Around 4 weeks ago, I decided that slacktivism regarding the refugee crisis was not going to be enough for me. I wanted to understand the situation better, I wanted to go and see what it is that David Cameron is so terrified of, and above all, I wanted to help those stuck in this impossibly sad situation.
Thanks to social media, I did exactly what parents warn their children not to do. I met up with people I had only spoken to online, at 1 o’clock in the morning, and I got in their car, and we drove to a foreign country. Earlier in the evening, to calm my nerves, I had gone to a pub and had far too much wine for a school night. Everyone was telling me I was crazy for going, my parents were worried (understandably), and no one could understand why I would use my holiday days to go and help refugees.
“Why do you even care, you’re not even from here?” said someone in the pub when they overheard me saying I was going to Calais. “Why do you not care? You ARE from here.” was all I could think.
It doesn’t matter where you’re from, or what luck you have had to be born in to a safe country, or what passport you’re privileged enough to possess. People are people and when you have more than you need, build a longer table, not a higher fence.
Contrary to what the media show, this is the truth. They are people. Just like you and me.
My first thought was that no one should have to live this way. It’s inhumane.
But they make the best out of what they have.
A notice board covered in art to add some colour.
And everywhere I looked I was reminded to never complain about what I had again.
The Jungle is not a refugee camp as the media would have you believe. It’s a village and a community. Complete with shops, cafes, churches, mosques, a night club, restaurants – this is what the people have created in order to survive.
There’s people from lots of different countries, and people from different faiths.
The church is an incredible structure that stands out in the Jungle.
As most of the people in the Jungle are Muslims, there is a mosque and several areas for daily prayers such as this one.
There’s a library full of donated English and French books. The people can come and take them to read as they please.
A school has been set up and classes are taught throughout the week by volunteers. Classes are taught in French, English and Arabic.
People have created separate kitchens to do their cooking. These are usually shared between a few people or families.
My friend Said was kind enough to make me lunch on the last day I was there. It’s amazing what people can make work.
These were delicious fried naan type breads. Enjoyed in the sunshine by a lake which was in the middle of The Jungle.
Chicken and Chips. Can they get more British? Open the border.
Everywhere I looked and everyone I spoke to was so hopeful.
“We don’t need so many extra clothes, because tomorrow we may be in England”
This is why I care. This is why you should care too.
On Saturday there was a solidarity demo. It was one of the most moving and valuable experiences of the whole trip, and probably ever. This little boy is 12 and he is from Egypt. He is in Calais alone, having lost his family along the way. Some of the older guys in the Jungle take care of him and treat him as their own.
It was an important day because it reminded everyone that they’re all there fighting for the same cause. People within the Jungle live separated by countries, but they all want the same thing.
A common theme throughout the day.
A lot of volunteers came too to show their support. An important message to show them that the world has not forgotten them.
I love France, but not The Jungle
They threw him up in the air and caught him. This is one of my favourite pictures from Calais.
“No Jungle! No Jungle!” Was one of the most common chants of the march.
People do what they can with the little that they have. And I have never met people so willing to share.
There are barely any women and children in The Jungle but I did find one Iraqi family who have 3 beautiful little girls. My heart absolutely melted every time we met. They would take my camera and use it, and they were more than happy to pose for photos.
How can David Cameron say no to a face like that?
Having other use my camera was a very popular idea which the kids seemed keen on.
There is an artist in The Jungle called Alpha and he’s a bit like the boss. I think he is from Sudan, and I think he has been in Calais for almost 2 years.
“We must all learn to live together like brothers, or we will all die together as idiots” – Martin Luther King
A painting of Aylan Kurdi. A tragedy that drew attention to the plight of these people.
One thing that never failed to make me smile was that people have such a sense of humour. Even in such a difficult situation, people valued the importance of laughter.
A moment of laughter in the mess of it all.
If one more person says “but they have mobile phones, clearly they have money”, I will lose my head. These are not the poor people of their countries. These are middle class people who have had to flee due to extreme circumstances such as war. Sometimes they are the only family member who has managed to flee. Now tell me again that you would not have a mobile phone to update your family because you know that you may never see them in person again, and the best you can do is let them know you are okay.
These are people that will give you what they have, even though they don’t have much. On our last afternoon, a big group of men from Sudan made us all tea and told us about how lucky they felt just to be alive.
Returning to London was harder than I thought it would be. I walked up my front steps and went to put my key in the door. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I have a key to a front door. Thousands of people are living in tents. I am going to go upstairs, and I am going to take a shower, and put on clean clothes, and get in to a bed. It isn’t fair. You cannot tell some people they can and cannot do things based on where they had the sheer luck to be born.
I hope these pictures shed some light on the situation that is different than what the media is trying to show. These people are not animals. These people are doctors, and lawyers, and educated people. They are like you and me.