DAY 1 – NOVEMBER 7TH 2016
These pictures were taken during our first day at La Liniere Refugee Camp. The weather was turning and there was constant heavy rain. We witnessed how the site around the Womens Centre, Childrens Centre and playground was starting to flood rapidly.
Our first memory of the camp was, within minutes of being there was meeting a young child called ‘M’ who was trying to get to know us. ‘M’ went on the slide and instantly fell into a large puddle and became drenched. He looked so miserable ad upset.
It became clear to us that we had to look into drainage solutions to direct the water away from the Womens Centre and Childrens Centre as our first mission before we did anything else to the playground. A flooded playground was unusable! We started to draft plans where we would install a drainage system and looked into building materials plus equipment we would need.
We were lucky enough to meet members of the Dunkirk City Hall responsible for the site and they were very supportive for us to go ahead with drainage solutions, buying materials and booking a digger tomorrow morning to sort it out! We were amazed with how quick progress was shaping up! We arranged to meet the council in the morning to drive around builders yards with a translator they were going to provide!
We met so many amazing volunteers who work here in the Dunkirk Refugee Childrens Centre. The work they do is so important! They were so grateful for the kids clothing donations we brought from Sheffield and they will be so useful! They were also very enthusiastic about the playground developments we were proposing and couldn’t wait to see them underway!
DAY 2 – 8TH NOVEMBER 2016
The Dunkirk City Hall provided us with an amazing translator called Laura and member of council called Danny to come with us to builders yards for a bit of shopping! We booked in the machinery we needed such as a 3.5 tonne digger, geo textiles, drainage pipes, gravels and aggregate. Another lovely lass called Jo, who was working in the Language Centre also gave up some of her time to come to building merchants when the council had to leave us for the day. Jo really helped us to make the most of our time in the days, and her french skills were splendid!
All the construction plans Stu produced and presented to the council have been officially processed and we have definite permission by all authorities responsible for the site to do the work proposed. We’ve also been given access with our vehicles! The camp has started to flood dramatically in certain areas with the new tides of rain. What we’re doing will stop flooding around refugees homes as well as create a safe playground for the kids, and access to the Womens Centre. We are feeling tired but happy!
Shakti got a Kurdish man in Sheffield to translate some phrases for me and it’s really helped get the kids to open up to us! Their eyes lit up when we spoke their mother language and we’ve shared a good laugh. We all managed to spend some time with the children and volunteers today, we played games and read books together.
DAY 3 – 9TH NOVEMBER 2016
It just rains so hard out here all day long! We had a few hours in the morning to play with the kids where we made paper aeroplanes and mercano. Also looking for ‘where’s wally’ seems like a universal game. There’s not enough toys to suit the older kids and fights break out regularly. Stu and Rich put up coat hooks with the kids.
The childrens centre has to close during the day at points so volunteers can have breaks. The kids seem sad when they have to leave for a bit. Stu and Rich took them out to play footy and the lay of the land makes it so hard to play and kids just trip up and fall hard. This playground build is so important and will give SO much to these young people.
We’ve really bonded with the young man ‘M’ who’s probably 5 years old who follows us about and calls us ‘my friend’. After playtime our digger arrived! Whoooooo! It felt a bit stressful at first but some young men who live in the camp and work with diggers helped us to change the digger head attachment so we could get to work. Security / stewards / refugees and volunteers are so grateful we are getting rid of the flood water and there’s a lot of it. ‘M’ who’s been with us all day became our mini foreman, he’s been helping us dig and is enjoying his hi vis jacket.
It’s now night time and we need to get off site soon for an early start, the vibe does change fast in camp and we’ve been told it’s the refugees and police take over at night, anything can happen.
Shakti, Stu and Rich have been speaking to various people about their migration journey. At night they try to find ways to leave for the UK in lorries – refrigerated ones are the best as the heat sensor can’t detect you. They say this is the only life they know on the run from war, its all about survival. The refugees are one huge family and the camps are a better home than the bombing and destruction they have to endure in the Middle East.
There’s people in camp from Vietnam, Kurdistan, Iran and Iraq that mainly live in La Linere Camp.
