Samya Kelly shares her report from the April convoy, her first with CamCRAG, but hopefully not her last!
CamCRAG’s convoys to Calais were something I had been meaning to take part in throughout my time as an undergrad in Cambridge, but it was only this year after graduation that I finally made it – I’m glad I did though wish I had sooner!
Hopping in a car with three people I’d never met before to leave the country for the weekend should maybe have been somewhat daunting, but in the lovely company of Lucy, Estere and Elliot, it was anything but – I didn’t even get thrown out of the car for not knowing Elliot was CamCRAG’s chair and asking him innocently if he was on the committee…
Arriving at the warehouse with the wind blowing on Saturday morning I was glad I’d followed advice and worn layers. We were given a run-down of the warehouse operations and also the current situation in Calais and Dunkirk by a long-term volunteer. I felt like I understood things a lot better, and what they meant practically, than I did from reading any reports in the papers at home.
That morning I worked in ‘SewHo’, wrestling with unfamiliar sewing machines to fix up torn or broken sleeping bags, blankets and jackets. It was a strange experience, knowing that such items are so in demand: They are essential for refugees keeping warm, but are also regularly destroyed or confiscated by the French security forces in Calais; something I helped mend and prolong the life of that day might in fact last only a short time out in the world.
As I had been told, lunch from Refugee Community Kitchen was delicious, and welcome after a morning in the draughty warehouse. All hands on deck were needed in the kitchen in the afternoon for bento box packing and then kitchen clean down, which meant donning very fetching chef’s blacks and crocs and trying to keep up with the very efficient production line.
On the Sunday I was sorting women’s and children’s clothes – only the first sort of many. It was interesting to see how rigorous the systems are for deciding what clothing gets given out. Donations are checked multiple times to make sure they are good quality and in appropriate styles, with the aim of upholding the refugees’ dignity as much as possible; if you wouldn’t give it to a friend or relative, it doesn’t fly.
It was really nice to meet so many different people – those who were part of the convoy, but also others in the warehouse, including long-term volunteers whom I couldn’t help but be a bit in awe of. I also really enjoyed getting to spend time with the CamCRAG group at the Family Pub on the Saturday evening, even if the deceptively strong beers left some of us with morning headaches…
I left on the Sunday evening glad to have been even a tiny bit useful in the warehouse, and with hopes of coming back and being a tiny bit more useful in future!
The next convoy open for applications is our September convoy over 20 -22 September – apply online at camcrag.org.uk/convoys