On Thursday we returned to the familiar space of the Butterfly House in the Dunkerque camp, the warmth of the room drawing people together, a protective factor against the bitter temperatures that exist outside. One man spoke of feeling cold to the bone, exhausted and scared. There are increasing cases of carbon monoxide poisoning in the camp and people are anxious about the danger of heaters in their spaces. This man spoke about the difficult choice; do you stay warm, or risk the fumes of the heaters. Risk and danger seems present everywhere in this camp.
We felt that more adults have begun using the space; there was integration and acceptance that it is a space to be used by everyone and there is less irritation with the young children. Children no longer dominated the space with their needs for attention, perhaps with more confidence that their requests will be responded to, reducing rivalry within the space. There was a sense of creative landscapes in the room, a transformative space. With some drawing at one table, then moving to another area where an idea can be explored at another scale and media, or on the wall.
The projector had a containing function, enabling playfulness and exploration. One boy drew marks on the acetate, the image projected onto the wall. He playfully moved the image as one of the team attempted to trace his lines, chasing the image onto the wall. In directing the adults’ image making a child can experiment, taking control where in his current situation, he has little.
There was a poignant moment when a man who has frequently used the space and is himself an artist, showed a boy how to use the watercolours. This enabled the boy to use the paint with more freedom and immersion, creating a boat on an expanse of ocean, a fish and seaweed underneath. A small child sat side by side with him at the table, exploring the water with total absorption. The artist settled across the table, drawing portraits of the children making. This very gentle sharing of knowledge, supportive play and learning, was shared with us with care and mutuality.
Musicians joined the room, needing to take over an area to put on a performance, this was challenging for the residents who were moved out of the way to make way for the performance. The free flow of the space was interrupted as those present were asked to sit and watch. Children settled cautiously and gradually more returned to the space as they were invited to join in the music making.
This session reminded us of the distrust for strangers coming into the camp. How fragile the situation is. It has taken us many weeks to become an accepted part of the culture in the space. People are now much more engaged in the art-making and materials, able to claim areas and media for themselves. New visitors can easily misjudge their impact on the space, quickly increasing people’s vigilance and reducing their sense of ownership of the space.
Friday brought us back to Calais, with visits to a number of centres around the town as our work continues to develop and widen here. We are aware of the web of support developing in this area, and our own place within this. Though a network of support being done at day and by night by many volunteers and organizations, there is a move to establishing points of care and support for a community being forced to exist in hiding.
We felt the impact that change can have on wellbeing as we made a visit to one of our friends from the hospital and is now in a new location. His sense of fragility in being moved to a new facility was tangible, a clear reminder of the instability of situation and the uncertainty of his future. We discussed the difficulty in keeping contact with those who he needs for support. Though there are phones, it is in fact hard to keep the connections feeling ‘alive’ when the situation around seems to keep shifting.
This theme seemed to carry with us into our afternoon session at the safe-house where we were welcomed back with cups of tea and received with warmth. The difficulty in saying goodbyes and trying to hold links to each other was very present for the community in the house. There is a sense that links are being stretched, their strength tested as people move on in their journeys to find safety and home.
A group of young people from Eritrea and Ethiopia, joined us together again around the table; creating images through the inspiration of postcards, photos on phones and imagination. Music from home was played as conversations and laughter were mixed with silence and concentration. These moments of being able to settle alongside one another, those they have met on their long journeys, bring reflections on loss of friends and family, and the huge desire to reconnect with those they are now separated from. We are so aware of the fragility of this hope and the pursuit of dreams that come with a cost.