Paris to Calais
“It is always mind-bending to step on an airplane and in a finite number of minutes be transported to the other side of the planet. Our team was meeting at the airport in Paris. I was the first to arrive at 7:40 a.m. Breezed through customs and immigration and went to try and find the car rental agency.
“You can say what you want about the French, but most of my experiences have been amazing. As usual I have my carry-on bag with my clothing and personal items (for 17 days of travel) and we use Ikea Dimpa bags packed to 50 or 70 lbs of aid.
“So I was pushing a VERY full trolley with my roller bag and two enormous Dimpa bags. I went to the counter I thought I was supposed to be at — well, I was wrong, but the agent was ever so nice. A recent college graduate, he helped me load the bags into the back of one of their cars and he drove me to the correct airport branch. It was perfect timing — slowly over the next hour the rest of the team arrived. Ours is truly an international group with a Canadian, a French Canadian who now lives in Greece, an American who lives with his wife and kids in France, and a father and daughter duo from the UK. The six of us will work in France, and then Amanda and I will head down to Greece.
“After we had all joined up, we started on the road to Calais. It was about a three-hour drive and we spent the time getting to know each other. This has been my third trip with CTF and I have been so impressed and blessed with amazing team members! Calais is in the north of France and it is where the Chunnel [comes out from England]. For over 20 years there was a very well-known camp called “The Jungle” in this area. While there were many NGOs supporting the camp, it was not “official” and it was know as not only a very dangerous place but one where dreams go to die.
Calais Refugee Camp
“In October, the French government closed/bulldozed The Jungle and in its place an “official” camp was built called Dunkirk. We drove straight to the camp and had already been registered so our contact Laura came to meet us at the entrance which, like in Greece, has guards and police. Laura had the harried look and manner of most people who work in camps — those who have never ending to-do lists and are in need of an additional 23 hours a day to get 1/10 of what needs to be done, done.
“She showed us around the camp: it is cold and rainy now so the camp is literally a mud pit. There are about four old buildings (some look like barns) and some caravans have been set up to provide support to the 1600+ Kurdish, Iraqi and Vietnamese refugees. There was a main kitchen that provided additional food support, two kitchens the refugees could cook in, about 200 houses/huts/shelters (they looked like garden sheds quickly assembled with no windows), a children’s center, a women’s center and bathroom facilities sprinkled throughout the camp.
“We were put to work in the kitchen area sorting donated food. Like clothing, food donations are not always appropriate. Bread that expired last week? No, thank you. Bananas rotten and smushed? Nope. We sorted and organized for about two hours then some of us went to help prepare the dinner — well, in some cases wash the dishes as they were being used. As usual the volunteers were a group of 20-somethings taking time out of their lives and working long hours, seven days a week, for a very vulnerable population. We were not allowed to take photos of the camp itself for security reasons, but it really was bleak.
“We ate with the other couple dozen volunteer what the refugees got — rice with cooked veggies and a chopped salad. Tasty and basic but we were told this is what everyone gets every day. It is very cold here and outside of the kitchen is a metal drum that has a fire in it all of the time — a place to sit and warm your hands and feet for a moment or two.
“The refugees wait in this camp to try and get/sneak into the UK. Sometime smugglers are hired, other times people try to jump on trucks, swim across the canal to ships…….none of the choices safe ones, but desperate times lead to desperate measures.
“We all were tired when we left the camp about 8 p.m. to head to our hotel about 30 minutes away. This was the first experience for two of our members. As many pictures as you see and documentaries you see, up close in personal the magnitude of the refugee crisis cannot be turned off. Their lives were changed by what they saw, and those of us familiar with the issues wonder for the millionth time: how is it that we as a society can treat people like this?”