They ran open art therapy studios in the Médecins du Monde France psychosocial tent and the state run clinic, which was noticeably busy with residents needing triage, medical support and the pharmacy, with just one doctor available on Friday morning.
Seeing a young man whom the Art Refuge UK team had worked with last September reminded us that we have been working in the large camp in Calais for nearly a year.
The team acknowledged how it could be easy to pick up themes of hopelessness and despair, and question what could be done in such a challenging context. But we were mindful that this mirrors the experience of the residents of the camp, and as a group we considered the need to take a step back in order to see a bigger picture. As we sat together around the large map laid out over the table, which served as an anchor point for embodying the themes of where we came from; who we are and where we hoped to reach.
On both days the group was made up of new comers to the camp and individuals who have now been with us for months. They brought a range of different perspectives, some keen to hold on to their home and their cultural identity, others eager to move on , to progress towards new places, new beginnings and some; in need of forgetting the past. A group of young Sudanese men arrived having gathered two bags filled with white T-shirts. They planned to hold an event to celebrate their particular tribe. They worked with their heads down across both days; copying images of their traditional tribal artifacts meticulously on all the T-shirts, front and back.
In contrast, a young man from Syria sat around the map with us in the state clinic, wanting to scratch Syria away in his anger for Bashar al-Assad’s bombing of his home. Another man new to the space celebrated the distance he had made from Iran, frustrated by its regime and inequality. This push and pull of varying perspectives and the different places people were occupying was played out through the creation of chess pieces and miniature kites. We thought about gaming, the residents’ naming of their attempts to reach the UK as ‘the game’. The visible tensions in residents in trying to take control whilst being at peace with all that they have no control over. Fragments of joy were witnessed and experienced in pockets of time across both days, whilst holding on to these moments of laughter. Room was allowed for sadness, the bitter sweetness that was so difficult at times, but so vital. A tiny but tenacious kite was launched next to a large kite to share a moment of lightheartedness, and help to lighten some of the heavy load. Again the kites were returned to as a buoyancy, whilst acknowledging the heavy weight of frustration.
On the one hand there is frustration for those still there, but for a member of our team returning after some time away real progress and growth was observed.