The photo above was taken in a cafe inside the camp where we had lunch.
I've called this photograph.. 'A seat at the table' and to me it represents everything about this crisis.
This is what every single Refugee wants. A seat at the table. An opportunity. To be equal. To be considered. To be involved. I now have this photograph printed next to my computer as a constant reminder to continue to play my part in making space at that table..
A few months ago I came across a documentary "The gift of hearing' about the Deaf lady Joanne Milne.. (she was the lady who's video went viral after she had her cochlear implants switched on). Joanne had organised a trip to India with the aim to fit 500 children with hearing aids and I sat watching it with my 6 month little boy Frank.. and by the end of the programme I turned to Frank and together we made a pinky promise. We promised to do as much as we could to help other disadvantaged children to get the support they need and to give them access to hearing aids.
I had been familiar with this type of project before as in 2014 I took a very short trip over to Zambia with the charity Sound Seekers to take photos of their work - providing primary ear care, hearing tests and fitting hearing aids for both Deaf children and adults. It was an incredible experience and something that I'm deeply passionate about.. so to see Joanne on a similar trip.. I wanted to do more.
Since this current Refugee crisis began I have always followed it closely.. mainly feeling despair and sadness, frustration for our Government's lack of action.. frustration for wanting to help.. not being able to DO enough. We had been donating clothes and money but I suddenly thought... there are currently 10,000 people living in the Jungle over in Calais. There must be some Deaf children living in camp. And thinking about how difficult it is for all the Refugees currently living in camps across Europe.. to be Deaf and to have no specific support.. to not be able to understand what's happening.. to not be able to hear anything and be trying to get on lorries at night.. to have contact with Police and authorities and to not be given an Interpreter. They are particularly vulnerable.
I googled 'Deaf Refugees' and to my surprise.. not much came up at all.. so a friend of mine had a connection with Liz Clegg.. (the lady who is looking after all the unaccompanied minors in camp). I managed to message Liz asking if there were any Deaf children and she told me that currently there wasn't but there were a few Deaf adults. She then passed me to Dan, a volunteer working in camp as part of the Vulnerabilities team. Suddenly this was all VERY real.. and to be honest I was kind of promising something that I had NO IDEA if I could deliver. What we needed was an Audiologist that could fit hearing aids remotely.. and also an Interpreter. The Interpreter was more complicated as the Deaf Refugees (as far as Dan was aware) had some American Sign Language, some German, possibly Arabic.. and Sudanese (and even then, there could be numerous different Sudanese Sign languages).. so getting an Interpreter that would be able to communicate at all with the men was going to be tricky..
I got in touch with Emily, the lady who I travelled to Zambia with and who works for Sound Seekers and she kindly sent an email to their list of Audiologists asking for any help. I then put a call out on facebook asking if any of my Deaf friends and Interpreters knew of any Interpreters that could be suitable for this type of Interpreting. Within days Kerry (an Audiologist) had replied saying she would definitely come and would bring her colleague Louise.. and on facebook I was given a number of Interpreter's names that would be the most suitable. I ended up chatting with Robert (an Interpreter and Senior Lecturer at Preston Uni).. we skyped at midnight one he was totally on board. He explained that it would probably be best if we also had a Deaf person with us too so to give us the best chance of being able to communicate.. so another call out on facebook and I was given Zoe's name. I messaged her and straight away she was interested and wanted to come. Talking further.. we realised that we both lived in Birmingham.. and then couldn't believe it when we found out we lived exactly a 3 minute drive from each other!
So.. suddenly I had my team! I literally couldn't believe it. Me and Dan started to look at dates and then Dan got in touch to say that the French Government had announced that they were going to be clearing the camps completely by the 31st October. We had to act fast. Alongside clearing the camp.. Refugees were to be put on buses and taken to different places within France. Nobody yet knows where.. and the last time the camp was half cleared.. many Refugees disappeared.. so doing the trip asap was vital.
I decided to put another call out on facebook to help cover the costs of the trip and in no time the whole trip was covered with funds left over! So on Friday 7th October we all took the ferry across to France and spent the day in the Jungle. For the whole trip I wanted to document my journey somehow, and although I knew that I probably was going to be restricted in what I was able to film.. I thought the best way would be to use Instastories on Instagram and let people follow along. I've since put the clips together and added subtitles..
So.. here's what we got up to...
The trip was a huge success. We managed to work with four Deaf refugees and fit them all with hearing aids and we were able to get information about their backgrounds and journey to camp and also give them information about the upcoming evictions etc. I know that everyone involved in the trip was nervous about their part.. I worried about being able to pull the whole thing together and get everyone there, Dan and Andy (the volunteers) were worried that the Deaf guys wouldn't turn up on the day and we wouldn't be able to find them, Kerry and Louise (the Audiologists) were worried that none of them would be suitable for hearing aids and Robert and Zoe (the Interpreters) were worried that we would meet the guys and we would not be able to understand each other.. but.. everything worked out pretty much perfectly. I still can't believe it.
Since the trip we've now set up more of an official gofundme page and we have been able to donate £500 to Help Refugees and we have also been able to create a sort of 'kitty' which will be used to hopefully visit more camps across Europe and offer the same sort of support again.. and give support to any Deaf refugees that seek asylum in the UK. I guess by doing this trip we feel that we can provide some real, practical, specialist support.. and without having to wait for anyone. We're not an organisation.. there's no red tape.. we have nobody to answer to so we can just, well.. do it.
After the trip we had quite a few really busy weeks so I've really tried to make sure that I've given myself time to reflect. I just find the camp incredible. What both the refugees and volunteers have managed to do over there.. I have such huge admiration for each and every one of them. The resourcefulness is mind blowing.. the pulling together, the organisation, the donations of supplies, skills, time... I was just utterly blown away. One one hand it really does restore your faith in humanity. But then there is the other side. Our government.. the media.. the hate.. the lies.. the violence.. the injustice.. the appalling treatment of refugees by the French police.. the atrocious lack of help..
And it is on our doorstep. Literally on our doorstep.
This trip for me has been huge and proven that you really can make things happen if you just put your mind to it.. and being compassionate but passive is just not good enough.. we all really can do more..
You can keep up to date with any more trips on our new DEAF REFUGEES FACEBOOK PAGE
And if you'd like to donate here's our GOFUNDME page
And I just want to say a HUGE THANK YOU to everyone that donated, retweeted, shared, supported.. honestly guys.. without you this trip wouldn't have been possible.. and then one last GINORMOUS THANK YOU goes to Dan, Andy, Kerry, Louise, Zoe and Robert. I think I said on the ferry on the way back.. I'm so happy we were able to do this trip but I'm ridiculously happy that it was you guys that it was with... so thank you..
I only managed to take a few photos whilst I was there.. Dan advised me that some refugees have kinda had enough of cameras being shoved in their faces so he said it might not be too safe.. and also, showing refugees' faces could impact their asylum requests as any proof of being in a particular country could mean they have to stay there..
Here's just a couple from the day..
These were taken when we arrived at the warehouse where all the volunteers live and where all the donations are kept and organised..
We then headed for the camp and spent the afternoon in a cafe and a small wooden cabin (where the hearing tests took place) within the jungle..