In the early hours of Tuesday 12th a group of 8 of us set out on a trip to the Calais jungle to volunteer with one of the groups who work in the camp.
Some of the group had already been to Calais before, some of us knew each other and some didn’t.
We all come from different backgrounds but all had the same common goal which had brought us all together.
This is a blog of our 3 days together.
We caught the early morning ferry from Dover and drove straight to the Care4Calais warehouse so we could make the 9am briefing. This was my first trip to volunteer in Calais and I had a mixture of nerves and apprehension, but a passion and wanting to get stuck into whatever we were needed to do.
We were briefed as to the development that had occurred in the week which was that the authorities were to bulldoze part of the camp. The people in the camp had been given until Friday to move their homes to another part of the jungle.
We were tasked to go to the Jungle to relay this news to people and to advise that they keep their personal belongings close to them, these could be papers, photos, money etc. The last time that the Police entered the Jungle in September there was no warning and people lost what little they already had and had their homes destroyed. Passports, photos of families, money etc was all destroyed
We were split into groups and off we went with experienced volunteers who knew the areas, our team went to the Kurdish area and made our way around speaking to people. There was a subdued feeling in the camp, we had to deliver difficult news to vulnerable people that they had to move to a safe area and keep themselves safe.
We were briefed to meet up with others at a designated meeting point and then went to have lunch in one of the restaurants. This was amazing, the food that was prepared was fantastic, we were served dhal, rice, spicy beans, spicy spinach and flatbread, the restaurant owners were so friendly and welcoming.
After lunch some of the group stayed in the camp to continue to speak with more people, our group went back to the warehouse and for the rest of the day we sorted through donations and boxed these all up.
Our first evening was one of reflection each of us had gone with different groups to different parts of the camp and met lots of people.
Our second day we all split into groups again and this was the day that we began to clear areas so that people could move safely. We met more people on the second day and today more people began moving their homes, groups of people lifting a whole wooden structure to a place that had been cleared. The community spirit was apparent from the first day, these people have little but they have each other, they have made the best out of a bad situation. People want to talk to you and share food and tea and tell their stories, they want to shake your hand and hug you and thank you for helping. It’s heartbreaking to hear what people have gone through, the families that have been separated, everything that they have known they have had to leave behind and then travel thousands of miles to the unknown.
On our third day we set off for the Jungle again after the briefing to carry on clearing land and helping people move their homes. We litter picked the area, raked it over, cleared bramble and levelled land in preparation for the move. The layout of the jungle changed in an afternoon, as previously there had been gaps, this was now being filled up with people’s homes. Our group did a distribution drop in the camp, we went to 3 different points to hand out fleece blankets, people were given 2 blankets each, we were greeted with smiles and handshakes and some of the experienced volunteers chatted to people that they had come to know. One man came up to me and held my hand and just said “cold”.
There are different volunteer groups that work within the camp, these people are totally amazing, some are long term volunteers and some have relocated to France. They volunteer in the Jungle day in day out; they are humankind at its best. They are awesome people, and deserve recognition for the work that they do.
After three intensive days it was time to leave, it was hard to leave the people behind. We were coming back to our families and our homes and back to our comfortable and familiar safe lives.
It’s hard to even begin to imagine what it would be like to be separated from your loved ones, or to be without anyone to care about you, to be completely on your own. Not only that, but in a foreign land where you don’t even speak the same language. You have left behind everything so you can stay alive.
These people have been demonised by parts of the media; the language that has been used to describe them is nothing short of appalling. These people are vulnerable and do not have a voice, they deserve respect, dignity and help to be able to live a safe life. It’s easy to victimise a vulnerable group who is unable speak back; it’s easy to believe what you are being told and become de-sensitised to what is happening. It’s easy to spread fear to people and by doing this creating a “them and us” divide. But, they are us, they are just like you and I and they desperately need our/your help.
The overwhelming feeling as this trip came to an end was an obvious happiness to be going home to our families, but one of sadness to be leaving people behind in the Jungle. We all want to return and have begun planning for our next trip.
Here are some pictures of our trip to Calais.