Helen Abraham

Calais Refugee Camp Volunteer Project

In February 2015 I made my first visit to Calais to volunteer at the Calais Refugee Kitchens.  From there I made several visits into the Calais and Dunkirk refugee camps to try and get an understanding of the situation that is unfolding on our doorstep.  At that point it was crisis point and the kitchens had pledged to feed people over the winter.  I returned in April and the crisis has been reduced.  They achieved their goal.  The focus at this point is creating sustainability within the camps so that residents can take better care of themselves with kitchen and other facilities.  On both occasions I became fascinated by the people I met volunteering - both long term volunteers and those who drop in for a few days or a week according to what they can make available.  These extraordinary people are providing food, shelter, healthcare, education and support to the refugees and trying to make their time in the camps just a little bit more bearable.

Richard, 37, Devon Carpenter volunteering in Dunkirk Camp for 5 days

Richard, 37, Devon

Carpenter volunteering in Dunkirk Camp for 5 days

Oscar, 21, Bristol Volunteering in the Refugee Kitchens Calais for 7 weeks.  Initially food preparation then as part of the chef team.  He was living on site in a caravan provided by RKC. "Love is the only thing that really brings you here.  I feel a connection with everything and anything and when you see other people in a worse situation that yourselves you have a sort of feeling inside your body and that's what's drove me here to act. Love for other people and seeing other people in a difficult situation. I've got time to help and I've got a good life so I can spend that doing things that entertain me or doing things that satisfy me or i can spend that time helping others. And whilst having fun is good, I think that helping others is something way more valuable than anything else I've ever experienced. One of the main things I've realised how useful I can be.  We spend so much time just doing stuff that isn't really useful, just doing stuff for ourselves and spend so much time thinking and worrying but when you are in a situation when things need to be done you can, no matter who you are or what experiences you've had, put yourself to work and you can be really useful and you can really make a difference.  I've never had any experience in a kitchen and then there was a time when I was running it just because of the necessity of it.  But the necessity seems to bring out this power inside you.  And now I've seen that in me it's given me motivation to do more of that. I've learnt way more here than any school or university.  There is something about doing stuff like this; you learn so much about the world, about yourself. [I want to] spread the world to people and continue bringing positivity into the world and help motivate other people to be useful as well and actively want to make a difference in the world. There are so many problems in the world it's all down to how we live our own lives.  Offering people a different way of living.  A way that they can help and they can change the world".

Oscar, 21, Bristol

Volunteering in the Refugee Kitchens Calais for 7 weeks.  Initially food preparation then as part of the chef team.  He was living on site in a caravan provided by RKC.

"Love is the only thing that really brings you here.  I feel a connection with everything and anything and when you see other people in a worse situation that yourselves you have a sort of feeling inside your body and that's what's drove me here to act. Love for other people and seeing other people in a difficult situation.

I've got time to help and I've got a good life so I can spend that doing things that entertain me or doing things that satisfy me or i can spend that time helping others. And whilst having fun is good, I think that helping others is something way more valuable than anything else I've ever experienced.

One of the main things I've realised how useful I can be.  We spend so much time just doing stuff that isn't really useful, just doing stuff for ourselves and spend so much time thinking and worrying but when you are in a situation when things need to be done you can, no matter who you are or what experiences you've had, put yourself to work and you can be really useful and you can really make a difference.  I've never had any experience in a kitchen and then there was a time when I was running it just because of the necessity of it.  But the necessity seems to bring out this power inside you.  And now I've seen that in me it's given me motivation to do more of that.

I've learnt way more here than any school or university.  There is something about doing stuff like this; you learn so much about the world, about yourself.

[I want to] spread the world to people and continue bringing positivity into the world and help motivate other people to be useful as well and actively want to make a difference in the world. There are so many problems in the world it's all down to how we live our own lives.  Offering people a different way of living.  A way that they can help and they can change the world".


