Continued support for Calais Refugees!

Update posted by Sara Dennison On Sep 14, 2015

It is difficult to know where to start....When I started to write this I was sat at home on my own and if I looked out of the window I could see the river Rhine peacefully flowing by. But then I closed my eyes and I saw the two little boys who my husband Tom and I spent much of the day with; the man who thought I was a doctor and ran to tell me his wife was sick and needed help; and the two men from Eritrea who politely asked me for a tent and shoes as they had just arrived and had absolutely nothing. One of the men was older and had such a friendly face; it broke my heart to tell him we had nothing at that moment to give him but he still shook my hand and smiled at me as he walked away. I?m told that he came back to Riaz, one of the volunteers at the camp, and asked about me but Riaz had to tell him I was gone.

We arrived in Calais on Saturday night. We went straight to the supermarket where we bought as much food as we could fit in the remaining space of our transit. I had managed to contact Riaz, who volunteers with Secours Catholique, earlier in the day and we arranged to pick him up from his home at 9.00am on Sunday.

I was really excited to meet Riaz as I?d heard so much about him via Facebook on the ?Calais ? People to People Solidarity" group page. When I jumped out of the van to greet him my initial impressions were confirmed. Riaz is such a great person! Despite the fact that we were all effectively total strangers, Riaz jumped into our van as if we were old friends and we set off to Secours Catholique to drop off the majority of our donations.

We had to wait for an hour for someone to come and open the facility for us and during that time I had a chance to get to know Riaz a little better. I had absolutely no idea that Riaz himself had spent two and a half months living in the camp and so had firsthand experience of life there. He spoke about his past and about some of his experiences in his home country of Pakistan. I am amazed that, despite all his suffering, he is strong enough and compassionate enough to help others. He is a truly selfless person and I am proud to call him my friend. At around 10.20 two volunteers arrived to open the facility for us. Together we unloaded the van and had a quick drink before we set off for the camp.

I was surprised at how quickly the camp just seemed to appear before our eyes. I am so pleased we had Riaz to direct us! When we arrived it felt like we had been transported to a different place; a different country; a different land. It was hard to believe that just a mile or

so away there were families enjoying their seaside holiday before the school term starts in a few days. There was a police presence, from what I could see armed police were stood on a bank nearby, however they pretty much kept out of the way. Getting out of the van was nerve wracking as a small crowd has begun to gather however as I followed Riaz into the camp I felt a strange sense of calm and peace. (That might sound strange, or even disrespectful, and I don?t mean it to be. That was just my personal feeling as I watched the people living in the camp working together). There were people from Eritrea, Sudan, Iran and Afghanistan and, although they do seem to live in separate areas of the camp, I was touched to see everyone working together and being respectful of each others religions and cultures.

As a woman I expected that I might feel nervous or intimidated by the vast number of men in the camp, whom the media delightfully refer to as been ?sex starved?, however generally I felt safe, although having Riaz guide me through the camp definitely put me at ease and I was followed by my incredibly protective husband who was always a couple of steps behind me. Our first stop was ?Jungle Books? (a library where all are welcome) where we met a lovely man called Bill. Tom chatted to Bill and I went inside where I was met by two young boys from Eritrea. Their names were Yanas and Armani. Armani must only have been 5 years old; Yanas maybe 9. They were quiet at first and chatted between themselves. I asked if I could sit with them. We began chatting and they asked if I was there to teach them English. I told them I wasn't a teacher but I could help them if they would like me to (although their English was already very good!)

They showed me the pictures on the wall that they had drawn. I looked around the room at the colourful walls and drawings portraying the various home countries of the people living in the camp. Jungle Books is a truly amazing place and the emphasis placed on making the children of the camp as comfortable as possible is amazing. I was touched to see little Armani carrying a gruffalo toy and a brand new "One Direction" bag. I wondered where these items came from. Were they donated? If so, who by? Whoever gave the gruffalo and bag would be amazed to see where they are now and how much they are enjoyed by such a lovely, innocent little boy.

As Armani seemed particularly fond of his gruffalo I decided to draw one for him. He was very pleased with it and tucked it neatly away in his backpack.

The boys overheard Tom and Bill talking about the school that has been set up in the camp. They were so excited! "School? School!" they said. They jumped up from the table and asked me to take them to the school. Their eagerness to learn was unbelievable. They were literally so excited at the prospect of going to school. This memory is particularly poignant and will stay with me forever. We (adults and children alike!) really don't know how lucky we are in the UK!

