Volunteering in Calais
In my previous post, I talked about volunteering in Calais and the perilous position the refugees are in. Since then, the judge postponed her decision on whether to demolish large sections of the camp, but unfortunately it was only a for a couple of days. The latest reports are that the authorities are beginning the demolition process. So it now looks like thousands of people will be displaced once again, likely to disperse to ever smaller and ill-equiped camps along the coast. Which in turn means they will need our help more than ever.
When me and Rupert arrived, there wasn’t any construction work available, so instead we opted to put together medical kits to give out to the refugees in case the demolition order went through. We needed to make 1000 kits – and estimate of one for each family in the south section. We also made up around 70 First Aid kits for volunteers with medical backgrounds to administer. In one day we managed to make about 600, with some of the kits missing items that we ran out of. Hopefully the missing items have been donated since then.
There are many different items that make a real difference to the refugees. Men’s shoes are needed, as the French authorities confiscate them when they are caught attempting to cross the channel. Alcohol-based sanitising gels are needed – although disposable one-use packs are preferred as they can be distributed to more people. The reality is that need changes alongside changes to the circumstances and influx of the refugees. While vehicles loaded up with clothes and supplies are welcome, the real difference is made through volunteers – boots on the ground. What has also been demonstrably effective is when volunteers have organised a ‘whip-round’, raising decent sums of money to be spent in Calais. This means that items that are most needed can be purchased immediately to alleviate a problem.
The organisers are wary of posting photos that give away the warehouse’s geographical location due to the presence of far right groups in the area. The Pas-de-Calais region is one of the poorest and politically right-wing in the country, and many people do not appreciate the presence of the refugees. There have been reports of people entering the camps at night and stabbing refugees, so the organisers feel it best not to inflame the situation. The irony of this is that the influx of volunteers is bringing a lot of money into the local economy. Volunteers need somewhere to eat and sleep, after all.
The following photos show the kinds of things that you can do to help the refugees. I’ve reposted the links below if you wish to contact the charities for more information about volunteering in Calais.
The entry point of the warehouse. This is where donated items arrive, and sorted items leave. As you can see, the scale of the operation is impressive.
There are lots of notices and bulletin boards for volunteers to connect and car share, as well as raise money for various causes.
The workshop. This is where the shelters are built, but production had been paused while they waited to see what was happening to the camp. Many of the shelters that have been donated are likely to be destroyed in the coming weeks.
People of all ages are welcome to volunteer. If you feel comfortable using various tools, you are encouraged to do so. If you have a particular skill-set, such as medicine, construction, teaching and cookery, then there is a job for you.
These are the contents of the medical kits that we were asked to make. Unfortunately these are likely to be handed out over the next few weeks as police use teargas on the refugees.
This is one of the sorting stations in the warehouse. Items are brought in to be categorised and moved to different work stations, where they will then be packaged and sent out to the refugees when needed.
This is the sorting point for the donated food. The food is cooked daily, with most being donated to the refugees and the rest to the volunteers. The quality of the food is very high, and was some of the healthiest food we had during our stay.
Volunteers take a break and enjoy a well-earned lunch. The social side of volunteering helps pass the time while doing what can be quite repetitive work. In the morning, the day normally starts with a group warm-up routine followed by a ‘thought for the day’.
The kitchens are very well organised, with quantities of food and destinations planned weeks at a time.
Signs and artwork adorn all areas of the warehouse. Long-term volunteers are asked to create attractive messages and artworks to raise awareness and make the place feel more inviting.
The clothes sorting operation is the most impressive. The charity have a huge stockpile of clothing that needs to be sorted and distributed. This takes up most of the volunteers manpower and time.
Refugees are just as likely as you or I to reject clothing based on taste; it is surprising what people will donate. Normally silly items of clothing are used as an example of what not to keep, or recycled.
Items are finally repacked, ready for distribution to the different camps.
Volunteering in Calais.
If any one from L’Auberge des Migrants or Home for Winter are reading this and would like to use the images or correct anything, please email me and I will happily comply.