How a trip to the (Calais) Jungle changed me

I realise this isn’t a typical post for me. It’s not about my screwing up, my parenting anxiety or my kids. But I have to write this before I write another mummy post. I’ve tried but they won’t come out, not until this does. I hope you’ll bear with me and read along anyway.

CampMy trip to the jungle was last minute. It was fairly unplanned. I’ll be honest, I was bricking it. I was so afraid of what the conditions were going to be like and how it would affect me mentally. I was afraid of whether I would be enough, if I had enough to offer the refugees and the other volunteers. I was afraid of leaving my kids, even though they were with my husband. I almost didn’t go, my tummy was so full of butterflies I felt sick. But I did go and although it’s not the kind of experience I would say I enjoyed, what I would say is that it opened my eyes to human suffering, human dignity and a new kind of love. The experience changed me.

On our first morning of volunteering, my friend Katy and I were in the warehouse sorting the toiletries into bags, a really nice introduction to the experience. The warehouse was run solely by volunteers who are amazing, some of them have been there for months and others like me, there for a couple of days. There’s no judgement, people do what they can. There’s no major structure, at one point we ran out of toilet roll so went to Lidl and filled our trolley with the stuff knowing that although it wouldn’t last a day in camp, it was something. We did what we could.

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I’ve never appreciated bog roll until now.

Around Midday, the warehouse manager asked us if we could help unload a van filled with clothes at Dunkirk. I hadn’t even known there was another camp, let alone one which was in much worse conditions than that of the Jungle.

Arriving in Dunkirk and my short time there will be unforgettable. The conditions were dire and yet the Dunkirk inhabitants welcomed us with “hello”, “welcome” and genuine smiles. They asked us for specific items that we did not have. We were there to simply unload a van and were told not to give anything to anyone or else it would be “carnage”. I just shook my head to requests for gas, shoes and batteries. I apologised but it felt meaningless. Moving boxes felt insignificant even though I have seen how important it is.

I found it difficult to leave Dunkirk, it’s where most of the women and children are. I met a girl aged 3, the same age as my eldest. She was arguing with her mum as she didn’t want to go and queue up for clothes, she wanted to play “over there”. Over there was nothing. Just a clearing, just mud. This morning my 3 year old almost had a tantrum because she wanted to get dressed in a living room full of builders who are fixing a new boiler for us. The 3 year old in Dunkirk, didn’t have a house, didn’t have the luxury of a choice of rooms in which to get dressed, didn’t have a boiler or heating.

When we finally left Dunkirk I was drained. I couldn’t shake the images of elderly women and young children, imagining their journey to get there and how they were now living. And of course the cold. I was so cold and each night I got to return to a warm room and a bed with a pillow. Luxury’s these people hadn’t experienced for weeks, some of them months.

I’m so grateful now for my house. My boiler has been broken for a month and yet I have a roof, electricity, a hot shower.

Jungle mumThe next day we went to ‘The Jungle’ in Calais to help distribute leaflets for the medical team. At first we just gave them out to people we passed whilst smiling, but before long we built up the confidence to knock on doors of caravans or shout at entrances to tents. Over here people who knock on your door are an inconvenience but in Calais we were warmly welcomed. One lady and her brother insisted we sit down in their caravan and shared with us some chocolate and a packet of crisps. Without even asking us she started her gas hob (an extremely scarce commodity) to make us a cup of tea. She showed us pictures of her 4 year old son and her husband who she said got arrested in Germany. She had blisters on her feet from walking for 3 days straight (probably carrying her 4 year old).

I didn’t ask people why they came, because I do not need to know. Who in their right mind would cross an ocean and walk for days with a child unless their life was in danger at home? What would I do to protect my family? Well I would cross an ocean and walk for days, I would live in a tent for months and pray for support and a new home.

To see what people are willing to do in order to protect their family makes me appreciate what I do not have to do to protect mine. 

When I came home from France I was shaken, I was emotional and I had changed. How?

Now I have an appreciation for where and how I live. I can really see that my children don’t need constant entertainment and stimulating toys, they just need my time. I feel stronger than I was before I left because I opened my eyes and ears to a situation which is hard to know about.

I don’t want to be deaf or blind to what’s happening in the world, no matter how tough it is to hear and see, because just knoShoeswing this stuff is helping them. Having real knowledge (not just what is written in the media) of the people living in these situations invoke emotions which cause people to take action like I did. Reading this blog is something.

 

I don’t know what the solution to this crisis is but I do know we can each do something small. Sign a petition or two, read and share some blogs, talk about it, donate some food, clothes or money. Small things on a big scale really can make a difference.

I am raising money with my friend Abbey to buy sleeping bags and blankets to take over next weekend, read more about that here. But honestly, this isn’t why I wrote this piece. I wrote this because I had to share some of what it’s really like in Calais and Dunkirk. Because although it would be easy to close our eyes to what’s happening, it isn’t right to. Let’s keep our eyes wide open, let’s support them by hearing their stories and sharing some of their emotion, that’s something we can all do.

Either way, I sincerely thank you for taking the time to read this rather long blog. Cheers.

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