This last half-term break was like no other for the Brand family; whilst Tammy took Grace & Benjamin ‘up north’ to visit friends and family, I took our two eldest children, Faith (11) and Reuben (10) to Calais to spend time with migrants in the camp in Calais known as ‘the Jungle’. We linked up with Care4Calais and divided our time between working with them sorting donations in the warehouse, distributing aid, developing friendships that had begun on my previous visit, spending time with the leader of the Eritrean/Ethiopean Orthodox church and hanging out in a wonderful cafe / social space called the ‘3 Idiots’.
Following a discussion with Liz Mitchell at the village fete, my children have written down some of their reflections:
Faith writes, “I loved spending time in the ‘3 idiots’ doing artwork and getting to know people, and the food is really tasty!. I also liked the sports day, it was great to see so many people from different countries playing together without fighting. I also enjoyed going to Baloo’s Youth Centre where we played games and had some food with young people around my age who are in the Jungle alone, without any adults from their family; lots of them had seen their parents die and lots of their friends and other family members too. I found it hard to go into the church for the service because it was so different to what I am used to, I stood in the doorway and watched from there. I felt really sad when leaving the camp, we saw a woman with two very young children who had just arrived, they had no shoes on their feet and looked very weak and sad. Mostly though, I was amazed at how happy the refugees were despite their situation. I think the government should stop treating refugees as animals and stop putting up new fences all the time.’”
Reuben writes, “When I was in Calais, at the refugee camp, the first thing I saw was the school, which is open every day from 11am to 7pm! I think it is good that people are there to teach refugee children and adults. I particularly enjoyed getting to meet some of the refugees, especially when we were playing football. We had a full 90 minute game with Afghan and Sudanese teams without a single foul! I went to the church service with dad, I didn’t understand anything that was said, but I remember seeing a boy, about seven years old, who was really enjoying the worship and prayers – his faith was strong. My favourite thing was hanging out in the 3 idiots playing cards, and the food was so good!”
I am really proud of Faith & Reuben for wanting to do this with me and especially for the way they coped with the exposure to such a drastically different context to their current home environment. The truth is, for both Faith & Reuben, much of what they saw and experienced is still churning through their thoughts and hearts, and they have found it hard to reflect because they don’t like to remember some of the things they saw and heard. Some of the art that was drawn by the refugees as they were explaining where they had come from, why they had to leave, and how they got here was heart-breaking. I’m proud that my children instinctively saw the people before the politics, and what unites us rather than what divides – our humanity. Do get in touch if you’d like to talk further or help in any way.
Revd. Alan Brand