Volunteers in refugee services: A rather special breed

Mid-July early morning in Northern France and it is already scorching hot. You would expect most young people to be in bed, with a hangover from clubbing, or getting ready for the beach. Or packing for a music festival.

And yet, when the gates of the distribution centre opened, the place was like a beehive within minutes. Somehow every slot was filled, everything flowed, no egos in the way. Peeling potatoes, cooking, packing clothes, getting the mobile wifi on the road, monitoring child protection, were all interlinked and important cogs.

All these physical demands were just the start , follows by planned distribution and activities in the region that would go well into the evening. And which did not affect their ability to reflect and debate on more subtle psychosocial processes, as I discovered at the workshop the next day.

Very special indeed!

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Finding the right training level for refugee volunteers in Calais

The combination of refugee uncertainty, volunteers’ high turnover and vacuum of statutory services, even major international organisations, was the hardest I have encountered so far. Yet, there was freshness, creativity and system behind the grassroots approach.

Both workshops were busy and engaging. The recurrent then was making a contribution while in transition. Issues were developing a level of relationship without expecting trust, avoiding attachment while providing a positive and nurturing experience, and focusing on resilience-building rather than trauma reprocessing.

The overarching message was not to stifle creativity or lose the human experience, but anticipate and develop strategies not to delve into trauma in this transition context.

Not often a happy ending but some hope for refugee children in Dunkirk

The film Dunkirk starts with the desperate faces of British soldiers in World War II trapped in this small stretch of land in Northern France. Then the fishermen came from across the Channel to accompany the navy and save most of them. One of the most beautiful stories ever told.

It is ironical that so many tormented souls are again trapped in the same stretch of land but neither government wants to know. So, no happy endings for the refugee children of Dunkirk.

And yet, many volunteers cross the Channel, indeed come across the world, to give them temporary respite. The usual challenge of strengthening resilience without delving into the trauma, but we will go through this in the workshops today. I went for the easy football game option instead!

No World Cup celebrations for refugee children in Calais

The horns kept hooting all night and it was great fun. But it was business as usual at the refugee planning and distribution centre in the morning. Decreasing donations and increasing numbers of children, who move around as their tents get torn by the police at night. Unlikely to get a presidential reception like the football team, I imagine…

Yet, the passion and smiles of grassroots volunteers all but made up for government indifference!

So proud of our girls in Pakistan care home!

When we visited this care home in North Eastern Pakistan (Gilgit-Baltistan) with the Hussaini Foundation last September , the task of transforming the 150 girls’ care seemed as tall as the surrounding mountains. Yet, there was strong commitment in the team and a great school working closely with the care home. To hear today that two of our Grade 10 girls topped the school marks is so so so thrilling!

Well done girls, K2 is the limit for you – see you all soon!

WACIT Turkey: Second service transformation workshop was different

Second country and continent, different participant constitution and lessons. There were lot of experience and narratives that fitted the six-dimension framework. Particular focus was on refugee families, with innovative ideas on family engagement.

So, we decided with Esther to be more flexible and let the narratives lead the action plans today. It seemed to have worked, but remember to make a note in the manual. Huge thanks as always to the Hayat Foundation in Istanbul for hosting!

WACIT Turkey: Ex-street children like no others in Istanbuly

From selling water and tissues on the streets to reunion with their families is a big enough step. Getting children into education and sustaining family placements is another level. And this is what the Hayat Foundation has achieved over the years.

The impact was unusual – team work, focus and fun. A bit of cheating in the musical chairs and the kites were ready to fly after our regular event. Nice to see some of our previous stars coming back to help the younger children!