Submitted photo##Christine Anderson shares a smile with the toddler she just placed in a carrier. The McMinnville woman recently spent 10 days in Greece volunteering with the Carry the Future organization, which fits refugee parents with baby carriers to help ease their travels with young children.
Submitted photo##Christine Anderson shares a smile with the toddler she just placed in a carrier. The McMinnville woman recently spent 10 days in Greece volunteering with the Carry the Future organization, which fits refugee parents with baby carriers to help ease their travels with young children.
Submitted photo##Christine Anderson and a fellow Carry the Future volunteer secure a baby in a carrier before the child’s family begins its journey through Europe.
Submitted photo##Christine Anderson and a fellow Carry the Future volunteer secure a baby in a carrier before the child’s family begins its journey through Europe.
By Helen Lee • Of the News-Register • 

What one woman can do

Ten days, 10 volunteers, more than 30,000 Syrian refugees. That was McMinnville resident Christine Anderson’s reality when she flew around the globe Nov. 18, heading to the Greek island of Lesbos on an aid mission.

More than three million refugees have fled Syria since 2011, according to the United Nations. And their path to asylum is lengthy and difficult.

The U.S., Germany and Canada are three of the leading Western countries taking in refugees.

However, they must pass rigorous screening and background checks before being allowed to resettle in the U.S., and that process can take up to two years. So Europe, which shares common borders, is bearing the brunt.

Anderson left her three children back home to join the third wave of volunteers in the Carry the Future campaign.

Carry the Future is collecting baby carriers and money to buy them, as parents have to carry youngsters all the way on their journey into Europe, and carriers or slings greatly ease the process.

Thousands of refugees have trekked north into eastern Turkey on foot, made their way across the country to its western shore, then made the dangerous, six-mile journey from Turkey to Lesbos on rubber rafts. Capsizings and drownings are common, but fortunately, Anderson said, only three refugees drowned during her visit.

“I was willing to do anything to help these people,” Anderson said. “But if I had been on the beaches of Lesbos, and somebody’s kid had died, I don’t know if I could have handled it.”

From Lesbos, refugees take jam-packed ferries on the long journey to Athens. And that’s where volunteers like Anderson spend the majority of their time.

“Meeting the boats as they came to port in Athens was our objective,” Anderson said. “We met every single ferry except one.”

The volunteers work tirelessly, getting only a few hours of sleep each night, as the ferries run continuously from 4 a.m. to 11 p.m.

She estimated her small group met anywhere from 30,000 to 40,000 refugees, and fitted more than 2,500 baby carriers, during its tour.

“Nothing can prepare you for the chaos of a thousand people rushing off a boat toward you,” Anderson said. “There were so many people trying to meet their basic needs in such a short amount of time, and that’s not exactly the safest place for a baby.”

She said refugees exit the ferry in a “total daze.” They are hungry, thirsty and scared.

Anderson said her relief group served as a “calming presence” for the refugees. She said Carry the Future is the only aid organization mounting a regular presence in that key location.

Non-governmental relief organizations like Doctors Without Borders and Save the Children, commonly known as NGOs, are focusing on direct aid in Syria and its immediate neighbors, including Turkey.

Although the volunteers did not have an abundant supply of food, they passed out water bottles and granola bars along with baby carriers.

Each volunteer went to Greece carrying four 50-pound bags full of baby carriers. Together, they were able to deliver 40 bags of carriers.

Carry the Future covered the baggage fees for them.

The volunteers worked in teams of two. Most of them were mothers themselves, so had to leave their own children behind in order to make a difference for other children in Greece.

“We’d try not to fight over who got to hold the babies when we fitted the carriers,” Anderson joked.

At first, many of the refugees were skeptical of the volunteers.

“They’ve been screwed so many times, because of their situation,” Anderson said. “The first word I learned in Arabic was the word for free, so they’d know we weren’t charging for the carriers.”

Anderson said, “As soon as you put a kid on the back of a parent who’s been carrying them for miles, you can see the relief.”

She recalled being tapped on the shoulder by a husband whose wife had just been fitted with a carrier. He asked to be fitted with one for another of their small children.

“The second I secured the chest strap, I can’t tell you how happy he was,” she recalled. “He started speaking really fast in Arabic, and the only word I could make out was the Arabic word for ‘relief.’ For this family and many others, the overwhelming journey became a little more bearable.”

After the 40 minutes each group of ferry passengers gets to clear the area, the refugees must make their way across an unfamiliar city and on to the next step of their trek into the heart of Europe.

“Unless they’ve done their research, and have money saved, a lot of them just stand at the dock not knowing what to do,” Anderson said.

She remembers one ferry coming into the dock at 11:30 at night.

“I mean, we were only there to administer baby carriers, but this group of refugees arrived not knowing where to go. It was dark except for one street light, and you could tell they were scared and exhausted.”

One of the members of the team said, “It’s not our responsibility to help all Syrian refugees. It’s not possible.”

But Anderson said, “In this situation, it’s almost midnight, and it’s the right thing to do. So we ended up walking this group of about 250 refugees all the way to the train station. It was a long walk.”

After 10 days of tiring, round-the-clock aid work, the volunteers finally went home, making way for a new set.

Anderson said she feels grateful she did what she could to help alleviate the suffering. She recalls a time when she thought there wasn’t anything she could do to help, but said this opportunity changed all that.

“The Syrian refugee crisis had been on my radar for a while,” she said. “I kept hearing about all these tragically awful human rights violations, and I wished there was something I could do. But all the way in the U.S., it’s hard to feel like you can do something about it.”

Anderson had attended art school in Greece, and that drew her in. The flow of refugees into Athens has had an impact on many of her Greek friends, she said.

When she heard about Carry the Future from a friend of a friend, she made contact and got involved. She immediately set about collecting baby carriers and donations in McMinnville.

Anderson collected around 30 carriers before embarking on her aid mission. “I kept track of those carriers, and sent pictures of the families we helped to those back home who had donated them,” she said.

“I remember sending one of my best friends a picture of the family who we gave her old carrier to. I felt so irreversibly tied to this crisis. This was the carrier that she’d used to carry her babies, and now it is making its way across Europe.”

She and the other volunteers left for home just three days after the recent terrorist attacks in Paris. Anderson remembers witnessing a torrent of hostility toward Muslims and Syrian refugees erupt on social media, and it upset her.

“They’re people,” Anderson said. “They’re just people who have the same rights as any other human.

“Their religion and where they came from aren’t the defining factors of these human beings. My kids could’ve just as easily been born in Syria, and they would still mean the world to me.”

Anderson struggled with leaving her husband and young children behind, but said she “felt pretty honored to be able to fill a need that was really there.”

She is already making plans to return to Athens on another volunteer trip. Carry the Future has asked her to lead a group in January.

“I left half of my heart in Europe,” she said. “I have to go back. Even if I have to pay my own way, I’ll find some kind of relief organization.

“What this one person can do has not fully been done yet. It broke my heart to leave. But it was time to come home to my family for now.”

Anderson invites McMinnville residents to donate money at www.carrythefuture.org and direct baby carriers to her.

To donate a carrier, contact her at post@castironfarm.com. She’s collecting the soft structure type, especially Ergo-style carriers.

Web Design & Web Development by LVSYS