SPRINGFIELD — When the refugee family of 11 learned that triplets were on the way, they expected their family to grow by three. What they didn’t anticipate was gaining a sisterhood of young American mothers across the upper Pioneer Valley.
Asha Muhumed and Hussein Ali were living in a refugee camp in Ethiopia when they received the news that Muhumed was pregnant. Twins, the Somali parents were told.
But with nine children and meager resources, the young couple was afraid.
“In the camp, the first thing that comes to mind after waking up is what to feed them,” said Muhumed, speaking in Somali through caseworker Nasra Ali of Jewish Family Service of Western Massachusetts, who translated their words to English. “We were scared and worried about how to take care of them,” the parents agreed.
Muhumed and Ali fled their birth country 25 years ago because of ongoing civil war in Somalia. Basic food and shelter were scarce, they said, while healthcare and education were not an option because they couldn’t afford them.
The second priority, said Muhumed, was finding random jobs each day to keep that slim food supply coming.
In September of 2015, Jewish Family Service of Western Massachusetts (JFS) resettled the family in Springfield. The Springfield-based organization which has additional offices in Northampton and Pittsfield, offers social services grounded in Jewish values including refugee resettlement, general counseling, elder services and U.S. citizenship services.
Maxine Stein, JFS president and CEO, said the organization will resettle at least 235 refugees this year.
Five months after arriving with solely the clothes on their backs, the family’s world changed yet again as not twins, but surprise triplet boys were born — Muhyaddin Aden, Nuradinn Aden and Shamsadiin Aden.
Muhumed, a seasoned mother, knew that babies make a significant impact on a family’s finances. The one-time payment of $925 per refugee granted by the Department of Homeland Security for resettlement in the United States would quickly disappear as they tried to stock up on essential items for the three newborns. Community effort
Deborah Roth-Howe of Leverett, who is the daughter of Holocaust refugees, cut back her work hours in September. After seeing the Syrian refugee crisis all over the news, Roth-Howe looked for a way to get involved and wound up on JFS’s doorstep.
While she was volunteering there, Stein mentioned the organization was collecting donations for the triplets. She said JFS tries to get as many items donated as possible to protect refugees’ funding for food and rent, as well as to buy them some time until they start working.
Her request was exactly the call-to-action Roth-Howe was looking for. She shared the need with her daughter, Leah Roth-Howe, who posted it to her Amherst area new moms email list serve.
No one expected the result that followed.
“I just remember every day coming home and people would leave things on my porch,” said Stein, who offered her Northampton porch as a closer drop-off location. “Everything from little brand new socks and stuffed animals to a breast pump and washcloths,” she said. “Oh my god, it just did not stop.”
The effort spread like wildfire, providing diapers, wipes, a crib and mattress, new baby clothing, a stroller, a changing table and a baby bathtub, among other items. The drop-offs continued for six to eight weeks, filling up the porch several times.
Stein said the minute the refugee family got home from the hospital, all the items were waiting for them.
The most striking, Deborah Roth-Howe said, was that the young moms were also just getting their feet under them and are not from a wealthy, affluent community.
“But,” she said, “they were so connected with what it was like being a mom, then imagine triplets, then image doing it with nine other children, then imagine doing it in a country where you’ve recently arrived and don’t speak the language.”
“Their hearts just opened,” she said.
The family has yet to meet their supporters but said they felt as if they had a family in America.
“To know someone who doesn’t know you cares enough to extend their hand to you — it’s something indescribable,” said Ali. “We’re finally not alone.” JFS future effort
Stein said the occurrence has inspired JFS, which is nearing its 100th anniversary, to create a new moms wish list to drive future donation efforts for refugee mothers who are expecting.
“This is a family who survived,” said Deborah Roth-Howe. “I can’t even imagine what hardships they’ve had on their plates and oh my gosh, the rest of us have it so easy.”
As for Ali and Muhumed, they said they feel the triplets have a better chance at life here, particularly with safety and education.
“If they try their best, they can be anyone,” Ali said. “Everything is possible in this country.”
June 20 is World Refugee Day, during which the United Nations and other groups around the world bring attention to the plight of refugees as well as celebrate their tenacity, resilience and culture.
To mark the event, JFS is offering a film screening of “Refugee Kids” at the Trinity United Methodist Church, 361 Sumner Ave, Springfield. The 5:30 p.m. screening will be followed by a Q&A session with film editor and Holyoke State Rep. Aaron Vega.
The event is free but requires registration at the JFS website. Attendees are welcome to bring donations of school supplies for current and newly arriving refugee children.
Sarah Crosby can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.