Benji, Bristol Working on construction in the new Dunkirk Camp with girlfriend Lally "We were away for a long time in Australia and we came back and it all hit us in the face.  We always talked about wanting to help people or animals and when it's just happening on our doorstep it's pretty difficult to do anything else- so we just said we were going to go down.  We popped down originally for a few days to see what it was like and then just wanted to stay really. The support has increased and we've seen that because we've had a huge gap from when we first came but as far as being a refugee is concerned none of them want to be here.  They either want to be back at home or ??  It doesn't matter if they have a slightly nicer home to live, they are still f**ked essentially I think it's always been something I've thought about.  You want to help but as soon as you do you think this is what you should be doing all the time.  If you are lucky enough to be in a position where you are, not privileged, but not in this position it's pretty obvious that you should be helping people who are not in that position. It's so accessible. Once you start doing it, it opens up a door that you can do it anywhere and everywhere.  I've never been involved in anything like this but it's a stepping stone; why can't we go to Greece, go to Lebanon, go to Syria.  It's all easy. And once you are here it's so much nicer working to help people rather than working for money. At home you count the hours you are getting paid but here its like: 'this needs to get done'.  When we were here the first time it was getting cold and there were people without houses who were not doing well and you are not going to stop now - that lady with her children needs to go to bed and in a tent and that's not ok so you just keep going".

Benji, Bristol

Working on construction in the new Dunkirk Camp with girlfriend Lally

"We were away for a long time in Australia and we came back and it all hit us in the face. 

We always talked about wanting to help people or animals and when it's just happening on our doorstep it's pretty difficult to do anything else- so we just said we were going to go down.  We popped down originally for a few days to see what it was like and then just wanted to stay really.

The support has increased and we've seen that because we've had a huge gap from when we first came but as far as being a refugee is concerned none of them want to be here.  They either want to be back at home or ?? 

It doesn't matter if they have a slightly nicer home to live, they are still f**ked essentially

I think it's always been something I've thought about.  You want to help but as soon as you do you think this is what you should be doing all the time.  If you are lucky enough to be in a position where you are, not privileged, but not in this position it's pretty obvious that you should be helping people who are not in that position.

It's so accessible. Once you start doing it, it opens up a door that you can do it anywhere and everywhere.  I've never been involved in anything like this but it's a stepping stone; why can't we go to Greece, go to Lebanon, go to Syria.  It's all easy. And once you are here it's so much nicer working to help people rather than working for money. At home you count the hours you are getting paid but here its like: 'this needs to get done'.  When we were here the first time it was getting cold and there were people without houses who were not doing well and you are not going to stop now - that lady with her children needs to go to bed and in a tent and that's not ok so you just keep going".

Lally, ?, Bristol Working on construction in the new Dunkirk Camp with her boyfriend Benji. "There is just so much to be done! I feel like from the outside perpsective of the volunteers it like it has progressed loads because everyone is really organised and it's just become more of a home.  But speaking to the refugees they don't feel it's progressing because they are still here.  They don't want to be here.  So it's very different views.  It's been more organised but it does't mean it's any better. The desperation has definitely gone down a lot.  We were coming into Winter when we were first here but now pretty much everyone in the camp has somewhere solid to live - not just a tent. Moral is still pretty low There is just always things to be done.  There are always going to be people needing help and now it's just maintaining people's lives over here, and not just here. After leaving the first time it felt like everything we were doing was just not worthwhile.  And you come back and you are just doing stuff that means something to people.  Its really hard to go back after you've been here a while.  Like caring about silly little things.  I don't know how people who've been here 7 months will go back to reality.  It will be hard.  You would work 16 hour days here and feel bad for stopping".           

Lally, ?, Bristol

Working on construction in the new Dunkirk Camp with her boyfriend Benji.

"There is just so much to be done!

I feel like from the outside perpsective of the volunteers it like it has progressed loads because everyone is really organised and it's just become more of a home.  But speaking to the refugees they don't feel it's progressing because they are still here.  They don't want to be here.  So it's very different views.  It's been more organised but it does't mean it's any better.

The desperation has definitely gone down a lot.  We were coming into Winter when we were first here but now pretty much everyone in the camp has somewhere solid to live - not just a tent. Moral is still pretty low

There is just always things to be done.  There are always going to be people needing help and now it's just maintaining people's lives over here, and not just here. After leaving the first time it felt like everything we were doing was just not worthwhile.  And you come back and you are just doing stuff that means something to people. 

