I arrived in Hull too early - there had been no traffic. I enjoyed my diet coke while nervously awaiting check-in and immigration. I was questioned by the ferry staff but didn't need to disturb most of my pile of documents. After a quick car search (it was clear I wasn't just going for the weekend, what with the piano in my car), there was more waiting around but no further checks. There were 5 or 6 other cars boarding the ferry to Zeebrugge in Belgium along with a lot of lorries. I picked up my sanitized cabin key from the staff member in mask and gloves and breathed half a sigh of relief in my little cabin. I was on the ferry but I still had to face Belgian immigration and then the French border.
I do love a good ferry. I was reminded of the slightly dodgy ferry I'd taken from Jordan to Egypt last year, as I watched the sunset from the deck. I explored the ship, smiling at the truckers from at least 2 metres away. Falling asleep in my little cabin being rocked by the sea was actually very calming. Disembarking 13 hours later, I was ready with my pile of documents again. But, to my relief, the Belgian authorities were only interested in my passport. It's only an hour and half to Calais from Zeebrugge - driving to another country is still really strange to an islander. I stopped to figure out which documents I needed for the French border, but to my amazement, I wasn't stopped! Arriving to the charity's warehouse in Calais was a relief and it was comforting to be in a familiar place again.
A Day in the Life of a Volunteer
I've volunteered three times now over more than 2 years, the situation in northern France changes all the time, especially now, but the structure of Care4Calais's working day remains roughly the same. Here's what I did yesterday as an example of how the charity functions.
Yesterday I arrived at the warehouse at about 9:20am. I washed my hands at the handwash station outside the warehouse, signed in and put on a volunteer vest. My first task of the day was creating food packs. Since the beginning of the French lockdown, the other organisations providing hot food have had to pull out. Care4Calais is supplying refugees with packs of things to cook with for a few days in a small groups. I counted out 70 cans of tomatoes, 105 tins of fish and 35 bags of teabags. Also in the packs were rice, lentils, oil, onions, carrots, garlic, milk, sugar, salt, chickpeas and oranges. Once the bags were made up and loaded in to the vans, I helped sorting trousers. When donations arrive at the warehouse they get sorted several times depending on what we need now and what we need to store for later.
After lunch, prepared by Isy and Stef - fellow volunteers - we had a briefing for the afternoon. We were going to Dunkirk with the food packs. The refugees have tents in some abandoned warehouses, as well as hidden in some woods on the other side of the motorway. We were each given a role, told where we would park, who would drive and any other considerations for this site. Then we prepared out PPE. We've got scrubs to wear over our clothes (they're actually British Airways pjs), hats, two sorts of mask, and gloves. We headed off for the 30 minutes drive to Dunkirk. My role was to go with a couple of others into the warehouses to give out tickets for the food packs. This was to make sure every group got a pack. People with tickets then lined up. There are spots painted on the floor to make sure everyone is two metres apart. Once the line was ready then my job was to hand out the packs from the back of the van. Again, for social distancing this was done over a table so we didn't have any direct contact. Once the big packs for groups were finished, we had some snack packs for anyone that had missed out. During this distribution we'd also set up the generator and charging boards for everyone to charge their phones and hand washing station. We had time to chat and to carry out surveys. We're trying to find out how coronavirus is affecting displaced people to ensure we're meeting their needs as best we can. I had a good chat with one guy who told me that he would be more concerned of catching the virus in a government centre as there would be more mixing of people - locals running the place, plus refugees from different areas - so he felt safer staying where he was.
The differences in volunteering at the moment are the extra work created by PPE and washing things and the extra paperwork (every time you are moving around you require a form). Otherwise we continue to respond to the needs of the displaced people as best we can with the resources that we have. It is an intense situation, but once you accept the hardship and injustice as a given, then it's fun socialising with the other volunteers and with refugees, it's good to feel useful and productive and the lunch is always good! If you are considering joining us to volunteer then feel free to get in touch with any questions. I can help direct you to where you'll find the newest information about travel as well as any queries about the practicalities of life here. Just comment below, or email me directly using the Contact Form.