For Families Sleeping On The Ground, A Simple Stroller Makes A Huge Difference

Photo: Courtesy of Anca Ponea.
It only took one Facebook comment to spur action.

In Ponchatoula, LA, Marie Beechy was scanning the comments section of a Humans Of New York post about the plight of refugee families braving dangerous conditions to escape war. And that's when she saw Anca Ponea's comment.

"I live 30 km further south from the place where this picture was taken," Ponea commented. "I feel ashamed when they pass my balcony and say hello. I feel ashamed for being lucky to not have to go through what they went through in order to reach this point."

Ponea, a Romanian woman living in Greece, wanted to help. So did Beechy.

"I had been actively looking for a way to help. I specifically felt sadness and concern seeing the plight of the mothers with young children," Beechy told Refinery29. "When I saw Anca's comment, I immediately messaged her and asked if there was something I could do to help."

She wasn't alone.

In Washington, D.C., Laneyse Hooks was reading the exact same Humans of New York post — and saw the exact same comment from Ponea in Greece. After reading several anti-Muslim responses, Hooks was angry and ready to help.

"[Anca's] response was so natural. It really made me mad the way people responded to her. I didn’t really think about it — I just did it," Hooks told Refinery29.

These families are sleeping by the side of the road and in refugee camps. A stroller gives them a safe and warm place to put their children.

Marie Beechy, One Refugee Child
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And just like that, three complete strangers — from different parts of the world — were connected through a cause, all thanks to a Facebook post. Ponea continued to watch refugee families wander with their children and possessions in their arms, so she wrote back to Beechy and Hooks with an idea to help: They could give these families strollers.

"With a stroller, the child can squirm around, sleep, be a kid — it's lessening the strain on the parents," Hooks told R29.

Beechy added, "These families are sleeping by the side of the road and in refugee camps. A stroller gives them a safe and warm place to put their children."

So they started raising money to buy strollers. From there, they would ship the strollers to Ponea in Greece and she would distribute the strollers to the families she saw every day on her commute to work.

"I had an initial goal to send 10 strollers over," Beechy said. "In one month, we were at 23 strollers, and at two months, 54." Four months — and one nonprofit later — they've donated more than 230 strollers to families in need.

You can see the impact on the Facebook page for the "One Stroller — Many Steps Forward" project. There are parents smiling with their small children, babies tucked in safely and comfortably.

With a stroller, the child can squirm around, sleep, be a kid — it's lessening the strain on the parents.

Laneyse Hooks, One Refugee Child
The success led to a bigger project: a nonprofit called One Refugee Child, which raises money to improve the lives of refugee children. There are four major One Refugee Child projects in total, spanning from Greece to Turkey, giving out blankets and clothing, and helping families who have already lost everything.

Facebook estimates that four out of five people on its network are connected — through a friend of a friend — to someone directly affected by the Syrian refugee crisis. But not every person on Facebook takes action. That's why One Refugee Child's story grabbed the attention of Facebook headquarters. Beechy and Hooks met Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg to celebrate Friends Day earlier this month.

But the mission isn't over for these women.

While Hooks mainly focuses on fundraising for stroller donations, Beechy is preparing for a trip to Greece to meet the people she's been helping and take her good will one step further. She'll finally meet Ponea in person and continue their work together.

"I remember watching footage of the Greek Coast Guard rescue a small, redheaded refugee boy out of the sea. As a mom to a 2-year-old redheaded boy, the footage hit home," said Beechy. "I realized then that if I had simply been born in a different country, that could be my family fleeing a war."

Refinery29 is committed to telling the human story behind the headlines of the Syrian refugee crisis. Read
"Daughters of Paradise," the story of three Syrian women who were forced to flee violence and civil war and rebuild their lives in Turkey, here. Read Refinery29's full coverage of the Syrian refugee crisis here.
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