Update from Refugee Youth Service (formerly Baloo’s) – return to routine, art expression and plans for expansion

One of the organisations we support in the Calais refugee camp is The Refugee Youth Service (formerly Baloo’s). The Youth Service provides a safe place for boys aged 12 – 18 to relax, play and learn while they live in the camp. The team sent this update about their plans in the aftermath of the demolition including branching out to Dunkirk.

After the chaos of the last month it has been essential to bring normalcy to the 12 – 18 year olds in the camp. Tensions have been high and the relocations have meant that the mental wellbeing of the boys has been extremely unstable. Therefore the team at the Youth Centre have worked hard to resume the routine we had earlier in the year of sports and education/ creativity to bring structure back into the lives of these children. Sports once more runs on Monday, Wednesday and Friday with education/ creativity occurring on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. This week we have already played football on No-Man’s Land on Monday and had a French artist conduct an art therapy session on Tuesday. The art session was designed to be as free as possible allowing the boys to draw whatever they wished. Expressing themselves through chalk, the boys found a sense of calm in this and the finished drawings are extremely powerful. Some drew pictures of what made them happy, others of what made them sad, and some drew pictures of their lives in the Jungle (as the pictures below reveal). England’s victory over Afghanistan at cricket encouraged us to play our own match, which England unfortunately lost rather heavily!

April update from Baloo (3)

This week included a visit from pop up cinema Play4Calais who screened Star Trek for the teenage boys – it was a huge success and the total absorption in the film allowed everyone to forget all their worries for the duration.

April update from Baloo (4)

This week we also supplied 48 of the boys with a whole set of new clothing. We prefer the use of ‘personal shopping’ so that instead of being handed a pair of trousers that may be the wrong size we collect a list of what the boys need/ want and the volunteers at the Help Refugees/ L’Auberge des Migrant warehouse collect and package their belongings into personalised bags (as seen in the pictures below).  It was a huge success and we plan on doing this regularly.

April update from Baloo (5)

Unfortunately a music activity including dancing and drumming was interrupted when tear gas from police along the buffer zone forced us to close our doors with the boys inside to stop the gas from coming in. One boy who was hit in the leg by a tear gas canister merely shrugged it off when asked if he was okay and said that it was “normal”. Another boy told one of the staff members, “Can you see now, they’re poisoning us!” These conditions are psychologically damaging to all who live here, especially children who are only now gaining a foothold into life

April update from Baloo (6)

However on a more positive note, Refugee Youth Service can announce that it is now expanding into Dunkirk. We will begin the project by being in the Dunkirk camp between the hours of 11am and 5pm three days a week where we will run a pop-up youth service. We will aim to provide as many of Calais Jungle services as possible here, this way, operating out of a temporary space that be put up and taken down on each of these days.  If we feel that there is a demand for our service full time then we hope to replicate the space we have created in Calais.

We would not be able to do our work without your support and kindness. Many of the refugees we help are fleeing the conflict zones of Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. Others are trying to escape political oppression in countries like Eritrea. All are human beings like us. As well as providing immediate physical assistance, we want to help refugees maintain their dignity.

Please click through if you would like to find out more about our work in Calais, Dunkirk, Lesvos, Samos, Idomeni and other locations. If you would like to know how you can help refugees, please check out our Get Involved section where you can find out how to fundraise for us and how to make a donation. Thank you!