Un grand merci to everyone who donated

An account By David Rey & Fay Lockett, teachers at Valentines High School, Ilford

We have just returned from Northern France where we spent four days working at the Care4Calais warehouse with a team of other volunteers from other East London schools helping out refugees in the Calais region.

Following a very successful school community project at Valentines of renovating and taking the caravan “Harmony” to the Calais Jungle in June 2016, we felt we still had to do more to help.

This is our account of the four days we spent in Northern France during our 1/2 term break:

As you recall, at the beginning of October, we organised a collection for much needed donations for the refugees in Northern France and Belgium. We had planned to take a car full on 22/10; but after an overwhelming response from parents and students, it was pretty obvious that the volume collected was enough to fill a van. A very generous friend allowed us to borrow his van which we jam-packed up to the rim, and off we went bright and early on a sunny October Sunday.

Day one: arriving around midday after an early ferry crossing, we immediately got stuck into the sorting of donations in the Care4Calais warehouse. We unloaded the van, storing our already very well sorted donations (thanks to form class G7!) in their respective places in the warehouse; we then reloaded the van with specific goods, ready to depart the next day for a targeted distribution in a local town. 

Day two: with so many people to reach out to, it is important that the days are structured and productive. After the morning briefing, the rest of the morning was spent sorting the hundreds of donations already in the Care4Calais warehouse. As the refugee issue has become less mainstream news, these donations are more sporadic now and it was obvious that your contribution was much needed. In the afternoon, we took the road in the direction of St Omer.

Besides bringing donations, every form class in the school was also asked to design “Messages of Hope” for the refugees. We received literally hundreds – such a moving collective moment. When we reached St Omer, we headed directly to a youth respite centre. There we delivered your donations and met around 30 young refugees who were spending a few days to recuperate from their unimaginable journeys. Their response to receiving the messages of hope is almost impossible to describe in writing. The face of 5 year old Sunam from Afghanistan lit up with joy and with surprise at the realisation “oh… but… really? …they are also thinking of us in other schools in the world”.

The group also showed us some of their drawings. One of them will remain fixed in our minds for months to come: an Afghan 15 year old boy having captured his horrific journey in overcrowded boats.

This sharing of messages was definitely one of the highlights of this trip, not to mention the positivity and determination that these young refugees show, despite the difficulties they have faced and are still having to contend with.

With heartfelt goodbyes, we left the respite centre, to head to a local town to deliver supplies. We met four refugee men, who directed us to the local church where we donated the hundreds of cereal bars, tins of fish, rice, sugar, tea, coffee that were offered by parents and students. The local church then distributes that much needed aid to local refugees who are “living” in the surrounding woods. We were also able to provide the four men with winter shoes and clothes – some of them had only flip-flops! Their gratitude was immense.

Day three: following yesterday’s visit to the church, we returned to the town with 6 bikes and cooking pots that the four men had requested. We delivered these straight to the church for the refugees to pick up. In the afternoon, we made our way to the local Secours Catholique charity where we took more messages of hope and interacted with many refugees from Afghanistan. Our main role there was to bring them something different: talk to them, listen to them. We helped them fill asylum claim forms, gave some Art, French and English lessons… any activity that would break down the monotony of another desperate homeless day.

Day four: in the morning we sorted donations and fixed shelves in dire need of repair in the warehouse. The afternoon was spent giving out dry and warm clothing to targeted homeless refugees living by the canal. We took the opportunity to socialise, play football and listen to their stories… another well received comfort on those targeted distribution is the use they made of our generator and charging platform to recharge their phones – few of them have managed to contact their families, since their arrival in France. One of them managed to phone his mum who hadn’t heard from him for seven months. With the daily struggle of homelessness and the increasingly cold weather, it is so comforting for them to see that others care.

This trip has been another incredible demonstration of shared generosity and kindness. So much more than an appeal for donations, it has once again, for the third year running, created an incredible sense of belonging within the wider school community. Parents, students and staff working together… just gladly giving… thank you all so much! 

Please click here to watch and listen to the PowerPoint presentation of the trip: https://www.dropbox.com/s/duxfz4pnh45mdfo/FORM%20TIME%20P4C%20Calais%20Trip%20Oct%20half%20term.pptx?dl=0