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Baby Tents are Safe Havens for Syrian Refugees

Photo credit: Yolanda Romero

In the town of Tyre Eida in Lebanon, refugees who have fled the Syrian conflict are struggling to feed their babies. In this vulnerable community, Action Against Hunger provides cash transfers – a simple system that enables recipients to purchase a monthly shopping basket of staple foods such as rice, bulgur, bread and eggs. However, baby formula is usually priced beyond accessibility, and due to its high cost, many mothers choose unhealthy alternatives such as cows’ milk, causing adverse reactions in infants.

In response, Action Against Hunger has established baby tents: spaces where mothers can learn to breastfeed their babies with privacy and peace.

When food is scarce, breastfeeding is even more important. Nutritionists recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life for infants. However, studies indicate that only 16% of Syrian mothers practiced exclusive breastfeeding before the conflict.

Despite the fact that Syria was a middle-income country before the outbreak of the conflict, certain pockets of the country were already troubled by severe acute malnutrition. In 2013, studies done in the agricultural region of Bekaa found that 1.5% of young children surveyed had severe acute malnutrition. In other words, Bekaa was already on the brink of a nutritional emergency.

Today, malnutrition is growing in severity in neighboring Lebanon, a small country where over a million Syrian refugees have fled. This situation has forced a re-definition of privacy for those living in temporary settlements; refugees are packed into tiny shared quarters with family members or into temporary accommodation centers (churches, schools, shelters) where divisions of thin wood sheeting create a scarce illusion of private space – about three square-metres for each family to live and sleep.

Baby tents thus provide mothers with a peaceful environment where they can experience comfort and safety with their babies, and learn about newborns’ nutritional needs and tips for successful breastfeeding.

A baby tent is a place where health begins: a place for bonding, for comfort, for nourishment, and a sense of well-being for both mother and baby. In the most tumultuous circumstances, a baby tent is a safe haven.

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