myself in charge of a makeshift maternity ward.”
As Fadia began preparing the room for delivery, the electricity went out, forcing her to rely on a kerosene lamp for light and warmth. Soon, the kerosene, too, ran out, leaving Mayada to endure her labour pains in a freezing night in this small room, illuminated only by the light of a candle.
“I was forced to examine her by the flickering candle light”, says Fadia. “The conditions were extremely poor.
“We lacked equipment and medicine. She was giving birth in a small room with hardly any light”.
“It’s a boy!”
Despite the obstacles, Fadia used her skills as a midwife to help Mayada as needed. Finally, the baby was born in the pre-dawn hours, to cries of “it’s a boy!”
Fadia struggled to care for Mayada and her newborn under such difficult conditions, but mother and baby pulled through, says the midwife.
Mayada and her husband chose to name their baby boy Muhajer, or migrant, in reference to their situation as displaced people sheltering in a refugee camp. The baby brought hope to the refugees sheltering in the room, say the couple.
A source of hope
“Despite the challenges we are going through, Muhajer carries all the hope in the world in his smile”, says Mayada’s husband.
"Our son represents the love that fosters hope in our lives."
Since the birth, midwife Fadia has continued to help Mayada look after her baby, giving advice on feeding and baby care. Mayada is extremely grateful for the help, she says. “I felt confident [during the birth] because Fadia was so confident and in control. She did an amazing job.”
Fadia is one of thousands of dedicated UNRWA staff in Syria who have gone well beyond the call of duty to carry out their humanitarian mission by assisting refugees, like Muhajer’s mother, in times of extreme hardship.
UNRWA’s emergency work in Syria