At school, a good number of teachers set up a Global Issues Group. We discuss the Global Goals for development and consider how we can do something meaningful to alleviate the different problems. The plan was that each term we would approach, research, learn about and act upon a different goal. One of us teachers, Ruby, had recently been to the Calais Jungle distributing goods to the refugees there, and she suggested we could do something. It was agreed that our first Global Goal aim would be No Poverty.
We had some meetings and decided we could get a couple of cars together, collect a few donations and drive over to distribute either to the people or to the charities on the ground in Calais. We set a room aside in school, put a letter out to ask for donations and informed about the teachers heading over.
We know that our school community in Upton Park is generous but it is fair to say we underestimated the generosity. Children were bringing in tens of pounds as donations. One boy in Year 6 melted the hearts of the whole school community by asking for his birthday money to be instead spent on blankets – he came in on his birthday carrying these huge thick blankets. Nobody is ashamed to admit that we had a bit of a cry.
By 3:30, it became quite clear that we had a real job on our hands. Many parents had volunteered to start organising and sorting the donations from 13:30.
There was a lot of stuff. A lot.
Saturday came and we were all up and in our vans and cars at 6:30 ready for the drive to Calais. In the end, we had one massive van and three cars. Our team was made up of nine teachers, two family members and one friend. We arrived at Dover and had breakfast on board. On the ferry we bumped into a group of men who were also going to the camp.
We only needed to drive for about 5 minutes to get to the distribution warehouse that we decided to work with, called Care For Calais. We met with Claire, who we had spoken to about donating. There was a large team, the largest they had had so far, of volunteers. The volunteers came from all over – including from just around the corner from us in Newham, at Langdon School! – and it became clear that our issues in school were reflected here in the warehouse: a huge outpouring of donations but a limited number of bodies able to distribute, organise and systematise.
It was sad to see how much had been donated and was in the warehouse, but this is I suppose inescapable with so few volunteered. Nonetheless, the volunteers were working doggedly to sort, bag and distribute. We joined in, making gift bags containing socks, hats, gloves, scarves, underwear, a bag of sanitary products, and some t-shirts, whilst other volunteers sorted and grouped coats and jackets.
Half of us stayed in the warehouse and continued to bag things up ready for distribution whilst half drove in the Calais Jungle to distribute the packs we had already made up. There was no time, or impetus, to take photographs inside the Jungle.
The lasting sight for us was just as we left, seeing Sahel’s blankets being loaded into the back of a van ready to be distributed. His gesture, surrendering his birthday treat for these blankets, had a direct consequence – the day after he donated it, it was being given to families.
The need there is absolutely immense, and the presence of such abject misery is shameful in a wealthy country. There is a need for more donations, of very specific items, but more than anything, they need volunteers to help in the warehouse and to help distribute.
For us as a Global Issues Group, we have a lot of learning to take from this as our first social action. This whole thing came about through two half-hour chats over lunch in my classroom. We were unclear and relatively disorganised leading up to the collection, yet still managed to do this.
Next time, we will be better organised and more specific about who is doing what. We won’t underestimate the power of working alongside our vibrant parent community either, who were so giving of their time, donations and money.
Next week, we will select another Global Goal, this time by the random spinning of a wheel, and we will begin putting our heads together about something different.
I have never felt more proud of my school and those it serves.