What it was like in the Calais and Dunkirk refugee camps

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The first time I set foot in a refugee camp was in the autumn of 2015. It was a dismal and rainy day and we were in the port of Calais with NUT members (the former National Union of Teachers, now the NEU, National Education Union), and some refugees, protesting the disgusting treatment and neglect of the refugees that had arrived in France.

 

At the end of the protest, we packed up and started our preparation for the crossing of the channel, back home. However before we left, we saw the refugees that had joined us, all leaving, and all walking in the same direction. I remember my dad saying, “they’re going ‘home'”. We followed them, knowing we would, in a couple of minutes, end up in the Calais Jungle. But what we experienced was far from what any media outlet had ever covered.

 

It was like stepping into an under developed country, despite the fact that we were in modern day France. We were ankle deep in mud, and we had good walking boots on. A lot of people who had to live in these conditions were in sandals. The tents in which the refugees lived, were half sunken into the ground and the portaloos were unhygienic and unsuitable for any human being. Its impossible to describe the emotions and the physical appearance that came along with seeing the camps in real life. It was like nothing I had ever experienced. After this first visit, we joined a newly formed charity called Side By Side With Refugees, and started working with them to do our bit and help in any way possible.

After several visits and convoys to these awful places, we realised that, despite the horrific conditions, there was a certain charm to these camps. There was a sense of community amongst despair. There were beautifully decorated restaurants (that served the most amazing fried chicken and rice I have ever had), a church, and several communal spaces for the refugees to gather, talk, drink tea and keep each other company. Every time I went, I felt complete hopelessness but their beautiful and beaming smiles instilled a hope in me that I didn’t think possible after seeing these horrible conditions.

 

The camps “improved” over time. The local governments did some work to make the conditions less awful for the inhabitants. This meant instead of tents, wooden shelters were constructed. Caravans were also brought in by charities who had beautifully decorated them. But of course, the camps were no where near habitable. The wooden sheds were often prone to fires and wooden structures, or structures of any kind, were quickly banned by the police. The sense of community that had once dominated these areas was quickly taken away as the majority of restaurants were demolished.

 

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The Dunkirk Refugee Camp

 

The Dunkirk refugee camp was the last camp I went to, after the demolition of the Calais Jungle in October 2016. This time we went with a charity called Help4Refugee Children. Our focus was generated around children and families, which came with a whole new set of emotions. We worked with the children and volunteer teachers, who had given up everything they had to dedicate all their time and efforts in teaching the children in the camp. We had several art workshops in which the children painted banners and whatever they desired. We bought large amounts of fruit, biscuits, cakes and fruit juices, as treats for the children as well as a huge amount of baby milk, beakers and baby bottles for Gynécologie Sans Frontières. We made bracelets with the children and other volunteers braided their hair. It was a new and refreshing take on the charity work in these camps but knowing that these children had experienced things that no human should ever have to experience, let alone small kids, was devastating.

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Two days after our visit to Dunkirk, the camp burnt down and hundreds of refugees went missing. It was news that made me sick to my stomach. Now, both the main refugee camps in France were gone. But the refugee crisis didn’t disappear with them. The refugees are now scattered all across France in makeshift camps. Any tents that are put up are just as quickly taken down by the French police and authorities. With winter coming, it is a crucial time to remind everyone that there are refugees who are sleeping outside, with very little or nothing with them and need our help.

 

Below you can find links to some of the charities mentioned. Please donate what you can, whether that’s money, phone credit, clothes, shoes, food, sleeping bags and blankets, coats…anything.

https://www.facebook.com/help4refugeechildren/

https://www.facebook.com/SidebySiderefugees/

https://www.facebook.com/credit4refugees/

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Tiny

We are tiny.

I am one of 7 billion specks,

on this rock.

A society, smart enough,

to create machines,

big enough,

to crush us.

 

We are tiny.

We live on this rotating sphere,

the blue planet.

Constantly spinning on our axis,

in the middle of an intricate,

solar system.

It’s enough to give you motion sickness.

 

We are tiny.

1.3 million earths could fit,

into the sun.

Our galaxy,

is a tiny star,

in the rest of the universe.

An infinite universe,

forever expanding.

 

We are tiny.

