Calais Camp: Clair’s Story

The backstory is that my relationship broke up after 3 years, and I was suddenly left with 2 weeks annual leave and half the money we had saved together for our annual holiday. A friend of mine had been to Calais and it had changed her life. So, over the course of a few days I did my research and the day before I was due to leave, I booked all my travel and accommodation. A day later I was on the ferry, heartbroken, alone and wondering what the hell I had got myself into when I should have been on a romantic beach in Corfu.

I met up with other volunteers from all over the UK that were staying in the same hostel. Within hours I was absorbed as part of the volunteer ‘family’ and inducted into the warehouse that held all the donations. Within 2 hours of working in the warehouse, I was heading my own area and in charge of processing donations through Level 2 sorting processes. Around lunchtime on day 2 I was consulted about my area and did the usual “Why don’t we try it this way”, it was taken up and agreed and implemented on day 3. I was then given my own team to lead to work through the new system. I was amazed at the progression.

The situation at the warehouse is very unique. As everyone is a volunteer and actually paying money to be there, aside from the odd ego, everyone is valued and appreciated. I was asked my opinion and taken seriously on all my positive input. Everyone was considered equals. I found myself to be working alongside another lady, who was similar to me in terms of brainpower. I later discovered she was a Strategic Planner in NHS working as a band 8. I am a band 3. Within 72 hours I had, with her support, transformed the warehouse and the way the donations were sorted prior to distribution. That evening I was celebrated and told that if I was able to return at any time, they would ensure it was possible for me to do so. I was brought to tears at this, as I really got a sense of my self-worth and what that meant in the bigger scheme of this large operation. For this week I was no longer an admin support, running around for my managers. This week I was making changes that would directly affect the lives of 4,000 refugees.


I finally got out to the camp to assist with food distribution. I worked alongside a Muslim community from the Netherlands. I was once more brought to tears as I held hands with these volunteers, both of us from such different backgrounds and so committed to helping these people have a better day. I was quickly trained how to manage distributions, which can be quite scary. The first one went awry as we were mobbed by hungry people, desperate for food. I was lost amongst a sea of refugees and could only wait out in the wasteland for the sight of the van to come back and collect me. The van would have to keep driving off while the mob calmed.

Once again I had a quick lesson in how to manage this experience. I was taught how to entertain the queues and to greet each individual with love and kindness, to help them feel valued rather than the feel that they were forced to beg or starve. I believe we can pick how we have each experience and I chose for mine to be positive. I loved meeting each one and they loved meeting me.

To finalise my week, I went and had tea with some jungle residents. I saw how they used what materials they could find to make a toilet, sleeping quarters and an outside communal space to meet. Their money is near useless there. The nearby shops won’t serve them. They cannot use their money to magic a home no matter how well off some of them may be. They cannot eat money. They are almost completely dependent on the volunteers to clothe, feed and house them. What I found amazing is the persistence and creativity they have used to build a little market area, library, disco. So many of them didn’t give up. They have created a life where they connect with others continually.

I learnt so much about human persistence and inner power. I learnt about my own strengths and abilities. I learnt how an environment can be created to enable each person’s natural skills to bubble to the top, and be valued and nurtured. It’s actually really easy, yet in a paid environment, it is strangely difficult to achieve this. I met a lot of people willingly giving their time, money, some giving up their work, to be in a space where they could just use their skills to help others. There is so much good in the people around us, and if we can just put constrictions and our ego’s aside, we are capable of changing the whole world with our hearts.   

Clair Michna

Inner Transition Leader – Transition Belper


4 thoughts on “Calais Camp: Clair’s Story

  • 24th November 2015 at 11:29 am

    Thanks Clair. Really inspiring story – Personal, well written and moving.

  • 12th December 2015 at 11:46 am

    Well done Clair – an eye opening and moving article, well written from the heart. Many thanks, Alan. You would be very welcome to come along to one of our Rotary meetings on a Monday night at The Lion Hotel and maybe give us a short talk about your various experiences. If you are interested in coming, please contact me on 01773 828694

  • 29th January 2016 at 12:17 pm

    Many thanks Claire for providing a first hand experience of your inspiring support for the refugees in Calais. My form, 9O2, are working on a project ‘Refugee Crisis in Europe’ and will use this information as evidence to present to all of Year 9 students at this school.

    We wish you well in the future and hope that one day we will also be able to offer our support in a similar way.
    Mrs Jarvis, Miss White and 9O2

  • 29th January 2016 at 1:00 pm

    Hi Sarah, that would make a wonderful story. Please do let us know how it goes.

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