We were mindful all week of the impact the winter weather was having on everyone in Calais. Thursday was another miserable day of heavy rain and strong winds that left people soaked and cold. There had however been a very successful distribution of over 250 sleeping bags this past week; local organizations have been working together to brand and carefully log the owners of these new items, in an attempt to stop them being taken and destroyed by the police.
Art Refuge UK continue to work responsively in a constantly changing but continually challenging environment. Along with other local humanitarian organizations, we try our best adapt in order to provide the best support we can to the refugees in Calais.
Hostel We met with our friend in the hostel, and after discussing the state of the world, we got playful with our new iPad, creating a collective image that incorporated his small art installation and our teabag’s proverb; ‘experience brings you wisdom’.
Distribution In the pouring rain we appreciated working in the shelter of the Médecins du Monde gazebo, which we reinforced with improvisation, tying our big map across an open side. As well as helping to keep out some of the driving rain, this provided a point of conversation for some of the refugees and the different volunteers and workers from other agencies who came and joined us at different points through the afternoon. We admired the tenacity of the small group who gathered with us in our limited shelter. Despite the insufficiency of the space, people still joined us to sit, make, meet and share stories. One man played making a changing installation exploring borders and destinations with different objects, whilst his friend made his home in Afghanistan and another engaged with the small atlas. We heard of the desire for an education from someone coming from a place where circumstances have interrupted the possibilities of being educated and left him without a family. England holds the promise of education, and more importantly cricket!
FRIDAY We joined the Secours Catholique team for their Friday meeting. We started with a song in Arabic. A message was then shared from a refugee, now in England, who thanked the volunteers for their support and for becoming like family during his 9 months in France. They were warmly invited to celebrate New Year with him in the UK.
There were discussions about the problems associated with the proposed setting up of night shelters for men by the authorities; the impact of local and national political complexities; as well as the impact on and challenges for their own ongoing work. There was however also a pride in their own ongoing achievements and anticipation about an exhibition they are curating next week, of art created over the last few years in their old day centre.
There was a gentle hubbub of activity. It had been a very busy week, and their weekly open house meal saw 36 people gathering in their communal space. They said it has been good to have local young people and other friends join in these. There have been some recent health concerns and this has added to busyness, but today saw a sense of companionship and support in the house.
Around the table there was quiet engagement from volunteers and a few of the residents. Exploring the potential of the new iPad was popular and some interesting images of houses in unusual locations were created. There was also some drawing on paper and our box of gathered postcards was used for inspiration. However one young man took full advantage of it being quiet and used most of the building materials and over 2 1/2 hours he constructed a well planned and ambitious building of an Ethiopian church. It’s successful completion was celebrated by everyone in the house and led to a flurry of creative photography.