School students come to Calais and meet refugees their age
We were very happy to welcome another group visit from Latymer School in London last weekend. The young volunteers met refugees of their own age on sites in Dunkirk, Brussels & Calais. Their experiences are so different while their hopes and dreams are so often similar. Is it too much to ask that every young person should live safely, with legal protection and dignity, wherever they come from?
Here are some of the students’ thoughtful and inspiring reactions to their time in Calais, in their own words:
After having walked for hundreds of kilometres or hiding in cargo, the refugees in Calais were on their final stop to finding asylum. Even with sleep deprivation and the constant fear of when their next meal could be, the people I encountered were unconditionally warm to me and everyone around them. We sang and danced together, smiling and holding hands as we forgot about the borders between us. Seven year old children around us watched and laughed. I knew that when I was going home to London, that they should’ve had the right to go to a home too.
A Sudanese man asked if our minibus was going to London and after replying he continued to chat and ask me questions about my life. The positivity, courtesy and kindness of the refugees is truly inspirational, the kind of charisma scarce to find from strangers in the UK. As well as many other distressing things, the trip has reminded me, whether it be dancing, football or having a chat over tea, there are small things that make everyone’s day whatever country you come from.
I returned to Care 4 Calais again recently, and was heartened to see that their excellent work is continuing to bring joy to people in such tragic circumstances. I spent 3 days with them, distributing clothes, serving tea and chatting with refugees. One particular conversation has stuck with me, an Iranian man who wants to come to the UK to study at Cambridge. He told me about the family he left behind almost two years ago, and his journey to get to Brussels. I was so impressed by how hopeful he remained, and how much he engaged with me, despite the language barrier. The people I met stressed the importance of raising awareness of the continuing issue, so I ask you to get involved with refugee charities, write to politicians, send donations, and come out to help at Care 4 Calais! Even the smallest things can make a huge difference.
If ever forced to leave my home country and travel across a continent for safety how would I like to be received? Living in the woods in a tent, or behind a concrete motorway barrier; sleeping in a tent, but forced out during the day with nowhere to be; harassed by police, sleepless and cold. I’d hope for refuge more than that. But in that context, a cup of tea, a shave, some clean underwear, a conversation; maybe some help getting phone credit to communicate with relatives back home; a smile, a handshake, a game of football, signs of friendly welcome — hopefully these gestures bring a few moments of respite, or at least distraction. I’m grateful to Care4Calais for making this possible. Care4Calais is well set up, friendly, welcoming and fun. Meeting knowledgeable and committed volunteer relief workers is inspiring, while time spent with refugees, though brief, is a privilege. Give it a try: it may be easier than you think to make a little difference.
If you’d also like to come out as a volunteer, find out more here.