NYUL volunteers with refugee charity in Calais



Europe has become so connected, it often feels like one country to me. It is jarring for an American that two hours’ worth of travel can land you in a new country with a distinct language and culture. It is even more jarring when you hop on a coach that drives onto a train that transports you to Calais, the coast of France. This was the destination of the refugee distribution center, a joint effort run by Help Refugees and L’Auberge des Migrants. We were brought to an isolated warehouse, surrounded by greenery, invoking an air of privacy. Upon arrival, we were given forms indicating that we would not take photos advertising the location nor would we be handing out this sensitive information once we left. The demand for privacy speaks volumes about just how charged the subject of helping refugees is in Europe.

Once signed and handed off, we were guided into the distribution center. Divided into three main sections, the warehouse was home to the three essentials for any human’s survival: food, clothing, and shelter. The food to feed, the clothing to warm, and the shelter to protect. Each section had its own system of packaging and sending out their specific materials.

I was assigned to the food section, experiencing firsthand how efficiently 10 people could package care packages of food. The system was based around packaging boxes based on family size. For a family of 10: 2 liters of oil, 5 kilograms of rice, four cans of beans, etc. Hopefully, enough food to last the recipients a week. Surrounded by industrials racks holding large reserves a food, a collection of tables had bins filled with all of the supplies required. Warm folk music turns on, and people get moving. The veteran volunteers run laps around the newbies, deftly filling up box after box with a variety of food items. But as time passes, the newcomers find their stride and began filling up boxes just as quickly. Within hours, some 200 boxes were packaged and ready to be delivered.

After all of this work, lunch time came about and the community of volunteers came together to break bread. People from all walks of life were present, making me realize just how many volunteers were present. Old, young, students, world travelers, retirees. The environment was so peaceful, removed from all of the politicking about the refugee crisis. These were just people who wanted to help. From the moment I entered the warehouse, I felt like I was a part of a community. A community of helpers, working towards something greater than all of us individually.

The day was coming to a close. We said our goodbyes to newfound friends, walked out of the warehouse, and boarded the coach. A couple of hours later, we were back in England. I’m still not sure if we ever really left.

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