Over spring break and again at the beginning of her summer holidays this year Alekka volunteered at the refugee camps in Calais and Dunkirk. She suggested we go there and help out for a few days on our way to the UK.
L’Auberge des Migrants is a French humanitarian group that assists in both the huge “Calais jungle” camp and the new Grande-Synthe refugee camp outside of Dunkirk. They build shelters, distribute clothing and supplies, and deliver meals. The food service aspect of the operation is supported by London-based Refugee Community Kitchen, who organize fundraisers and food donations to keep it going.
Alekka and I spent the week doing food prep at L’Auberge in Calais. I think Alekka would have preferred to work in the jungle itself, meeting people and practicing her languages (she’s studying Arabic and she’s picked up some Kurdish in the camps), but she knows how happy I am in a kitchen. She was a good sport to wash, peel, and chop with mom this time.
We put in some long hours on our feet but we got to work with interesting people from many different countries. We were surprised to discover that the British couple peeling carrots with us were the parents of one of Alekka’s friends at LSE! The combination of industrial scale and like-minded camaraderie reminded me of the workshifts I did at my Berkeley housing co-op‘s central kitchen in the 1970s.
I had a hard time writing this post. Like the week in March I worked at a Greek refugee reception camp (which I still have not written about after I went), it’s not that the experience was traumatic. It’s that up close I was confronted with both the humanity and the enormity of the situation, and trying to sum up something that big and serious in a little blog post is not just difficult, but feels somehow wrong. On top of that, I also don’t want to appear in any way self-congratulatory: I am fully aware that one person chopping vegetables for week will make an infinitesimal difference in this massive humanitarian crisis.
But at the same time, I want to believe that writing about the refugee situation helps keep it in people’s consciousness, and could perhaps inspire others to help in whatever way they can. It may be a cliche but by working together we really can make a difference. If you think you might want to pitch in at L’Auberge yourself, here is a nice video that I hope will encourage you.