I'd gone from taking clothing and shoes to almost exclusively adult men and older teenagers, to spending all of my time trying to care for children. Frankly I had no idea what I was doing and neither did 90% of us. We tried to occupy them with football and games in a field next door, but spent most of the day and evening listening to their problems and trying to make sure they have working phones before they disappeared. They were growing boys and hungry however much we try to feed them, there was no running water inside the containers and many told me that they washed their faces in the water from the toilets. Helplessly I worried for their teeth.
All ages were scared, confused and occasionally fighting amongst themselves; increasingly boisterous or insular. When I had the energy, I tried to distract the naughty ones and spend some time
with those sitting on their own with their head in hands. We didn't have any answers, much experience or language skills and I was more out of my depth than ever.
I passed half an hour guessing what animals a boy was trying to make out of old bubblegum- a hippo, a cow, a pig, a camel- I made a snail. The police and security guards' brutality is a harsh reminder of what they've escaped from. Amongst pictures of family and friends, a sixteen year old, with scars from the Taliban on his back, showed me a photo of a child slumped dead and covered in blood in his home town. Siblings were separated, some sleeping on the floor and denied access to check on the youngest in the night- a fifteen year old told to go sleep back in the "jungle" after he tried.
A twelve year old Afghan I pulled away from attacking some big seventeen year old Sudanese boys, the latter treating him like a cow might shrug away birds, clung on to me for the rest of the evening. It's not really healthy to develop close relationships with strangers' children, but how do you push them away when there is nobody else? I have no idea where he has gone now or even what his name was, but he crosses my mind roughly every twenty minutes.
They sat inside the shipping containers and watched as their home burnt again, choking on the smoke and worried for their brothers and sisters. Every responsible adult they could communicate with in their own language was taken away on a bus or ran before it could happen. Only the most helpless or indecisive stayed in the burnt out remains of the "jungle"; a twenty-two year old man from Pakistan hid inside his old shelter, freezing and paralysed by fear for days, threatened by the inferno and later diggers. He asked me what to do and the only advise I could give him was to try and leave Calais, leave Northern France, don't try for the UK at the moment; it's more dangerous than ever and you will be deported. His English was near perfect and he had family there, but no legal right to a safe passage. He text me today- "Now I don't know what I do because my mind, my head is not working." I still don't know the answer.
This has been the hardest week of all. Our two governments lack of responsibility for the illegal camp was heart-breaking enough, but to see officially recognised minors left without even the most basic human rights or safeguarding was simply obscene. CRS had been using pepper spray inside the containers and security were abusive, shy children couldn't sleep for the rowdy ones partying, but some beautiful things happened too... The little Afghan ran over to a four and a half foot Eritrean boy, "Bambino, Bambino, Bambino" and picked him up around the legs. They charged around together laughing and bashing into the bigger boys until one threw them over a shoulder each to stop them destroying the dinner queue.
Sudanese, Kurdish, Afghan volleyball with one eight year old and two female volunteers was pretty magical even though I'm hopeless. Until a crazy adult stirred some of them up into fighting on the final night, it seemed that all the depressing grown-up cultural gripes had gone out the window- sharing biscuits around and helping us collect up the sports stuff when it was time for dinner. I'd expected to have to buy new footballs every day, but the majority just came straight back to us.
They are going on buses elsewhere now. I wish the best for all of them. They didn't deserve any of this. They've had no time for past mistakes and they aren't legally old enough to be responsible for them anyway. If we can't look after lost children then what does that make us as a continent? I hope these last weeks and months will be studied in History classes as one of the biggest human rights abuses to happen on our doorstep in this new millennium. If it gets any worse we may as well give up now.
Please help top-up some of these kids phones here. I've added many to the waiting list recently.
The last few months in a vaguely chronological order...