There isn’t much on this planet,

that is smaller than us.

Other than insects.

Imagine what the universe must look like,

to them.

 

My First Pride Flag

Hanging it up on my wall,

for all to see,

including me.

But I don’t want the colours to fade,

you see,

the sun hits directly through my window,

for most of the day,

and my flag is hung directly,

where it hits.

I don’t want the colours to fade.

I imagine if they do,

they will be imprinted,

in the same way,

on my wall,

where the flag sits.

Orphan Black: A Rather Biased Review

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It all starts when Sarah Manning, played by Tatiana Maslany, is on a train platform and witnesses a suicide. Just before the woman jumps in front of the moving train, she turns around and Sarah is shocked to see that they look exactly alike. After she jumps, Sarah, in a bundle of confusion, grabs the woman’s bag and assumes her identity. With this, we learn that the Woman’s name was Beth, also played by Maslany, and that Sarah has now inherited the whirlwind of problems that, most probably, are what led Beth to her death.

Soon after, Sarah meets two more look-alikes, Cosima and Alison, played by Maslany, who tell her that she is a clone. From this point onwards, Sarah and her clone sisters, whom we learn about, and meet, during the show, are caught up in a confusing plot. They discover that the clones originated from a scientific movement called Neolution which has a base within the Dyad institute. Without going into too much detail, the institute conducts research and profits from the scientific complexities of the clones by placing them under surveillance through the use of “monitors”; people close to them who, essentially, spy on them.

The majority of the show stems from the clones trying to outrun and prevent their capture from different groups of people who might benefit from the technology they embody or, simply, their deaths.

This is an immensely broad overview of the show. Its complexities are what make it charming. In fact, for such a complex show, the casting list isn’t huge. This is due to the fact that Tatiana Maslany plays all the clones in the show. I’ve never seen a show that uses the same actress to portray multiple characters but this show does it and it does it extremely well. So well in fact, that you often forget that it is the same actress playing all of these characters with extremely different personalities.

Just to give you a taster:

  • Alison Hendrix is a “soccer mom” who loves arts and crafts until she becomes the front of a large drug company with her husband in order to win a local town election.
  • Sarah Manning is a British con woman, often on the run and a single mother.
  • Cosima Niehaus is a gay science genius, studying at university who finds a cure from preventing all of the clones from becoming fatally ill.
  • Rachel Duncan is seen as the evil clone who aids the Dyad institute with their research and often goes against her clone sisters.
  • Helena is the Ukrainian psychopathic serial killer who is convinced, by a religious group, that all of these clones are abominations and she is the original, and is therefore trained to kill them.

There is no other show that has made its watchers fear and then fall in love with a psychopathic serial killer who turns out to be really good with children and in need of affection from her clone “sestras”.

Orphan Black puts representation at the forefront of its show, starting with women. The recurring themes of sisterhood, fertility and friendship among many others, are and always will be relevant to us. One of the most incredibly relevant themes that the show explores is that of the woman’s right to have control over her own body. They fight all the institutions that claim that the clones “belong” to them and fight for a life unmonitored and free from constant experimentation.

The representation of the LQBTQ+ community is also incredible. The show has managed to superbly integrate 2 gay characters, (one being Cosima and the other being Felix, the foster brother of Sarah) a transgender clone, and a questioning character, Delphine, who falls in love with Cosima. One of the best quotes of the show that sum up sexuality and the show in its entirety comes from this character; “I have never thought about bisexuality. I mean, for myself…But as a scientist, I know that sexuality is a spectrum. But, you know, social biases, they codified attraction. It’s contrary to the biological facts”. As well as this gem that comes from Cosima; “My sexuality is not the most interesting thing about me”.

This show is beautiful, complex, powerful and intriguing for so many reasons that I have only just touched upon. If it interests you, you can watch it on Netflix. Get ready for a rollercoaster of emotions!

 

 

Night

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One night in Italy,

we saw fireworks,

in a distant city.

The summer sky was alight,

like a Christmas tree.

 

That same night in Italy,

the fog softly,

covered the mountains.

The small towns were floating,

like spaceships.

 

One night in Italy,

we were stargazing,

and we needn’t tilt our heads,

any further,

than the towns below us.

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