Nick, a SWWB social work volunteer, tells us about his recent visit to Calais with Help 4 Refugee Children

We all met in London, and set off in two cars, getting the train over to Calais with 9 other volunteers. Once in Calais we picked up a van that Care4Calais (NGO) had agreed to loan to us, and I got behind the wheel following the cars to a supermarket where half the volunteers had gone ahead to make up food packages to give out.


The food packages were made up of fresh fruit, biscuits and dates, along with bottled water. Some quite worrying information came out while we were over for the trip, that drinking water for the camps had been tainted with tear gas. We took our food parcels to a camp near Dunkirk, we distributed the parcels as evenly as possible, attempting to single out children and families first. The camp had not received any food yet that day, the people in the camps have no other means to get food as they have no income, and therefore they rely on charities and community organisations to feed them.


We started the day’s arts and crafts activities in the woods, out of direct sunlight and where a number of families had camped. The children ran around gathering up friends from across the camp, the children were so exited and happy to be getting their hands on paint, colouring pens and crayons, filling every single canvas that was taken over with their national flags, British flags, princesses, dogs, cats etc. Anthony (an artist and volunteer) had prepared a giant canvas for all of the children to use, which was entertaining to watch, as it was covered in paint within minutes of them getting their hands on it. It was evident to see how appreciated the arts activities were, as it gave the children a chance to escape their usual day to day situation, of spending long periods of time in the camp with little or no entertainment.


During the arts activities, one of the volunteers from Help4Refugee Children visited families that she knew from previous trips, for an update on how they were doing and to establish need for charity support and intervention. I am unsure if this is undertaken by any other community organisations, both in the UK or France, and due to the nature of the camps now being so spread out and people constantly moving or attempting to get to the UK, it is difficult to keep a track of people.


However the families do tend to stay settled on a camping space, so it would be possible to keep a track of each family and their needs. I believe there is scope for social work intervention with these families, and think that this would support the families with the horrendous situation they find themselves in. If a social worker / volunteer could accompany Help4Refugee Children on each trip, and visit each family in the camps to gather information, it would at least show accurately the severity of the situation these families find themselves in, as the government and media may take information gathered by a social worker, who assesses care and support needs professionally as verbatim. This would also build relationships with SWWB, between families and social workers (so they don’t see us as a tool for government oppression) and if the families end up making it to the UK, we could use our knowledge of a network of charities and community organisations to support these families effectively, having already identified care and support needs -making relevant referrals to mental health services etc. if needed.