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  • Writer's pictureIssie Yewman

Volunteering with Care4Calais

During a distribution at an unauthorised camp in Dunkirk, around three or four CRS (Compagnies Républicaines de Sécurité) vans turned up in convoy. As they parked up and got out of their vans, their presence was there to intimidate us – weapons in hand and all. It seemed overkill since all we were doing was distributing tarpaulin and giving out tea and coffee, as well us setting up a few stalls such as a charging station, a barbershop and a medical service. Nothing radical was happening, yet here we were, facing a line of officers. One of the volunteers at Care4Calais had brought along a big speaker and a refugee plugged in his phone and began to play his music. Some of the refugees formed a line, linking arms and started dancing, inviting us volunteers to join in. I joined in with a few others, forgetting about the imposing officers that stood behind us. I was totally distracted by the smiles spread across the refugees faces, noticing that I was smiling just as big too. A few minutes later, I went back to help at the drink stand and looked back to see that the officers had packed up and left. Their intimidation technique had done quite the opposite. As we were discussing this event later at the Care4Calais warehouse, one volunteer finished off the story by saying ‘love always wins’. And I couldn’t agree more. We pushed the CRS away with our laughter and love, and I only hope this can transpire to those who think the refugees are the violent, intimidating ones.

Care 4 Calais

Choosing to come to Calais was a bit of a last minute decision of mine, I had heard of the organisation through word of mouth. Because I had a week off university, I decided to pack up and just go. Not knowing too much on the current refugee situation, I came with the intent to help and to also learn. I chose to come as well out of pure curiosity, I think that one can’t really base their whole judgement on this situation without seeing it first-hand. I was initially worried that I wasn’t the right person for the work, or that I wasn’t skilled enough. But upon arrival, I was told that no question is a ‘stupid’ question and feeling in a very supportive environment I learned a lot more than what Google search could tell me. Knowing my article will reach those who want to help/volunteer and also those who are opposed to refugees coming to the UK, I decided that I won’t hold back on what I have been told and what I have seen. Giving a chance for anyone who reads this, no matter their stance, to hear what hasn’t been so openly talked about in the media.

Care4Calais Warehouse

I volunteered with Care4Calais for five short days, and it was an extremely eye-opening experience I will truly never forget. Our days started at 9:30 am and usually finished around 5:30 pm, and these days were split into two. In the mornings, we would be given different jobs to prepare for the distribution in the afternoon. Some people would prep the tea and coffee, some would box up donations into different categories of clothing and others would make lunch, move boxes around and make tea for all of us en masse. Since the temperature was quite low, I would turn up to the warehouse with three pairs of socks on and five top layers on and still manage to be cold. But if anything, this made me empathise with the refugees even more so.

After we would have lunch, we would all split up into vans and cars, making our way to an unauthorised camp (in or near to Calais). We would have a short briefing before we left, role-playing how we would give out the donations in order to keep control of the queues. (At first, I thought it was a bit extreme to role-play how we were going to hand donations out – until arriving and seeing 200+ men making their way towards the vans!) As we would arrive at a camp, we would go straight to our assigned jobs and spend the afternoon hanging out and talking with the refugees.

Being so hands on and seeing the direct impact our help was having on those we were helping was something I found really special with this organisation. During the time I volunteered, there were about 20 other volunteers as well, all ranging in age, and all given a job each to help contribute. We were all there for the same reason and there was something very moving about that.

In the camps, I got to listen to stories of where people had come from, the journey they took to get to Calais and what their plans were for the near future. I spoke to a married couple, and the husband said that he had already been in the UK for eight years, awaiting his asylum but he could not stand being away from his wife for so long. So, he chose to go back to his home country and go through the journey and process all again with his wife by his side. I also met a young boy who was fifteen and was travelling alone as he already had relatives living in the UK. He said he had left his home and his mother eight months ago and that the journey had been very difficult. Speaking to another young boy from Iran, he said that his dream was to be a footballer in England, he was a big supporter of Arsenal and was distraught to hear that I supported Ajax and Liverpool. We laughed as we teased each other about which footballers we thought were better. He showed me a video on his phone of him playing football back in Iran and he reminded me a lot of my younger cousin and his love for football. I thought to myself that they would get on well.

Food stall at Care4Calais

As we would pack up for the day and head back to the warehouse, other volunteers would share their stories of the refugees they had talked to. Sometimes some of the stories would leave us with questions which would be answered in the debrief at the end of the day. It was a whole learning experience and I strongly encourage those who want to help, to give up a weekend, or a week or however long you want and to head down to Calais.

My experience with Care4Calais left me with a lot of emotion. To me and I am sure many others, these refugees are just people. But the media does a good job of dehumanising them, to the extent that a lot of UK citizens even fear just their presence. The media quite likes to depict them as ‘alien-like’ reinforcing ‘the west and the rest‘ attitude, as well as allowing for those to see race before they see a person. However, these men, women and children are just like you. They have dreams and ambitions. They want a chance to live a life where they can have the chance to succeed. To live in a safer environment for their children and future generations. It would seem that those living in the UK would want the same if their lives were in danger. No sane person would choose to keep their children in a world where they only know of war and violence. No one would accept to just continue living in a country where what they deserve, is refused. These refugees are coming to have the opportunity to exercise their rights as humans. Rights that are taken for granted in the UK – so much so that you would be willing to deny it to others.


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