Volunteering with refugees in ‘the Jungle’

Volunteering with refugees in 'the Jungle' www.grassrootsnomad.com (1)

Thanks Amanda for this guest post! Who is Amanda’s Wanderlust?

Amanda Williams is the founder of the sustainable travel blog, Amanda’s Wanderlust. If you love travel but care about your carbon footprint, then check out the blog. Featuring adventure travel, wildlife experiences, ecotourism, festivals, UK travel and much more; Amanda invites her readers to join the journey as she tries to keep her travel sustainable… You can follow Amanda on her blog, Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

Volunteering in Calais

Europe is in the midst of a major refugee crisis, as millions flee conflict and persecution in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan and head to the EU in search of a safer life. But for many this long and dangerous journey does not end in safety. It ends in a refugee camp, like ‘The Jungle’ in Calais, where conditions are squalid and life is difficult, but hope endures against the odds.

I first visited ‘the Jungle’ in late January 2016 when it was cold and wet. The camp was flooded and muddy. Built on an old landfill site, it is situated between two large chemical factories and a motorway. Hundreds of temporary wooden structures were home to around 4,000 people at that time.

An assessment by the University of Birmingham found extremely poor living conditions in ‘the Jungle’, far below the minimum standards set by the United Nations for refugee camps. There are a lack of washing facilities, adequate toilets and dry bedding.

The failure by the French Government to declare this a humanitarian crisis means that most of the major charities and NGOs are unable to help. French charity Médecins Sans Frontieres is the only major NGO on the ground, offering emergency care during office hours only.

Volunteering with refugees in 'the Jungle' www.grassrootsnomad.com

But amid all this uncertainty and suffering, I witnessed an incredible response from normal people like you and I. While European governments argue and posture about how many refugees they will take, it has been left almost entirely to a movement of grassroots volunteers to keep thousands of refugees in the camp alive.

The most significant group is a loose coalition between French registered charity L’auberge des Migrants, Help Refugees UK with support from CalAid, with assistance from Salam and Secours Catholique.

L’auberge des Migrants, Salam and Secours Catholique are small French charities, which have supported refugees for many years. Help Refugees and CalAid are British initiatives set up in response to the current crisis.

Help Refugees UK aims to help the most vulnerable people currently reaching Europe’s shores by supporting groups, charities and volunteers who are at the front lines, carrying out life-changing work in difficult circumstances.  They work where Governments and NGOs do not. Unconstrained by red tape, politics and bureaucracy, they act fast to change lives (and save them).

Volunteers, many of whom have come from the travelling and festival community in the UK, are helping to build shelters, feed people, and distribute emergency food packs, clothing, tents and blankets.

Volunteering with refugees in 'the Jungle' www.grassrootsnomad.com

As I arrived at the warehouse, just outside Calais, an army of volunteers (aged mostly 20 – 40) were working hard to sort donations of food and clothing. The smell of good food wafted through the building from the camp kitchen, where hot vegetarian meals are prepared for refugees and volunteers alike.

The atmosphere in the warehouse was buoyant, as volunteers went about their work cheerfully, well aware that they were making a real difference to the lives of others.

The level of organisation achieved in the camp is impressive. There is a library (Jungle Books), a refugee led radio station (Radio Jungala), schools, churches and mosques, a women’s and children’s centre, and a youth centre. But these facilities are constantly under threat of being bulldozed by the French authorities, despite the small comfort they offer to ‘The Jungle’ residents.

Volunteering with refugees in 'the Jungle' www.grassrootsnomad.com

Over 5,000 volunteers have worked here so far, for varying amounts of time. In any given weekend around 200 short-term volunteers may be on site for a few days. These include chefs, nurses, midwives, teachers and people from almost any walk of life, who are just there helping out.

Then there are the long-term volunteers, many of whom have been in Calais for months. Some have given up jobs, partners and flats to stay and do what they can; stepping up to fill a vacuum in the response you might naturally have expected governments to offer. Among so much desperation, it was a blessing to find such selflessness and hope.

A shortage of long-term volunteers, people who are able to stay for longer (months not days) places extra pressure on the long-term volunteer coordinators who must constantly train new people. If you are interested in volunteering with refugees anywhere in Europe, but particularly in Calais or Greece, contact Help Refugees UK in the first instance for advice.