We’ve met a few folk who prepare and axe wood all day for the camps firewood store, the kitchens are amazing and had a peek in the language centre too. Stu fixed the language centres door and roof! Rich has been an ultimate legend digging the beginnings of the trench all day. We’re all so excited to go back tomorrow and finish what we’ve started. So many friends, family and general public have helped us move so fast to make this happen. Playgrounds for Peace thank you with deepest gratitude and sincerity.
DAY 4 – 10TH NOVEMBER
Today’s been a mixed bag! This morning the sun was shining and the kids were happy they could do sports outside. Its been nice to have a break from the constant downpours. We played some music on a little speaker in the playground and refugees / kids / security / volunteers enjoyed a little boogie woogie and sang along smiling! Our drainpipes arrived today to lay down in the trench and a lorry with our aggregate! Rich was in the digger from 9am to 6pm. People know what we’re up to now and flocked to the building materials to help us. Without the help from various refugees in the morning with shovels, barrows, digging, guarding areas from kids, we definitely would not of finished stage one of the project on time. Shakti and Stu had to do a stupid mission in the car and bring 25m of large drainpipe back secured to the car by gaffa tape on the road. We didn’t have a van available!
Volunteers and refugees have been there to support us emotionally too, a few tears of exhaustion were shed at gnarly moments of the construction. Knowing how hard the refugees lives are and how aware they are of us and our needs to is just unbelievably humbling – they bring us food and tea and make sure we get breaks and a hug. A lady who lives in the camp brought us tea and kurdish sweets; people are genuinely so caring and have an endless abundance of love to share. We had to shout at the kids sometimes today to keep them safe from our machinery and they were throwing stones at us sometimes (because they are bored), but we managed to gain mutual respect in the end. Some of the disruptive children had different attitudes by the end of the day and understood we’d reached our limits with the stone throwing. The children started to get involved as the day progressed, we shared lots of big hugs and they helped us for hours…. This playground project has also given them so much to do! The kids filled a least 10 barrows all by themselves and shared the spades. We met the little girl on camp today who cries most of the time, she’s completely traumatized.
We have nearly finished the drainage! Next step is building more playground structures, wood chipping, and organizing a tarmac team for the playground!
DAY 5 – 11TH NOVEMBER
We had to finish laying down our drainage pipes and geotextile for the 100 metre plus long trench Rich has dug out! We were short on materials for the fill and the sheer scale of what we’d done kept me up at night. We couldn’t help but think was this drain going to work? It was bank holiday in France and the builders merchants were closed! In the morning Shakti and Stu drove to Belgium to see if we’d have any luck there to find extra materials but they were on holiday too!
We arrived back at camp and just had to get stuck in, and when i say stuck in, Rich moved tonnes of soil in the digger. Shakti and Stu were shoveling aggregate and beach stones, and spent a lot of time in the trench making sure the geotextile were laid down correctly. We literally had hands and feet in the water all day. Soon the kids and refugees emerged and formed a human chain with barrows and shovels helping out for a bit. We then realized the extra aggregate we needed was tucked away on camp and we could finish what we started!
Our team honestly couldn’t believe we created and finished the drainage system in two days but it worked out perfectly and water started flowing into the dyke away from the playground. It looked awesome!
Then all hell broke loose and a kid threw a stone at the digger and broke the window! The kids then found ways they could help and apologized for breaking the window. There’s just not much for them to do, when the children centre closes they have a playground they largely cant use. Breaking glass and throwing stones are things they are used to doing in their broken homelands unfortunately. We desperately want create a space the kids can enjoy and relax in….With a few hours to spare, we then started to lay down a temporary impact surface of woodchippings under the swings and slide so they can take their shoes off and enjoy themselves.
The little girl who cries constantly, we saw her with a beaming smile for the first time, she said the swing felt and looked nice and just seemed so happy to be landing on a decent impact layer which was soft. She wanted to get involved all week but the boys push her away and don’t give her a go with the spade. She then saw we started woodchipping the slide and came to help and kept saying ‘nice nice’ helping spread the chip about. When it was ready we encouraged her to have a go on the slide. She slid down and just couldn’t seem to believe how lovely the landing felt. We sat on the juicy woodchip watching the sunset smiling. Then all of and sudden all the kids realized they could use the slide, they ran over so excited queuing up to have a go! This is the first time all week we’ve seen kids happily enjoying themselves on the slide without injury or becoming sodden and the laughter was immense! Such a simple layer of woodchipping material has created much joy.
