A Rebellion of Kindness in Calais

06/10/2016 12:07

Three weeks ago a 14 year old boy from Afghanistan left his shelter in a flooded disused landfill site in Northern France to climb onto a truck. His motivation was to be with his brother and Uncle who live in England. Tragically he fell off the lorry and was killed by a hit and run driver. Neither driver stopped.

Another life lost. Another dream smashed. Another family broken.

I have recently returned from 9 months as a full-time volunteer in Calais. Back here in the UK I can see behind all the headlines, the rhetoric, the political business of sustaining the fear of Other. I have seen the smiles, the pain and the heartache of boys like this, of thousands of people who by a cruel twist of geographical fate have been born into a story so different to mine; a life that has led them to journey halfway across the world to seek (and be denied) refuge and protection. I have witnessed their distress and despair at a world that pronounces and announces them as the enemy when all they want is peace. This boy is one of the hundreds of children in the Calais refugee camp that have been abandoned by the British government - children that have a legal right to be here and that the Dubs Amendment, passed in May, was meant to protect. After months of inaction however, and with eviction imminent, I imagine he thought the day of safe passage would never come and that he believed he had no choice but to take matters into his hands. Our government has his blood on their hands.

Returning to the UK is as if I am standing in the audience at a pantomime, shouting at the ignorant on-stage public masses 'Look behind You!' I plead. 'Open Your Eyes!' But the majority play out their parts in blissful oblivion, determinedly pursuing their prescriptive path without bending or twisting or looking behind. The politically powerful prompt with cues from off-stage; a media masquerade adeptly distracts, diverts and directs a fear of difference so that the real backstage tragedy unfolding in Calais is not apparent or appreciated - not unless you really choose to look.

Are we supposed to disregard this boys appalling death in the same way? Does this public pantomime of anesthetized amnesia impress immunity to a fellow human's pain? When bumping into a friend this week, she told me of a recent conversation that has been resonating and reverberating deep in my mind ever since. She had been talking about, musing and pondering the idea of Kindness as Rebellion. As a volunteer working with hundreds of other volunteers in a space where organisations are wholly absent, where states can think only of fences, of miles of barbed wire and of now building a wall, kindness in Calais is a currency that is utterly without value to them and yet we prize it above almost everything else. There are a million acts of kindness in Calais every day, between people in camp and volunteers; acts that demonstrate solidarity and compassion. Acts that say 'I see you'. Acts that communicate breathtaking love and humble generosity. If this is a rebellion then I want to be part of such a mutiny. There is no place for sedated denial in Calais; kindness requires you to recognise another's suffering and need and respond. It obliges you to acknowledge a shared humanity, a togetherness of humankind. Is it accident or fortune that kindness starts with 'kin' I wonder? The backstage tragedy unfolding in Calais every day is so challenging, it's incredibly uncomfortable and it hurts so much to see it. Yet if we look away from the hard bits we become blind to the reality for another one of Us.

It is almost impossible to put myself in the tattered, leaking, well-worn and well-trodden shoes of my friends in Calais; I am lucky enough that I will probably never know their reality. But this doesn't prevent astonishing human connections and joyful relationships. It doesn't stop me caring about their present and hoping for their future. A future that has been denied to my young Afghan friend. If all this means I am a renegade waging war on indifference and prejudice with tools of compassion and kindness then so be it. I'm more than happy to be part of that rebellion.