Volunteers from The Green Backyard community garden in Peterborough recently took a break from gardening in order to deliver aid to the refugee camp in Calais.
Sophie Antonelli and Jay Gearing, accompanied by friend Neil Hepworth, made their trip on Wednesday, September 30, to deliver a batch of 30 fuel-efficient wood burning stoves known as rocket stoves, along with food packs, cooking utensils, warm clothing, tents and sleeping bags donated by city residents.
The trip was made possible by a fundraising effort launched by the friends in August which initially aimed to raise £500, but ended up raising £2,500 after a surge in donations.
While in the camp they ran a small workshop to teach people how to use the cooking stoves they had brought, gave out food packs, and spent time talking to camp residents.
Speaking after their return, Jay said: “What struck us first, when arriving at the camp, was the sheer scale of the site, the living conditions and the many people living in a very difficult situation.
“There are an estimated 4,000 refugees in the camp, a large proportion of whom have fled war, torture and persecution, and yet they were making the best they could out of living in tiny shelters made from tarp or tents.
“To us, coming from a privileged and safe country, the situation was unfathomable. We didn’t feel like people were able to live with the dignity they deserved.
“If these refugees had come from another European nation would they be treated like this? We saw children playing amongst the rubbish, injured and deeply traumatised people, desperation and hunger, and yet it was just a four hour drive from our front door.”
On arriving in the camp with the stoves a large crowd quickly gathered.
Sophie said: “As soon as people saw the stoves we had brought they wanted one. We saw people trying to cook dinner for their family on open fires made of scraps of cardboard, so these stoves will make a huge difference to their ability to feed themselves.
“Unfortunately there just wasn’t enough and many people went away this time empty handed. We are now talking to other groups in the UK who are also planning on taking rocket stoves over. As winter approaches they will become even more important to people’s survival.”
The Green Backyard said it was shocked that no major aid organisations work at the camp due to the French government asking the Red Cross to leave out of a fear it was making it too pleasant for people to live, thus attracting more refugees.
Sophie and Jay were overwhelmed by the support they received to make their trip.
Sophie added: “The response has been incredible. We’ve had families bringing brand new tents and sleeping bags that they had gone and bought for the refugees, and a huge number of people donating time and money to build the rocket stoves.
“I’m really proud that we can say that Peterborough has responded with kindness and humanity to one of the biggest humanitarian crises we have seen in years. I can’t imagine doing anything else, these people are right on our doorstep and deserve our help.”
The team are now considering what to do with the donations of clothing that they were not able to take with them and are looking into donating them to refugees in one of the other European refugee camps.