Monday, 21 September 2015

My Trip To Calais - September 21st 2015 : by Dawud March via FB

Just wanted to feedback on my recent trip to Calais to volunteer with Clare Moseley and her team and to support our neighbours stranded in community there.

Me and my son went over with three other volunteers and despite having read up on Facebook everyone's feedback, we were not prepared for what we saw and experienced.

Warm, friendly, welcoming and proud people who want for a better life where they and their families can work, study and grow up safe from war and oppression. That is what we hoped to see.

But what surprised us was a bustling community with an economy, shops and cafe's and a rich network of volunteers and small organisations doing incredible work in extremely difficult circumstances.

What also surprised me was how affected I was by seeing proud men bending over boxes sorting through trousers to find the right sizes, queuing in the morning and throughout the day for provisions they would have just gone to buy for themselves if the circumstances were different. I cried - I cried because of how blessed I am to have what I have, I cried seeing these wonderfully peaceful people reduced to doing this each day and I cried because ultimately I could not help them - I could not get them out of this place but I could hand out blankets, food, shoes, trousers and coats.

There are some amazing people on the ground doing their best to provide support in a way that preserves our neighbours' dignity on the one hand, whilst liaising with well meaning, but often ill informed people coming each day unannounced and trying to hand out items in an unorganised way that descends into chaos and argument leading to some very distressing and dehumanising scenes. Sometimes it works, but to have people arrive with egos the size of planets just makes those working hard there everyday so very angry.

My trip has been overshadowed by the events of today and the evictions and destruction of tents, property and personal items, including passports and important papers but still I feel I saw enough to know what I could do to help. What is needed is hands, people, people with skills and time to devote to supporting our neighbours - not tourist charity drops!

Firstly, I want to echo what has been said so many times before - do not, just do not go over unannounced to hand out stuff that is not sorted, not needed and not appropriate. I worked in the warehouse and I can't tell you how many vans we saw pull up with junk - dirty, torn, broken, stained and smelly clothes, sheets, coats, shoes etc - and used underwear! I did distributions inside the community and saw the chaos that is caused by unannounced drop offs that are poorly planned and insults the people they are trying to help.

Don't just turn up for one day to help out and then go round the community taking pictures and selfies and videos of people who would gladly welcome you into their tent for tea and food to tell you their story but deserve far more respect than such tourist visits give them. In the warehouse, training someone to do so sorting for a couple of hours before they have to leave is just a waste of time.

Liaise with a recognised contact on the ground way before you go - not an hour before you pull up with 30 vans, flashing lights and walkie talkies! Its not about you - its about our neighbours and what is best for them. Don't just drive through the community, stop, get out of the vehicle and talk to people. Find out about them, smile, be friendly hug them, ask them how they are and connect with them. They have mental and physical needs as well and getting to know these wonderful people in such a way will give them such a lift - to know you really care.

What do we plan to do? We will look to organise groups of volunteers to go over, hopefully with different skill sets and different times to do different things. To do this we will liaise with those working on the ground - not the big personalities, but the people rolling their sleeves up and getting struck in to make sure we go at the right time to do the right thing. We will also be looking at the local distribution centres where we live and try to share our knowledge about what is needed, how it needs to be prepared and to just keep some stuff back until it is needed. To do that we will network as much as we can.

For me and my son, it was a privilege to share our time with people who welcomed us with smiles, conversation and warm hearts. What upsets me most is that the one thing that costs us nothing, nothing at all - which is to return this welcome without prejudice, is sadly lacking in the way some of us are responding to this crisis.

Please take my post in the spirit in which it is written. I just felt the need to share how I feel about my time there and about what I believe is important - standing shoulder to shoulder with our brothers and sisters in need.

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