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Jane Chen and Embrace Global: Saving lives in Ukraine & beyond

By Corrie Martin

Embracing Hope

The full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine was barely into its third month when AsAmNews first reported on Jane Chen and Embrace Global’s innovative, lifesaving baby incubators.

Today, more than a year and a half later, there is no foreseeable path to peace in the region.

Indeed, with Ukrainian President Zelensky recently shaming the United Nations for failing to do more to stop Russian aggression, the cause of the largest refugee crisis since World War II, the story of Embrace Global is one of the few bright spots of hope to emerge from this war.

“For me, what hits home is that we are providing hope to a nation that is being destroyed,” Chen tells AsAmNews.

“Providing assistance to vulnerable newborns on their first day of life is really special, and also to be able to bring hope to this next generation of Ukrainians, to their families, loved ones, and caretakers,” Chen says.

When the AsAmNews profile appeared in May 2022, Embrace Global had just launched an ambitious fundraiser on GoFundMe.

“We soon hit our goal of raising $600,000,” recalls Chen. “Many people quickly came together for this cause, and we are so incredibly grateful for all that support.”

Galvanizing donors for the production of the incubators needed to save newborns imperiled by Russian attacks was just the first step.

“Once we hit that fundraising goal, we were able to focus on manufacturing and production, but there were a lot of global shortages at the time in different components that we needed, and there were a lot of delays,” Chen recounts.

“Fortunately, the production group we work with in India really hustled to get everything manufactured to the highest quality so we could eventually ship the needed products out.”

The incubators were ready for transport to Ukraine in September 2022. The next challenge was transporting them from India to Ukraine.

“A lot of partners have come together to help us on the distribution side of things. Flexport, Inc. (a supply chain management and logistics company) has shipped all of our incubators pro bono. They have been one of our biggest and best partners in this effort,” says Chen.

Nurse holds infant in Ukraine

The final, harrowing step was transporting the incubators within Ukraine to get them into the hands of hospital staff working under chaotic, violent conditions of war.

“Several organizations have been working to distribute the incubators on the ground. UNICEF, Alight (formerly the American Refugee Committee), Project Hope, and local Ukraine-based NGOs, Nova Ukraine and the National Humanitarian Aid Agency in Zdorovi, distribute the incubators to hospitals most in need, including to the front lines,” reports Chen.

Embrace Global’s Impact in Ukraine

Letters and reports are pouring in from Ukraine to express gratitude and relief for the lifesaving devices, which Embrace Global continues to send monthly.

A message from one Perinatal Center affirms, “The Embrace incubators are an invaluable contribution to the work of the intensive care unit for newborns and make it possible to provide quality care to newborns in the city of Khmelnytskyi and the community in this difficult time of war.”

Staff at Maternity House No. 3 of the city of Mykolaiv contacted Embrace Global to share that, “with your donation, we have improved the quality of medical care and are providing comfort for our babies in this difficult time for the country!  Thank you for your care and support and your sincere and sensitive hearts.  TOGETHER WE WILL WIN!”

According to Project Hope’s most recent update on the situation in Ukraine, Russia has not eased up on its strategy of targeting healthcare facilities. Well over 1,000 such attacks have occurred since February 2022, many including maternity wards.

But, because of the Embrace Global incubators, Chen estimates that over 15,000 babies’ lives have been saved over the last year, as well as the lives of hospital staff and parents who would otherwise have also perished in the assaults. Because the Embrace Global incubators are portable, doctors, nurses, parents, and babies can quickly escape to bomb shelters when under attack. And, because the incubators do not need to be plugged in, they are still effective when the electricity cuts out.

The Global Reach of Embrace Global

Worldwide over the last decade, the charity says the Embrace Global incubator has saved an estimated 475,000 infants, and they are on track to save 1,000,000 new lives by 2025.

“Omaha, Nebraska has a population of right about 475,000 people, so sometimes I like to think that Embrace has saved a whole city of babies,” says Alanna Shaikh, a public health expert who is currently serving as Embrace Global’s Interim Executive Director.

“Most football stadiums are about 100,000 people so I also like to envision four football stadiums full of happy healthy kids,” Shaikh adds.

The device stands out as among the most consequential healthcare innovations in recent years. Shaikh explains that in terms of global impact, “the pneumonia vaccine saved about 500,000 lives in its first ten years of existence, so our impact is similar.”

Infant in Ukraine
Embrace Global photo

In addition to Ukraine, Embrace Global incubators are already reaching Syria and Türkiye (formerly Turkey), and efforts are underway to provide incubators to earthquake-devastated communities in Morocco, to war-ravaged Yemen, and to Libya, struggling to recover from recent catastrophic flooding.

“A newborn child is going to be the absolute most vulnerable person affected in any kind of disaster. It’s so important for us to be able to react quickly. But, what typically happens in the wake of such disasters,” explains Chen, “is that we must spend a few months fundraising to be able to produce and ship the incubators needed.”

Embrace Global is focusing on its next big goal: establish an Emergency Relief Fund in order to eliminate the lag time between a man-made or natural disaster striking and the production and delivery of needed devices.

“That reserve of capital will enable us to ship incubators immediately and get them into the field when they are most needed,” Chen says.

“Caring for a child in their first few days of life is so critical because that period determines not only life or death, but the child’s health outcomes for the rest of their life,” explains Chen.

“Providing critical temperature regulation during the first few days of life can make a complete difference to a person’s quality of life. Our ability to respond to critical needs quickly is our biggest challenge right now.”

Chen urges supporters to contribute to the Emergency Relief Fund by becoming recurring monthly donors. “Even $20 each month makes a huge difference,” Chen says, because “a single incubator has an exponential value. Each unit costs only $200 to produce and is reusable indefinitely, thus saving multiple lives.”

Jane Chen is Riding Some Gnarly Waves

Most days this month, Chen can be found surfing 3-4 feet set at Ala Moana Bowls on the south shore of Oahu, HI where she has retreated from the all-consuming, day-to-day obligations of running a global non-profit.

The temporary island retreat is giving Chen the time—and the mental and emotional space—to work on the second-biggest project of her storied life: a memoir about Embrace, the social enterprise she helped found 15 years ago, and her own story of surviving a violent childhood.

The memoir “is all about trauma and healing,” Chen tells AsAmNews.

“I start the book with the events of 2018 when we thought we would have to shut down Embrace, and my realizations around what success, achievement, and a sense of purpose really mean,” Chen says.

“Then the story flashes back to my childhood in which there was a lot of domestic violence in my home, and how a lot of my adult life has been spent healing from that trauma.”

“Because I felt so powerless as a child, I have been motivated to want to help the most powerless people in the world, and that really has been the drive behind Embrace and all the work I have done in my career,” Chen explains.

“That connection was unbeknownst to me. I didn’t tie those pieces together until my mid-to late 30’s and I had already been on this journey for many years.”

Chen says she “feels fortunate” to be able to get to write the book, saying, “I think the Asian American community especially will connect with this story.”

Domestic violence, intimate partner, familial, and relationship violence, are a silent epidemic in Asian American communities, according to statistics kept by the Asian/Pacific Islander Domestic Violence Resource Project (A/PIDVRP).

Stories like Chen’s inspire action, awareness, and healing. Like her baby incubators, Chen’s courageous words will generate waves of hope.

Look for Chen’s memoir to be published by Penguin/Random House in early 2025.

AsAmNews is published by the non-profit, Asian American Media Inc. Follow us on FacebookX, InstagramTikTok and YouTube. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to support our efforts to produce diverse content about the AAPI communities. We are supported in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, go to CA vs Hate.

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