Be In Their Shoes



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No (wo)man is an island, but this one is a magnet of love. Her shoes are small, yet Elaine’s footprint is that of a human giant; a footprint followed by an entire community in Brighton and beyond. In June last year, overwhelmed by the lack of help for refugees arriving in the French and UK border, Elaine filled a Brighton street wall with flowers. ‘DON’T LOSE HOPE’ – the art piece read in glittery gold.

Elaine supporting refugees in the ‘Jungle’ in Calais.

It wasn’t much but it’s what she could do at the time. She remembered the story of the Hummingbird. As the fire broke out in a forest, all animals fled for their lives. All but a little Hummingbird that kept picking up drops of water from the nearby stream and taking them back to the fire. ‘What the hell are you doing…‘ – other animals mocked the Hummingbird. ‘I am doing all that I can’ – the Hummingbird responded and continued going back and forth.

BE IN THEIR SHOES Elaine (3 of 6)

Advising a newly arrived refugee where to go for shelter and support.

That’s how Elaine started, collecting donations from the community in Brighton and taking them to Calais. Back and forth. Six months later, she manages a community project that supports refugees in Calais and Dunkirk by giving shelter, medical attention, and – you guessed – HOPE! She called it The Hummingbird Project.

Walking a refugee from the Hummingbird medical clinic to the MSF clinic.

Working with Elaine in the camp is fun, even in dire conditions. She always finds something that will make you burst into laughter. I was made to walk in the rain like a human ad around the ‘Jungle’ in Calais, wearing a rain poncho she wanted to distribute. She kept pointing at me and asking refugees: ‘Do you want?’ – She cheekily omitted ‘one’. I burst into laughter. Elaine was in tears of laughter. Refugees laughed back. Ponchos were distributed.


With nurses and doctors inside the Hummingbird clinic.

It is no surprise that she has attracted a group of warm-hearted volunteers, all Hummingbirds. They have raised £27,000 to date and built hundreds of shelters in both Calais and Dunkirk; in Calais they have built a medical clinic run by nurses and doctors, and a safe space where vulnerable groups can seek support – especially unaccompanied minors! The Hummingbirds also run a tea kitchen that serves over 1200 hot drinks every weekend.

Builders have their own Facebook group. They get organised and keep on building.

As the conditions in the camp deteriorate, Elaine still has hope. Hope that European institutions will rise to the challenge. Hope that the UK government will do something about hundreds of unaccompanied minors in the camps. Hope that the French local authorities will not bulldoze the camp, displacing vulnerable communities.

BE IN THEIR SHOES Elaine (1 of 6)

Shelters built by the Brighton Shelter Built Project, a Hummingbird partner.

But  today, the French court ruled the clearing of the south part of the ‘Jungle’. When the news reached the Hummingbird safe space in Calais, Elaine and her team were supporting a twenty year old man who trusted them enough to talk about what he had been through before arriving in the camp. His sister murdered, then fleeing his country, then hard times that followed…until he got a shelter in the camp. Hearing about the news of eviction, the man broke down into tears and gripped on to Elaine.

BE IN THEIR SHOES Elaine (1 of 1)

A community Church next to the Hummingbird medical clinic.

Eviction plan says there are 1,000 people in the area that the prefecture is planning to demolish. But a population survey carried out by L’Auberge (a French charity working in the Jungle) shows the figure is actually over 3000. Containers offered as alternative sheltering are almost full and can only house a few hundred at most.

Barbed wire separating containers from the rest of the camp.

Barbed wire separating containers from the rest of the camp.

It’s not just about space though. It’s about communities that people and volunteers have built with whatever little they had: a church, a mosque, a theatre, kitchens and shops. Most will be demolished, the Hummingbird medical clinic and safe space included.


There are always new flooded tents.

Elaine knew the eviction could happen, but just like many volunteers working in Calais, she HOPED humanity would prevail. Devastating as the news is, she does not give up: ‘We will support communities through the eviction. Then we will go mobile!

Being in Their Shoes, is an understatement. Keep on Humming, Elaine!  The world will hum with you.

BE IN THEIR SHOES Elaine (2 of 6)

The ‘high street’ of the ‘Jungle’ camp in Calais.

To keep Elaine and the Hummingbirds going please donate to the Hummingbird Mobile Medical Clinic that will travel wherever communities are displaced. Let’s #KeepOnHumming!

Hummingbird Logo Small

Be In Their Shoes © Jeta B 2016

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  1. lou February 26, 2016

    what a lovely tribute for a wonderful human being.. keep up the good work Elaine, you’re a true inspiration <3

  2. Dom February 26, 2016

    Where would we be without you Elaine? Great tribute to a genuinely great human being x

  3. Jenny February 26, 2016

    I’m so grateful for you..

  4. Penny Avant February 26, 2016

    Keep going. You are making a difference to many people, A real hummingbird! x

  5. Sam Moffett May 1, 2016

    Recently our friends in Brighton Jack and Jack, who run a club night called ‘Soul City’, donated 100% of the profits from their ‘Festival for Peace’ event to the Hummingbird Project. I was lucky enough to play great music to a packed house, and was able to present Elaine Ortiz with a small trophy in gratitude for her tireless work.
    I have known Elaine for 3 years, and all I have ever seen her do is help others. She is an inspiration to me.

    Thank you Elaine.

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