Cristal Logothetis was working in a refugee camp in Athens last month when she spotted a boy about 10 years old holding a baby in a crowd of women and girls. At first, he acted aloof and tough — he was clearly assuming the role of the patriarch of the group — but Logothetis knew it would be easier for the boy to transport the baby if he had a baby carrier.
After assuring him that the baby carrier she was offering him was free and showing him how to use it, he dropped his tough guy act: he grabbed Logothetis’s hand and gestured excitedly, asking her to take a selfie of him using the carrier.
“He was really super grateful,” she says. “That was a really nice moment.”
This self-described regular California mom had never been involved in anything like this before; a picture in the news changed everything for her. About two months ago, Logothetis, like so many others, saw the picture of Aylan Kurdi, a 3-year-old boy who drowned as his family fled Syria, and she was horrified. That single image moved her to act. Since then, she has led a successful IndieGoGo campaign and founded a nonprofit, Carry the Future, to help displaced Syrians and other refugees. Three weeks ago, she and nine other women flew to Greece and gave out 3,000 baby carriers.
“As soon as we started putting those baby carriers on [the refugees] and seeing how grateful people were … it was very empowering,” says Logothetis, who has a 2-year-old son, Leon.
How does one go from being a mom and owner of a translation-service business in California to the head of a nonprofit helping people half a world away in just two months? She says: You start small.
Logothetis noticed that many of the refugees in the news reports carried babies in their arms. As a mother herself, she knew that having a baby carrier would make their trips through Europe much easier, and she thought people might readily donate baby carriers. She decided to collect 100 baby carriers to send to Kos, an island where many refugees stop in their journeys.
“I was looking for a way to help and had a baby carrier in the garage collecting dust,” she says.
After her trip, Logothetis realized that giving baby carriers to displaced Syrian families did more than provide them with physical aid; it also sent those families a clear message from parents in the U.S.
“Mothers have a strong attachment to baby carriers,” she says. “We were able to provide an emotional link between the parent in the U.S. and that parent in Greece, that Syrian refugee. I think that was ultimately the core of our success and why people were so attracted [to the effort].”
When her friends and family had helped her collect about 60 baby carriers, media coverage led to even more donations and emails. Strangers began contacting Logothetis and asking how they could help. The next thing she knew, she had thousands of carriers and people willing to fly to Greece to help her distribute them.
“If I hadn’t done this, 5,000 parents would not have baby carriers,” she says. “We all have a responsibility to help out on this planet. Everybody has their own calling and [if] we each embrace it … this would be a much smaller world.”
Anyone who wants to help Logothetis continue her effort can do so by mailing clean, gently used carriers to Carry The Future, 121 W. Lexington Drive, Suite L 106D, Glendale, CA 91203. They can also donate to Carry the Future’s carrier campaign or its Operation Refugee Child, which provides refugee children with care packages including water, flashlights, blankets, and other necessities.
There are many other ways to get involved and help the displaced refugee families as well. The Syrian conflict and refugee crisis is so large that numerous organizations are providing a multitude of emergency services. Shannon Scribner, a humanitarian policy manager at Oxfam America, recommends that people reference Interaction to see what organizations provide which services. Oxfam helps with water and sanitation in Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon and, like most organizations, it relies on donations to fulfill those needs.
“Financial contributions are usually favorable,” she says. “The cash can be used to buy things locally and help the economy locally.”
While there are few opportunities for people to volunteer with the refugees overseas, Americans can volunteer to greet Syrian families as they arrive in this country. A group of nonprofits is looking for families to host Syrian families for Thanksgiving. Scribner says this helps people who will likely never return home feel welcome and start to assimilate here.
“You’re inviting them into the home and sharing [a meal],” she says. “It is a unique American tradition.”