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The spaces around things

Working in the camp this week were Art Therapists Anna Kalin and Naomi Press from the Art Refuge UK team. The mood in the camp felt low, after some good weather, the storms, grey skies, wind and rain were disheartening for camp residents. The unrelenting presence of the bulldozers and diggers ploughing across the northern section creates a constant noisy and intrusive surround to camp life. The ‘wasteland’, once full of sheltered spaces, is now being covered with a layer of new sand, and starting to be used for sport, sandcastle-buidling, preempting future plans for the space..?

This slow time in the camp brings people to thinking a lot about what they left behind, what they have lost, and who they have had to say goodbye to. The wishes of never having had to leave and make this terrible journey, ending up stuck in this camp, brings a mourning for lives and homes that are left behind or lost.

THURSDAY WITH MEDECINS DU MONDE One youth, who was new Art Refuge UK’s space, spent a long time in the tent with us making an image with great care. As he began, drawing the empty outline of a house or shelter, he described the place as Europe, but as time passed and the image evolved, it became a memory of his home that he wishes he could return to: “I miss Afghanistan”.

The space we offer is a place where people can find the time to slowly unpack the layers of feeling they have about their experiences. With time, the relationships they build with us allows them to trust us, and express more difficult feelings of vulnerability. Saying goodbye to family is often a traumatic process; one young man we work with frequently, comes to us and redraws his parting from his mother and the sadness they both suffer in their separation.

This week we also saw the impact of roles that residents give themselves, many choosing roles for themselves that support the work of the NGO’s like Medecins du Monde and the Hummingbird Project. These roles range include: cooking a hot lunch for the team and bringing it to the tent with invitations to us all to “Eat!”; accompanying other refugees to the hospital to support them; helping to translate; caring for the shared spaces we use; bringing others to our services when they recognize their vulnerabilities and need for more support.

Taking on these roles provides so much to everyone, not just to those of us providing services in the camp, or other residents in need, but also to those who are giving the support. It allows them to find empowerment, a sense of purposefulness and energy. The stuck in limbo feelings are more manageable; resilience and coping are strengthened.

FRIDAY WITH HUMMINGBIRD Friday was a day of seeing familiar faces, some just popped in to touch base and say hello, as if to reconnect and seek reassurance from our consistent presence. Several returned to recreate the experience of last week’s play through modelling by plasticine. Others came and engaged in deep conversations about their journeys using the large map.

One Sudanese man stood for a while looking at the map, his eyes tracing the journey he had made. He spoke of how he was thinking about how he could possibly make the journey over to the UK, acknowledging how small a distance it looked compared to the long journey he had made.

Another man, who used a need to grasp English as a means to manage his trauma, did a painting of a boat that took him across the Mediterranean Sea, before seeking sanctuary once more in English words. His search for an understanding of ‘now’, ‘past’ and ‘future’ was represented in Calais, Sudan and the UK.

This week saw many people explore the changes in their countries of origin that had led to where they are now. Old and new flags, representing different leaderships, new states, divides and separations and often further instability, danger and uncertainty.

The Hummingbird Safe Space was once again filled with over 35 people throughout the day. At several points the space was filled vibrantly with conversations across nationalities, music occasionally played, the drinking of tea and some energy restored in the warmth of new connections forming.

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