A STRONG FOUNDATION CAN HELP YOU BALANCE
Calais - 21st-22nd December,2017
Calais is festooned with Christmas decorations and while locals begin to celebrate the festive season, the harsh realities of life for refugees continues. With slightly warmer weather, the provision of portacabins for sleeping has been removed, and our partners in the medical teams have noticed a significant increase in colds and coughs as well as ongoing injuries from police violence. However, with the ongoing difficulties there were also pockets of true creativity and joy, reminding us of the amazing ability people have to be resilient.
The homeless shelter.
Our friend, having been concerned at the lack of activities offered for residents, suggested to staff a few weeks ago that providing these might help to alleviate bored or drunken behaviour. He shared with us his pleasure that his ideas have now been taken on by staff who have arranged a series of activities over the holiday period.
Our small group also shared stories and photos together that seamlessly straddled intercultural differences. We discussed for example how matriarchal grandmothers exist in all cultures and humorously acknowledged that this is one family member not to be messed with and who commands respect!
The Day Centre
The new space filled up quickly across the afternoon with eighty or so individuals and there was an atmosphere of calm and general good humour.
A visiting performance troupe from the UK gently introduced a variety of games, juggling, circus skills and acrobatics. The performers reminded people that holding your core tight is the key to successful balance.
Against a backdrop of the impressive gymnastics that followed on the part of some of the more energetic young men, a series of buildings and images were created with us at the table. We were struck by the wide diversity within the group, with men and teenagers from Egypt, Morocco, Libya, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia and Afghanistan. The Egyptian man also traced on the large map his route which has literally taken him backwards and forwards across the world, and physically took him way beyond the map's boundaries.
This week it was important to also offer a space at the Distribution point alongside Medecins du Monde so as to reconnect with individuals there and support the medical team's psychological offer. We arrived slightly later than previous weeks but, once the map was placed up on the side of the mobile clinic, people gathered in conversation and art-making, attracted by the map's glow in the early evening light. The bricks placed on a small table on the muddy ground also drew a small group amongst refugees and workers from other organisations. Towers were playfully built, one getting higher and higher, a well balanced feat particularly given the precarious environment. This activity allowed a tension to arise through its playfulness - how high can the tower get? - that was then safely released when each tower fell to the ground.
The Secours Catholique team meeting began with a festive air with mince pies and clementines donated by ourselves, together with French chocolates and strong black coffee offered by our French partner. While these were shared, the current precarious, worrying and challenging political environment relating to refugees in France was discussed alongside the difficulties in trying to find the point of balance vis-a-vis these structures.
There was also opportunity for discussion in pairs about each person's week, and feedback to the team. Several spoke about the safety and stability of the new space as well as the exhibition of images made in the former day centre that had been collectively brought together by the team in a public space in town. This had been very well received, the team recognising the need for a visible forum in Calais itself in which to bring the refugee issues to light, alongside a celebration of their creativity and individual identities.
The safe house
The final session of the two days took place as usual around the dining room table. Here a gentle and playful rhythm developed with a series of diverse buildings and structures, and backdrops created on the ipad. One tall brick tower competed with a postcard dwelling that was several stories high, both finely balanced on the strong foundation of the family table.
This post is sent with peaceful greetings for this festive period from all the team at Art Refuge UK.