So little sleep, after getting sent mad by the sat nav,.. eventually we landed at about 2am in the Hostel and tried to get some rest.
We had passed the flood-lit Jungle on route that was deadly silent and somewhat alien, with long shadows, cast over hundreds of misshapen homes, made from anything that keeps out the weather.
What struck me most, was the fence. It stretched around the port and surrounding entry roads like a throwback from the cold war. Double layered, tensile, white and rigid, with neatly coiled razor wire reaching into the night.
A feat of engineering and a cold reminder that these people where not welcome. Blue flashing lights reflected around the darkness and bounced around the fence making it feel like a death camp and no safe haven, for anyone.
Morning came with a loud bang on the door and a ten minute warning that the briefing for volunteers was about to start. Blurry eyed, we heard the facts, not enough people and mountains of work.
I spent the morning dropping people to various places that included a chance meeting with Emily who was helping in the women’s and children center on the Jungle.
She was exhausted, yet her optimism was infectious, as she explained that “today was beauty day”. The children will be getting pampered and and mums will get a break from the relentless waiting to be acknowledged as refugees.
I walked into the warehouse where many of the donations end up. It was clear that the earlier briefing was correct. What is needed, is people to help, and lots of them, every day.
What is also URGENT is for people to STOP sending the wrong things that the volunteers keep having to sort through.
The volunteers, that have been here longer-term, have had no choice but set up a small enterprise in recycling and selling unsuitable items.
This is a criminal waste of time for everyone and causes unwanted frustration as a mountain has to be sorted and re-sorted to get the items that are desperately needed to the people who are in need.
A quick walk around the back of a ramshackle warehouse, revealed an outdoor lumber yard and workshop, that a group where building the frames for the sides of temporary buildings and shelters. Most poignant was a series of what looked like pallets, that turned out to be beds.
Marcus, Tamzin and myslef all went on different distribution missions Marcus to build a new distribution hut, Tamzin with a load of men’s jumpers and myself with a van load of men’s shoes.
The briefing was serious, as there have been problems cased by people distributing hap-haphazardly or just arriving and opening doors.
We just had to be very calm. We all stepped out of the van together to form a human barrier and waited for a line to form. It is very hard to imagine that some of these people have nothing but the dirty clothes, they stand up in.
Some of these people are new arrivals and desperate for the basics like a blanket and a drink of water, while others are more experienced and looking to make some kind of living inside all the devastation.
There are criminal elements operating in the jungle who take equipment and then sell it on, but it is very difficult to make a judgement call as there are so many people waiting for help to come. So many of the people would be at risk without distributing basics like, water, tents, sleeping bags and shoes.
The majority are made up of good honest working people who have been displaced by war, famine or are just seeking a life that is half way decent and not under tyranny or abject poverty and starvation.
I spent some time learning to count in Arabic, Iraqi and Sudanese as I tried to work out what shoe size this long line of men’s feet where.
It took over two hours to empty the van of shoes and socks. I only saw a group of man who where exhausted and just in a hopeless situation.
Apart from some boisterous teenage antics and a determined group who wanted to push in the que, the experience was both humbling and clearly demonstrated that the the problem is not with these people but with the governments who refuse to accept that this situation it is not going away, and will escalate if no action is taken.
Marcus had the problem of putting down his tools and then turning around to see someone trying to pinch them, however set this against a background where nails are as important as food, it makes complete sense.
Tamzin was asked into a home for some tea and the coordinator said “It’s important to spend time, just being with the refugees in social situations, to build trust.”
This type of volunteering is not for the faint of heart but there is no real danger in the Jungle. You would be made most welcome if you keep your head and be respectful.
It is important to note that this makeshift organssation is not an NGO or a charity, but simply a group of volunteers who joined together and decided to do something. Now they are tasked with trying to provide the basics of human need in the form of food and shelter to people who have no status.
Today we are investigating the Jungle and trying to determine how the funds raised by Refugee Aid can help the most people, in the most need, in the most effective way.