By Rachel Cunningham
When we think of Covid-19, we think of the disruption of society as we know it; of lockdowns, sickness, death and fear. However, the human spirit is a difficult thing to smother and out of 2020’s bleak dystopia spawned Let’s Match Mums, an initiative where mums can give clothes and accessories that their babies have outgrown to other mums, who happen to be living in Ireland’s controversial direct provision centres.
Let’s Match Mums founder, Louisamay Hanrahan, explained how it all came to pass. “Originally I’d studied health science, although since then I’ve actually been working in start-ups. I’ve my own growth marketing company, where I grow early stage companies. When the pandemic hit, I set up an Instagram page to use my background to educate people on Covid-19.
“I was also highlighting volunteering opportunities, as it seemed as if a lot of people were looking for ways to help but didn’t know how to go about it. It was this way that someone from direct provision reached out to me, asking whether anyone following could donate sanitation supplies to their centre. At that stage of the pandemic, things like bleach, facemasks and hand sanitiser were like gold dust.
“From that point onwards, I kept helping out and arranging for more supplies to be delivered to different centres. After a number of months, I made the decision to change the page to focus on people who are in direct provision. A lot of people in the community got involved, it really took off and suddenly we had loads of people helping.
“As I was going to the different centres, I began to get to know the women who were living there better. I started to establish what they consistently needed and found that there were a lot of new mums and women with young children who were really struggling to even get the bare basics.
“One day I was out collecting new baby clothes that were due for the direct provision centre and the woman told me to come back in six months because her child would have grown again and she’d have more baby clothes for me. It then occurred to me that the child receiving the clothes would probably also have outgrown these garments and be in need of new ones in six months’ time. It made sense that the receiving mum could probably get more clothes from the same donating mum and that’s really where the idea was born.”
There’s a circularity to the process, as Let’s Match Mums is repurposing items that may otherwise have been headed for the landfill. “It’s become apparent that this fulfils a need across the board for mothers, not just to those who require the items but also to those who want to give these often new or barely used things a good home. Sometimes people get gifted so many things that some don’t get used before the baby has grown or else they get multiples of the same thing.
“There are so many high-quality brand new children’s products floating around homes in Ireland that could be going to someone who needs them, rather than in the bin. The sustainability aspect of the arrangement is great, it’s this niche area where a lot of things can be passed around and used again. Typically, mothers can share baby and maternity accessories with their sisters, cousins and friends but this isn’t an option for mothers who are asylum seekers”, Ms Hanrahan commented.
Once the mums are matched, the mother in direct provision can pass on a list of what she needs, such as baby clothes, formula, buggies or maternity clothes. Mothers can also opt-in to communicate over text message, so that they have the option of becoming friends with fellow mums living locally.
“It can take a bit of time to find the right people to match but, luckily, a lot of local mums signed up in the beginning and we have so far been able to find every single mum a match, which is roughly 200 mums in direct provision.
“On a personal note, I’m so glad that we were able to create this in the midst of the pandemic. I’d been following direct provision before but had never really known what I could do to help people in the centres. It’s also such a wonderful experience to be working with a community of mothers and it’s so inspiring to see this sisterhood of mums just wanting to help each other.
“Learning to manage my time hasn’t been without its challenges but I think if you love something, you just figure it out. It’s still early stages, we aren’t even a year old yet, but we’ve achieved so much. We have lots of plans for the future and are hoping that this initiative will go from strength to strength”, Ms Hanrahan concluded.
For more details on how to get involved in helping to support asylum seekers nationwide, you can follow the instagram pages @letshelpdirectprovision and @letsmatchmums or visit letsmatchmums.com