21 November 2015
This will take a little staying power to read - it is a series of testimonials from just a few of the volunteers on this latest trip - their words, unedited, not mine:
“When I decided to join the Bridge2 team going to Calais I really had no idea what I would be doing when I got there, I just knew I wanted to help.....
The first day we arrived at the Jungle was a culture shock. I had never smelled tear gas before, mixed together with the smell of human waste, it made a putrid stench. I had never seen poverty on such scale. 7,000 people living under plastic sheeting, tents if they were lucky, caravans if they were extremely lucky. People forming huge queues behind vans that arrived to distribute food or clothing, this was another world and not a nice one.
We set up camp in the middle of a Syrian community, which Sarah Griffith had identified on an earlier visit. The team started to build a small kitchen for the Syrian community while other members of the team distributed clothing and food. The community pulled together and helped us as much as they could, though they had nothing much to offer, I was still offered tea and biscuits and even to share a meal they had cooked on an open fire. When they saw how hard we worked they began to trust us.
We were apparently 'unlike other organisations who came in and made promises and never came back'.
Other than a few people, most of the team hadn't met before but thrown together in a situation like that we soon got to know each other and alongside hard work, a sense of humour was paramount! The guys built two kitchens in a week, in wind, heavy rain and darkness. Nothing deterred them. While others distributed food, clothes, toys, blankets and shovelled rubbish!
We worked hard, we laughed and worked brilliantly as a team.It was emotionally draining at times and, at the end of the week, I found it so hard to leave the Jungle and some of these lovely people, who, by that time had become friends.
I don't know where Sarah Griffith gets her energy from, I only wish I had half. I travelled in the car with her and learned a lot from her on this journey of mine. But I do know her heart is in the right place. She is determined and organised. Was highly respected in the Jungle for being a 'doer'. She says what she means and means what she says and I can run with that. Would I do it all again.....in a heartbeat!
Zoe Warlow Nov 19th 2015
“I went to Calais with an open mind about what I might find. There is so much media hype flying around that I found it hard to reach my own opinion about whether it is right to support a camp for refugees/immigrants who are illegally attempting to enter the UK. In my heart I felt that whatever the reason it is right to offer aid and my skills to build shelters for people in a desperate situation and to go to the camp to establish my own informed opinion. I am very glad that I went.
I found a much more complex situation than I expected. We made a difference for vulnerable people we should be helping, my opinion is that without this kind of aid, without government organisation and help that these vulnerable people are in danger of being exploited. We should help them as much as we can and we should save them from the traffickers, criminals and other organisations seeking to exploit their situation not only that but the on the ground long term volunteers need this assistance and support also, to maintain their morale they form a good link for liaison with the authorities and lessen tension around the camp. Through compassion we can bring understanding, through seeking answers we find better questions, by asking better questions we can avoid being the problem and become the solution.”
Darren Keung Nov 2015
Had the hardest week last week but I couldn't have done it without an amazing bunch of hard working and caring people I have ever met in my whole life. The camp was unforgiving but the people still smile in the face of extreme adversity.
The story's were heart wrenching and I often had to shout in my head to stop myself from crying so I could carry on with the job in hand.
The weather was not the best and you could see it was starting to get worse so god only knows what the jungle will be like in a few months time. We all got so much done in such a short period of time but there was still so much to do.
I've come away with so much knowledge in such a short space of time. Well done peeps xxx
Tony Osborne Nov 19th 2015
I went with Bridge 2 on their latest Aid mission to Calais, to help distribute clothing, food and build a kitchen in the so called Jungle. I had a very rewarding experience due to the organised attention to detail before our departure and knowledge of how to help in a managed ordered manner when our feet were on the ground. We got to produce something that will help a lot of people while they are stuck in a confusing political situation far from home. I wish to thank Sarah and all the team that helped before our departure and to everyone on the trip for working so hard and safely together.
Philip Le Poidevin Nov 2015
Over the last week I have done every job under the sun, from rubbish clearing to watermelon-delivering. I have met people from Syria, Sudan, Iraq and Afghanistan and laughed with them even whilst standing in the rain next to a falling-down tent which is all they have to sleep in.
Conditions in the Jungle are both ten times worse than I could have possibly imagined but the atmosphere was also far better than I could have hoped for with regards to the friendly and welcoming nature of many of the refugees living there. I believe we have made a huge difference in many peoples’ lives, even if only for a short time.
I will never forget some of the faces I have met and the heart-breaking stories that go with them. This experience has given me perspective on the important things in life, made me appreciate all that I have and caused me to feel moved to help those in need. If I wasn’t 100% sure that going to Calais was worthwhile before I left (which I was), I certainly am now.
