Day two and we are already veterans it seems. If you have been here more then twenty-four hours, you know what you are doing and everyone new asks you “what is happening?”.
There is unlikely to be anyone free, who knows more than you, so you just answer them as best you can, and get on with unloading vans and sorting through donations on instinct, somehow it seems to work.
There are distinct pockets of activity and opportunities to volunteer:
Warehouse, that basically receives everything unsorted and adds it to the mountain. I was asked to sort through a pallet of soaps donated by Lush.
In theory this is great, and of course a welcome donation. The reality is, it took two of us, all morning to sort through, box after box and then separate them into smaller items for new arrivals. The large wheels of soap, are just to big and had to be set-aside for auction.
This one pallet among hundreds, gives you an idea of the time it takes just to receive and sort the donations.
Distribution, is a fleet of vans that go back and forth from the warehouse to the main street of the jungle, with sorted items. They open the doors and just give out what is needed to long ques. Part of this team are what can only be described as investigators, who follow the goods and see where they end up, checking who is operating on the black market.
To overcome donations getting onto the black market, there is a supply and demand system in place. In simple terms, an eye is kept on what is being sold and then for the next few days, these items will be distributed making them less valuable, so less likely to be stolen. Seems like an odd system, but it definitely works.
New arrivals, basically a tiny pink caravan with a stable door. Toby and Rachel who are longer-term volunteers, do shifts. A stream of volunteers, who can cope with being right in the heart of the camp, investigate each request giving out raffle tickets to the lucky ones. It seems painfully slow but goes some way to ensure tents and sleeping bags for the new arrivals, go to the most needy, and not out onto the black market.
At first this feels frustrating to a newcomer, watching people have to wait for hours but there is a method. Those that already have items will move on, and those who really need support will wait for a tent and sleeping bag.
New arrivals will also happily show you their belongings and the little plot of land they have claimed or a flattened tent that needs replacing.
Volunteers are sent out with the larger and most needed tents, to assist in putting them up as best they can. Most frustrating is many of the donated tents are incomplete or already broken. Exhausted groups of refugees go through the motions of erecting these tents. It’s heart breaking to see them return to the pink caravan and wait for the next delivery or for the little caravan door to open again, so they can explain what has happened.
Construction, that is an endless conveyor-belt of wooden frames, loaded into vans that become the sides of shelters and needed buildings.
Carpenters and volunteers help to swap new shelters for those tents that are failing, been crushed, or new family members have arrived so they need a more secure sleeping arrangement.
This team will focus on families and also help little groups that have banded together to try to make a more suitable accommodation than a pop-up tent each.
The volunteers show incredible endurance, as crisis, after crisis washes over them. They just keep moving. They are the only people at the front-line. If they fail, the entire system will fail, so they just keep going.
Rachel and Toby are off to Paris for a few days and it was clear they are nervous about handing on the mantle of new arrivals. They know it can mean the difference between a new family having somewhere to sleep or being huddled in the dark with small children.
This system takes means tested to a new level. If they have a tent, sleeping bag and shoes, they don’t pass.