Las Vegas resident Devin Raman boarded a plane for Athens, Greece, on Jan. 13, not to take a dip in the turquoise waters, but to help people she’s never met.
Raman, 34, came across an article several months ago about Glendale, Calif.-based nonprofit Carry the Future, an organization that provides baby carriers to refugees.
“My heart breaks thinking about what it would be like to make the choice they make, leave everything behind and walk hundreds of miles and hope someone will let you in, help you and give you an opportunity for a life — if they survive the boat crossing, of course,” she said. “We are so very fortunate and have so much. I felt compelled to help.”
In 2015, the International Organization of Migration reported that more than 1 million refugees had entered Europe by the Mediterranean Sea or from Turkey into Bulgaria and Greece on foot. More than half were Syrians fleeing the civil war, which has been ongoing for the past four years.
Raman, a Southern Nevada Health District disease investigator, made the 25-hour journey to Athens to hand out baby carriers and other supplies such as hats, socks, gloves and toys.
“I wanted to be in Greece on the ground welcoming the refugees to Europe and hopefully making their journey a little easier,” she said. “I have a 2-year-old, and thinking of those babies and families, imagining my son in that position, makes me want to ease their burden as much as I can.”
A ‘monumental task’
According to Raman, whose son and husband, Vivek, are eagerly awaiting her return in Las Vegas, she and eight others spend most of their time meeting boats and ferries that come into the Athens ports. The group also walks around Athens to hand out supplies at various refugee camps.
“We’ve also volunteered to sort and organize aid items at the abandoned Olympic stadium where people from all over Europe are mailing supplies,” she said. “There is no governmental oversight, so it’s all volunteers who open, sort, organize and deliver the aid where it needs to be. There are thousands of boxes … it’s a monumental and almost overwhelming task.”
The supplies and baby carriers, Raman said, are being given to anyone who has a need and a baby. While most of the refugees are from Syria, they also come from Iraq, Afghanistan and Morocco, she said.
“We came across a young Roma (gypsy) mother holding a baby (and) begging in the street, so we put her baby in a carrier for her and gave her baby socks and a protein bar for her,” Raman said. “She was so happy to receive the carrier that she started dancing on the sidewalk.”
Each day has been extremely hectic as she and the team run to meet boats in order to be at the right place at the right time, Raman said.
“One of the online reports was wrong, so we were at the wrong dock and a boat was coming,” she said. “We ran two miles loaded with all our supplies to the right space and made it just in time.”
The atmosphere in Athens, according to Raman, is bustling as Greeks try to help many of the refugees themselves.
“They’re donating their time to help at the Olympic stadium, and there have been gentlemen handing out free cups of hot soup to everyone as well as fresh fruit given out,” she said.
“The police seem to be cracking down on people loitering at the port, so the refugees are rushed out and often we have to fit carriers while we are walking the family to their bus,” Raman added. “The refugees are hustled a lot by people who want them on their bus because they get paid per head. Some are scrupulous, some are not.”
‘All about the boats’
Raman returns to Las Vegas on Saturday. She said the remainder of her trip will center on meeting refugees at ports in Athens.
“It’s all about the boats, and we’re on call for them,” she said. “When we have downtime we will go back to the Olympic stadium to help there and find any refugees we can in the city to help.”
One morning, Raman said, there was a woman who was by herself with three children, including one toddler.
“She was so panicked and rushed trying to make her bus while keeping track of her kids and belongings in a busy port,” Raman said. “I knew she needed help so I picked up her toddler, yelled to my two teammates to herd her other kids and begin fitting a baby carrier for her. We rushed about a half mile with this woman and her kids to their bus to help her on her way. She was so thankful for our help.”
Raman said it’s been satisfying to help make the refugees’ journeys a little easier.
“When you look in their eyes you don’t see their origin, race or religion, you see a human who is panicked, traumatized and in desperate need of some kindness, compassion and humanity,” she said. “To be able to offer them that humanity even when we don’t speak the same words, we can understand each other through the language of humanity.”
Raman said she will continue to collect baby carriers for the organization and possibly take another distribution trip in the future.
“This need is not going to end anytime soon, so until then I will continue collecting and sending baby carriers to Carry the Future,” she said. “I hope they continue to get support from around the world and continue to grow and do this amazing grassroots person-to-person volunteerism.”
Raman said being in Athens has been a life-changing experience.
“I will never forget some of these people who I’ve crossed paths with here,” she said. “It feels amazing to be able to make a difference in so many lives and help so many.”
For more information about Carry the Future, visit carrythefuture.org.
Contact Ann Friedman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-4588. Find her on Twitter: @AnnFriedmanRJ