All the volunteers came out and just were so happy to see the kids playing. Refugee children and adults kept thanking us for all the crazy work we had done to make their space better! Even security shed a tear! It was great to leave the camp on this high.
We tried telling the kids we had to go home to the UK for a bit before we can come back. There were really sad, so were we. but it won’t be long till we go back to finish what we have started! It’s going to be so exciting when the playground tarmac surface is complete so they can enjoy the space even more allowing other supervisors to come in and do workshops easily with them.
As we were leaving, a few children ran across camp to say goodbye to us. Its been so hard to leave but leaving on this massive high of giggles, seeing them playing together has been such an amazing sight!
We aim to have the playground tarmac surface for games and woodchip done in the next 15 days! Thank you to all our donars, you have seriously helped create so much joy and fond memories for the refugees who live here!
Everyone in one way or another is searching for their own ‘land in gold’, a journey to a place of security, connectedness and tranquility, which they can call home. This journey also represents the interior quest that we all take to find a sense of inner peace, truth and acceptance – an inner desire that unites all of humanity.
I am deeply troubled by the intense contrast of being able to provide for my friends and family, and others who are desperate to provide the same security for their families and are unable to do so. This disturbing comparison plays on my mind fuelled by a sense of outrage, that the mass displacement of this vulnerable tide of people has been caused by political decisions and detached act’s of war. It is tragic to think that we live in a world where our capacity to offer sanctuary to those uprooted by violent circumstances beyond their control is determined by geographical borders.
I feel overwhelmed by a sense of powerlessness to alleviate the suffering and injustice taking place as the world looks on. However like many others, I am painfully aware that, whilst I am physically remote from their harrowing experience, it’s impossible for me to deny, my emotional connection as a human being — anouskha shankar
Sheffield you beauty! We’ve now have a van load of woodchip and tools to carry on with our work on the playground and have a load of donations urgently needed at the Dunkirk La Liniere Refugee Camp. We’re nearly ready to set off! Thank you so much for dropping off your donated items to us in time for our 2nd trip to La Liniere Refugee Camp this week, everything you’ve given us is really good quality!
x 4 huge parcels of womens jackets / base layers / jumpers / tops
x 4 humongous parcels of blankets / sleeping bags / baby blankets
x 1 big parcel of 0-18 months clothing
x 2 big parcels of 1-5 years coats and jumpers
x 1 parcel of 3-10 years clothing
x 1 parcel of childrens hats, thermals
x 2 bin bags full of childrens wellies, trainers and walking shoes
x 1 large box full of awesome games, brio train set parts, large lego, board games, paints, toy cars & trains.
It’s so inspiring to be a part of this mad underground network of people working together. Personally it’s given me a lot of hope in humans again. Thanks Sheffield Donations for Refugees for all the boxes, and Daisy McQueen for the vac pac bags!
Today just blew our minds completely! Emma and Shakti came to camp around 10am. The security knew we were coming beforehand and access was cleared to bring in the playground & donation supplies. When we got to the gate we were asked to leave the site because the council prefecture was in the camp. No one was allowed in till they left. The security were very helpful though…It did feel frustrating at first to lose a few hours of working time, but we just parked the van, with a load of other vans waiting for access.
We met a lot of women from around the globe who were all working hard, as a part of this breathing network of people keeping the veins of the camp alive…..when we finally got into camp we just had to get stuck in. Shakti had the best welcome hug today off one of the kids she met last time, and it was a harsh reality seeing so many new kids in camp. The donations from Sheffield were taken off by the womens centre staff, and the toys went straight to the childrens centre.
The playground was transformed by new play structures put in by Rob Higgs and his crew from Cornwall and ‘Care 4 humanity’ a few days ago….there was x 2 new swing areas with rope nets & tyres, a small kids climbing frame and an outdoor snooker table! We had another small childrens swing and table tennis to make up today! We didn’t have the right tools but found genius ways of bolting and screwing without damaging the parts. We also woodchipped all of the key impact areas around play structures with a good 6 inch depth. The kids and adults loved the woodchip and the smell was fresh and tangy! As the day progressed we saw the whole playground being enjoyed by the kids!!!! There was so many volunteers about today from ‘Care 4 Humanity’ and the legend Dan Shillabeer who is known for creating a gym in the Calais Jungle with his team! It was amazing watching everyone coming together creating new structures, and then to witness them instantly being enjoyed! Wow!
