This is Calais.
By André Gonçalves Cardoso.
Before I start writing I just want to say I’m not a writer and there are no words to describe what I saw in Calais.
I’m a 22 year old student nurse, studying at Escola Superior de Sáude de Santa Maria in Porto, Portugal. I started saving money in January to become part of the Care4Calais magical volunteer team for a week in May. (If you want it, you can join it too)
The first day I arrived at the warehouse I didn’t know anyone, but was soon comfortable after talking to a couple of volunteers who have dedicated their time to Calais giving basics necessities in emergency situations to refugees. I then explained that I am able to give first aid assistance and they gave me access to a container full of basic medical supplies and told me to “do your thing, do your art”. Immediately I started packing some boxes with materials to support the refugees with basic emergency aid assistance (just the basics as I am student nurse and I didn’t want to get out of my league). Here, it is important to know your skills, as well as your limits. You cannot do everything but you can help with specific tasks and every volunteer is valuable in different ways, as every refugee is also different therefore you need to pay attention to details at all times.
My first day in the field, all packed up and high motivated, I was ready to go. The moment I stepped out of the vehicle my only concerns were the injuries I could see and the all needs of every refugee, an impossible task, bruises to heal, skin allergies (from being tear gassed by the French police) and feet too bad to patch up. Immediately I put my gloves and started working, focusing and forgetting my surroundings. The task, nearly impossible but every refugee I saw smile after I took care of them made me overcome everything. The hardest thing for me was the injuries I could not heal, broken bones and not having the correct medicine, as when you are in the field you cannot go back to the warehouse, this requires a lot of methodology and organisation. I realised, after speaking with the incredible team of volunteers in the warehouse that every day is a new day and you need to be able to change your supplies and plans quickly every day as new things happen and everything is constantly changing.
When you heal people you can see the pain in their eyes, and I have never seen so much pain in my life. Every refugee I met I found scars, burned skin, chronic pain, depression, because of the hard nights sleeping outside, because of long exhausting journeys, because of the hideous things they have had to witness. I also saw people’s faces light up when they heard the term ‘Medical Assistance,’ something I have never seen before. On one particular occasion an Afghan refugee who spoked better English than me started working alongside me, following my instructions and putting cream on his friend’s face using a pair gloves, saving me a lot of work.
I want to thank Clare Moseley for founding Care4Calais, as well as thanking the team of long term volunteers who work every single day of the week to support the refugees and their needs. Thanks for all the English, Scottish, Welsh, Irish, Netherlands, Afghan, Iraqi , Ethiopian, Eritrean, Sudanese people and more who I met working as a Portuguese volunteer abroad.