It wasn’t your usual trip to France. We hopped onto the M20, went through the Channel Tunnel, got on the A16, paid a toll charge or two, and came to a little gate where our day in Calais really began. The Refugee Community Kitchen, a refugee kitchen in Calais.
The purpose of a refugee kitchen is to serve nourishing meals to the thousands of resilient refugees and asylum seekers
These people have journeyed to Northern France from poverty and war in countries like Syria, Eritrea and Afghanistan, suffering bleak and brutal conditions, by boats, trains, lorries and by foot, not for a good life, but at least for a better one.
The expectation on arrival at this refugee kitchen was to work in an atmosphere of despondency and lethargy, akin to the feelings of the masses who have struggled to search for somewhere like Calais. It’s incredibly easy to despair when briefly witnessing the hardships of these migrants in the papers or when you switch on the TV, but it is an inescapable reality, which one would think could spread a contagious melancholy. Instead, the atmosphere at the Refugee Community Kitchen was buzzing.
Jovial radio music, laughter and top-quality banter run through the refugee kitchen.
The volunteers who had already started their day’s labour were fuelled simply by a love for humanity and a hope for these refugees, that was difficult not to share. The situation in cities like Calais, Dunkirk and many other border cities is undoubtedly a humanitarian crisis, but the volunteers at the refugee kitchen do whatever they can to alleviate the struggle, having served over 2 million meals, to almost 45, 000 refugees, before and since the Calais Jungle closed in October 2016.
I and the other volunteers who had arrived with our organiser Onjali Rauf, founder of the organisation ‘Making Herstory’, which aims to tackle the enslavement and abuse of women, set to work immediately after arrival to empty the 4 cars worth of food goods we had brought for the Kitchen, which included boxes and crates and trolleys of chickpeas, dates, chocolates, lollies, ketchup, onions, oil and much, much more. We donned our overalls and got stuck in making rotis (South Asian bread), cleaning food racks, mopping floors, peeling chicory (a vegetable I’d never even heard of) and doing a spot of heavy lifting. The other volunteers, some of whom were staying there for days or longer, had spent the morning preparing the meals to be distributed at the main refugee camp.
The vibe was electric and overwhelmingly positive.
All the volunteers worked relentlessly, fulfilling countless roles, giving up their time and families for a while, working with strangers for the common goal of alleviating hardship. They came from all walks of life- a young girl who had just finished her A Levels, an elderly charity worker who had lost her job but was volunteering while her husband worked elsewhere in Calais, and uni students off for the summer, all with their own stories, cooperating together like clockwork to get the work done. Some of the volunteers were fasting, as it was the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, still tirelessly putting in all their effort. It was all utterly inspiring.
The refugees at Calais and Dunkirk are often forgotten people.
They bravely cross the Mediterranean and the Macedonian borders, simply to reach this area in which there’s some hope for survival. The passionate and energetic atmosphere of the Kitchen was not emblematic of the No Man’s Land of the camps, where the French government abuses the asylum seekers, who were teachers, journalists and business owners in their homes, but are now forced to rely on the help of strangers. Families are torn apart and dislocated, left frustrated and purposeless, often arrested even if they get to the borders.
The crisis hasn’t ended; far from it. As it worsens, places like the Refugee Community Kitchen need more and more help.
Volunteer here and make a difference to be proud of.
Would you ever consider working in a refugee kitchen? Let us know in the comments section below!
Featured image: www.weheartit.com
UCL student and bonafide brown girl. Sometimes writing, mostly dreaming, always hungry.