Its really hard to go back after you've been here a while.  Like caring about silly little things.  I don't know how people who've been here 7 months will go back to reality.  It will be hard.  You would work 16 hour days here and feel bad for stopping". 

 

 

 

 

 


Catherine, 47, Herbalist working on site in the medical caravans "I make a point of speaking to [the riot police/CRS] and saying hello.  I think we need to remind people of their humanity.  I was an army wife for 26 years.  I know that people put on a uniform and they do a job because that's their job and it has nothing to do with their actual belief of what's right or wrong".

Catherine, 47,

Herbalist working on site in the medical caravans

"I make a point of speaking to [the riot police/CRS] and saying hello.  I think we need to remind people of their humanity.  I was an army wife for 26 years.  I know that people put on a uniform and they do a job because that's their job and it has nothing to do with their actual belief of what's right or wrong".

William, 24, Has been running the men's clothing distribution at the Dunkirk camp for 7 weeks since it opened.  Is living at a local hotel with girlfriend Mimi who is running the play school

William, 24,

Has been running the men's clothing distribution at the Dunkirk camp for 7 weeks since it opened.  Is living at a local hotel with girlfriend Mimi who is running the play school

Steve, London,  Set up the Refugee Kitchens Calais at the end of 2015 to provide 2,000 to meals a day at the two camps over the winter period

Steve, London, 

Set up the Refugee Kitchens Calais at the end of 2015 to provide 2,000 to meals a day at the two camps over the winter period

Simone, ?, ? -

Part of the team running the Refugee Kitchens Calais.  Been living on site for many months with her 15 year old son

Chloe, ?, Lille

Travelling in from Lille each day to run the adult language school

"I was employed as a housekeeper in a hotel in Paris and doing winter seasons in the alps.  I am a french teacher here and when we need I am english teacher!

We offer English and french teaching and we see the place not like a learning centre but more about sharing culture and ideas and to know more about French, English and kurdish culture.  We want to share some moments with the Kurdish and try to understand each other even if the language is not so good we try to make it work

At first they don’t want to stay in France because what they see about France is the police and they think that in the UK it’s not going to be like this.  I was the first French (teacher) in the school so at the beginning everyone wants to go to the UK, and then they learn French and meet more French volunteers and so they think maybe they can stay in France but the biggest problem is that they all have friends and relatives in the UK so if they stay in france they will be alone and there is a family pressure for them to go to the UK in Kurdistan.

They think they will come to the uk and they will have job and they will meet their friends and everything will be easy.  I think it’s harder than what they expect.  

I’ve been here since the opening of the new camp, so 7 weeks.  I am living in Lille (one hour away).   I have some friends with MSF so sometimes I sleep in Dunkirk but I am starting to be really tired - it has been a lot of energy and I have some strong relationships with some refugeees here and most of them are going to the UK so I lose my team and it starts to be hard.

We saw each other every day and so we were hanging around next to the school on the terrrace so we started to make really strong relationships. And they trust me (I don’t trust everybody) but I know who I can trust so we have many discussion and we share a part of our lives.

There is one yesterday who arrived in the UK and there is one on the ship right now that we love.  And there is one two weeks ago who went to Marseille.   I just know the story of the poeple who are coming to the school.  

We see the difference between the first group, level one, they know how to speak English, they are really well educated.  The second level is Zero so they don’t know how to speak English sometimes they don’t know the Latin alphabet.  They don’t have the same reactions, for example the relationship between men and women is different.  We don’t have any problems at all but you just see in the eye the way they look at you and it’s not the same.

I wanted to be involved in this crisis and I was giving food.  I didn’t like the relationship between the refugees and us.  It was just like ‘can i have tea’, and i didn’t like that.  I wanted to know more about them.  At the beginning I was coming two or three days a week and I was the only French and I loved it.  I met some refugee friends and I couldn’t come just two or three times a week - I had to be there all week so that’s why I’m here every day every week!

I will stay until september but it takes a lot of time and energy and it’s not my job, teaching, and I don’t get paid, it’s like my free time and I cannot do anything else.  I ‘m so busy working here but maybe i will stay shorter.

