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Lovely Akter holds her nine-month-old daugher
Mother's Day

"Be strong, courageous and hopeful." Mothers' messages during COVID-19

Mothers around the world, especially those in crisis zones, struggle to keep their children healthy and safe—sometimes against long odds.

Photo: Maruf Hasan/IRC

Being a mother, never an easy task, has become even more complicated during the coronavirus pandemic.

Those who have jobs on the frontlines battling COVID-19—health care workers, first responders, essential employees—must balance their concerns for their communities with caring for their own families. Others who have lost their jobs during an unprecedented global lockdown worry about feeding and educating their children. Then there are those who, uprooted from their homes by conflict and crisis, must cope with COVID-19 amid conditions that make social distancing and other precautions against the virus impossible

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) spoke with mothers in some of these "double emergency" regions. Below, these mothers describe the joy they find in their children despite the harsh new reality of the pandemic, and they send their messages of hope to fellow mothers around the world.

When I come back from work, my daughter cries to come close but I don’t touch her.
Lovely Akter, an IRC midwife, poses with her nine-month-old daughter. Lovely is wearing a blue headscarf and her daughter is wearing a pink shirt. Both are smiling.

Lovely Akter, an IRC midwife in Bangladesh, with her 9-month-old daughter.

Photo: Maruf Hasan/IRC

In Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, a midwife struggles to balance motherhood and work 

Lovely Akter works for the IRC as a midwife in the largest refugee camp in the world. She has a 9-month-old daughter, Sauda Binte Al-amin, who loves to play.

Lovely's job has changed significantly since the pandemic. She has to undertake many additional tasks, from taking the temperature of each patient to cleaning the clinic. Putting on and disposing of PPE (personal protective equipment) adds hours to her work week.

Wearing full PPE, including a face shield, a midwife takes the blood pressure of a patient.
Lovely Akter, an IRC midwife, with a patient. Photo: Maruf Hasan/IRC

Because of safety concerns, Lovely no longer brings her daughter to work, a change she describes as "very painful," but even returning home has become a challenge.

"When I come back from work, my daughter cries to come close, but I don't touch her," she says. "First, I have to take a bath. But when I get fresh and take her to my lap she gives me a nice smile and hugs me. This is the best moment."

Lovely wants mothers around the world to let their children be themselves. "We should show respect for what they want to do," she says. "My only dream for my child is that god gives me enough blessings so that I can make her a good human being."

Keep hope alive no matter how dark it gets.”

In Lodwar, Kenya, a mother worries about her children's education

Florence Lokitoe poses with her children. They are standing outside and she is holding a baby, while five children stand next to her.
Florence Lokitoe with her family. Photo: IRC

Florence Lokitoe nurtures her seven children who range in age from 9 months to 16 years. She has visited the IRC-sponsored Turkana Wellness Center for medical and psychosocial support.

COVID-19 has robbed Florence of her job. Her children are no longer in school and, as she points out, not all mothers have access to online learning or are prepared to home school.

"My responsibilities have increased," she says. "I am the mother, teacher, and custodian to my children. I monitor their every movement in order to keep them safe."

Florence also worries about the emotional impact the pandemic is having on her children. "Mothers are watching helplessly as our children deal with anger, confusion and fear," she says, "while we are unable to make things better for them."

Florence gets joy out of providing for her children’s basic needs, to see them happy and healthy. On top of following the COVID-19 guidance, she advises mothers to "keep hope alive no matter how dark it gets."

“Be strong, courageous and hopeful.”
Dr Fatima Ibrahim Lawan poses with her children on either side of her as she sits on a couch.

Dr. Fatima Ibrahim Lawan, a mother and nutrition manager in Nigeria, with her children.

Photo: IRC

In Maidugulri, Nigeria, a mother worries about her community

Dr. Fatima Ibrahim Lawan oversees nutrition programs for the IRC in Nigeria. She has two children, a 9 year old and a 2 year old.

Dr. Fatima's workload has increased with COVID-19, but though she has been tireless in her preparations, she worries about the transmission of the virus in her community. PPE can be hard to come by, and it is a challenge to convince the community to take the necessary precautions against the disease.

Dr Fatima poses with files at work wearing a red head scarf. There are hospital beds behind her.
Dr. Fatima at work prior to the coronavirus pandemic. Photo: IRC

Mothers face additional challenges, Dr. Fatima points out, as health facilities limit outpatient services for reproductive and sexual health services while focusing on the COVID-19 response.

When it comes to her own children, Dr. Fatima most appreciates the "pure love and daily inspiration" she gets from them, and loves reveling in their milestones. Her message to other mothers: "Be strong, courageous and hopeful."

It’s a tough time, but we will go through this.
Fathiah Said Saleh Naji, an IRC client, poses with her child in Aden, Yemen.

Fathiah Said Saleh Naji, a displaced mother of seven, with her youngest child in Aden, Yemen.

Photo: Anas Mohammed/IRC

In Yemen, a mother prays for clean water 

Fathiah Said Saleh Naji has seven children ranging in age from 10 months to 18 years. Though her family once owned livestock and worked farms, they were forced to flee their village when war arrived. Fathiah’s husband now finds intermittent work as a casual laborer. Her three youngest children are currently being treated by the IRC for malnutrition.

Fathiah Said Saleh Naji sits next to three of her children.
Fathiah Said Saleh Naji with her children. Photo: Anas Mohammed/IRC

Even after a ceasefire and as COVID-19 threatens the country, Yemen is experiencing an uptick in violence in its five-year-old-war. Life as a displaced person precludes simple precautions that people elsewhere take for granted.

"I want people to know that we don’t have water to drink, let alone to wash our hands," she says. "We also don’t have health services, we only have the IRC."

Despite everything, Fathiah loves to see her children smile. She nurtures hope that they remain healthy with a bright future.

"I advise every mother to keep an eye on her children and to educate them on how to stay clean," she says. "It’s a tough time, but we will go through this."

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