Just Getting Started

After 19 hours of tiresome travelling, worrisome texts and tears from my family, and battling a jetlagged sleep schedule in the 95 degree heat for the past two evenings, I have finally found myself relaxed in a small (air-conditioned!) cafe in the beautiful city of Athens, Greece. There is no denying that it has been a little difficult adapting to the ruthless heat and accepting the fact that I am a little out of my waters culturally, but nonetheless it has been an incredible experience. And I still find it hard to believe I have the opportunity to stay here for the next six weeks.

For those just tuning in, this summer I am working with AMURTEL Greece, a local NGO that is committed to providing refugee and migrant mothers with prenatal and postnatal care from licensed midwives. AMURTEL is an agency that is run by women for women and children. This aspect of AMURTEL is very important to me, particularly because I think it is known that women tend to better understand and empathize with other women and their needs. AMURTEL also provides mothers with information on breastfeeding and offers lactation consultations for women who are having difficulties breastfeeding. Although in Western society mothers typically have the option to choose between breastfeeding or formula-feeding their newborn children, breastfeeding is traditionally revered and expected from mothers in other cultures. Refugee and migrant mothers are under a lot of stress (living in a foreign country, unable to speak the native language, the future of their family uncertain, etc.) and therefore experience difficulties breastfeeding.

Although AMURTEL was not expecting me until next Tuesday, I couldn’t resist showing up a little early to learn a little more about what they do. Due to a loss of funding at the beginning of this year, AMURTEL had to shorten their work week from four days a week to only three days a week. They are open for business from Tuesday through Thursday from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. When I arrived at their doorstep Thursday morning at 10:25 a.m., there was already a group of mothers gathered around the door, children in hand, waiting to be let in. As I entered the small building and introduced myself, I learned that AMURTEL was hosting a group session that morning for their Arabic mothers, where they gathered with a certified lactation consultant and an Arabic translator to discuss how breastfeeding had been going, and to ask general questions and bring up any concerns. After a quick tour with the agency director, where I learned that AMURTEL incentivized their group sessions by promising mothers who attended and stayed the entire time about 7-8 diapers for their children, I was able to sit in with the group for a while. I learned that the groups had been getting too big, and therefore had to be split up into a morning and afternoon session starting next week. One mother said that she was only able to feed through one of her breasts, and they other breast was “empty.” The lactation consultant recommended she stay after the session for a private consultation.

Of course, since it is summer break and schools are closed, many of the mothers brought their children along to the group. It quickly became rowdy in the small room, the children becoming restless and bored, so I was asked to take the children into the playroom and to watch over them to ensure they were safe. The thing about children, regardless of an age-barrier or language-barrier, is there is always a way to communicate with them. Although we were all a little shy and awkward at first, I managed to get myself roped into a game of kitchen (I was the patron), school (I was the student), and hospital (naturally, I was the patient). At the end of the group, the kids hugged me goodbye. It was pleasant.

At the end of the day the entire staff traditionally gathers together to meet and discuss any concerns and work to be done for the upcoming week. I was asked to do a little bit of research to see if there were any organizations that would be able to send AMURTEL volunteers who would be able to stay for a longer duration of time and if there were any qualifying grants AMURTEL could apply for. Since I have a four-day weekend, I am excited to get started on that soon! I was also told that I would be trained to work the front desk, sit in on midwife appointments and lactation consultations, and work on the social media accounts. I am so excited to start again next week and still find it hard to believe I get to work with an agency with a purpose I care so deeply about!


Breakfast at a local brunch jointOne of my colleagues at AMURTEL jokingly told me that in Greece, morning is from 10 AM to 5 PM and afternoon is from 5 PM to 8 PM. That was good news for me, as I was able to wake up late this “morning” and enjoy this incredible breakfast (pictured below) at a local brunch joint.


I am looking forward to the next few weeks: more walking, more heat, more espresso, and (of course) more service!

— Megha Patel