Meet Rhona, who traded the Peaks for the ferry
I’ve wanted to volunteer in Calais since I was 17 but my parents wouldn’t let me. My mother has quite a negative impression of Calais from right-wing media and we’ve had several fights about it in the past. So after I left my job at a care home last month, I told my family I was going to the Peak District with some friends, hopped on a ferry and came to France instead. I’m 19 now, so I figured once I cross the border they can’t really stop me!
Before I left I wrote them a soppy letter that I snuck behind the microwave explaining my reasons for wanting to come so badly. For my mum’s sake I included information on my health insurance, where I would be staying, and all the Covid precautions that Care4Calais take. A few days into my trip, while they still thought I was at the Peaks, I texted them the letter’s location and prepared for the worst…
My mum refused to speak to me for four days at first, but I’m happy to say she’s warming up to the idea now. I think my mum worries about me feeling threatened by refugees, but she now knows that has never happened. I talk to her every day about the things I see here.
I’ve told her about the lovely conversations I’ve had with people during distributions and about how kind and gentle they all are – they always ask me how I am. I told her about a scared man who was found hiding under a van by himself because he was so desperate to come to the UK. About how dangerous their home countries are, the terrible conditions in France and how violent the police here can be. With all these stories I’ve been changing my mum’s opinion for the better, little by little.
Seeing images of people living in these conditions always made me very sad, but witnessing it for myself has been surprisingly eye-opening. It was only when I got here that I truly realised there is no difference between us and the people stuck here – other than luck, of course.
What has most surprised me so far is how resilient everyone is. They live in one of the worst conditions humanly imaginable and yet they never show it. They seem to find happiness wherever they can. I see that a lot at the hairdressing station that I help manage during our distributions – they take so much pride in their appearance and spend a lot of time getting their hair intricately trimmed.
After hearing about all this my dad and twin sister decided they want to come volunteer with me next time. I love that so much – I can’t wait to come back with my family and show them what it’s really like.
— written by Rhona Fraser, a volunteer
To volunteer with us visit care4calais.org/get-involved