From the Refugee Crisis in Europe to The South African Desert

Me and Nils are just back from South Africa, where our aim for some time off from refugee camps didn’t quite go to plan…

After the most intense 10 months of my life, which saw me go from working in fashion, to working 24/7 with refugees….I knew I needed a holiday.

Even though it felt selfish and wrong and I struggled with the idea of leaving behind not just the workload but the friends I have made, to struggle through their days in the camp, I knew I was at breaking point. I knew that this was the self care I needed to be able to continue, that it would enable me to move forward more effectively, with a clearer mind, more motivated and passionate than ever…

Without the break, I knew I was nearing the point where I could no longer continue.

I had given everything…

So me and Nils went to South Africa. We had been told about AfrikaBurn, Africa’s equivalent to Burning Man, a huge (12,000 people strong) creative event deep in the South African desert. There is no wifi, no power, no phone signal, no shade, no showers, nothing for sale (you bring everything you need), for an entire week.

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110 kilometres along a rough dirt road with no fuel stops and very few signs of humanity, it seemed the perfect place for us to forget, to switch off, to let go even for a week, talking about some other things and meeting people unconnected entirely to the refugee crisis. This was the place we wanted to recover, recuperate and reset our batteries, redefine our vision and prepare ourselves for reality, for returning back to the problems of the crazy ‘real world’ in which we find ourselves living

Well…that didn’t quite go to plan…

When we arrived to our theme camp we immediately made friends. Everyone welcomed us with open arms and although we knew no one in South Africa at all before this trip, we soon found ourselves part of a true little community. One of the first things someone told me was,

“At Afrika Burn you can approach anyone with a hug, and they hug you back harder.”

This turned out to be very true.

AfrikaBurn is a demonstration of a community functioning without money. A gifting culture where people come together and share. People are open, and come together as one. Anything you need is provided for you, somehow. You put out the ask, and there it is, manifesting itself right before your eyes.

It is proof that if we all work together and support each other, we will want for nothing…

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As the week went on this concept became clearer and clearer, more and more true. When we hit obstacles, (food going off or tyres bursting), people rallied round to deal with them communally, with love in their hearts, turning adversity into uplifting feats of human spirit and strength.

Me and Nils had gone to get away from the life we were leading, to escape the reality of the camps we were spending all our time in, but the parallels between The Jungle in Calais and the community we had created for a week in the desert, were constantly at the forefront of my mind. I was consistently, regularly reminded of my friends, struggling to survive. What has struck me, and I always say so, about the refugee camps in which I have spent time, across Europe and the Middle East, is the community spirit, the love and support for one another, the realisation that underneath language, culture, religion, race and nationality, we are all the same, all human, and we all live on this world together, The idea that if you’re not eating, that if you’re going hungry, my food doesn’t taste as good either. The concept that I’d rather enjoy half my sandwich, than eat the whole thing whilst watching you slowly starving….

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Over the course of this week I came to the realisation that in some parts of the world, people are being devastatingly stripped of their homes, their cars, their jobs and their lives. They are forced out of their countries and into refugee camps, to live in the mud, without dignity. In the meantime, in other parts of the world, people are willingly choosing to leave behind the comforts they enjoy on a daily basis, and making the journey, deep into the desert to live without the showers, toilets, facilities and amenities they take for granted during their day to day lives and experiencing this left with me with the most beautiful realisation. Here I was, alongside 12,000 other people, stripping back from the materialistic stuff I am surrounded by in my life. That same consumeristic stuff which is so lacking in the Calais Jungle.

And suddenly I understood. Suddenly it was all so clear.

We are all searching, searching for happiness, for purpose and for meaning. And this stuff is not conducive to these outcomes. In actual fact, much of our western society lacks the very essence of this sense of unity and community support which is so prevalent in the Jungle.

So basically, I realised, that wherever I am in the world, whether it’s a refugee camp in Calais or a crazy, hedonistic, creative whirlwind, alongside 12,000 others privileged enough to be able to make their way deep into the desert of South Africa, one thing remained constant….

We are all in this together, and when we share, when we give and when we love, things work. Life works. When we lead with our hearts, we end up receiving more than we ever expected possible, and end up richer than ever before, trust me.

Now back into civilisation again, and with my laptop in front of me, I am able to share the fact that AfrikaBurn will remain a true example of a utopian society in which love and oneness prevail. There are many elements of this amazing experience I will 100% be feeding back into my day to day life, alongside the huge lessons I have learnt from spending time in Calais, of which the parallels are unexpected yet clear:

Whether it’s due to desperation and lack of choice, or the need to explore radical self reliance away from your home comforts even just for a week; when faced with adversity and difficulty, human spirit, love and support for one another come out top, yet again.

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