FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA) — A Fayetteville woman is spearheading an operation to meet the emotional needs of children in refugee camps at the U.S. border. Volunteers gathered Saturday to help her achieve that task.
Felicia Ramos, a social worker originally from New Mexico, founded “Project Play” after visiting a refugee camp in her native state. The group’s focus is to supply toys and other items that encourage playtime, which Ramos said is a vital part of children’s emotional development.
“This is how you can start to speak the language of healing, and that’s through play and art,” Ramos said. “We could talk politics, we can argue religion, but it’s not about that right now. It’s about these kids and how they’re being treated.”
Ramos said she and four trauma-informed mothers will take the supplies to a center in Deming, New Mexico, where she’s familiar with the staff. She said the trip will happen August 1-5.
“We’re gonna be mamas first,” Ramos said. “We’re gonna show them that people care. It’s incredible what we’re going to do.”
Antonio Tinajero was one of many volunteers who joined Ramos on Saturday to help with the packing and inventory process. He said he was excited there was a way for him to help locally.
“This is something that we can do to make a huge impact,” Tinajero said. “I found out [about volunteering] through social media and word of mouth. It started off kind of lowkey, but then it started growing more and more.”
Vice President Mike Pence visited a migrant detention center in Texas this week. Children spend several months in these facilities before they’re transferred to a refugee center.
“The Customs and Border Protection is doing their level best in an overcrowded environment and difficult environment to address this issue,” Pence said in an interview with CNN. “Congress has got to act to make it possible for us to reduce the numbers of people coming into our country illegally.”
Pence said he disagrees with the widespread sentiment that the facilities detain migrants in sub-human environments.
“People saying that families and children are being held in concentration camps is an outrage,” Pence said. “The Nazis killed people. Our Customs and Border Protection are saving lives every day, and you saw the profound, compassionate care for those families and children in the detention facility.”
Six pictures were placed on a table next to Ramos’ transport trailer. They were images of children who died while seeking asylum in America. One photo was particularly special to Ramos.
“I just think about what her life would’ve been like,” Ramos said, referencing Jakelin Caal Maquin, a 7-year-old Guatemalan who died of sepsis in 2018 while in U.S. Customs and Border Protection custody. “She came with her dad in hopes of a brighter future. I think about what she thought America was gonna be like.”
Ramos said the girl died in her hometown: Lordsburg, New Mexico. She said deceased child looms in her thoughts while she prepares for the trip, which has cost $5,000 to fund to this point. Ramos said she’s taking off work to make the voyage and is receiving no compensation.
“I hope that she’s looking down and is proud, because she’s not gonna be forgotten,” Ramos said. “We’re gonna do this work in her honor, and hopefully every baby doll that comes forth, those will be our Jakelins.”