e972a1_5b45056d5e3048299ca8b31033523244This was my first ‘convoy’ to Calais. Before I set off, I knew that it wouldn’t be the last, but not even foresight could prepare me for the magnitude of what I would see, and the impact it would have on my daily life once I’d returned.

I work for the NHS. I’m used to completing deadlines under pressure, not enough time, man power or physical resources. Encountering vulnerable patients or relatives. None of that prepared for me the camp.

We arrived off the ferry late Friday afternoon. After going to the workshop and donations Warehouse in ‘Barry’ – Kat and Matt’s motorhome, we made a quick stop at the wine warehouse to pick up some supplies en route to the Air B&B. I had volunteered to be chef for the weekend, and we weren’t going to run out of drinks with dinner in France on my watch!

After some tasty cous cous (yes, tasty AND cous cous in the same sentence) and a visit from the inspirational Ian Shaw, some of the group bedded down for the night. 6 of us stayed up, shocked by the news of the Paris attacks as I’m sure you all were. What better way to take your mind of this than receiving a phone call: The Jungle’s on fire – we need your help! In hindsight, this wasn’t the most sensible decision ever made by a group. But it is something that I am also immensely proud of. We had gone over with the aim of distributing targeted aid to those in greatest need. Who needs a blanket or sleeping bag more than someone whose shelter has just burnt down in the middle of the night?

Watching the fireman put out the last of the embers alongside the Sudanese ‘residents’ was the most surreal experience, amidst the tents and mud. It was a sobering thought that this was the only attention the people had received from the French public services during their time there, albeit too little and late for them. The fire started accidently from a candle – unfortunately a common occurrence as they are some people’s only source of light and heat. Remember how cold it was this morning? These people are sleeping outside in lightweight tents and sleeping bags donated by festival goers this summer. How many of them will freeze or burn before someone with more power to help than a few inexperienced volunteers with good intentions steps forward?

I still haven’t fully processed the extent of what is happening in Calais after seeing it with my own eyes – there are so many people with so little, trying to survive. Unfortunately the weather is now adding to their problems. Every little really does make a difference, and everybody that you know and share a plea for help with could make a difference too.

Whether you refer to the current European crisis as involving refugees, asylum seekers, or migrants, to me they are people. Like us. Mothers, wives, daughters, sisters, aunties, nieces, cousins, nephews, uncles, brothers, fathers, sons, friends, husbands. Unbelievably strong and determined people who have fled from war and terror in the cities they were born and raised in, left behind everything and everyone they knew and loved, to risk their lives crossing desserts and oceans, in hope of not only surviving but living the rest of their days in peace and safety. It is not acceptable to me as a British citizen, to ignore that not only is this happening  on our doorstep but to let any man, woman or child freeze or starve to death in a muddy field, because we won’t support them.

Since getting back last Sunday, I haven’t stopped thinking about the people that asked me for help that I couldn’t. A man whose friend’s arm and back were badly injured – I didn’t give him the painkillers that I had on me (for my own use) – what if he were allergic and I caused a bigger problem to his health? The men who we couldn’t give coats to because we had run out (it was pissing cows, as they say in France) and we were all soaked to the skin. The men who were lucky enough to get a dry coat before we ran out, but asked us for shoes because they were navigating their way through the mud in flip-flops.

I can’t be in Calais every day, or even every weekend. My aim is to return once a month, but hope that there aren’t too many more months when that will be necessary. Surely this situation can’t go on indefinitely? I’ve realised that you can still achieve a lot from behind a desk in the UK though. I have sent more begging emails this week than I have in my 32 years.

One email resulted in over 1000 bags of throat sweets being donated! (Thanks Jakemans J I’ve signed on line petitions, emailed my local MP, shared posts and links and wish lists, organised a local pub quiz and attended 2 fundraising gigs. I also met an amazing person who has made it to the UK, against all the odds. He is still fighting for the rights of everyone in Calais, whilst waiting for his leave to remain. If he can do this, so can we. I’m not a one woman army, I have the love and support of friends, family, colleagues and have met more incredible people in the last month than I have during my 8 years in London. I’m also not doing this to feel good about myself. I know there is pain and suffering, poverty and starvation in every country around the world, including the one we are lucky enough to call home. But this is happening a couple of hours away, right now, on an unprecedented scale. Hundreds more people arrive every day. There are 4 water points, 100 portaloos and 1000 meals a day provided, for 7500 people. I am doing everything I can to raise awareness on behalf of everyone still in Calais, because they cannot, and it is simply unacceptable not to try to make a difference to their lives.