Aching muscles and an aching heart

THE first guest blogger in Express North is Jenni Yuill, co-founder of North-East Solidarity with Calais Refugees which galvanised support for the humaitarian crisis across the region. This is her account after travelling to France to distribute aid this weekend.


Jenni Yuill is co-founder of Facebook group North East Solidarity with Calais Refugees. She can also be found tweeting @JenniWeston1

WE’RE all still digesting and reflecting upon our experiences this weekend and members of the convoy have already been sharing very eloquently their thoughts on all that we saw.

I’m currently trying and struggling to put it into words.

For me it’s just a collection of memories and emotions at the moment:

My courageous friend who crossed nine borders, who encountered brutality and a lack of humanity along the way, being forced to stand in line for 10 hours without water and without being able to sit down, locked up for a week and a half with inadequate food rations and only released after two days of hunger striking, shivering in cold and rain as he made his way across Europe in search of safety with the hope of one day continuing his MA in Economics, only to end up in the Jungle in a leaking tent where last week he woke up surrounded by water and yet who still remains a gentle and beautiful soul with a wonderful smile. He smiled the whole time we were with him and I feel so privileged to have met him and spent time with him.

The fact that he is a former aid worker who is now himself a refugee is something I just cannot comprehend. He offered me his coat as we sat together in the evening chill because he worried that I might be cold.

Our Syrian friends who joined us for dinner where we were all just people sharing a meal, laughter and friendship before we had to drop them back at the camp and say goodbye, knowing that whilst we slept in beds and comfort they slept in tents simply because of where we were born, such an arbitrary reason for some people to be safe and others not.

The people who greeted us with warm smiles and offers of drinks in their tents and made me feel more welcome than I have felt anywhere else.

A little girl aged ten who touched our faces and our hearts.

Genuine delight expressed for messages of love and solidarity in cards from children in the UK. Hope.

Refugees who worked tirelessly to help us distribute aid, who acted with such dignity, who just appeared to help us and others, who wanted to give rather than receive and who gave us so much.

Camaraderie in the distribution line, people who shared a joke with us, the man wearing a Newcastle United hat that made us cheer. The world has tried to break these people’s spirit but it has not succeeded.

Men queuing for a pair of shoes, a coat, a toothbrush and soap, a sleeping bag, and distributions ending when we had given out our items. Saying there was nothing left and seeing people turn away. Running out of gloves and knowing that winter is coming and vowing to bring more.

The two sweet men from Afghanistan who asked at our coat distribution if we had shoes and then who waited patiently for an hour until we had given out the coats and began the shoe distribution, front of the line and so happy to have a pair of shoes.

Tales that I will not repeat here because they are not mine to tell and that were horrific enough to hear, never mind see and live and that make it all the more astonishing that those who experienced them remain resilient and kind.

“A man with a twinkle in his eye who made us roar with laughter at his tales of selfies taken on his journey and who showed us photos of his home that has been destroyed. How could he ever return? Where is he supposed to go?

Marching shoulder to shoulder in solidarity with our brothers and sisters with one shared aim: that they be treated as the human beings that they are.”

The wall at the demo bearing brightly coloured messages of hope and strength, a plea for the world to take notice written in rainbow colours and more languages than I could count.

The companionship and team work amongst my colleagues with whom I was so proud to work and share this experience. They represented the North-East so well and delivered your carefully sorted collections with calm efficiency.

Gratitude from all of us there for the work of our sorters that made distributions run effectively and calmly allowing us to maintain our dignity and do our job in a respectful and calm manner.

Seeing distributions by others that were poorly planned and didn’t go well and feeling that we have represented North East Solidarity well on our first convoy and that we will continue to build on this.

Aching muscles and an aching heart.

A wonderful woman who has devoted her life to the people in the camp who told me she is so very very tired but that she cannot ever stop. Feeling the love and the warmth that emanates from this beautiful soul who has made it her duty to protect and care. Feeling humble and inspired.

Hearing today that the French police went into camps with bulldozers and demolished people’s homes and belongings. Remembering passing by the little camp that has since been destroyed and seeing people’s washing hanging outside of their tents. Where will these people go now? Another home destroyed, more brutality. When will it ever end?

Leaving. Leaving behind friends and leaving behind our hearts. Watching Calais shrink on the horizon as our ferry set sail and feeling loss and grief and vowing to return.

We will return.