Project Elea is a global network of volunteers who work collaboratively with the residents of Eleonas Refugee Camp in Athens to improve living standards and community well-being. The project stands out for their emphasis on creative engagement of both children and adults, in addition to providing basic services like food and clothing distribution.
Project Elea is named after the Greek word for ‘Olive Tree’ which represents peace, honor, strong roots, long duration, and is an integral part of Greek culture. True to their name, the organization seeks to bring about peace, stability, and togetherness in Eleonas Camp by making the residents’ time there more pleasant, positive, and productive. They also aim to empower refugees to “begin rebuilding their lives and their families on solid foundation, with hope and inspiration for the future.”
Although Project Elea's work focuses largely on education and community building, they have been unable to continue the usual classes, indoor activities, community events and gatherings since the onset of COVID-19. “During this time, we have adapted our services to the situation,” shares Emily Wilson, Project Elea Coordination Team Member. “Around the time COVID started, Eleonas welcomed many more refugees from the islands which has put a strain on the already limited resources.” Project Elea is now managing the distribution of non-food items such as hygiene items, masks, sanitizers, clothes, shoes and winterization supplies to accommodate the needs of the 2800 people at the camp. “Our organization is collaborating with Refugees4refugees, another NGO, to ensure that the vulnerable populations are being protected from the winter weather conditions. We have adapted our program from an education/integration focused project to emergency response and distribution,” Emily states.
Project Elea and CHEERing (our international arm) have a close collaboration working together in Eleonas camp. CHEERing helps Project Elea with distribution of foods and supplies to residents, while they refer infants to CHEERing’s Grow Clinic for infant weights and measurements. Both teams also share interpreters and the volunteers and staff are always ready to work together for the betterment of camp living conditions.
Congratulations Project Elea, we applaud your flexibility and determination to respond to the specific needs and interests of Eleonas camp residents before and during the COVID-19 pandemic!
This week’s CHAMPion is Kimberly Rickard, MSN, CNM, a registered nurse with 24 years of experience working in women’s health. She was nominated for recently completing her Nursing Certification in Midwifery at Frontier Nursing University, for her many years of leading University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC)’s Baby-Friendly designation efforts, and for being among the first group of healthcare personnel to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
“When a couple of the Lactation Specialists at UMMC told me about Baby-Friendly USA, I appreciated the way that the initiative supported evidence-based care for women and their newborns. With the support of the administrative team, we participated in NICHQ’s Best Fed Beginnings and then partnered with CHAMPS to work towards our Baby-Friendly designation. We started the journey with very low breastfeeding rates, no skin to skin care, no rooming-in, and many process and infrastructural barriers, but we gradually worked at it and ultimately created a mother-baby unit and provided couplet care! After I left UMMC 4 years ago, the phenomenal team continued the work to achieve Baby-Friendly designation in 2017.” -Kimberly Rickard, MSN, CNM
Kimberly now works at Baptist Memorial Hospital (BMH)-Desoto, where she was excited to be part of their team as the hospital became Baby-Friendly designated in 2018. Her BMH-Desoto team has also successfully implemented safety bundles surrounding obstetric hemorrhage and sever hypertension in pregnancy. In December 2020, Kimberly received her Advanced Practice Nursing Certification in Midwifery after undergoing both didactic and clinical training and successfully completing the American Midwifery Certification Board.
In addition, Kimberly recently became one of the first set of providers to receive the COVID vaccine at her hospital. “I was fortunate to be offered the COVID vaccine during the first round because I am a healthcare provider. I was apprehensive at first, but I trust the science and understand the importance of vaccination in battling disease. COVID has been difficult for everyone and it has been terrible for relationships. I want us all to be able to visit with family and friends, travel and be adventurous, or maybe just go to a movie! I want to be an example to others that the vaccine is safe.”
When asked what motivates her work, Kimberly expressed her passion for health equity. “I believe all women deserve access to quality healthcare. I once heard the phrase 'Every person, whether man or woman, was born of a woman,' which really stuck with me and motivates me. I truly love empowering women and showing them they have the strength and ability to care for themselves and their families.”
Congratulations Kimberly, we applaud your commitment to quality maternal health care and Baby-Friendly practices, your wonderful academic achievements, and your enthusiasm about getting vaccinated!