There are a lot of volunteers coming every day but want continuity in our courses and if the teacher is changing every day [refugees] won’t come every day.  They like the way you do it or teach and they get attached.  The volunteers who are here for a short period really have a false idea of what is going on here.   One guy who was supposed to stay one week stayed two weeks.  He said ‘it’s so cool I will come back.  I’ve been to so many parties and met so many friends’.  I said there are also lots of refugees in Paris.  He said ‘yes, but that is really less cool than coming here.’  Do you speak to refugees?  I asked.  ‘Not so much’

There is no mud anymore, people are kind of happy.  Although Not in their mind.  Still fucked up.  It’s just a mess.  In the weekend we close the school and on Monday people are coming back to school having spent the weekend thinking and thinking all the time the same questions.  Am I going to the UK?  Do I have enough money?  Always always thinking.  They are really fucked up.  Not mental disease but they are suffering a lot, really. 

I saw a drawing from Calais and it was some children playing and the guy wrote ‘we don’t need candies we perspective’.  Thats really what they need.  

Sometimes the NGOs come bringing chocolate, like for Easter, but this is making things worse because they are all coming and fighting for one piece of chocolate and it’s dehumanising.  They try to do good stuff but in my point of view this is worse.  Children are coming to you and they think everything is free because people are coming with supplies .  We are giving them stuff but they don’t need that - they just need to go to the UK.  Most important is to speak, to share, and understanding".

Eoin, 36, Dublin Had just arrived to continue running the bike repair shack in Dunkirk Camp. "A friend of mine was here a month ago just before the police went into Calais.  It was because of her, she saw on the list of things needed that there was bicycle stuff and bicycles are my passion and I'm unemployed at the moment at home so she was like 'come on'. [I came] just to lend a hand really.  I'm unemployed and when you are on the dole they give you two weeks paid holiday so I put in my application for that and set off. I'd be working as a bike mechanic.  Most of last year I was trying to set up my own bike shop in Dublin but as the economy is getting better rent was going up and up in the capital so I was priced out of the market just as I was about to get going. I'm going back to college in September to study engineering. First of all this camp i was amazed to see how well structured it was.  I'd heard stories of the jungle - tents in muddy fields.  So I was expecting a lot worse than the infrastructure here.  I was expecting it to be akin to a music festival - very temporary structures - massive big tents and that's it.  I was surprised to see so many solid structures on site. I've been following what's been going on and my mother works as a psychologist with refugees and asylum seekers in Dublin.  She has brought home some horrific stories of what her clients have been through and that's been my knowledge base of what's been going on.  I'm very much looking forward to getting chatting to more of the residents. I think this is an emergency situation.  The people who are in the most dire need of home.  There are structures in place at home to take care of people.  Anything any european citizen can do to help is greatly appreciated and much needed. I think a lot of the political reactions from countries in Europe doesn't make a whole heap of sense.  If you look at influx the long term is beneficial.  Culturally, economically, they tend to take low paid jobs that locals might not want to do and everything seems to suggest it's an overall benefit. I think of the coming decades it's going to be something that everybody is going to have to learn to deal with .  With global warming a lot of places are going to become uninhabitable in the next few decades so there is going to be mass migration from other parts of the globe.  So we need to learn to be open to helping these people as opposed to just shutting our doors and trying to ignore it". 

Eoin, 36, Dublin

Had just arrived to continue running the bike repair shack in Dunkirk Camp.

"A friend of mine was here a month ago just before the police went into Calais.  It was because of her, she saw on the list of things needed that there was bicycle stuff and bicycles are my passion and I'm unemployed at the moment at home so she was like 'come on'.

[I came] just to lend a hand really.  I'm unemployed and when you are on the dole they give you two weeks paid holiday so I put in my application for that and set off.

I'd be working as a bike mechanic.  Most of last year I was trying to set up my own bike shop in Dublin but as the economy is getting better rent was going up and up in the capital so I was priced out of the market just as I was about to get going.

I'm going back to college in September to study engineering.

First of all this camp i was amazed to see how well structured it was.  I'd heard stories of the jungle - tents in muddy fields.  So I was expecting a lot worse than the infrastructure here.  I was expecting it to be akin to a music festival - very temporary structures - massive big tents and that's it.  I was surprised to see so many solid structures on site.