The drain needed a little tlc, the beginning 5 metres needed a touch up job. We were starting to doubt it would be achievable with the limited tools and humans we had to do it. All of a sudden what felt impossible to do, just honestly manifested – volunteers and refugees just seemed to come forward and with 2 hours, 4 spades, 1 rake and rubble sacks, we all filled bags and got the aggregate to the drain where it needed leveling out. The drain is working!!!!!!!
Massive thank you to Stuart Hutchinson and Richard Stanley Horner for being a part of the drainage build, there’s been some serious rain and the playground is dry, copes well and has opened doors for the kids to play without the risk of being flooded. Today the whole play area was completely vibing! Freya and gang were making gingerbread houses, kids and families were all over the park…The whole place had such a good feeling! We know it was manic and hard for the volunteers in the childrens centre but well done, everyone had such a good time!
We ended the day by dancing together outside as the sun set, about 30 of us to funky beats and tunes – just one big family and so many smiles all around, I’ll never forget it. Tomorrows mission we’re booking in the French tarmac team tomorrow!!!!!! Whoop whoop X x x x
Written by Shakti
Progress on today! Emma planted lots of narcissus & muscari with the kids and Lucy in the planters around the childrens centre. Jade and I measured up to make a site map for the builders to come in and tarmac! Its been nice seeing so many families using the park this morning.
Wherever you go in the world, whether it’s in affluent societies, the poor villages in India or Vietnam or in a refugee camp in the middle of winter, children just want to be children. They just want to be loved, they want to play, they still squabble over silly things, they want to feel safe…but no child should have to walk ‘home’ alone, at night, in a homemade blanket as the only thing to keep them warm.
Dunkirk refugee camp was yet another humbling experience, and a forceful reminder of just how lucky I am. How grateful I am to have a warm roof over my head, food on my table when I want it, all my loved ones nearby, a job to get up to everyday. Simple things that are so often taken for granted are now hard to reach luxuries for these people.
Ive never really posted my true feelings about the refugee camps before. It’s hard to express what is really being felt, the emotions that run through you, the thought that you may not beable to go back to the camp again, but you know you will because you can’t abandon these people. I feel really odd like my hearts pounding with confusion at some points today. It’s hard seeing people on the brink of giving up hope. I’m glad we could be supportive, listen, and be trusted into someone’s personal space to be allowed to hold them so close to your chest. I didn’t want to let go…..
On the flipside its electrifying to have so much fun, such a laugh with people – nothing else matters but a giggle.
But the one thing I do know, is that, ‘Because I have been given much, I too must give’…..
This isn’t a post to say ‘look at me’, but to show how resilient these people are, to humanise them after what the papers do to them, to show how gentle they are, how much they need love, a friendly voice and hand, how much they just want to be called ‘my friend’.
I made many brothers and sisters today……I’m so lucky to have a friends share this journey. Emmas been a rock on this mission, and thanks Cathrine for helping me find the words to write today x
We’re back in the UK but have had news from the Childrens Centre that the Dunkirk City Hall has been and tarmaced the playground! This is such good news. We’re having to get back into work in the UK but are preparing our next trip, pushing our Just Giving page before it closes, and working out the accounts to see how much we have left to put into more playground structures!
We’ve just had news that the tarmac of the play area was completed by Dunkirk City Hall. They are also funding the work! SUCCESS! The playground is such a hive of enjoyment and excitement now! The picture of the new play structure was completed by a French architecture company Collectif ETC and Sapro Phytes. In December with collective PZZL they built a new structure located in front of the Children Centre. First, they pre-fabricated frameworks in the camp and leveled the ground. Then, they assembled the structure quickly with the help of adults of the community, while children rapidly appropriated the structure. Many of the available materials in the camp were re-used and rethought to make integral part of the playground.
It’s wonderful and looks like a lot of fun! Playgrounds for Peace are currently looking into how to paint games onto the tarmac surface to add more fun and color and a few more structures we can build.