We said goodbye to Bill (and Frugal, another lovely man we'd met at Jungle Books) and went on our way. On our way to the school we stopped at the church and met the man who had led the build. He told us he had no building skills but that he learnt on the job....and what an amazing job he did! Of course he was helped by others but he told us that he did "70%" of the work himself. The church is beautiful. I peered inside but didn't think it was right to enter, as I'm not hugely religious myself and there was a mass going on. I was amazed at how beautiful it was inside; a real haven for the people living in the camp. We saw women sheltering in the walled area outside the church. They obviously feel safe here. We chatted to the man who built the church for a few minutes then we set off for the school......

The walk through the camp took us through "Iran" and "Sudan". On the way to the school Riaz suggested that we should identify families with children who may need some food. We met an Iranian family of three generations. It might sound a strange thing to say but they had made a lovely looking home for themselves. They were situated in their own "plot" with three tents, a shaded area and a fire was warming a small metal tea pot as we arrived. They had a little girl who must have been around 2 years old. Riaz spoke to them and asked if they needed food. They said yes and we agreed to return later with a bag of supplies. We said goodbye and carried on to the school.

The school was incredible! There are classes taking place every day. When we arrived we met a lovely French lady who had set up the school and all around us there was so much vibrancy, both within the environment and the personalities of the people. The lady (I'm sorry I can't remember her name!) pointed to a building where she told us there was a class taking place. The class was in poetry with the theme of human rights and was been taken by a Belgium poet! He stopped to speak to us briefly as he dashed out of the classroom to stock up on chalk! It's difficult to get across just how unbelievable the entire camp is. Despite the living conditions there is a real vibrancy and positivity in the camp. People share what little they have; different cultures live amongst each other and respect each other; children are cared for by the collective group - everyone watches out for them; and I witnessed many instances of men assisting women and treating them with kindness and respect. Not the kind of behaviour the Daily Mail or BBC would have us believe takes place!

After visiting the school we made our way back through the camp. We noticed a Sudanese lady and her young daughter buying supplies from the local shop. Riaz suggested that we hang about outside the shop and ask her if we could help by giving her more food - food that she didn't have to pay for. At first I was angry at the women having to buy food. I felt as though she was been exploited by the two men who we're running the shop. However I don't think this was the case. I was touched as I watched two Afghani men fuss over the Sudanese lady's daughter. They gave her extra food for free and were kind and respectful. Armani and Yanas headed into the foyer of the shop where they took a seat on an old leather sofa. The owners of the shop were so kind to the boys and gave them each a packet of crisps. To my absolute astonishment the first thing the boys did was offer me a crisp!! At this point it was very difficult not to cry. These boys have next to nothing yet they didn't hesitate to share what they had with me. We waited for the Sudanese lady to leave the shop then we approached her. She was such a lovely lady. Strikingly beautiful, not that that matters, and her little girl was clearly a loved and well cared for child. They followed us to the van and we gave her a bag containing fruit, rice, flour, tuna, chopped tomatoes and chickpeas. The fact that she was so grateful made me feel so utterly ashamed of myself. Ashamed for the watch on my wrist; ashamed for the trivial arguments I have with my husband; ashamed for the time just last week I said I'd never fly EasyJet again (yes I really said that!); ashamed for being born white and British. It was strange hugging this vibrant, beautiful, beaming lady and watching her leave knowing that I would probably never see her again.

Next, Tom and the boys jumped in the van whilst Riaz and I walked in front and we headed towards the Jules Ferry Centre. We were trying to locate Armani and Yanas's mums so we could give them some food, however we were later to discover that the boys mothers were not at the centre as the boys had told us they were! It would appear that they just wanted a ride in the van! It's good to know that living in the camp hasn't dampened the boys sense of mischief! The walk to the Jules Ferry Centre was quite unnerving and I received some unwanted attention from the Afghani men however I acknowledged their advances politely, kept my head down and stayed close to Riaz. When we arrived at the centre a large group gathered around us, some asking for food, bikes and tents; others asking for medical assistance. It was hard to tell the people that I couldn't offer any of this to them. We had brought food and tents with us but, taking strict advice from Riaz, we'd left everything at the Secours Catholique centre. Once we discovered that the boys mothers were not at the centre we drove back and parked the van back on the edge of the camp, whilst being observed by armed police standing on the bank above us. I was worried that they might confront us for having the children in the van but they didn't seem bothered.

After parking the van we stayed in the camp for a further couple of hours. We wished we could have stayed longer but work and travel commitments, plus the 8 hour drive home, meant we had to leave at 2.00pm. Before we left we headed back to the church where we handed out our remaining food.