I've been following what's been going on and my mother works as a psychologist with refugees and asylum seekers in Dublin.  She has brought home some horrific stories of what her clients have been through and that's been my knowledge base of what's been going on.  I'm very much looking forward to getting chatting to more of the residents.

I think this is an emergency situation.  The people who are in the most dire need of home.  There are structures in place at home to take care of people.  Anything any european citizen can do to help is greatly appreciated and much needed. I think a lot of the political reactions from countries in Europe doesn't make a whole heap of sense.  If you look at influx the long term is beneficial.  Culturally, economically, they tend to take low paid jobs that locals might not want to do and everything seems to suggest it's an overall benefit.

I think of the coming decades it's going to be something that everybody is going to have to learn to deal with .  With global warming a lot of places are going to become uninhabitable in the next few decades so there is going to be mass migration from other parts of the globe.  So we need to learn to be open to helping these people as opposed to just shutting our doors and trying to ignore it". 

Kathy, 68, London Volunteering in the warehouse with supplies "I've come because i want to do something.  For lots of reasons.  One, it was in the news, secondly my parents were refugees after the war so that was a connection.  Thirdly I realised we had a British [camp] on our doorstep and so i thought I can't resolve all this stuff so I'll just go and volunteer".  

Kathy, 68, London

Volunteering in the warehouse with supplies

"I've come because i want to do something.  For lots of reasons.  One, it was in the news, secondly my parents were refugees after the war so that was a connection.  Thirdly I realised we had a British [camp] on our doorstep and so i thought I can't resolve all this stuff so I'll just go and volunteer".

 

Rosie, Winchester Initially in the kitchen warehouse now working with legal organisation

Rosie, Winchester

Initially in the kitchen warehouse now working with legal organisation

Ostins, 33, London Carpenter working at the Dukirk camp building community kitchens

Ostins, 33, London

Carpenter working at the Dukirk camp building community kitchens

George, student, Working in the warehouse sorting donations for one week

George, student,

Working in the warehouse sorting donations for one week

Mimi, Been running the play school facility since the opening of Dunkirk camp for 7 weeks

Mimi,

Been running the play school facility since the opening of Dunkirk camp for 7 weeks

Nicolas, 22, Lyon A drama student visiting with his school to the camps to provide entertainment for the children "Today we sing in the refugee camps to put joy, happiness, smile to everyone - kid and adult.  And to put some escape possibility of life they don't have in camp. Strangely it was easier in Calais. Some scared people today here in Dunkirk - and in Calais it was really easy.  They seemed really tired in the institutional French camp (Dunkirk) and in the jungle I see more life in their eyes.  I see more life in jungle, some freedom of space. But I think it’s different to be in an institution camp. In the jungle we have seen 4 kids.  There is a camp of women and kids in the jungle but it’s like they are tired because of the authority, because of the organisation and waiting. It’s the first time for me here.  It was really important for me because I’m French.   Tonight we will play a show for volunteers in the refugee camps - it’s a show about old refugee camp in the North of France and it describes the situation of immigration in France a few years ago.  We want to change the perceptions of people who haven’t had a chance to see.   We play this show in schools in Lyon and in threatres and festivals".    

Nicolas, 22, Lyon

A drama student visiting with his school to the camps to provide entertainment for the children

"Today we sing in the refugee camps to put joy, happiness, smile to everyone - kid and adult.  And to put some escape possibility of life they don't have in camp.

Strangely it was easier in Calais. Some scared people today here in Dunkirk - and in Calais it was really easy.  They seemed really tired in the institutional French camp (Dunkirk) and in the jungle I see more life in their eyes.  I see more life in jungle, some freedom of space. But I think it’s different to be in an institution camp.

In the jungle we have seen 4 kids.  There is a camp of women and kids in the jungle but it’s like they are tired because of the authority, because of the organisation and waiting.

It’s the first time for me here.  It was really important for me because I’m French.  

Tonight we will play a show for volunteers in the refugee camps - it’s a show about old refugee camp in the North of France and it describes the situation of immigration in France a few years ago.  We want to change the perceptions of people who haven’t had a chance to see.   We play this show in schools in Lyon and in threatres and festivals".