A year ago today, after days of online abuse, I finally woke up to some positive messages in my quest to take aid to Calais.
My daughter, Holly, had been on a coach trip to Le Touquet with her school, which returned through Calais. She was upset by what she witnessed when their coach stopped on the bridge and wanted to know why we just couldn’t buy the refugees a ticket.
By the end of the day ‘Calais Refugee Support’ was formed. We had donation points set up in Scotland - Claire Macaulay , North London -Nadiyya Constant, East London - Heidi Miner Guildford - Christina Manning, Gloucester - Claire Earl and Eastbourne - Marcie Clarke and I’d committed to driving to Calais with a car load of aid to find out more.
We delivered our first car loads of aid to a small church hall full of retired ladies and gents organising the good from the bad and issuing tickets via L’auberge for refugees to collect much needed items. Medicine du Monde occupied a good sized area in the North, there were no kitchens in the camp and only a few restaurants along the high street, faulty toilets stank and water supplies were limited. The camp covered the whole area between the Motorway, Rue de Garennes and Chemin des Dunes and was home to just 3000 refugees; around 2000 Sudanese and only around 300 women and children - mainly housed in the Jules Ferry Centre. The incredible sense of hope that resonated around the camp was quite overwhelming, and I was humbled by the hospitality and care I was shown by the refugees.
What a difference a year makes!
I returned to Calais every weekend, and stayed in the jungle, sleeping in shifts between Mark Thelord & Janders Afrine or Memo Petro Weso & I (with Mr Tim) in their little red tent. One weekend I heard how after a beating to the head and knife to the leg, the victim was taken to Calais hospital where he received 22 stitches to the head (without being cleaned) and was immediately discharged back to the jungle. The stitches became infected as there was still mud in his hair and he was refused any follow up treatment because he was an asylum seeker and not a refugee. The stitches were later removed with a rusty razor blade by a friend.
On my return I was lucky to speak to Hassan Khalid Chaudhry who wanted to know how he could help - by the end of the week, Hassan, Raid Ali,Natalie Harrison and myself rocked up in Calais with an old caravan & bags of over the counter meds to a huge queue.
Our aim was to put medics in the jungle on Saturdays and Sunday when MdM did not open. By November we were providing 7 day care. We now have a great relationship with the Calais hospital who we operate a mutual referral system & are now the only medics in the camp.
Refugee Support currently has just short of 8000 followers. Our First Aid Team has a growing database of medics, dentists, podiatrists and physiotherapist volunteers who are providing essential care in the jungle 7 days a week. Our UK team provides starter packs for new arrivals and is currently piloting a project providing free english lessons and drop in healthcare clinics in East London with a view to rolling this out in other NASS dispersal areas.
A big thank you to everyone who is helping us to continue our work and much love to all the wonderful friends I've met on the way.