One Woman’s Fight for Moms in the World’s Largest Refugee Camp - OZY | A Modern Media Company

One Woman’s Fight for Moms in the World’s Largest Refugee Camp

By Hailey Sadler


Mitigating misery is always better than hoping someone else will.

“We are both happy and in good health.”

A simple statement from a young mother, squeezing her squirming 6-month-old.

But here, as I am sitting cross-legged on the ground in a makeshift bamboo shelter in the middle of Kutupalong refugee camp, these words out of the mouth of a young Rohingya mother hold extra weight.


A child sleeps on his mother’s lap as they wait to receive care at Medair’s nutrition site.

Source Hailey Sadler

It’s been over a year since I was here last, documenting the refugee camp conditions for the Rohingya women who fled here to Bangladesh with their families to escape the ethnic cleansing being carried out by Myanmar’s military in their home country. Being back, I am confronted with the same unresolved challenges. The same trauma, thick in the air and in the stories. But also new flashes of hope.

The simple words: “We are both happy and in good health.” Amid the maze of challenges that constitute health care in the world’s largest refugee camp — where vulnerable mothers and infants too often fall through the cracks — these words feel like a triumph and a revolution.


For Astrid Klomp, whom I am shadowing, these words are the result of seven tedious, painful and passionate months pioneering a program to provide holistic care for refugee women and their infants in the overcrowded camps outside Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh. A Dutch lactation consultant, Klomp, alongside her team of nurses, staff and dedicated community volunteers, has been piloting Medair’s first-ever Community Management of At-Risk Mothers and Infants (C-MAMI) program, in partnership with World Concern.

While most available programs only screen for breastfeeding problems, C-MAMI programs offer a more holistic approach, including screening for mothers’ and infants’ malnutrition and, critically, maternal mental health care. “We provide support and if we see danger signs, we refer them elsewhere for more comprehensive treatment,” Klomp tells me as we weave through the crowded clinic. “Sometimes we’re just an ear. We just listen.”

It’s a particularly critical mission in a tremendously challenging environment — given cultural barriers, the level of trauma experienced, and the logistical challenges to providing care. Seven months into the process, many hurdles remain. But Klomp and her team’s unique efforts are already having an impact on hundreds of vulnerable women and their children. 

*In the collected photos only first names are used for privacy. 

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