Birthday Wishes

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Today I have the great pleasure and honor to gather with a group of Palestinian and Isaeli midwives, mothers, activists, change makers, and visionaries. We are celebrating the 5th birthday of this program, Midwives For Peace. What a tender, tense, and insightful five years it has been!

It took two years to get this group of midwives in a room together due to paperwork, political and legal barriers, and funding. Then, on a sunny spring day in 2007, a bus full of Palestinian midwives traveled from the West Bank to the Galilee. I was there, waiting with the Israeli midwives for their arrival. There were increasingly frustrated calls from the driver of the bus as they had never been to this region before and were lost, and afraid to ask for directions or assistance. The husband of the hosting Israeli midwife got on the phone with the driver and in Arabic, navigated him to the birth center where we were to meet.

The bus drove up the hill, parked, and everyone waited. Inhaling with anticipation, we seemed to each understand how in that moment our lives were changing. Then as we exhaled, the Palestinian women climbed out of their bus, eyes met from opposite sides of a war, and hearts opened. Arms outstretched, the women embraced, smiled, laughed, and it was done. Midwives For Peace was born.

It’s been five years, there have been wars, deaths, births, graduations, weddings, meetings, workshops, abstracts presented, and standing ovations relished. Friendships  have forged, work shared, and a future envisioned where these women are seen and experienced by the world as equals, colleagues, and champions of each other.

We gather today in Beit Jala, five years ago this wouldn’t of happened. It couldn’t of happened. These women are indeed changing the world one birth at time, and it is our great honor to bear witness to their courage, vision, and commitment.

Sera Bonds

Founder/COHI

Beit Jala

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The Journey Continues

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Meena Lenn, COHI Social Media Director, in the Za’atari refugee camp along the Syrian border

(photo by Yifat Susskind)

Prior to our arrival in Jordan last week, I had countless conversations with Sera about our plans, our goals, and how to prepare for this journey. While the rest of the COHI field team has worked in numerous crisis settings, this would be my first experience in a refugee camp. I hoped to learn first hand about the complexity and difficulty of coordinating relief aid and help COHI find it’s role in the process. I was determined to prepare myself as fully as possible. Though I’ve studied humanitarian emergencies and worked in the developing world, those experiences could not prepare me for the people and places we would see.

The camp is dusty, chaotic, and overwhelming. The tension, especially among the young men, is palpable and curious eyes follow us wherever we go. They ask what we’ve brought them, how we can help.  We hear arguments, babies crying, children singing, and the rumble of trucks moving supplies in and around the camp. There are children everywhere and so little for them to do. We step over holes that families use as makeshift toilets. Simple needs are insufficiently met, but there are shops selling cotton candy and satellite dishes. It occurs to me that there are people who profit from this suffering.

We hear stories of riots that break out during aid distribution. One relief worker compared the women to WWE wrestlers, physically brawling with each other to provide food and supplies for their families. Though we laugh at the comparison, we are sickened by the thought. While many of their husbands remain in Syria, fighting for their country, the women of Za’atari are fighting for the survival of their families each day.

For all the despair that we witness, we also see the hope and joy that children bring even in the toughest times. They are still laughing, playing, and learning. They ask to be photographed and giggle as they strike different poses. They want to be remembered. A young mother hands her baby to me proudly, his delivery was just one month ago. He is wide-eyed and calm, having just nursed in the feeding center where we sit together on the floor. Though she is barely 20, this is her second baby. She says I must hurry and catch up, I should have at least 3 babies by my age. This child is her blessing, and gives her focus and purpose for the time she must spend in the camp. She speaks of leaving Syria and wonders when or if her baby will live there. For now, this will be the only home he knows and  though it is a difficult place, his mother will fight for him.

As we left Za’atari, Sera asked me if I could work there every day. No, I don’t think I could.  And beyond that, I could not imagine being forced to live there, facing the daily struggles with no end in sight. What I saw at the camp was difficult because it all seemed so temporary, and it’s not. Eight months have passed, seasons have changed, people have come and gone, and babies have been born but the dream of a new beginning is still elusive. As I prepare to leave Jordan and return to the normalcy of my own life, these mothers must brace for another day of old and new challenges. As they soldier on, I believe COHI will fight for these mothers when few others can, and it has been my great privilege to share in this journey.

Meena Lenn, MPH

Amman, Jordan

COHI Has Arrived!

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(photo courtesy of Relief International)
Awakened by the majestic call to prayer, today COHI’s field team, assembled now in Amman after travel from Texas, NYC , Doha, and East Jerusalem, sets out for the Za’atari Refugee Camp. We will be distributing supplies such as handheld Doppler ultrasound machines, solar powered flashlights, head scarves, and hemoglobin kits. We will offer a full and detailed report after our day spent there touring clinics and meeting mamas and babies. Stay tuned!

Join COHI As We Head to the Middle East

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(view of Amman, Jordan, photo courtesy of Ken Miller)

Today I leave Austin, Texas for Amman, Jordan. It will take me 26 hours to get there, I will cross an ocean and two continents. I leave behind me tacos, family, yoga class, and spring in the Texas hill country. The weather I will arrive into in Jordan will actually be almost identical to the weather I am leaving, and the landscape isn’t so different, either. That is where the similarities end. The politics, what I will be seeing and doing each day, how easy it is to get from point A to point B, and my ability to communicate by myself, unassisted, well, these will be my logistical challenges. The biggest challenges will be taking place inside, and those are much more difficult to predict, but are greatly anticipated, and that is a heavy feeling.

This work we do at COHI is one of the greatest honors of my life, and I don’t take my duties lightly at the helm of this small and mighty organization. We hope to leave the Middle East in a week and 1/2 with a clear sense of purpose, partnerships clearly laid out, and a plan for the role that COHI will play in supporting the Syrian refugees and how COHI will continue to support the uplifting partnership of the coexistence work in Palestine and Israel.

We will use this new platform to keep you up to date on this exciting trip to the field, and the world as we see it, and hope to be able to share a story or of two of the women and babies we meet there!

Sera Bonds

Executive Director/COHI