Supporting Columbia’s newest refugee mothers

This weekend, International Programs and MU Health Care partnered with a local group to organize a shower for nearly 20 new and expecting Afghan mothers.

women cutting cake at a baby shower

International Programs and MU Health Care partnered with Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri, the federally designated refugee resettlement organization in the area, to provide gifts and support for nearly 20 new and soon-to-be Afghan mothers. Photo courtesy Valérie Berta.

Jan. 31, 2022
Contact: Deidra Ashley,
Note: For privacy reasons, the refugee mother’s name has been shortened.

Having a baby can be very stressful. Now imagine being seven months pregnant and fleeing Afghanistan — quickly moving thousands of miles away with your husband and three young children.

That’s exactly what A experienced last fall.

A’s husband works for the United States military. As the Taliban began to take over Afghanistan in August, the family grew concerned for their safety and started their journey to the U.S. After many weeks — and stops in places such as Qatar, Germany and Mexico — the family finally made it to Columbia.

“There was a lot of uncertainty,” A said. “And being pregnant made it all the more difficult.”

Just a few days after the family arrived in Columbia, A had her baby — a month earlier than she had planned.

Gathering gifts

A is one of nearly 20 new and soon-to-be moms who are part of Columbia’s Afghan refugee community. Over the weekend, employees from across the University of Missouri came together with Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri to shower moms (and babies) with gifts and welcome them to our community.

“Late last year, we learned that some of the 270 new Afghan refugees to Columbia were pregnant or had recently had babies,” said Mary Stegmaier, vice provost for international programs. “Many of these women have been completely uprooted and they don’t have the family support structure that they are used to. The goal of the shower was to welcome these moms to our community and provide some of the necessities their babies need to be happy and healthy.”

The International Programs team worked with case workers to identify the items that were most needed by the mothers. Then, Paulina Brouder, associate director of study abroad, created an online sign-up that Tigers shared with their various networks. Brouder said the sign-ups rolled in quickly. “It was really heartwarming to see the outpouring of support for this effort,” she said. “Mizzou is a land-grant institution, and we are ‘for the people.’ Serving our community in this space is just one way we’re fulfilling that mission.”

In addition to donations from community members, many Mizzou faculty and staff signed up to donate items, including cribs, clothes, diapers and more. “I’m a mother, and I was able to grow into that role with the support of a community of women and men who knew what it was like to care for a tiny human,” said Sheri-Marie Harrison, an associate professor of English who donated to the shower. “I donated to make sure I did my part for another mother in our community who needs this kind of help. It’s help that every mother needs.”

Celebrating a new tradition

On Sunday, the moms and a few community members gathered for the shower — a tradition that was new to many of the Afghan women. Before the festivities began, representatives from MU and Catholic Charities were joined by providers from MU Health Care who spoke to the Afghan women about prenatal and pediatric care.

A few hours later, and after much cake, punch and homemade Afghan treats, the moms gathered their presents and headed home — with new friendships and a greater sense of community in hand.

“I had a really good time,” A said. “The community and people in Columbia are very nice. I’m very happy to be here and am grateful for this shower.”

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