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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Be In Their Shoes © Jeta B 2016