First time volunteers Mark & Harry’s Calais Story
My son Harry and I had talked a lot about the challenges being faced by the refugees in Calais, so we were grateful when Come2Calais gave us an opportunity to get involved and provide some practical support. We were lucky to be able to get a place on the Come2Calais Parent and Teen trip weekend in September.
We left home after work/school and travelled to Calais via Eurotunnel. To keep costs and the environment impact down we shared a car with some other adults and teenagers heading to Calais to volunteer. We arrived late at the hostel and went straight to bed. We did not see the amazing beach across the road until we woke the next morning!
After a quick breakfast of baguettes and pancakes at the hostel we drove across Calais to the Help Refugees warehouse. Despite reading about the charities there and previous trip stories we did not really know what quite to expect when we arrived at the warehouse.
We were the first volunteers to arrive on site that day and once the other volunteers had arrived, we all signed in. We then met Julia one of the warehouse managers. She gave us all an update of how the warehouse worked along with an update on the current situation with the refugees. This was finished with a quick warm up/stretch! (see pictures).
My son and I, along with the other new volunteers, were then given a quick tour of the warehouse. The scale of the operation is much bigger than I envisaged, with every item donated being checked for quality. The charities do not want to make the migrants’ situation worse by offering them torn or dirty clothes.
Julia then explained about the main tasks required for the day – helping prepare food in the Refugee Community Kitchen plus quality checking the tents to ensure they were clean and intact. After a quick discussion we decided to volunteer to help with the tents.
She put us straight to work unloading a van full of sleeping bags and tent donations onto huge trolleys. We wheeled them through the vast warehouse to a sorting area. We were in a group of about 8 people, and we decided to divide into pairs to ensure we got through as many tents as possible.
We then unpacked and put up the tents, checking for rips, mould, complete poles etc. When a tent had passed the quality checks it was signed off and added to the growing pile ready to distribute. Where a tent was missing bits or was not suitable, we recycled the viable parts as spares. It was good to know that the tents would soon provide vital shelter for migrants just down the road.
They really looked after us at the warehouse, with the food being a highlight for my son. It was absolute pleasure to be working together with so many friendly, interesting and positive people.
At the end of the day we headed back to the hostel and after a quick washup finally made it to the beach. We then had supper in a lively pub in Calais town centre, where we met up with lots of other volunteers who had been working at Care4Calais – another Charity helping support refugees in Calais. It was a fun evening, and we all slept well that night.
It was more of the same on Sunday – simple tasks, physical work, vital jobs and friendly co-workers. By mid-afternoon we had to say our goodbyes so we could catch our Eurotunnel train back. We were all tired but took the time on the drive back to Bath to reflect on the people we had met and the part we had played in helping the refugees that weekend.
Mark and Harry