Glasgow charity supporting refugee parents wins major national award

Amma Birth Companions offers support to women during pregnancy, birth, and the early stages of parenthood.

When mum-of-three Benedicta Umanhonlen first arrived in Glasgow a year-and-a-half ago, she was alone and two months pregnant.

Facing the daunting prospect of completing her postgraduate studies and giving birth 5,000 miles away from her home in Nigeria – she was lonely and afraid.

But things turned around after she sought help from Amma Birth Companions in Glasgow.

It’s a charity offering support during pregnancy, birth, and the early stages of parenthood to those who might otherwise be facing the journey alone.

Benedicta says it was a lifeline at one of the most difficult times in her life.  

She said: “I really didn’t know how the system works…I had no family member at all here in Scotland.

“There were times when I was down, when I would cry. I just needed someone to talk to.

“There are times when I look back and I ask myself, how did I survive that?”

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Amma Birth Companions was founded in 2019 and has provided support to many women throughout their journey to motherhood.

Benedicta said: “I was told what they could do as a charity, and I was wowed at that point, I’m like… ‘are you really going to do all of this?’

“They literally sat me down and walked me through what I was supposed to expect, provided me with a birth companion who was there all through…god bless her.

“And then even after I had my baby, I had another person come and support me at home while I do my chores or try to do my assessments.”

With the help of its 70 volunteers, the charity supports clients from around 45 different countries – most of whom are seeking asylum or have insecure immigration status.

Already, maternal mortality rates among women from Black or Asian ethnic backgrounds are far higher than for white women.

And these inequalities go even deeper for asylum seekers or refugees, who face multiple barriers such as isolation, language and insecure housing.

Perinatal team leader Linzi Glen said: “It’s about letting them know what their rights are, and what choices they have.

“A lot of the time they’ve given birth in another country before, and it’s really different when they come to the UK. So we give them lots of information to help them make decisions around their own care.”

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As winners of a 2024 GSK IMPACT Award, Amma Birth Companions will receive £40,000 in unrestricted funding.

It follows a rigorous selection and assessment process, during which Amma Birth Companions was chosen from more than 500 charities across the UK as one of the ten winners.

Now in its 27th year, the awards are a mark of excellence in the charity sector, designed to recognise the outstanding work of small and medium-sized charities working to improve people’s health and wellbeing in the UK.

Katie Pinnock, director of UK charitable partnerships at GSK said: “Amma Birth Companions is a small but incredibly effective charity, giving voice and choice to marginalised women such as asylum seekers, at a crucial time in their lives.

“As the only charity in Scotland specialising in this work, its services are critical to prevent poor birth outcomes amongst some of Glasgow’s most vulnerable mothers and to give their babies the best possible start in life.

“In addition to its targeted support services for pregnant women and new mothers, Amma is also driving improvements in maternity care in Scotland, by using the lived experience of the women it supports to directly shape government policy.”

Maree Aldam, the CEO of Amma Birth Companions, added: “We are deeply honoured to receive this prestigious award.

“This recognition fuels our dedication to enhancing maternal wellbeing and reinforces the significance of our efforts to tackle systemic disparities in perinatal care.

“We gratefully accept this award on behalf of our entire Amma community of staff, volunteers, and other supporters whose collective commitment to improving birth experiences deepens the impact of our work.”

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