Veteran volunteer converts garage into charging station
It all started 21 years ago at the Sangatte centre. I was an active member of the Church community, where Sister Véronique trained me to help with local baptisms. She took me to help at the Sangatte migrant and refugee centre and I was immediately struck by a desire to help the camp and its residents.
I went to the camp every Wednesday with my two young daughters, to support and spend time with the families there. Following closure of the camp in the early 2000s I continued to help the refugees, alongside my day job and with others from my Church community. We spent time preparing meals and offering companionship for homeless refugees.
Various refugee camps have been built in the area where I live. The police regularly cut off the water supply so people knock on doors to ask for help. For a while I was the only one who agreed to fill their cans with tap water, and I would refill empty cans left under my mailbox.
Some people have been living in makeshift camps for over two years, with little money. New families arrive and it can be difficult because everybody wants to look after themselves and their families. There are sometimes tensions between different cultures and ethnic groups and I have many stories from my time volunteering.
When I began helping refugees most of them didn’t have a mobile phone. As the years went by and technology developed, they had small Nokia phones and then smartphones with internet connection – but often nowhere to charge them. I would offer charging points and portable chargers in my garage, beginning with around 50 charges every day. Now I charge mobile phones all day and night, using 60 portable chargers and totalling up to 300 phone charges a day. My garage gets busy and organising and recharging the batteries takes up a lot of time, so I try to keep some Saturdays and Sundays to myself.
In the mornings, I let people use the toilet and the sink to brush their teeth. I provide towels, and I also distribute things like soap, shampoo, clothes, shoes, socks, sweets, chocolate, milk and cookies. However, this all depends on the local donations we receive. As a treat, I offer people bread from the bakery on Thursday and Friday evenings, and sometimes I make my own cakes and pancakes for the families.
They trust me. They call me ‘mummy’, ‘mamy’, ‘my angel’, ‘mama africa’, and ‘my friend’. I dress wounds and I listen. I don’t ask questions but for those who want to talk, they can confide in me. I try to follow the Gospel and practise what Jesus taught – to help our neighbours, to share, to heal the body and soul.
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