I hope you are having a good morning so far.
As it is Sunday today, I have two days left before I leave to Calais, France.
Calais will be the first project to join since the start of The Sunshine Journey in September 2018 and this makes it a premiere. And with Calais as a premiere it’s a first for everything: setting up the plans, contacting the organizations, planning the trip, preparation and collecting. I would like to give you a little insight in the road to Calais.
In the start-up phase there are many great and big ideas how to help out, but it’s good to start small. Therefore the first road to charity has been around Amsterdam for more than six weeks. After that, the first step abroad would be a small one. Looking for projects around Europe that could use help, I know the refugees in southern Europe are still in need. I found the UK based organization called Help Refugees UK online and read and saw a lot of the good things they do to help. The organization is completely running on volunteers and they are happy with all the help they get. They operate in both Greece and France which makes both destinations a good choice for The Sunshine Journey. I decided to apply for France first, keeping in mind to go to Greece in the (near) future. The Northern part of France is close by and I will be able to get there soon, which gives me more time to help out.
The plan is to travel to Calais, France to help out for a week (7 days full) at the warehouse. The warehouse is based in Calais close to the former ‘Calais Jungle,’ as they used to call the camp-base where the people live these days. Most of them are waiting for a permission to get to England to continue life there. Others are waiting to get a receive permission to continue their life in France. As the official ‘Jungle’ has been burned-down in the winter of 2016, many refugees are still in Calais but living on the streets these days. The situation is getting worse and hopeless for many of them, there is a lot of tention in Calais these days.
The warehouse where I will be volunteering prepares food on a daily basis for those living in the camp or on the streets of Calais. Next to cooking and preparing food, all donations will be collected, brought in, sorted, washed, stitched (if needed) and handed out to those in need. Both tasks take a lot of work and ask for many volunteers as it is a ongoing business. I would like to be active on both tasks. As I am used to work in the warehouse for the food-bank as well as working in clothing, I hope my expertise can be of value. I also hope I get the chance to hand out goods or food to those who need it, in order to experience the full circle of the goods you bring in and the work you do. I hope I get the chance to see what life is really like in Calais.
I will be working full days with a lunch break in between. In the evening I will most probably spend my nights having dinner, resting and writing. I will bring a diary as they suggest you to write down your thoughts and experiences. I will stay in both a hotel and an auberge (hostel) and hopefully we will be staying here with more volunteers so we can also evaluate our experiences.
In order to make this trip happen, I had to apply as a volunteer for the organization. It’s important they know who comes in to help and for how long, in order to get an overview of the working capacity they have available. I got in touch with a very friendly planner of the organization who already made me feel welcome ahead of time (thank you Frankie!). Once you’ve applied for volunteering, you only have to take care of yourself: getting your traveling arranged and finding a place to stay. I will travel by bus, as Calais isn’t that far away from Amsterdam and easiest to access by road. As a place to stay, the organization recommends the Auberge (hostel). I contacted them for my stay but unfortunately they could only arrange my stay for 5 nights. Therefore I checked more places and in the end I will start in a hotel for a few nights and will move to the hostel after that. As I am traveling alone a hotel can be very satisfying, calm and relax. I will most probably have good nights of sleep there. But as this trip is different from a holiday getaway, I would really like to stay in the hostel in order to meet likeminded others and to share experiences. Being alone in a hotel can make you feel lonely after a while and therefor this mix should be perfect!
To prepare myself for my first international volunteering experience, I wanted to do a training via non-profit organization Muses. They are able to prepare you for the experiences of cultural differences, shocking situations and to not get too attached (especially when working with children). They will also train you to optimize your role within a project and to use your talents while volunteering. You can follow these trainings with a group in Amsterdam and Breda and they are mostly held on weekend-days during 4-5 hours. Unfortunately, my weekends before leaving to Calais are very full and therefore I couldn’t join any of the trainings ahead. I applied for November though, as I will go on another volunteering trip in November.
I also prepared myself by reading through all documents of Help Refugees UK. There are clear guidelines of working and handling aids and they sent me an easy document to understand all the procedures. I like the fact they also send you a document with suggestions how to take care of yourself and stay happy during your voluntary work. The other thing I did to prepare myself, was talking to two girls who have been there before. I met both girls during my voluntary work for the food-bank and they shared there experiences which has been very valuable to me.
The organization Help Refugees UK releases a list of ‘most needed goods’ on a monthly basis. As I will help them in October, from October 1st the list has been released and I try to get as many of the list as possible. As winter is coming soon and Calais is generally a cold place to live (near the sea), they are in need of hats, gloves, scarves, winter jackets, raincoats, sleeping bags etc. But also practical & hygiene items are needed such as shampoo, lip-balm and toothbrushes. I started collecting myself and sending out the list to friends & family via text. The good thing is, a lot of needed items are things we tend to collect in our homes. I always buy 2 shampoos at once when there is a sale or discount, to give an example. Therefore, donating an item of the list doesn’t have to cost anything and is verily easy. My friends and family really surprised me with the amount of donations and I am so thankful for their generosity. I will bring the biggest bag I can possibly carry to Calais next week full with donations.
Now all I have left to do, is count my list of donations and inform the organization upfront so they are prepared for what’s coming in. Oh and pack! Which is challenging for me, as it has to be a good mix of practical and warm clothes.
I will keep you posted on my experiences during the trip! For questions, please send in your comments below.
If you like to help, please do not hesitate to contact me for donations, follow the journey on IG or consider buying the ‘Choose Love’ T-shirt to support the organization.