Though the majority of the migrant and refugee residents in Calais are men, the unofficial jungle and official containers in the camp are resident to approximately 600 women. Many of these are single mothers and all have fought desperately to get this far.
There is a blue bus that travels round the camp, run by Help Refugees, one of the grassroots charities working in the camp. The bus functions as the Unofficial Women and Children’s Centre. Men aren’t allowed on the bus, where they distribute clothes, hygiene products, nappies and baby milk to mothers in the camp. On Saturdays children are also banned, providing a women’s only space for ‘beauty days’. This week Catherine Carr reported on the Centre for Women’s Hour.
On beauty days, snacks are provided as the women are given a little bit of pampering. Women can have their nails done, get henna designs on their arms and have a massage. The value of the Centre lies both in the importance of being made to feel human by the luxury of small things, and because the physical and emotional pain that collects as a result of being in- and trying to escape from- the camp is immense. Muscle ache from climbing, running and hiding in lorries for hours on end takes its toll, so a massage is not only mentally relaxing but also physically therapeutic.
The Centre provides an opportunity for the women in the camp to gather, relax, have fun and socialise. On Woman’s Hour, a volunteer explains the positive impact of the bus. ‘You’ve have some of the Eritreans doing some of the Afghan girls’ hair, and before, when they first got here, they’d be very separated. This place has kind of bought people together.’
You can still catch the programme here.