This story originally appeared on KCUR Kansas City by Rebecca Smith.
After fleeing Afghanistan, several hundred refugees have ended up in mid-Missouri. Community groups there came together to gather donations for new and expectant Afghan moms, and hosted a baby shower and health clinic to help them transition to life in America.
Last August, the United States completed the American exit from Afghanistan, and as the Taliban regained control of the county, numerous Afghans – many of whom had worked with the US military – were forced to flee.
Several hundred of those refugees have ended up in Mid-Missouri, so in January community groups came together to gather donations for new and expectant Afghan moms.
And they didn’t stop there. Instead, Catholic Charities of Central & Northern Missouri, MU Health Care and MU International Programs decided to host a baby shower and health clinic to educate and welcome Afghan moms as they transition to life in America, as well as to life as new moms.
It was noisy walking into the parish hall of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, as dozens of people gathered and prepared for a baby shower.
Pregnant and new mothers were led to their seats, a table was covered in small gifts and toys and another table was full of cake and traditional afghan snacks.
At the front of the room were dozens of gift bags and a group of 10 or so people trying to put together a pack n play.
Among all of this is Frishta Aslami. She’s holding a very young – like weeks old – infant in her arms.
“I was in the delivery room with her mother,” Frishta said. “It was one of my cases that they arrived and few days after, we had one trip to the ER, and then everything was fine. And then a day later, we had a trip to the ER.”
There things progressed quickly.
“I ended up being with mom for a few hours until seven o’clock, when the baby was born. I witness everything, I ended up to cutting the cord, and I ended up naming the baby. So basically, we call her my baby.”
Frishta is a case manager for the Afghan placement program through Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri. She’s been working with organization since last September to help Afghan refugees settle into the mid-Missouri community.
Which is what the event is all about: welcoming the mothers, celebrating their children, and introducing them to the American baby shower.
Dr. Chris Wilhelm is a pediatrician at MU Health Care, one of the event partners, and a veteran who served overseas in Afghanistan.
“We thought it would be a great idea if we could hold a baby shower for them, so that these women could get together and see how each other are doing.”
But he said that organizers quickly realized the event offered a second opportunity, as well – a chance to introduce these mothers to the American medical system, what birth looks like here as well as pre-natal and post-natal care.
“Because in most of Afghanistan, the concept of prenatal care and routinely taking your child to the doctor was a foreign idea there. One – because the resources and two just because the turmoil that was going on.”
Wilhelm said that due to his background and the time he spent in Afghanistan, he’s seeing a lot of the new Columbia Afghan community – probably 20 to 30 babies and about 80 children.
So, before the party actually began, all the mothers gathered in a circle with three physicians.
Each doctor took turns speaking about different aspects of maternal and infant care – and passing around an infant in a bright red sleeper – while two case managers translated in Pashto and Dari, the two main languages of Afghanistan.
Finally, it was time for the baby shower, and as the mothers sat down with community members and began to eat, several event partners came forward to speak.
Mary Stegmaier, the Vice Provost for International Programs at MU, was one of them, and she helped organize the event and the collection of materials for families.
“They were overwhelmed with donations. There are boxes and boxes and boxes of diapers and baby wipes. We have cribs, we have strollers, we have baby wash tubs,” Stegmaier said. “So, tremendous outpouring from the community. We’re really fortunate, and it will benefit these families that have just arrived.”
Valérie Berta, the community engagement coordinator with Catholic Charities Refugee and Immigration services, said 294 Afghan refugees have settled in mid-Missouri since last year.
“They have to flee for their life – literally –sometimes with only the clothes they had on their back, and that is true of the whole family.” Berta said, “And so, again, the response of the community has been amazing, but we will continue to need help.”
She said it was important for her to create an event that brought mothers together: taught them, celebrated them, supported them, but most importantly – welcomed them.
“So, we were hoping to build community within that still, you know, community in the making the African community here in Columbia … So yeah, it’s a small thing, really, really small thing we can do, but we hope it helps,” Berta said.
Photo: Frishta Aslami, a case manager with Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri, holds the baby of one of the new Afghan arrivals. Frishta was present at the baby’s birth and cut her umbilical cord.
Copyright 2022 KBIA. Reprinted with permission.