I believe that we’re all equal as human beings, and we all deserve to be treated with kindness and respect, but I don’t think I ever expected the friendships I made as a volunteer in Calais to be as truly special as they are. I made some lovely connections with people there – two of the most memorable include being given a beautiful gift, and having the mickey thoroughly taken out of me for losing at Connect 4.
The Connect 4 day was when I was on the games table at a distribution in Calais. We provide a lot of different games, and the refugees love to play because it is a chance for a bit of light-hearted fun amid the hardship. For me it was wonderful as well because playing something together made you feel like equals and friends. My opponent didn’t speak much English but I’d never seen such a wide grin or heard such a big belly laugh, and we communicated fine by pointing and gesturing – in his case by making the cut-throat sign and pointing at me and laughing as he beat me at Connect 4, Uno and dominoes.
At the end he looked at me, said “bad”, and put his arm around me and called me “sister”. You remember those little moments afterwards, because when you connect with someone on an equal footing, it makes you so aware of how the only real difference between you is your luck being born in a country that happens to be safe.
The other time, I was on the sewing station on a distribution in Dunkirk when a Kurdish man in his late twenties brought his rucksack to ask if I could re-attach the strap. Bags are important because in an eviction you need to be sure all your things will be safe as you get away, so I got to work.
It was tough going, but as I kept jabbing myself and breaking needles, the man became very concerned for me. When I said it was fine, he took some gold and green thread from the sewing basket and made me a friendship bracelet. He said he’d learned at a refugee camp he’d once lived in. As he tied it on, I felt so much respect for him because despite going through all his experiences, he still had the kindness and generosity to want to make something for someone else.
It’s hard to fully describe the feeling, but that one action just gave me so much respect and awe for human beings, and the resilience and strength they can have.
I wanted to share this segment of my time in Calais as a reminder that we are all the same; all brothers and sisters. We are humanity and all deserving of equality, fairness, support, safety and happiness.
When I was staying in Calais, I could see the white cliffs of Dover on clear days. It made me think how wrong it was that I could go there in an hour and a half on a ferry whenever I wanted, but the people I’d met, who only wanted safety and a chance to make a future, could not.
The fact that many of us don’t have to flee our countries – in dangerous ways, because there are no safe ways – to achieve these things is simply sheer, sheer luck.