In a cold, mud ridden field on the edge of the community of Grande Synthe in northern France, is a scene far from the picturesque and romantic photos that typically portray life in a country known for its fabulous food and wine, the culture, the art – the kind of photos I would normally be taking and sharing.
Instead, the land of Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité, that of les Droits de l’Homme, a land I have come to love and call home for the past fifteen years, is now also the setting of a humanitarian crisis – one that is worse than third world, and deteriorating further on a daily basis.
The muddy field is home to approximately 2000 refugees who have fled their homelands of Iraq, Syria and Iran – fleeing Daesh and war to stay alive with the hope for a new tomorrow. We walk through the mud – 10, 15, 20cms deep. The women, children and men of the camp eat and sleep in it. They have no escape. Young babies, rats, disease all co-habitat. There is no electricity, only a few portable toilets and not a working shower in sight.
Many have been in the camp now for up to three months holding onto a dream for a new life once they make it to the other side of the Channel, to a Kingdom where they’ve been told life will be good again.
On our pre-Christmas visit, we met Maman R, a beautiful woman from Iraq who spends her days sitting by a wood stove making soup and tea for all those who have less than nothing. If they’re lucky they have a muddy tent but no means of preparing a warm meal. Maman steps in and prepares something for them with the donations of food that have been given to her. Maman fled Iraq with five of her sons when Daesh came knocking. As she pours us tea, there is the language of smiles – hers speaks a million words.
On our most recent visit, Maman was still there, still smiling, though as the rain started to fall, the expression on her face changed and she motioned to her son with concern. When you’re left to rot in a muddy field like the sacks of the potatoes scattered between tents, rain can mean so much. Maman coughs a hacking cough that is spreading throughout the camp – she’s tired and there is no more tea for anyone. As we talk, a rat scampers from the palette under our feet, out into the rain and up between the tents. The situation is deplorable – as night falls and the rain buckets down, it will become even more squalid by morning.
It’s not possible to say that people are living in these conditions, for this is not life. Somehow they find the stamina/courage to endure this … but for how much longer?
So much of what happens in the world at the moment is dictated by fear – the louder the voice, the more fear it is able to spread. Religion, politics, nationality shouldn’t come into play and allow such deprivation of basic human rights – instead we should listen to the quiet voice in our hearts – the one that says people should be looked after, no matter where they are from, what faith they believe in, what language they speak or how they dress.
We’re headed back again on Friday, filling a van with coats, blankets, beanies, gloves and food supplies where we’re helping provide items to Association Salam as well as with visiting in the tents and providing needs onsite.
We’re welcoming donations on a GoFund page where we’re collecting to fund the purchase of changing needs; boots, wind up torches, sanitary items for women, fruit, many were asking for milk on our last visit, and the list goes on. Even the smallest of donations make a huge difference.
It would mean so much to us if you could share this page, spread the word and help us to make a difference to those who have little more than hope in their lives right now. Financial donations are tax deductible with the French and American non-profit Every Child is A Gem – the association I have been volunteering with.