CALAIS REFUGEE COLLECTION UPDATE

Thank you to all the many people who donated to The Calais Refugee Collection in Barnack Church.

Green Backyard at CalaisWe were able to take much-needed tarpaulins, sleeping bags, blankets, boots, shoes, wellingtons and toiletries down to the Green Backyard in Peterborough. These were added to the huge collection of items donated from all over Peterborough and from there the organisers, Jay Gearing, Sophie Antonelli and Neil Hepworth drove the items over to Calais.

They also came up with a way to help refugees cook hot meals for themselves in the camp by making "rocket stoves".

Below is a report of the trip written by Jay Gearing and photos of the trip by Neil Hepworth.

"Yesterday Sophie,  Neil and myself went to 'The Jungle' refugee camp in Calais to distribute a large van load of items; tents, sleeping bags, cooking equipment, hay boxes (bags in this case), food and most importantly, rocket stoves. Rocket stoves are an energy efficient way of cooking food using wood as fuel, a resource that is in great demand in the camp.

"What struck me first when arriving at the camp was the sheer scale of the thing, the living conditions and the many people making every effort to make the best of things in a very difficult situation. There are an estimated 4,000 refugees in the camp, a large proportion of which have fled war, torture and persecution yet they seemed be making the best they could out of living in tiny homes made from tarp or tents. To me, coming from a privileged and safe country, I couldn't really fathom how to deal with a situation like this. To me it felt like the people weren't living with the dignity that they deserved, and to be fair, they weren't. These are people who deserve to be treated like the human beings they are and given refugee, not the scraps from the plate. If these refugees had come from another European nation would they be treated like this? I felt ashamed that we live in such an unequal world where some are more important than others.

Green Backyard Volunteers in Calais"Part of our plan being there was to hold a workshop instructing people how to use the stoves and how to use the hay bags. We worked closely with the volunteers on the ground to organise this and for the most part it was successful. There was a great deal of interest in the stoves especially, later that day we saw why. We saw some people trying to cook with a few scraps of cardboard and wood strategically placed between a couple of bricks. This set up was to feed a family of four.

"Sophie started the workshop with around 40 people in attendance (we only had 30 rocket stoves) whilst myself and Neil put together the aid packs inside the adjacent marquee. 5 minutes into the demonstration and everyone had decided that they definitely wanted the stoves. This is when it became a little difficult to manage. Everyone amassed at the opening of the marquee with a few volunteers holding them back and trying to organise some kind of distribution system that was fair. They were desperate to secure a way of feeding themselves, their friends and their families and I don't blame them. They were also aware that there were a limited number of stoves to go round. Some of the refugees helped organise the large group of people trying to secure a stove and were successful in doing so. We began handing out aid packs, including the stoves, to individuals that had identified themselves as being part of larger groups who could really benefit from the stoves. This is when things became a little heated with the dawning realisation that the stoves were going fast and not everyone had one. One man decided to cause a distraction to the crowd and set fire to the hay bails that were stacked near the marquee and the crowd dispersed, either to take their aid back to their tents or to help bring water to put the fire out. The marquee was rushed and anything left up for grabs was taken.

Calais Septembe...
Calais September 2015
Calais Septembe...
Calais September 2015
Calais Septembe...
Calais September 2015
Calais Septembe...
Calais September 2015
Calais Septembe...
Calais September 2015
Calais Septembe...
Calais September 2015
Calais Septembe...
Calais September 2015

Photos by Neil Hepworth

"You see, the problem here is that their are no aid agencies on the ground in the camp. The few volunteers that are there have come off their own back, to help with distribution, organisation etc. They don't have the manpower to deal with everyone all at once. People organise online to help collect donations or fundraise and do so without the help from charities or NGOs. Whilst this is great, it has definite limits. Why aren't aid agencies there? I have heard that it's because the types of organisations that would normal help have a good relationship with the French government, and the French government doesn't want the camp to be there. Hardly seems fair that because of this the people in need have to rely on good natured people.

"Once things had returned to normal around the marquee we went to see if we could find anyone with rocket stoves to give them more individual instruction on how to use them. As we set off on the dirt track a little girl on a tricycle crossed our path and looked up at us as she happily struggled to pedal over the small hills. This hit me hard. This was this little girls reality. Living in these conditions, with 4,000 other people in the same position, after suffering who-knows-what horror at home, having to flee her own country, and then having to live like this? She was a child, maybe 4 or 5 years old. What if this was my child? The image of her has been burnt into my memory.
We didn't find many of the people that got stoves, the place is too huge. We did find one group though, whom we helped build an almost impossible tent with. It was then time to go. Going back into the 'real' world after that was surreal to say the least. I had an insight into a world that perhaps I wasn't prepared for, even if I thought I was. I think everyone should have that insight.

"We were overwhelmed by the donations, organisational help and funding by local people in preparation for this trip. They have all, without a doubt, made a significant difference to the lives of people in 'The Jungle'. Without this huge support, we would never have been able to do the trip and I sincerely hope we can come together to do more in the future. I would like to think we can inspire some aid agencies to get more involved, maybe we should make that the next goal…

"Edit: I didn't expect this trip to be a walk in the park and I'm certainly not sharing this post to say "look what us middle class white folk did to help". I would say that that we've been traumatised by the trip, we were not expecting the emotional response we had. I do feel that the small amount of volunteers that have helped so far is great but largely do not posses the organisational skills/support they require. I want people to know that I feel that the refugees are being ignored (partly) by large organisations that could do so much more and I want others to know that, be enraged by that and to help push said organisations into doing something more." Jay Gearing, Sophie Antonelli and Neil Hepworth.