I Was Overwhelmed By Their Courage

“I started following The Worldwide Tribe last Summer when a friend of a friend shared a post about the desperate situation in Calais. I’d been vaguely aware of the plight beforehand but had never imagined the full extent of it. As news of the forced evictions became apparent I decided I had to do more, so I contacted L’Auberge / Help Refugees and registered as a volunteer.

I headed to Calais for a week in February. Despite thinking I was relatively clued up as to what was going on, the experience was a massive eye opener and not at all as I was expecting.

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We spent the whole of Thursday and Friday in the Jungle moving houses from the South section to any available space in the North as the forced evictions continued. When I say home, I mean a small wooden shed on a couple of palettes, sleeping anywhere up to 5 people. Teams of refugees and volunteers worked together to pick up houses, load them one at a time onto the back of a handful of trucks that had been rented by various charities, and drive them to their new location.

On Thursday the mood was lighter…people would hop on and off the back of the truck and we were greeted with shouts of ‘habibi’ (darling/friend) from everyone we passed.

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By Friday the mood became increasingly tense. As the CRS and demolition crews continued to move in, desperate refugees abandoned their belongings in favour of moving their home before it was too late. Some argued over the order in which houses were moved, others argued over which house belonged to who. And several, whose houses had either been demolished, stolen or destroyed by fire, looked to the volunteers to help them find new ones. So many houses were relocated over the course of the week but sadly, many people were still left homeless. The whole effort was coordinated by a bunch of amazing long term volunteers, most of them in their early twenties. They’d worked hard to help build these areas up in the first place, so to have everything torn down around them was equally devastating to them.

We spent our evenings at the Jungle Books school. Thankfully, as a community space, it was safe from the eviction for now. But rather than being surrounded by the lively hustle and bustle it once was, it sat with only the church for company amid a field of devastation.

I got to know the school caretaker, Farid. He made me tea and welcomed me into his home to listen to Afghani music. And I met such a lovely bunch of boys and young men at the school who turned up every night without fail to improve their English. Boys such as Mustafa, a 24 year old from Sudan who was applying for asylum in France, and Hassan, a 17 year old goldsmith from Afghanistan who tried to make it to the UK. Khaled, a 16 year old cheeky chappie, was always full of smiles and practical jokes but on that Friday evening he was extremely subdued. I’m not sure whether it was because his mosque had burned down that day, he missed his family or was just sick of Jungle life. Whatever it was, it was so sad to see.

But despite everything the people in the Jungle have been through, I was overwhelmed by their courage, kindness and generosity. From the warm welcome we received in every restaurant to the constant invitations for tea; from the lovely Iranian man who hardly spoke a word of English but took it upon himself to become our personal chaperone for the day, to Abid, who offered us space in his shelter when he thought we’d missed our ride out of the Jungle that night.

I hope to go back to the Jungle, and although I’d love to see the same faces at English conversation class, I hope they’re not there when I return, and that they’ve managed to make it to a better place.”

Thank you, Cindy, for sharing your story.

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