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Monday, 24 October 2016


What's on my mind? 

A year ago today (thank you timehop) I returned from my first visit to the Jungle. Something happened while I was there. My heart changed. It broke and it was healed and in that process it learned to hear. It, and I, will never be the same again.

 I met Ammer Maki and his friend Gadoora that day. They were the first people that I met there. They gave us "Christmas tea" and biscuits and told us about their hopes and dreams. 

Later that evening they saved me. Literally, not figuratively. I got lost returning from an emergency run to the A&E maternity with Nahid TinaRiaz Ahmad & Dr Hassan. Baby Rosie wasn't born that night, but she came soon after. I watched Nahid Tina's eyes in the mirror all the way there to see if the baby was coming. I can't imagine what she was going through as she watched me right back. 

When I returned to the Jungle it was dark, I was lost and had become separated from the rest of the team (half had stayed in the hospital, half in the Jungle). As I walked through the dark, muddy slum trying to find my team I began to panic. I was lost, it was dark, I knew no-one and my phone was dead. Suddenly I recognised where I was and began to call out to Ammer and Gadoora. They heard me & quickly wound their way through the little gaps between tents and shelters and they came and rescued me. I could not be more grateful to them. They took me to their shelter and fed me Aseeda. It would have taken them hours to create that meal I later learned. It was my first taste of Aseeda and the first time I had been looked after by a stranger as well as I would have been looked after by my own mother. I was frightened and cold and lost and they saved me.

 As I sat with them and began to relax I could feel my heart vibrating. It actually hummed in my chest. I was in the presence of true kindness, the kind that gives and expects to receive nothing in return. These young men, the same age as my own son had crossed half the world to save themselves from a fate worse that death, to create a future that would keep them and their future children safe and they had saved me. They gave me their food, sat me by their tiny fire and held my hand until I stopped shaking. 

Now, one year on, two of them are beginning university in Lille with other friends I have come to know and love over this past year. I could not be more proud. I never got to see Gadoora again after that first visit. He had moved on. I hope that he is happy and that he knows that his kindness has never been forgotten. It has driven me to continue to seek out the kindness in the world. To give without expecting anything in return and to hope that one day, everyone will get to meet an Ammer or Gadoora or Riaz. These young men are exceptional human beings. I am privileged to have met them. 

Today the jungle is being dismantled. I am feeling very sad today.

Tuesday, 4 October 2016


A year ago today I found myself heading to Calais Refugee camp with a car load of aid. I had no idea what to expect, I was completely unprepared for the realities of what I was going to witness. One year on, things snowballed and we have formed a charity. There are days when the distress, frustration and rage I feel nearly breaks my soul. I sometimes secretly wish I had never volunteered so that I could have remained ignorant and naive about the world and how we treat our fellow humans. Some days it makes me cry, some days I despair, others days I feel shame.

Then I think about all of the amazing people that I have had the pleasure of meeting, who have shone a light into my darkest places to show me hope. I have been taught so much about the world and about myself by connecting with people who would have remained strangers had I not dived blind into trying to do something, anything to try and make a difference in someway. All I know is I can't sit back and do nothing.

This past year has changed me more than I could have ever imagined. I have now witnessed how cruel and evil actions are done to others by humans. I have felt the true kindness of people sharing the nothing that they have - it almost floors you. I have felt the deafening silence of friends who just don't want to know. I have been in awe of communities coming together to be the change they want to see. I have encountered people who have such spirt and resilience, it makes my heart sing.

But nothing is different.
We are still living in an idiotic small minded "look after our own" society that promotes segregation and hate and tries to deny solidarity, generosity and compassion. We are all humans, why people can't understand this simple fact, I will never know. Maybe it's people's selfishness and greed that stops them realising we are all the same.

There are days when I want to scream at people's selfishness and days when I cry with pure happiness at people's kindness and generosity of heart.
In the next few weeks, the Calais camp will be torn down, forcing people to flee once more. There are 65 million displaced people in our world; this is not ok when we all have the power to act. I want to know that I have done everything that I can to be the world I want to see.

The enormity of the situation can feel intimidating, but small acts make a big difference- never forget that.
I want to thank everyone who has supported me in so many ways. I am truly grateful to live such a privileged life, I am so lucky. We all have something to be thankful for.

