The best thing about volunteering is meeting amazing people. From the minute I walked into the warehouse I was welcomed by friendly people. Every distribution resulted in some great conversations, smiles and hugs. Having a cup of tea and chat is the same in any culture! I was particularly inspired by the volunteers who are in full time education and were spending their own money on visiting to volunteer while also studying related subjects at university. It's wonderful to know that there a clever and compassionate people who are gaining the skills to do something towards changing the situation. I was also impressed by the repeat volunteers who come back all the time. Without their knowledge and skill the charity wouldn't be able to function.
I gained skills to. I'm now pretty nifty at driving a right-hand drive van on the wrong side of the road in Brussels at rush hour. I can say 'hello' in at least five languages, make tea in temperatures close to freezing and share my smile with my fellow humans - sometimes that's all I could do. I have loads of new friends.
I will be sharing more stories from my time over the following weeks - but here are the answers to some questions that I was asked a lot.
Why are they there?
The most asked question by everyone I spoke to before I went and while I was there, why are there so many people in France wanting to come to England? This video by Care4Calais explains it really well, in a nutshell - only a fraction of those that enter Europe actually end up in Calais, and have a particular reason for wanting to be in the UK rather than anywhere else.
Why are they risking their lives to enter the UK?
They have no choice. There is no way to claim asylum from outside of the UK. There is no legal way to enter the UK, therefore the only choices are to hide in a lorry, pay a smuggler for a place in a fishing boat or paddle an inflatable dingy. This is madness. Most people I spoke to would have a good chance of being granted asylum, so why isn't there some way to make an application without risking death? Can you imagine crossing the English channel in a blow-up boat? Or entering a lorry without know how long you might be stuck in it? But there is no other way.
What can I do?
There are lots of things that each of us can do.
- Talk about it. The press has got bored of the lack of change in this horrific situation, we need to keep it in everyone's mind. Normalise the fact that this is unacceptable.
- Go and volunteer. Care4Calais are grateful for any length of time, a weekend or a month. Everyone can offer help, there are plenty of jobs in the warehouse that require no skills and you will see first hand the lives that the refugees lead thanks to our government. If you're concerned about any part of volunteering then get in touch. I'll help you book transport and accommodation and talk you through our daily routine.
- Get involved at home. There are various local charities that support asylum seekers once they have entered the country. Have a look for something in your area.
- Donate money. Care4Calais has plenty of costs in addition to donations of clothing etc. They need to pay rent and maintain vehicles in order to be able to deliver to kit that's needed.
- Lobby your MP. Richard Bacon gets a lot of emails from me. The more people that bother them, the more they have to listen.
Why should I care?
This is a big topic, but imagine that you brother or sister, son or daughter, were sleeping rough somewhere. Wouldn't you want someone to help them? The least we can do is offer a blanket to someone who is cold, offer a smile to someone who is sad, offer our sympathy to someone who is wronged.
I'll be posting again about my experiences and I look forward to returning to Calais again before too long. Any questions about volunteering or about the situation in general then just ask. I will keep talking about it anyway.