Your donations have big impact on refugees in France - report from volunteer
PUBLISHED: 09:00 28 December 2017
Founder of Home-Start, the charity which helps families with young children in Uttlesford, LINDA ROBINSON MBE has travelled several times to help refugees sleeping rough in Dunkirk and Calais. This is Linda's report back from Dunkirk after her visit in November:
Families are hiding in woods and sleeping in ditches. The makeshift camps have been destroyed and when the police find where people sleep, they destroy tents and sleeping bags.
This time my granddaughter Amee, 18, was alongside me.
We shared many happy and sad moments over the three days we were there but I am so pleased I shared the experience with her.
Her comment on the way home was: “Nana I will never take my life for granted ever again.”
After the appeal in the Reporter, the week before I left to go to the camp, I was overwhelmed by the response. I was able to fill my car to the brim with sleeping bags, blankets, tents, warm clothes, nappies, barrier cream for babies and other goods.
Also the financial donations (about £1,000) left me speechless and enabled me to buy necessary provisions there. We went to the supermarket to buy everyday things the families needed: umbrellas, batteries, a baby bath, baby shampoo, nappies, warm baby wear, saucepans, bowls, spoons, utensils and chocolate.
As we entered the camp, there were seven police vans and a lot of police and security guards standing around, which was very intimidating. They ask you why you have come, though it is obvious you want to help the refugees, and you have to hand over your passports.
We got through the entrance quicker usual. It must have been Amee, she just smiled at them.
As soon as we entered the camp (once we had been scrutinised by the police) the first family I saw was a mum with her three children who I met in September. There were big hugs all round.
It was bitter-sweet. Although lovely to see them, it was sad they were still living in the camp with no water, no sanitation, and having to live in ditches.
Within a very short time, we were asked to go back to the warehouse as another family had just turned up with only the clothes they were standing up in.
I picked up everything I could from sleeping bags to warm coats. We were told to put the sleeping bags at the bottom of the bin bags in hope that the police wouldn’t find them.
If they had discovered them they would have removed them and had them destroyed.
The family were waiting for us when we got back into the camp and were so grateful. It was lovely to see your donations going straight out to those in need.
We had a lovely afternoon with Amee giving mums hand massages and nail art which meant that just for a moment they were able to think about something else rather than the horror they are living in
A 10-month-old baby was giving us lots of smiles and cuddles which was lovely, especially when the baby’s dad had told me on my previous visit that his six-year-old often talked about killing himself.
Once again, a huge thank you for caring, for responding to the needs of others and for making a difference to so many.
Amee and I suggested we help a mum back to where they slept so we could help her take all things we had given her.
She told us it was nearly two miles away deep into the woods. We set off and about halfway a man stopped to talk to mum. She burst into tears he told me the police had been into the woods and taken all their belongings.
We turned around to walk back to base with mum sobbing hysterically. After about 20 minutes she stopped, doubled over as if in pain and couldn’t go on. All we could do was to give her a big cuddle and try to encourage her to continue. I felt she had reached a place she couldn’t return from.
We were nearly back to base when another friend told her the police had entered the camp, but her husband had got wind of this and moved all their belongings deeper into the woods. I cannot tell you the relief we all felt at that moment. There were more tears and hugs all round.
We then heard the police were intending to sweep in that night to evict people and take their possessions. We urgently needed to get them to a safe place, so it was a quick dash to Calais.
Our thoughts were with this family and they still are. We wondered if their life was ever likely to change.
Earlier in the day, the dad had asked me to take his wife and three children back to the UK with me.
It was 18-year-old Amee Duke’s first time in the camp. A former Saffron Walden County High School pupil now on a gap year, she went there with her grandmother, Linda,
Amee said: “When we first arrived, I did actually feel quite scared. It was quite daunting but as it went on, I really started to enjoy the company of the refugees.
“All they really wanted was compassion and kindness and that’s what I was able to give.
“There was one family who had three young boys and they were the only family there at this point but this meant me and Nana were able to really bond with that family and that was lovely.
“They were the only family there as there had been a big eviction the night before.
“The whole experience was a real eye-opener. It’s taught me to take nothing for granted and to really appreciate everything I have, I just wish there was more I could do to help the refugees because they really don’t deserve any of this.”
Linda, who received her MBE from Prince William in March 2016, co-founded Uttlesford Home-Start 30 years ago.
The charity supports families in the district who are in difficulty.
This could be because someone is ill, there are marital problems or they are bereaved, abused or isolated.
People are often referred by midwives and health visitors.
Linda has also trained to work as a Doula. This is someone who can give support through pregnancy, birth and early parenthood.
She has four children of her own and five grandchildren, including Amee who travelled with her on her latest trip to the Dunkirk refugees.
• Linda is planning to return to the refugees in Dunkirk in January.
To donate sleeping bags, other goods or cash to take with her, or to ask Linda to give a talk about her experiences, email firstname.lastname@example.org