Wednesday, 7 September 2016


I had to take last weekend off to reflect on the past year. I was asked to write about my Calaisversary and found it difficult to not say what I really wanted to say because some of it feels not nice. But, because I'm me - I'm actually just going to tell the truth anyway. I actually don't have anything to lose because I'm not doing this work to make friends, I'm doing it to help people in need. 

It's been a little over a year since I saw a picture of a gentleman standing in front of his flooded shelter: August 2015. Overnight, my world changed and I became the founder of Caravans For Calais, creating a surreal online world to collect caravans and fundraise. Within 24 hours I'd facilitated 3 caravans, gathered volunteers, and begun fundraising more than I ever dared to dream.
With the responsibility and burden of being a refugee project founder, highly driven, passionate and with little fear, comes bitterness and hate from people you barely know and people who claim to be your friend but really aren't. 

So I run the year through my mind, and can't help but take it personally - because it's what makes me who I am. If I didn't take things personally, then I wouldn't be doing this work. 

I facilitated a LOT of aid (and still do). Caravans, tents, vehicles, food, building materials, firewood, medical aid, education, comfort. It is hard work, exhausting, and at times stressful. I'm not perfect. I'm far from it. my paperwork is shoddy, I forget things, I overwork myself and have incredibly crazy ideas. I neglect myself frequently and put nearly everyone else's needs above my own.
Those crazy ideas actually start things amazing. So I don't regret one single one of them. My intentions are honourable. 

In those volunteering hours I give myself freely, completely and knowing that not one single refugee will ever know me, who I am, what I did. What I do has no glamour, no back patting - in fact its kind of an empty feeling when you never really actually see the results of the work you do. But I know. I know so so much how it feels to be given a bag full of food by a total stranger, that was collected and donated by others. Sorted, then selected and given to me, to feed MY family. That feeling alone is enough to have driven a whole year of planning, growing, developing a continuous flow of aid.
So, I push, promote, beg, borrow, share all day long to try to give to others, who will never know me, because I can. I can and I will, and no amount of barriers will stop me because I run the 'fuck you' gauntlet. Tell me I can't - and 'fuck you' I'll do it. 

Despite this, and my absolute heart of gold, and dedication, my reflecting brought tears. Tears of deep sadness and a heartfelt empty lack of understanding of just one thing .... volunteer bullying.
Volunteer bullying is actually the most significant thing I personally flashback to in the last year. I battle it daily to still help those who need it. I battle it so well that most people don't even know I do it. But actually - Happy Calaisversary - I actually don't need to hide behind anything/anyone because actually, I do good. 

For the life of me I can't get my head around why people who claim to want to help others, can spend so long trying to destroy others, undermining each others projects, back stabbing, sabotaging and causing deliberate harm - just because they don't entirely agree with your exact way of working or because they changed their mind after donating something, or because they broke a deal they didn't understand. 

Frienemies - those who pretend to be your friend to gather intel and undermine. A word I learned in this field of work. 

My way of working works for me. I don't ask anyone to accept it, I just get on with it - like a machine. It produces results not friends. You don't have to work with me - but you certainly don't need to try and stop me. If it's not to your liking, then set up your own project and leave mine alone. I deliver results whether you like it or not. I don't need anyone's approval to achieve this.
I was bullied and bitched about so hard by some Calais volunteers that I actually stopped going. I was told by one of the largest organizations there that if I helped another organization that they would have to sever ties with me. I saved them the trouble. I refuse to be pulled into aid blocking games because of personality clashes. I send aid to BOTH warehouses and will continue to do so.
Volunteer politics is bullshit. I won't play.  
I cut most of my personal ties and interaction. Diverted my focus onto the bigger picture. I then followed the physical route back to front myself to see a refugee journey. To see really if I could do something more.  It helped and I do. 

I went underground in Calais to avoid the judgement. I now send aid incognito. Why am I telling you? Well it goes back to the gauntlet - 'fuck you'. It's NOT about volunteers, it's about the people we help. I help because I want to help, not because of what a anyone says to me.

When people collect aid from my warehouse for Calais - I actually make them promise not to say where it came from. In reality it doesn't matter where it came from. I don't need the thanks - they need the aid, so I just get on with it. I had a dream that I could make a long term difference by actually creating a not for profit business that was supported by the refugee crisis that would feed back into the refugee crisis. 

I set up a project where I could turn returned rejected aid into useful aid and have so far managed to turn 5 returned 40ft lorries of bad aid into 4 x 40ft containers of good aid, and thousands of pounds of other aid. Sadly, because of misunderstandings and lack of basic communication, I almost lost everything when one organization pulled the plug because they didn't get it ..... however my strength and determination to overcome volunteer issues means I continue to send aid and let people think what they like. 