Our CHEER Champion this week is Alexandra Beedle, MSC, ANutr, and Volunteer for CHEER International Group (CHEERing). Alexandra was nominated for her dedication and tenacity in going to serve vulnerable populations in Greece, during the current global pandemic.
“I am a humanitarian and the pandemic does not deter me from my work. On the contrary, it has made me want to use my knowledge and skills to help those who are now more in need than ever. At the same time, I hoped to gain invaluable hands-on experience.” - Alexandra Beedle, MSc.
Alexandra is a nutritionist with a Masters in Nutrition for Global Health from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM). She is first aid trained with St John’s ambulance and has experience working with various national and international organizations. Recently, Alexandra was working in South Sudan with the World Food Programme (WFP) Nutrition team as Data and Information Officer. Prior to this, she worked at a number of organizations on various systematic reviews about the issue of malnutrition.
“I found out about CHEERing very randomly while on holiday in Greece in August. I couldn't sleep one night and was browsing on LinkedIn when I came across a post by Indigo Volunteers,” she shared. “CHEERing was listed as an organisation, and on the lookout for a nutritionist, so, as my last contract had just ended, I sent an email offering to volunteer.” Alexandra describes that being proactive and flexible have been vital to her role at CHEERing. “With the COVID-19 situation changing daily, I have been able to apply my in-depth knowledge about breastfeeding and infant feeding in emergencies to my everyday role here in the refugee camps.”
Furthermore, Alexandra has previous experience working on the post-natal ward of a London hospital, where she assisted medical staff and provided support to new mothers and their families. During her time at CHEERing, she has advocated for a severely underweight premature baby to see a doctor, as she was losing weight weekly, and encouraged the mother to feed her more. She also helped to create a video to be used in a fundraising campaign, made infographics on recommended foods for babies from 6 months of age, and created social media posts to raise awareness about CHEERing’s work.
“Working in the camp has definitely shown me that there is very little coordination between national and international actors within the camp, for example, it is so difficult for the refugees to receive basic healthcare. I can only hope that this situation changes in the near future,” Alexandra shared. She is a London native who speaks French, Spanish and Portuguese.
Congratulations Alexandra, thank you for your commitment to serving vulnerable populations!
Learn more about CHEERing and support their work here.
This week’s CHAMPions are the women of the Moving Violations Motorcycle Club of Boston, popularly known as the “Bikers for Babies”. They were nominated for their volunteer work with the Mothers’ Milk Bank Northeast and their heroic rescue of 1,000 ounces of donated breast milk following power outage from Tropical Storm Isaias in Connecticut.
Moving Violations Motorcycle Club launched the Bikers for Babies program in 2018. The club consists of 90 active members, 18 of whom are Bikers for Babies volunteers. “When we heard about the efforts of the Sirens, our sister organization in New York City, our club president presented the idea to the Milk Bank in Newton and they thought it was great! We were really impressed to discover the work that milk banks do and we are enthusiastic to volunteer,” shared Daryll Drew, Moving Violations and Mothers’ Milk Bank Liaison
Although the Bikers for Babies have a lot of awesome stories from their breast milk transportation activities, they recently received a lot of well-deserved publicity for their efforts during the Tropical Storm Isaias. In the aftermath of the storm this August, a power outage throughout Connecticut left about 1,000 ounces of donated breast milk at risk of thawing. The Glastonbury milk depot staff were desperate to save the batch of milk, and so they reached out to the Bikers for Babies to help. When the bikers arrived, they along with Dr. Alvarez, an obstetrician and fellow biker, loaded up their motorcycles and transported the milk from Glastonbury, CT to Newton, MA.
When asked about the effect of COVID on their ability to pick-up donated breast milk from families and deliver them to the Milk Bank, Daryll shared that they now have limited interactions with people throughout the process and adhere to social distancing and masking measures. “Before COVID, we used to get a bit more interaction with the families. We are friendly and professional, and sometimes we will interact with their other children if they show interest in the bikes and if the parents are open to it. COVID has certainly changed that! But I am glad we are able to continue to help out whenever possible.”
The availability of pasteurized donor milk is more important now than ever and we thank the Bikers for Babies of the Moving Violations Club for their efforts to pick up and preserve donor breast milk, so it reaches the families in need.
CHEER Champion of the week
Each Monday (besides public holidays), we will recognize a CHEER Champion for all the support they have provided for CHEER, CHAMPS, or the general public.