Those final few hours are a blur. It's hard to get across in writing just what it was like. Men showering in the open air using the pitiful cold taps protruding from the ground that have been supplied by the French government; women sat on the ground washing clothes in buckets; children playing with dirty toys; Afghani men sat in a circle smoking; women buying basics from the local "shop"; men buying chickpeas and chips from the make shift takeaway.... It's just insane. The people living here should be commended for their ingenuity and community spirit but, despite the amazing display of human spirit we witnessed at the camp, we also witnessed suffering that neither my husband or myself have ever seen before. It's not just the desperation of these people that makes me cry, it's the politeness and warmth they show even when you tell them you have nothing to give them. No one was rude to us. No one threatened us. No one was unkind. These people are human beings just like me; just like you.

It saddens me, but more so is SCARES me, to witness the attitude of many in the UK currently. We, collectively as a nation, seem to be treating these people as though they are beneath us. As though they are disposable and unimportant. We are letting them down in their greatest hour of need and this is something I just can't get my head round. I don't know much about politics and I don't know a great deal about world history but I do know that we cannot keep living like this. We cannot keep shunning people whom we deem to be different to us. We need to stop thinking that we, from the West, are better than hose from elsewhere. We don't need to be afraid of people with a different language, culture or skin colour. We are all human beings and we all deserve the same basic human rights. I hope that my visit to the camp in Calais has not only provided some minor help to the people living in the camp but I also hope that it will show others that there is no need to be afraid. It is our duty as humans to help those in need no matter where they come from or what their background.

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Update posted by Sara Dennison On Aug 17, 2015

Another amazing day! Collections and deliveries from three very kind ladies! So overwhelmed by people's kindness! Thank you people of Basel

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Sara - amazing work! Are you making another trip? We have childrens clothes, shoes and toys to donate, and some adult clothing too. If you can let me know an address, I’d be happy to deliver stuff to you.

Julie Bryan

Update posted by Sep 04

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Update posted by Sara Dennison On Aug 17, 2015

As the date to go to Calais draws nearer I thought I best start trying to source a van. I considered various options but renting through a large company seemed the best way. I had an idea of cost however I was dealt a massive blow when I was told we'd be charged 50 cents per kilometre for any distance over 450km - Our journey is 1500km! However, Joel at Hertz in Basel was INCREDIBLE and when I told him why I was hiring the van he gave me the very best rate possible, slashing the price by 60!!! I am truly overwhelmed and this means that all of the money raised so far can go towards food and other supplies and will not have to subsidise a crazy rental fee. Thank you Hertz and thank you Joel!

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Update posted by Sara Dennison On Aug 15, 2015

Huge thanks to my lovely husband Tom who helped me carry 8 massive bags of clothe through the city streets of Basel and on two tram rides! (He actually carried 6!) We got lots of funny looks but we are proud to be supporting people in need!

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Update posted by Sara Dennison On Aug 15, 2015

Hi everyone! At the moment I'm struggling to upload photos so please bear with me! Hopefully this will be rectified soon. Thanks, Sara.

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Update posted by Sara Dennison On Aug 15, 2015

Today we collected ten bags of donations from the kind people of Basel. Here I am with Daniel collecting 8 bags full of winter clothes! Transporting them home on two trams wasn't easy but totally worth it!

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Thank you Andrea! I will text you x

Sara Dennison

Update posted by Aug 15

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Dear Sara, I do have quite a few cloths I`m very happy to donate. PLease let me know where to bring them. I can drop them somewhere to your lpease, that yould be great. Here is my number +4915152966841, just send me a text. Today I`m working all day at the hospitla, but able to drop them tomorrow if you like. I think t hat is really great what you are doing. I`ve done somthing simliar back years ago in Australia. Very much appreaciate that you doing such a great thing. Kind regards Andrea Junghans

Andrea Junghans

Update posted by Aug 15

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Well done Sara, very proud of you. P & V X

Paul Sagar

Backed with £30.00 On Sep 04, 2015

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Sarah

Backed with £50.00 On Sep 04, 2015

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Guest

Backed with £20.00 On Aug 28, 2015

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Tatiana Stadler

Backed with £50.00 On Aug 28, 2015

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Helen

Backed with £20.00 On Aug 28, 2015

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Sorry it's not much, I think it's great that you're doing this. It's important to remember that these people are just like us and not "lazy foreigners who want to steal our jobs". I'd like to think someone would show me this type of compassion if I was ever in that situation

Jodie Davidson

Backed with £5.00 On Aug 27, 2015

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Shantanu Roy

Backed On Aug 27, 2015 Amount Hidden

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Guest

Backed with £240.00 On Aug 27, 2015

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Jeff Knapton

Backed with £20.00 On Aug 26, 2015

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Well done for all your hard work and good luck for this weekend. Best wishes Alison x

Alison Snow

Backed with £40.00 On Aug 26, 2015

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