From Birmingham (to Calais) with love
I work for Birmingham City Football Club, and everyone there knows how popular sport and football is with refugees – so when I said I was going to volunteer in Calais, the club donated lots of equipment and sportswear that was either new, or in excellent condition but not usable at work. Days before I set off I had trainers, shorts, shirts, cricket sets, football nets and footballs.
What really struck me was that the more I mentioned to people, the more they gave me; every single person said, “Why didn’t you say before?”
I arrived in Calais with a van-full (the club also donated the van), and when we took out on distributions, I’m pleased to say it all went down very well. Some of the guys were extremely good football players. I’m now proud to say there’s a small Birmingham City enclave in northern France.
My most bittersweet moment
One moment that stuck in my mind was when a refugee asked my mother for two hot drinks. She got them for him before pointing him in the direction of a new sleeping bag. He told her that this was one of the kindest things anyone had ever done for him.
I said, “That’s great isn’t it?” because he’d seemed happy, but as my mum then pointed out, it was bittersweet. If that’s the kindest thing anyone had ever done, then what had he been through?
That was a typical experience. The kindness of people in Calais makes a very strong impression that you, so much so you can forget for a moment the horrors people must have experienced.
The unexpected positivity of Calais
As many people who volunteer say, it came be a harrowing experience to see how people have to live there. But I was also moved by the generosity and sense of community and mutual help that the refugees showed. And the fantastic organisation of the Care4Calais team.
We’ll definitely go back. But just as importantly, I’m inspired to do more positive work now I’m back in the UK. The positivity and love of Calais really stays with you long after you leave.