Where am I now, one year on? Stronger, more determined, caring less and less about what people think about me, and more and more about how to deliver as much aid as I can possibly facilitate. I frequently step in and support other volunteers who experience bullying and help them to learn a way around it to continue to deliver what aid they can. 

A year of delete and block on facebook was the equivalent to not watching the drivel and poison from live TV. I actually was able a few weeks ago to unblock them all - because I'm finally free.

 I have watched a great many highly intelligent, awesome, passionate and driven people get shot down now, and accept that its never going to go away, and the only way through it is to not see it anymore. I hope that by my honesty - that they will gain strength, knowing that if someone else came out the other side - they can too. I'm proud of what I do. I love my work. I don't need approval. I don't need thanks. What I actually want is peace and freedom to just get on with it ..... I made my own peace.

Sunday, 21 August 2016


So. Calais.
We are going out this weekend to drop off aid; it will be my Calais-iversary- a year exactly since I first got actively involved.
And more people than ever before are living in that toxic, inhumane, shameful place.

As I fill a bin bag with dead rats and rotting food, I try very hard not to think about the family asleep just the other side of the canvas - a family which could very well be mine: mum and dad; adored toddler exploring the world, curious and bright eyed, turning everything into an adventure.
As I walk past the huts to drop off food, I block from my mind the eight and nine year olds I know live just behind there, alone, terrified, hungry, prey to the most vicious things the human mind can imagine. Children disappear in that place. Just disappear. Let's not think about that.
As I laugh and hug a friend by the medical caravans, I slam shut the door in my head which knows what they see in those caravans: scabies; trench foot; self harm injuries; TB; cuts and bruises from truncheons; head wounds and burns from tear gas and rubber bullets fired at people at point blank range; refugees eating tissues to silence the hunger pangs.  See, not treat- as treatment would be against the rules. What is happening to these people, apparently less of a concern than the rules.
Every so often something breaks through: the story of the Syrian mother separated from her tiny child as the lorry door closed before her baby could be handed to her. The old afghan man who gripped my arm and told me he was going to die there (I couldn't find him on the next trip- I have no idea what happened to him). The kind-eyed man who insisted on putting his gloves on my hands on a wet January day. Those fucking fences.
And the thing I avoid thinking about the most is the fact that each volunteer- each completely ordinary mum, student, actor, architect, shopkeeper, doctor- is doing more than our entire government. The fact that these people are being kept alive by a ragtag army of volunteers from all round the world. Because that is the most terrifying, upsetting thing of all.
Calais is hell and history will judge us for it.

Saturday, 20 August 2016

ONE YEAR ON By Tess Berry-Hart of CALAIS ACTION: 20th August 2016

So exactly one year ago today I was so upset by the endless stream of desperate pictures on my Facebook and Twitter feed that I typed "how to help refugees" into Google and it came up with THIS article followingLiberace Gwendoline and her trip to Calais. 

I couldn't believe it - so this is how I could actually help! Along with Kate Coggins Clare Struthers Laura Campbell and many others I got in touch with Libby and before I knew it I was hosting the Calais Action North London collection in my front room.

I went away for the Bank Holiday and turned my phone off for the weekend. When I came back to 213 new messages in 48 hours I knew something big must have happened - the pictures of Aylan Kurdi had hit the news.

I know that many of us were caught up in the huge wave of empathy and need for action - I just remember that all of a sudden everybody from all walks of life appeared on my doorstep every day for a month - the youngest donor was two, bringing bags of sweets, and the oldest was ninety-six, who had cleared out the provisions of her own little pantry to help feed refugees in Calais. Overwhelmed by sacks of donations, I sent out an alarm call for volunteers and was deluged with help - from a whole spectrum of society including neighbours, former child refugees, economic migrants, taxi drivers, businesswomen, grandmothers, singers, actors, lawyers ... big ups Charlotte Randle Lily Bevan Anne Dorst Rowan Williams Seble Alemu Bates Kate Brittain Gubs Kemlo!
If ever there was an antidote to the horror of the refugee crisis then the sheer wealth of humanity and the response of so many good people was definitely the tonic.

