Life In Berlin: "Auntie" Teams for Pregnant Refugee Women, Part 1

May 9, 2017

Dr. Bettina Gaber is pretty busy this Monday afternoon. Every chair in the waiting room of her practice for gynecology and obstetrics is taken. Still, Dr. Gaber takes her time with a young woman from Afghanistan. She wants to remain anonymous - we'll call her Malia. Malia is expecting her third child.

The 23 year old developed diabetes during her pregnancy. Dr. Gaber is concerned with her low amniotic fluid level and stresses to Malia to drink a lot.

Elisabeth (left), Maryam, Maeve and Frances (middle). Elisabeth, Maeve, and Frances are all part of the "auntie" team.
Credit Elisabeth Waller for NPR Berlin

She makes sure that Malia has received a device to monitor her blood sugar. Dr. Gaber also tells her patient to avoid carbs. Access to healthy food could be a problem, because Malia lives in an emergency shelter for asylum seekers, the ICC. Berlin's International Congress Center turned makeshift shelter houses close to 400 people.

Malia smiles and giggles a lot. She explains that she can’t cook at the ICC - that she eats whatever is being served. It's a tricky situation, but the young mother is not alone with these complications. Khatol Sediq from the Malteser Hilfsdienst, the organization that runs the shelter at the ICC, is making sure she understands the doctor's concerns. Khatol switches back and forth between Dari and German. And there are also the "Aunties" from the American Women's Club of Berlin.

"We learned that an enormous number of women being pregnant, having babies inside these emergency shelters, and I thought as a women’s club we really could help these women; and so my idea was to build teams of 3 to 4 women to support a pregnant woman through her process."

That's Molly Brown. She started the Auntie Teams for pregnant refugee women last November. Molly arranged 5 teams, and Khatol paired them with five pregnant women and their families living at the ICC. 3 healthy babies have already been born and Malia is expecting in a week.

Baby Ali, husband Hassan Gholami, Anita Habib, and big sister Sarina.
Credit Molly Brown for NPR Berlin

She says she will name her baby girl Aisha. Until then, the aunties will keep a close eye on Malia's blood sugar levels. After the baby is born, they hope to get the young mother out of the ICC. They're already filling out papers for a subsidized apartment. The "Auntie" team's volunteer work is not done when a baby is born. Molly sees her project as a long term investment.

"I think this is at any root of volunteer work, that if we take care of these mothers, if she can have a healthy pregnancy and a healthy beginning, it will go a long way in the family's integration here in Germany," Brown says.