Pictured above: Alice Bletsoe, Jemima Erith, Beth Boff, Lucy Browne-Swinburne, Laura Berg, Sophie Merrick (from left to right, photo credited to Laura Berg)
I spent a week in Calais as a volunteer recently. If you’re thinking ‘Wow, that’s really brave!’ you’re not alone. Upon arriving home, I was shocked to see how my family reacted to the trip – impressed, concerned, thrilled to have me home in one piece. Retrospectively their reactions weren’t surprising, however they reopened my eyes to the general attitude we have here in England toward the situation in Calais. These people are only a ferry ride away yet we view Calais as a different planet. In telling you about my experience, I hope to urge you to do whatever you can to help these people, our neighbours.
I had emptily chatted about going for over two years, but never followed through on the basis that it would be far too complicated to organise. Which charity should I go with? Where do I stay? What could I really do to help? I was worried about how dangerous it would be, as the young, charming and extremely beautiful young lady that I am, would I feel threatened and intimidated? When the opportunity to go with a group of people, that had individually been out a few times, came about obviously I spent a few days coming up with reasons why I shouldn’t go. Counterintuitively, I made the decision to just get a grip and go. Practically speaking, it was so easy to organise. There are hundreds of cheap forms of accommodation and the people, both volunteers and refugees, are so lovely and welcoming. Not once did I feel uncomfortable.
The most surprising part, fostered by those same prejudices my family, and probably you too, had, of the trip, was how much fun I had. There’s sadness, no doubt. The people I met often had nothing. There are thousands of people still there, living in poverty and outside the law, subject to abuse and the breaching of their human rights. I had a bed and a family to go home to. But despite this chaos everyone still has the ability to smile and have a good time.
If you enjoy chatting to people, listening to stories, playing games, organising and cooking then this is something I guarantee you’ll enjoy. Its so easy to get there, so much so that once you do you won’t believe that you haven’t bothered to do this before. Traveling 22km across the channel is a drop in the ocean compared to the 5,215km across the globe that some of these people have had to walk to get stuck in Calais and beaten up by the French Police.
At the end of the day you have your home and family to go back to, so why not just go and lend a hand to people that have nothing left. The chances are that you will end up learning a great deal about the people that you meet and the countries they’re from. And you will come home with a new understanding and recognition of the great lengths all the refugees go through everyday in the hope of freedom and the ability to live there lives with the rights that we all take for granted.
Care 4 Calais, along with dozens of other charities that work with the refugees across the globe are great at what they do, but following the demolition of the Jungle back in 2016 the news coverage in Calais has completely diminished. Consequently, donations have slowed and it’s more difficult to tempt new volunteers across the Channel. It seems as if we have all forgotten about the 2000 displaced people that are still living just on our border. I cannot stress enough how easy it is to go out there and help, you’re not going to change the world but you could change someones life. Go for a week or even a weekend or send in donations – money, blankets, clothes, toiletries, food. The tentative questions and the astonished responses of those I’ve told about going to Calais represent the sound and appearance of our national prejudices. We all live in such a bubble as students in the UK, so pop the bubble and go out and make a difference. You’ll change attitudes and, more importantly, lives.