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Art making in a demolition ground

This week the Art Refuge UK team was Naomi Press and Jess Linton, who worked together alongside Médecins du Monde France and Doctors Without Borders/ Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), in the large refugee camp in Calais.

Over the two days, several residents drew on a need for a calm space amidst such devastation in the surrounding camp: a newly arrived man from Sudan, and men from Afghanistan and Pakistan shared their long journeys in search of safety and shared hopes to make a positive contribution again through further studies and work; a young unaccompanied boy who hasn’t managed to find a regular meal or a trusted space to rebuild home; the Iranians who continue with their hunger strike in a plea to the French and British Governments to be humane and acknowledge basic right to life. Whether an individual returning to work with us, or a new face, many appeared exhausted and in need of specific medical or psychological support, and a sense of solidarity. One man worked on a painting silently before completing the piece with the text: “We want peace. We are tired of war”. It became important to work together to acknowledge the life and the living in the camp; the strength and the hope still very much present in the community regardless of the destruction and loss in the wasteland aftermath of the vast demolition.

On Thursday, Naomi and Jess worked in the MdM psychosocial tent. Whilst demolition continued further in to the south side of the camp, this space offered quiet interactions and an opportunity for one to one work. Journeys were traced and shared; childhood, personal memories and ongoing hopes for the future gathered, bringing the group together in a much needed playful exchange. Caroline Lucas MP, Brighton & Hove Green Party, and her team joined us with Hummingbird Project- Calais and Dunkirk – Aid and Solidarity and helped to highlight glimmers of hope – the work that is being done in the camp and the wider world, as well as the challenges faced.

On Friday, Naomi and Jess were joined by Charlotte Burck and Gillian Hughes from The Tavistock. The group worked inside and outside of the Hummingbird Project ‘safe space’ in response to the alarmingly fast changes to the southern area; reclaiming a small space to call their own; encouraging a sense of feeling not only grounded but alive; human. A tree of life and living wall started to work it’s way across the shelter next to the Hummingbirds “Don’t Lose Hope” sign; offering some sense of life and hopeful potential in a stark landscape.

Residents were reminded of the life that they continue to bring in to the community, with volunteers, visiting aid workers and film-makers and MSF staff adding to the piece with their messages of solidarity.

As Jess, Naomi, Charlotte and Gillian left the camp this evening a large fire was blazing in the camp and a crowd had gathered as restaurants, homes, a small space used as a mosque were burnt to the ground. Emotions were high and yet the residents’ calm resilience and patience in the sessions was humbling.

We continue to be with the community and are grateful for your ongoing support and presence, at a time when it proves particularly difficult to support voices to be heard and harsh realities to be acknowledged and worked through.

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