Sarah Griffith is one of the most kind-hearted and caring people I have ever met. She somehow manages to face horrendous situations and difficult people, from refugees to police, with a smile and a laugh that infects all those around her, calming down any potentially hostile situations. She has an ease when meeting people for the first time that makes it impossible not to like her and feel relaxed enough to have the courage to talk and say whatever you are feeling. This kind of person is invaluable when working alongside people from all kinds of countries and backgrounds, and Sarah is one of the best. I put my trust and faith in her experience and knowledge of similar situations and was rewarded with a well-spent week where everyone’s skills were put to their best possible use. I would certainly love to continue working with her and the other members of the team who she hand-picks. Sarah’s Bridge2 charity will be a name to remember for years to come.
Kirsty Windham Nov 2015
I have just spent a week in France as part of the Bridge2 group. I have been in the camps at Calais and Dunkirk and seen the conditions there first hand, and spoken to some of the people 'living' ( because really, it's no way to live ) there, men, women, children, families.At one and the same time it shows up the best and worst in people. The structures that people can run up with nothing but scrap wood and plastic are amazing. The gratitude we received from the little help we gave them was amazing. The fact that some would give up there space in a queue ( yes, they queue like they were born in Britain ! ) for others they considered more in need than themselves was amazing. The fact that they are being left to live in the conditions they are is, sadly, amazing. I actually genuinely miss being in the Jungle, despite the mud and the filth and the smell of tear gas. I would willingly go back again tomorrow if I could ( though my family might rather I didn't ...... ) because one week is not enough time to give these people the help they need. I could be there 24/7 for months and still not do enough.
I find it incredible ( no actually I sadly find it entirely credible ) that people can sit in their centrally heated houses, with three meals a day, flushing toilets, clean clothes every day, a hot bath every day and say we shouldn't be helping - whilst those of us prepared to do something feel that we haven't done anywhere near enough.I don't wish to get into the politics of who these people are, or why they are there, or whether they should be there or not. But the fact is these people need help, they need it now, and I didn't feel I could just sit back and do nothing.
Was I right to do what I've done ? Who among us has the right and the wisdom to answer that?
All I know is that it is better to regret the things we have done than the things we should have done .... "
Toby Boucher Nov 2015
Just asked the team if they knew each other before this trip because everyone is so close, our humour, spirit, attitude, is totally on a level. A few knew each other before but generally not. The minute I got here it felt like we had known each other for years.
I can't explain what it's like to join a group of people with this attitude, with this sense of team. TEAM. Teams are what will fix this situation.I'm blown away. A family made up of strangers. In such a short time, and genuinely have achieved a great deal.It's how it goes on these kinds of trips in my limited experience...community. But this team feels particularly special.
Thanks to the team, it's been hard (and they've been here 2 days more than me!). In the meantime, this ain't going away so please please don't stop caring.
Sam James 19th Nov 2015
“Going to the Jungle was unlike anything I could have imagined. I went with very little preconceptions of what it would be like, trying to stay completely open minded with a situation I have never faced before. The conditions were so much worse than I could have possibly imagined but the people we met there were completely unfaltering in their friendliness and so incredibly welcoming to complete strangers. They are not just “refugees” but human beings like us, who never fail with their smiles in an unbelievable life-changing situation.
Going with Sarah and the Bridge2 charity was undoubtedly one of the best things I could ever have done. Sarah is so genuine and friendly and never fails to make you smile or laugh in the most horrendous of situations. It takes an incredibly special kind of person to be able to manage exactly what she does and to cope with what she goes through, and working alongside her is certainly something I would do again without a second thought.”
Kerry Windham Nov 2015
The situation in Calais is far from ideal. Many will continue to question if a camp, such as the jungle, should exist at all on a border between France and the UK as there is no denying it will attract economic migrants. The camp is however there and, as a defined venue, it is a place that refugees fleeing war zones will flow to seek shelter.These refugees include many families with young children who are in dire need of help as they have nothing. Basic shelter, food, and sanitation need to be provided – none of which is currently guaranteed by the State.
Without the assistance of charities such as Bridge 2 the suffering would be even more intolerable (not that the current conditions in Calais can be regarded as acceptable). Those who shout out negative comments regarding the Calais Camp would be the first to clamor for the prosecution of a pet owner in Guernsey for permitting a dog or cat to live in such conditions yet they appear to deem it acceptable to allow refugees (many of them children with no control over their own destiny) to remain without aid.
Seeing the suffering that exists in Calais makes you reappraise your outlook – this has certainly happened to me personally. I wonder how many detractors would continue with their bigoted views if they were there in person seeing the suffering at first hand.
Andrew Deane Nov 2015