We started out on our two days in camp by running our first session for unaccompanied minors in the protected and lively young people’s space co-ordinated by Medecins Sans Frontières. Both organisations along with the Refugee Youth Service (formerly Balloo’s) and a visiting NGO, Step Up were offering a range of spaces, activities and interactions, throughout the day, as we awaited Lille’s administrative court ruling on whether the kid’s cafe, amongst others, was to be formally closed on health and safety grounds.
Over the five hours that we were in Centre pour L’adolescents et Minors Immigrants (CAMI), we welcomed faces old and new into the portacabin which became a space for art making, talking, sharing music, photos and videos from their phones. In particular, a young person with learning difficulties, who the team had not seen for five months, returned with two gentle guardians to be greeted by Jess, and was shown developed photographs that he had taken during the participatory photography project. He repeatedly flipped through the photos trying to remember the camp’s layout from that time and, to some extent, to recognise himself in a photo that he had asked Jess to take of him. We understand that since March, he has become an avid photographer and has taken hundreds of photos with his phone.
One young person explored this new space, coming and going over the afternoon, not directly engaging with the materials on the table but clearing the stones in the yard outside with his feet to make a giant outline of a heart where his peers played football and badminton all afternoon. Simultaneously, inside the portacabin, two boys sitting opposite each other, coming from different continents, made images of hearts, which were put up on the wall for the rest of the day.
On Friday, back in the Medecins du Monde tent, one of our regular group members explained about a “main vein” that runs straight from the heart to the wedding ring finger, before drawing around his left hand, filling in the shape with red, black and green, the colours of Afghanistan’s flag. Whilst for some their imagery was of homeland, for others they focused on what life might offer in a hoped for future and some of the men, young and older appeared to be more comfortable in here-and-now-life such as mending ripped clothing with our embroidery kit and taking photos of their friends alongside Art Refuge UK team members.
One young person returned again to kite flying, perhaps making and attempting to keep a treasured connection with an object, people and places far away. We continued to notice a tension within him between staying grounded in the camp and taking flight to other places in Europe, and kite flying seemed to support him to tolerate being where he was in that moment.
On the crossing between Calais and Folkestone we heard the news that the seventy shops including the much loved kid’s cafe in the camp, won’t be destroyed, maintaining calm meeting places only, as the population exceeds 9000 and anticipates an imposed curfew. Next week we will have had a consistent presence in the camp for one year, building relationships between organisations there and witnessing incredible levels of creativity, resilience and kindness in trying times.