I'd thought I'd collect a van of stuff for my first trip to Calais in September, but the collection in my front room had grown to such epic proportions that I had to relocate it into a nearby priest's house and garden (thanks Allison Holt Ambrogi!) and when the priest wanted his house back I found many Calais Action collections were having the same problem! 

So...we opened the warehouse in Crystal Palace, where over the next months teams of dedicated people such as Mags Proud Caroline Wyard Alice Faye CarelessGeorgia Mancio and Lynley Oram would sort, box, chuck, recycle, and load aid for Calais, Greece. Unsuitable but good stuff was sent to projects all around the UK. For months my feet did not touch the ground!

It wasn't all rosy, of course. As for most of us, it was learning on the job - what was/ wasn't needed for Calais, how to pack a pallet, how many pallets into a container, how to fill out a shipping manifest, is this Greek island big enough to handle this volume of stuff?!?!  Few people I met were trained aid workers and the high pressure and sheer volume of stuff meant I was knackered and irritable a lot of the time. The constant dramas in Calais and Greece meant that needs were often changing, but when you see what was achieved in making so many camps all over Europe habitable with functioning food and distribution systems over the following months, it seems like one of the huge achievements of humanity.

Like many people, I would have been amazed if, back then, you'd have told me that I'd be still working on the refugee aid effort a year later. If I thought anything, it was that we needed to plug the gap for a few weeks or months until the powers-that-be stepped in to sort the situation out. That obviously didn't happen, and it seems amazingly naive now to think that it would, but back then it seemed inconceivable that our governments would so lack the will to help those fleeing their own countries that it would be willing to let people die on its shores or freeze in its fields.

What I do know is that I wouldn't have changed this past year for anything. I've met the best people in the world, been involved in campaigning and speaking on refugee issues, and worked with so many different people from peers to pop stars. Despite all the frustrations and the fatigue, it's simply been one of the best times of my life. Big power up to the Calais Action team who are the dearest people in the world to me, and all of you in the people-to-people movement that I've met and worked next to and shared a beer or a cry with. You're what being human is all about!

Saturday, 13 August 2016

TODAY IS MY #CALAISVERSARY By Renke Pieter Meuwese 13th August 2016

Exactly one year ago, I arrived in Calais, wide-eyed and without Jungle lung. So today is my ‪#‎Calaisversary‬. And is it a happy one? Well, kind of, surprisingly. Yesterday the judge blocked the destruction of the restaurants and shops - for now. And we had a beautiful evening with an open mike night, featuring our own superstar Sylvain de Saturne among many others.
In my first trip I met: Georges Gilles, Claudine MoineJulia Schmidt, James Fisher, Virginie Tiberghien, Zimako Jones, Matthew WrightDaniel Mark TomlinsonMartin NolanMaya KonfortiToby CaruanaClaire Wilson and of course Liz Clegg. These were the bad old days, the seriously pioneering times. As much as we may rightfully ask for food and clothes, for volunteers and money, the situation is still nowhere near as dire as it was in early August 2015.
Next I went out again, this time accompanied by Sytse Tjallingii, but not before meeting Wendy Van Der Zijden Doula and Sebastiaan Gamelkoorn and informing them on how Calais worked. See, I was an expert, because I had been there before, for a whole two weeks! This was a pattern that would continue on this trip. I was a tourguide for Tom Radcliffe and Shizuka, forHannah Slater and Rachael Heaven, and for Phi Lli BJosephine Naughtonand friends (those last two groups on the same day) as well as many people who just drove into the camp and really needed someone to show them the ropes. I particularly remember a group from Ireland who had a van full of tents and sleeping bags, but no plan to distribute them. I insisted the van be parked outside and we walked in with as many as we could comfortably carry, and brought them to the Sudan marquee where we handed them out, keeping a neat "line", even inside the marquee. Meanwhile the rain was pouring down like a new flood. In these same weeks I met Liz Hulse Gall,Terry NorwickMarcie ClarkeSamer MaxWilliam BurnsRachel Arundel,Hana Denton, Advia Ahmed and so many more people! Suddenly there seemed to be a real change possible in the camp. I gave my bike away as I was leaving this time, thinking it would be many months before I'd come back, if at all.
Well, that didn't happen. Less than a month later I was back. And this time there was an actual warehouse! Run by Help Refugees and Auberge des Migrants. Where I met John SloanDebs BennettAnnie Patricia GavrilescuOlivia LongSidonie FlahautSylvain de SaturneClare MoseleyMegan SaliuCaroline GregoryAnton ZhyzhynAmelia Iraheta and so many others. A bustling zone of activity which became my new place of working. In particular, I was organizing the boxes of sorted clothes.
And it stayed my place, even when the warehouse moved. 