About Help Refugees UK

Help Refugees originated when Radio X presenter Lliana Bird, writer and TV presenter Dawn O’Porter, activist and comedian Heydon Prowse (BBC’s The Revolution Will Not be Televised) and friend Josie Naughton set up the hashtag #HelpCalais to raise funds and collect goods in response to the current refugee crisis. The public response was overwhelming and since then they have evolved into a charity (under the auspices of Prism the Gift Fund) with the aim of providing aid to meet the basic human needs of refugees.

Have you volunteered? We would love to hear from you!

If you have volunteered with a small, community-based organisation that upholds the values of responsible volunteering, we would love to hear from you! This wonderful post from Amanda is part of our monthly volunteering guest post series. If you would like to share your story, please email laura@grassrootsnomad.com Thank you!

Do you have the skills and experiences necessary to volunteer with Help Refugees UK? If so, make sure you contact them for more information.

Thinking of volunteering in the future? Pin this article for future reference!

Volunteering with refugees in the Jungle was an important way for Amanda to make a positive impact. Read more at www.grassrootsnomad.com

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30 Comments
Grassroots Nomad

It is a great way to travel, Nikki! It certainly is an inspiring story and I’m so glad Amanda wanted to share it 🙂

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Sav Chin

I worked with refugees when I was studying in Sheffield it’s a good thing to do. Thanks for sharing.

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Grassroots Nomad

Thanks Sav. It is great to hear that there are lots of people working with charities doing such great work

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sarah

What a great story – heartbreaking for sure but I – like Hung Thai – are so glad there are people willing to take time out of their travels to support the refugees.

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Jenny Far Away

I love that there are such selfless people out there that will give up months of their lives to volunteer here long-term, as well as all the short term volunteers. This is a great overview and very inspiring to go help give something back!

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thetravelpockets

I always wondered what it was like to volunteer at refugee camps and your description of the age range and the tasks really helped paint a picture. So much respect for both the long and short term volunteers out there.

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Grassroots Nomad

Thanks so much. I completely agree – definitely hard work, both physically and emotionally.

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tamarasw

This is a great article with very timely information and advice; it is going to be up to all of us to pitch in and help with whatever resources we have. No one should suffer when most of us have been so richly blessed. Thanks for taking the time to publish this information!

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Grassroots Nomad

Thank you! Amanda did a great job and I’m so lucky she wanted to share her experiences to raise awareness about volunteering opportunities available in this field.

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Jojo

I didn’t think about needing midwives as volunteers as well. I’m glad they are getting a verity of volunteer skills. I also like that you mentioned the volunteers were working joyfully =)

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Maya

Reading about refugees constantly bring tears in my eyes. I’ve seen you posted a lot of articles about volunteering so I’ll be spending quite some time here. I’m preparing for a trip to Central and South America and volunteering is (almost) first on my list. It’s great to see people that have been fortunate in life helping others in need. Let’s make the world a better place for all of us!

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Grassroots Nomad

Hey Maya, that’s great! I’m volunteering in Guatemala and if you are interested in something here then you should check our Entremondo in Xela – they match you with an organisation based on your skills. Feel free to email me if you have any questions.

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The Thought Card

I was so moved by this article that I started making arrangements to volunteer in 2017. Do you know what happens to the refugees after they get on their feet?

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Grassroots Nomad

That is wonderful to hear!!! I’m certain that Amanda would be able to answer all your questions if you send her and email. Best of luck!!

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Kevin Wagar

It’s fantastic that you are able to give back in such a meaningful way! This really looks like it must have been an incredible experience.

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Katharina

It is so sad to see the governments fighting and discussing the future of Europe, while people are suffering.
This story on the other hand is incredibly inspiring. All those people who are volunteering their time. it really makes you think.
Thank you for sharing!

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Grassroots Nomad

I agree, so sad, Katharina. Amanda and the other volunteers all did/do incredible work and their stories are very inspiring. Hopefully it encourages more people to volunteer where they can. Thanks so much for your comment!

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Katie Featherstone

Thanks Amanda, I’m sad I never met you in Calais, but it’s really great that other bloggers are trying to draw attention to this in a way that doesn’t exploit people’s photos and stories. Really great post. 🙂

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