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Broken Journeys – torn, frayed and tender

CALAIS – OCTOBER 19-20, 2017

Our work this week falls a few days before the one year anniversary of the closure of the large Calais camp. Many of those we worked with this week communicated that they feel on the edge of their capacity to know how to cope with the challenges they face.

DAY CENTRE This was a full and rich session of contrasts with playful artwork while at the same time long, in-depth and heartfelt stories shared of connections lost or severed. Traumatic images were shown us on mobile phones as was talk of brutality, being alone, feeling stuck – alongside tender sharing of photographs of babies, family, cherished places. There was a directness with which individuals shared their stories and how they were feeling, barely before we had asked their name.

DISTRIBUTION For two hours, as the dark closed in, we ran our outdoors session alongside the growing Medecins du Monde medical team. The large map taped to the side of the ambulance once again drew attention from across the area, often from small groups of friends. Amongst those relaying to us and each other their journeys across ten or more countries there were those who aided others, helping another traveller tease out which land route he had taken, which border he had crossed and recrossed. There were also those very much alone, hovering, another night ahead to cope with.

FRIDAY In the Secours Catholique team meeting someone asked, ‘how do we effectively inform people about what is happening in a form that they understand?’ There followed vital discussion about the need to build structures, intercultural connections and a shared sense of purpose with other associations working in Calais.

Someone also spoke about the huge contrasts between working in the Day Centre and working on the outside where refugees are exposed to the weather, police and no buffer from the harshness of what they are facing each day and night. Conflicting feelings were shared.

There was lengthy discussion about the need for more training about how to hold boundaries between our professional and personal worlds. The experience of our team in writing these Facebook posts and processing things together was thought to be an interesting model while the importance of individual processing and team de-briefing were given due consideration.

DAY CENTRE Today there were more than one hundred people in the centre with most of them in the main room where we work. It had been torrential rain the night before and the police had chased many out of their resting places so the night had not been easy. In spite of this, people actively responded to the map which we laid on the table alongside the materials.

Several images, inspired by the postcards, were passed around and admired. We were moved by a sense of staff and refugees working together, and young men looking out for each other. One spoke of his twelve siblings and we reflected together upon his group of friends being like a family for him here, in this very difficult place.

On the way home we shared our journey with a lawyer working on a shared case in Calais. She spoke about her need to have to manage a dream rather than facilitate a dream which can be so hard in this context, while often all we ourselves can do is open up a question or simply listen.

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