As winter was setting in, the warehouse became more professional. We got the famous high vis gilets, including orange ones for team leaders. We had yellow trolleys in which the distributions for the next days were prepared. Daniel Martin led us with a clear vision. Johanna Verpoort dealt with stuff coming in and going out. The boxing was led by Will, the sort by Deb (yes, a second Deb on clothes sorting), and by late December by Simone Day and me. James "Robin Hood" helped out explaining the work to various sections.
Then followed the longest period of absence for me: January-early February, because I was in Peru. Important changes happened during this time: the first eviction happened, a strip of 100 m from the motorway. A clearance that most of the refugees and most of the volunteers cooperated with, reluctantly.
Also, Hettie Sashenka Colquhoun and Emma Weinstein Sheffield became the new team leading and coordinating the volunteers. Sarah Jane Corvidae was around, organizing a whole host of things. By this time the RCK was delivering meals to the camp, and CCK was providing food packs. And the prefecture was amping up the pressure: the entire southern half of the camp was going to be evicted. After a complex verdict from the judge in Lille, that indeed happened, and we're still feeling the effects.
It's much harder to try and remember exactly who was where when. A few people should have been in the last one already: Si Mon and Riaz Ahmad for example. And by early 2016, people like Robin LickerBear SmithEvie StewartJen McGlone and Bronwen James were essential. Johanna's role at the door was taken over by the incomparable Alexandra Becker. Two daughters of other volunteers in the camp became important pillars of the operations in their own right: Sophie Alexandria Radcliffe and Inca Sorrell.
Lucy Oliver-Harrison took over from me what was by this time my default role: leading the "main sort", i.e. the sorting of the adult clothes.
A few other people that need to be mentioned from this period: Graham FrostCharlotte HeadHamish HamishHarry Duncan Smith. Dear friends and very valued colleagues.
I'm going to leave the story here for now.  I need some rest, and the most recent months are too fresh still to clearly summarize. Also, the number of people to mention becomes almost impossibly large. It's been quite a ride. For those of you who were not at the warehouse this morning: I brought cake and got wished a happy birthday by some lovely volunteers who did not entirely grasp the reason for the cake... but that's fine. Let them eat cake.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

A YEAR AGO TODAY by Chloe Le Fay: August 11th 2016

A year ago today I made my first trip over to the Calais jungle. Part of the trip was spurred on by some really really racist and hate filled comments about the human beings living there, from people I have to see every day. So I decided to look into it deeper and find out more. 

I am so glad I did. As I had lived in fear before, as fed to me by the gutter press and it had never really occurred to me to question the situation before. But it has completely opened me up as a person and enriched my life. I am so much more socially and politically aware and am able to pass that mantle to my kids who, let's face it, have got a hard job ahead of them. 

I no longer live in fear of the things I simply just didn't know about, I took the time to learn more and I am so grateful I did. 

The lack of compassion and understanding from so many people, and the lack of effort people are prepared to put into looking at the situation deeper and educating themselves (and maybe making themselves less fearful) knocked me sideways. It really made me question many things I thought I knew, and people I thought I knew.

Consequently, a whole wave of amazing new people have entered my life - Brits, and people from far flung countries I would never have had the chance to meet before. The variety of countries the Facebook Fiends tagged here come from or are living in, is amazing. The people I have met have blown me away. From the refugees who have shown such bravery, such honour, such gentleness and gratitude ( like the 14 year old girl who watched her 3 siblings die during 10 hours struggling in Turkish waters, who hugged and comforted ME) to the kindness and the sacrifice of the volunteers who've been prepared to do everything they can to help others. 

The division between those that 'do' and those that 'won't' seems to have got wider and I am ashamed at the behaviour of a lot of my countrymen. But I am also deeply, deeply proud of so many. And I have some friends now that I think, hope, will be friends for life.

The situation hasn't gone away, only the attention. In fact, if anything it has got worse. I needed some time off to get well and get my business back on track but I'm close to the finishing line then I will be turning my attention back towards those lost, hungry, cold frightened souls that need our help. I encourage you to do the same, even if you cant do it yourself, support someone tagged in this message, don't look away, look into it, in making someone else life just a tiny bit better, you might well make your life a whole lot better.