An personal account of a JCRAG aid trip – words at the bottom of the page.

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I am proud to be part of the team of 6 Islanders who travelled to the north of France to deliver donated aid from Jersey to the ‘Jungle’ Refugees in Calais. We received an overwhelming gratitude when we arrived at the L’Auberge des Migrants warehouse with two vans filled with desperately needed donations of milk, food, warm clothing, medical supplies and gift boxes.

Smiles spread across the faces of the volunteers in the warehouse when we opened the back of the van to reveal the hundreds of individual shoe boxes wrapped in colourful paper and filled with gifts donated by school children in Jersey. Stored in a special location in the warehouse volunteers on the ground are now able to plan a special event for the children living within the camp to provide some happiness and joy before Christmas.

The most valued item was the long life milk donated by Jersey Dairy, it is one of the most sought after commodities and filled an empty shelf ready to be included in food parcels. As we unloaded the fat rich milk, with the photo of our iconic cow, volunteers from across Europe commented on the symbolic donation.

Following guidance from the experienced volunteers at the L’Auberge des Migrants we were able to arrange a distribution direct to the refugees in the Jungle. Over 250 food parcels had been sorted and pre-packed by JCRAG volunteers in Jersey. Each bag contained essentials such as tinned goods, tea, sugar, salt, grains, rice, biscuits and candles; we also added a Jersey Milk carton to each pack.

It was only a five-minute journey from the storage shed to the Calais Jungle site that hosts an estimated 10,000 people on waste land close to the motorway. Many of the people living in the camp are men but there also many women and children enduring squalid conditions. Although there are some established shelters that have been developed as the camp has grown there are hundreds of tents that are dilapidated and everything is surrounded by crude sanitary conditions.

Nothing quite prepares you for the experience of suffering and desperation. The extremes of being in northern France with western luxuries, the smell of the bakery, hyper markets bursting with saucisson, soft cheese and red wine is a stark contrast to the conditions that humans have to endure in the Jungle refugee camp. The vastness of sprawling shelters with mud soaked paths, a road that winds through the camp, the sounds of voices in many different languages, the overwhelming stench that engulfs you and the endurance and despair in people’s eyes.

Many of the refugees have little or no money and are solely reliant on delivery of aid provided by NPO’s to survive. A van travelling through the camp is often quite literally a lifeline, as the van stops a line starts despite not knowing what the delivery may be. We greeted the desperate faces with smiles and high fives, those in line asked what we had in the van and where we were from. The line seemed to go on as far as I could see and snaked round on its self. As the parcels were given to waiting men, young boys and children each said thank you. We had to accept that we were not going to be able to give to everyone, those who had waited patiently included a small boy who was next in line when we closed the van doors. To each of those people who walked away smiling and clutching a large bag packed in Jersey we all felt satisfied that together we had provided some basic rations, a little hope and an expression of humility.

All this would not have been possible without the kindness made by Islanders, individuals who volunteered, gifted or donated food items, clothing, shoes, equipment, medicine and money to the cause. We are indebted toCondor Ferries who provided safe travel to France and Falles Van Hirewhose reliable Renault vans transported donations direct from Jersey to Calais. These local businesses were pivotal in helping us to ensure that aid was delivered directly to those most in need.

The six volunteers who travelled to Calais included a photographer, builder, production artist, electrician, telecom professional and charity fundraiser (5 beans and a scoucer). All were united because of our determination to reach out and show we were not afraid to come and help. Together we shared a little bit of Jersey pride; we made a connection.

JCRAG continues to accept donations and is committed to delivering aid direct to those most in need. Any islanders who are able to assist with fundraising, donations or by volunteering are asked to email or make contact through the Facebook page Jersey Calais Refugee Aid Group. Delivery points for aid are St Brelades Parish Hall and Acorn Enterprises at Trinity. The next aid trip to Frnace is planned for 19th December 2015.

Words by Bethspoke, Photos by Danny Richardson Photography