My Thoughts on Care 4 Calais
I have been to Calais five times over the last eight months, and seen a transformation in the way that Care 4 Calais work. From their beginning, little more than a year ago, they have been led by an enthusiastic team of amateurs, and in the early days there were times when it was obvious that they were having to make things up as they went along. Nevertheless, it has always been clear that they have the best interests of the Jungle residents at the core of what they have been doing, but now a much more mature approach to giving of aid and support is in evidence.
On my first trip, there was a strong fear that large parts of the camp were about to be demolished (as did happen days after our departure). The volunteers who were present at this time formed working parties to clear bracken and filthy rubbish piles to make spaces for refugees to move their tents and makeshift huts into. There was some distribution of clothing and blankets, but it was almost random - whatever there was a lot of stock of in the warehouse was distributed on a first come, first served basis. The decision as to which area to distribute into was also without too much thought.
This type of distribution continued on my next two visits, but it was apparent that stocks were significantly lower. In July, following feedback from camp residents, a more targetted distribution system was implemented. Teams of volunteers visited specific areas in strict rotation - the target being to return every four weeks. Individuals within each dwelling would be given a ticket, and asked what they wanted from a limited list - a blanket, or jacket, or a bucket, or cooking utensils. The following day a bag with exactly what was requested would be ready to be swapped for the ticket. This makes the distribution much fairer in that everyone gets an opportunity to get what they need, and reduces conflict as previously only the quickest could get in the queue for a distribution.
Care 4 Calais has changed in other ways, too. On my first visit I was disappointed at how disorganised it seemed. By now there are some well tested and efficient processes in many areas, from feeding the volunteers (a welcome bonus, particularly for those volunteers in tents or at the hostel), to organising the warehouse, and distributions. One other significant change is that Care4Calais now run classes in the afternoons in the camp. Volunteers are encouraged to help with art, English or French lessons. Whilst these are not as structured as one may hope due to the constant change in teachers and learners, they give an opportunity to change the relationship one has with those in the jungle. Whilst I have no experience of teaching, it was rewarding to me, and I hope to others to be able to engage in one to one dialogue - to be able to treat the learners as real human beings, not poor unfortunates reliant on our charity.
It is also apparent that donations have dropped off - the warehouse is much emptier than earlier in the year. Care4Calais have used donated money to start buying items in - there are boxes of brand new hoodies and joggers - they have arranged a special deal with certain suppliers to ensure value for money.. They also regularly buy hundreds of men's deodorants and other items from the local supermarket - not quite sure what other shoppers think when some young British person comes along and empties their shelves of the budget toiletries.
My last visit in September coincided with the Muslim festival of Eid. Care4Calais volunteers put together around 1000 food packages so that those in the jungle would be able to celebrate in groups with their own food. Food distributions took place in addition to the regular ticketed process so it was particualrly busy. Fortunately it coincided with a large number of volunteers being present so it was just about manageable.
One thing that I have always been impressed with, and that is the incredible work the volunteers do. Most of them are aged 18-25, yet they take on the responsibility for leading teams for all the different tasks, within the warehouse, on distributions, or running the teaching sessions.
As I write there is yet again a major threat to the very existence of the camp. I am sure Care4Calais will respond in a responsible supportive way whatever the future brings.