31 December 2015
I am never sure if, just back from the trip – or give it a few days – is better to write this debrief…still, in for a penny in for a pound – or Euro! (this will be the raw emotional version!)
I arrived back last night from 7 days, 2 of them spent travelling, from working in the Refugee Camp in Calais. This is my 3rd trip.
The sadness is, it doesn’t get any better – and something inside of me thought it just might back in September,…but the other part of me was not prepared to witness this Hell On Earth I am now inextricably linked with.
What is there in us humans that can allow this outrage to continue? Complacency? Nimbyism? It’s too big? I don’t care? What?
At the risk of repeating myself, this is a problem in a 1st world country, and we are allowing it to happen, and it will get worse before it gets better. While we drop indiscriminate bombs on Syria – in my view bombing is never the answer - look at what we have been bombing in the area the refugees are fleeing from for years now, with what result? Have we solved anything? NO no and no we have just caused this problem to become a colossal humanitarian disaster of epic proportions.
Best choice ever to be in Calais over the festive season - on Christmas day, Kitchen in Calais turned out 1,200 meals and not a turkey brussell sprout or Christmas cracker in sight!
That is unless you believe me when I say that I worked with some of the best Christmas Crackers ever!
Our team consisted of my two sons, Jack and Sam, Jack’s girfriend, Ana Rickard and Louise Woetmann, who I met first in the Philippines and we discovered back then we had almost worked alongside each other in Sri Lanka too. The funny crazy lovely man that is Bruford Low aka Dave Simcox, I met at the hostel last trip, was then in the camp working on Shelters so I introduced him to Sofinee Harun and he very kindly agreed to start the extension on the back of the kitchen for us, so he had come to help to finish it and also to construct a fence he planned out for me.
Towards the end of day, a fella arrived on site with his van, and told us he was a builder and asked if we wanted any help! This turned out to be the chance meeting of the trip. Adrianjohn Clarke pitched in as one of the team with an enthusiasm that never once wavered. Mohammad A Alwazeer spent a huge amount of time helping us too having done so on the last trip as well. He is strong, clever and very funny, we enjoyed having him in the team.
We stayed at the F1, which worked out each per night at £18.44 and £2.58 for breakfast!
This work brings you together with people who you would most likely NEVER cross paths with in your other life, and the bonds made, are like super glue – they are totally different – notably, because mostly, human nature ensures we get to know, like and trust people slowly, but Aid work breaks those rules and the bonds are made sometimes instantly! I have been so so lucky over the last 10 years to have met SO many lovely people in this way.
The work that has been done in 6 days is incredible and that is down to the amazing team - once again. A massively long metal fence was erected - involving driving huge posts into the ground every 6 feet or so and making a double gate and single door for access. This had been carefully planned out by Dave over the last couple of weeks, and I had found a friend to call Brico before we got to France to make sure all the items we needed were in stock. Shelving for the inside of the 20-foot container, a new floor for the extension, shelving for the walls and a sink housing. Ana and Louise also did some time most days helping with food preparation and we all mucked in with the meal time, washing up and collecting the hundreds of plates for swilling and washing to go back out loaded with the curry being served once again.
The other thing we did was give out some of the donated things and on the chilly Christmas night, a man was in the food queue – it turned out he had walked for 40 hours and just arrived in camp. His friend asked Jamal, Sofinee’s husband, if he had any sleeping bags. In turn Jamal asked me – I asked if we could take him inside so we could see what he needed. He was shivering hard, and I think in deep trauma – he was a small man and I am sure he was younger than he looked.
Jack hopped up into the van and Ana helped select some boots, a neck warmer, gloves, a torch, some socks, one of Ana’s friends emergency packs with toothpaste etc in it and a super warm sleeping bag, and a blanket. I asked Sofinee if he could eat something there, so we sat him down in the extension and out came a plate of steaming hot food, we added a tin of water and left him to quietly get on with it.
After a little while he came to me – he had barely eaten a quarter of the food…… he thanked me and then thanked Jack and Ana too and left. We all felt terrible – the fact he was there, the fact he looked so shocked, the fact he couldn’t eat all the food, the fact he would be in a strange scary vile place – just made us all feel so bad. This is the truth of this – the harsh cruel reality. (The morning I left he came to me and took my arm ‘thank you thank you madam” – another little stab in my heart! Arrgh)
Ana and I took a walk one day to the other side of the camp where the families stay – as we neared, some men stopped us to ask if they could deliver some toys for the children. We took them to find Zimako Jones and then tagged on, so Ana could see the part that apparently according to all the media stories does not exist….women and children! Strange how many are on camp – strange that people who make statements of ‘fact’ stating there are none get away with it! Maybe I need to go to Specsavers? Oh I forgot I did, just before the trip and my lenses have cleared to reveal the truth!
Banksy’s team built a children’s play frame from remnants of Dismaland – not sure they would have bothered if there were no children!
2 little toots living just behind the Kitchen in Calais with their mum spent 50% of the day in the compound with us and when we had some lovely clothing for a slightly older girl, a little beauty arrived – she was around 11. Mohammad had gone to find her from her tent close by too.
The rumour mill is endless and annoying at best and SO destructive at worst, and some of the gutter media thrive on the lies and misinformation that abounds that they can manipulate. I have been there I know what is true and what isn’t! and SO do all my volunteers.
Yes there are some migrants I am sure, although I didn’t meet any, and in any case I am a migrant worker and can choose to live where I like, so are we saying I can and others can’t? What is the difference?
I am sure everyone is shattered as the days were long, but the team spirit never once wavered and the humour bounced around in bucketfuls to keep everyone smiling.
This group of people worked together, laughed together and cried at the same things – it affects us all ways round. You have to be so hard to NOT be affected by seeing man in misery day after day after day.
If it doesn’t affect you - then you have a heart of stone. That is not true of my beautiful team they have hearts as big as the sun and just as warm, and for that I am one lucky person to have them on my radar.
To have worked side by side with, and be inspired by them on this important trip is a true honour.
The cold and piercing wind makes you realise just how tough living there must be - we were so lucky with rain on only one day and the rest were cold but dry and that makes a HUGE difference.
I called into camp the morning I left to drive to St Malo – had a meeting about shelters and met a musician and then had to say my goodbyes.
That was the truly hard part – difficult to explain, but after the hugs and promises of seeing people very soon I sat in my little car with the top box whistling a tune and the tears slid down my cheeks almost uncontrollably for the next hour as I drove towards home.
It is not often I have felt so alone.
The connections made and the knowledge that danger is just around the corner from the police or if attempts to get to the UK are made, break my now battered little heart.
I am told that Syrians WILL get asylum, they just have to get there! Why oh why don’t they just process people with some dignity and get on with it!
Have we lost our minds? I feel like I am losing mine in this pit of hatred and despair……..PLEASE will someone listen – our shouts seem to be lost across the treacherous waves of our sea of shame. Are you listening Number 10?