The Wild Washerwomen Of Calais

29/09/2016 11:57


Meet the two amazing volunteers we call the Wild Washerwomen!

These two gals headed out to the Calais Jungle a couple of months ago with a simple wash some clothes.

With no washing facilities in the camp, much clothing just gets discarded when it gets dirty, flea-ridden or infected with scabies. This wastes donated items, increases rubbish in the camp, and generally denies people access to basic hygiene and dignity.

Even after a two hour wait for a six minute long shower (yes these are the actual timings), residents are still having to get back into their dirty clothes.

During previous visits to the camp to volunteer at Ashram Kitchen and in Jungle Books, our Wild Washerwomen noticed this severe gap in services available in the Jungle, and they set about filling it...!
Before they knew it (with the help of friends, family and lots of crowdfunding and donations), they were the proud owners of a totally kitted out, energy efficient white van, complete with two washing machines, a dryer, two bunk beds, and all of their belongings stuffed into the back of it.



They were ready to head out to Calais, where they began work from the donations warehouse, washing donated items like blankets, towels, and dishcloths.

After hours of spinning through piles and piles of washing here, the Wild Washerwomen were finally ready to head into camp...

Unfortunately, things didn't go quite as planned.

Things in the Jungle never really do...

The first day in the camp was a great success. 3 people's washes per 1 hour wash x 2 washing machines = 6 people's clothes getting washed per hour (and there are countless hours in a Jungle day.)

But this didn't last long...

On the second day in the camp, the girls got into the van, ready for another day of washes...but it wouldn't start...

The battery was dead.


They roped some German boys in to help push and they tow the van until it started, driving around for an hour to recharge it, only for it to cut out again as soon as the girls stopped driving.

They tried the 'push then tow method' but without another vehicle to help they were forced to attempt this themselves.

They were soon joined by some locals boys on bikes who insisted they knew what to do....

...They couldn't help, so the girls walked for two hours back to the camp!

A few days later, two mechanics, one French and one Sudanese, established that it was not the battery that was the problem but the alternator. Without the funds for this pricey part, the girls bought a portable battery charger instead, to do the same job. This involved another two hour walk to the car shop and back...

But ALAS...the battery charger was French and the washer women's generator was English so it didn't work! Different plug sockets!

When the washerwomen decided to push the van to the main power source, the wheels locked and they broke a tow rope and another man's van in the process of trying to move it. It was now well and truly stuck on the side of a road in Calais.

Next, the poor girls were impounded by the police, who they had to pay to get towed back to the Jungle!
For days, the camps mechanics came to open the bonnet and look at the motor, but despite what seemed like a hundred jumpstarts, the van was unmovable.... But at least the washing machines were on site!

Finally the girls were left with no choice but to pay to get the van towed to the ford garage to assess the damage where it was finally fixed!

The best and most inspirational part, despite this series of ridiculous events, is that the wild washerwomen still washed.


By hiking into Calais town to use the launderettes there, asking French men in bars to use their washing machines (haha), and using everything imaginable as clothes horse's, our lovely Wild Washerwomen, against all odds, washed wildly, and continue to wash!

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