My Weight-loss Journey – 19lbs in 19 Weeks

Like many people, I’ve spent the majority life being horribly self-conscious about my weight. I was always bigger than anyone in my class, was the tallest, and always had a big bum. I spent the guts of both primary and secondary school life with a jumper tied around my waist, thinking I was a freak. It’s only since the Kardashians came to prominence that I’ve learned to appreciate and accept my huge arse isn’t going anywhere – so thank you Kim, Khloe and Kourtney, for that one.

August 30th 2016 vs January 6th 2017

Unfortunately, I was also born with the lazy gene – and when I say I hate exercise I mean I absolutely despise it with a passion. I was ‘sick’ for almost every P.E class throughout secondary school, and am known for getting on a bus to go two stops up the road.

Up until a few months ago, I had no idea how to manage a normal diet/exercise balance. I thought nothing of spending of €20 in Marks & Spencer on one 2000 calorie dinner. I never did a weekly shop, creating a viscous cycle of realising at 8pm that there was nothing in the fridge, and either running to the shop for a ready meal, or ordering a takeaway. I often wondered why I was so broke two weeks into my pay slip – I just have to look at my Deliveroo history to see why!

For as long as I remember I’ve had such an unhealthy outlook on food. A few years ago, before a sun holiday, I basically stopped eating and existed on vegetarian burgers and carrots for ten days, power-walked to work and back, and dropped a stone. I felt fab on the holiday, but as soon as I got home I was eating normally again and the weight came back. It was in no way, shape or form something I could keep up.

In 2014, I tried Slimming World with my friend Grace. At SW, you’d be weighed at the start of your class every week and if I hadn’t lost a pound, or indeed if I had put one on, I’d be devo. I started not eating on Tuesdays to ensure maximum impact on the scales, and then after class, would binge on takeaways and cakes for no apparent reason other than that I ‘deserved it’. After I stopped going, I put on the stone I’d lost within weeks and was back to my old tricks. Don’t get me wrong, it absolutely works for some people – but as my friend Sue said,  ‘when they’d rather you’d eat a Mug Shot (with the nutritional value of the packet it comes in) over an avocado there are serious problems’.


Unhealthy dinner vs Healthy dinner and lunch.

I started an office job in January of 2016 and slipped into a disastrous routine of a cappuccino and muffin for breakfast, sandwich for lunch, and either an M&S ready meal or takeaway, and half a bottle of wine, for dinner. For snacks, I legit ate whatever I wanted. It felt like there was a birthday in the office every week and I’d be first in the queue for a slice of cake. If I bought a family sized bar of Whole Nut for the week, I’d devour it in one sitting. I had no concept of control, and with every bite I would assure myself that the ‘diet will start tomorrow’. It never did.

I knew full well that none of these things were good for me, but I felt I somehow ‘deserved’ them because I was working hard, or not getting home till late. My weight crept up and up, to the point that none of my clothes would fit me, and I was DREADING the approaching Summer. All I wanted was a baggy jumper and a faux fur coat.

I was attending a wedding during the Summer and trying to find something to wear was utterly traumatic. I was crying in my room the day before because I felt so uncomfortable in my own skin. Nothing fit me, and my waist – the literal only part of my body that I had ever liked – had completely disappeared. My confidence was at an all time low.

Due to working longer hours, outside of town, I saw my friends less and less over the course of the year. There were friends I hadn’t seen in six months at this stage, and I was absolutely terrified of bumping into anyone I’d not seen in a while. I began to avoid everyone at all costs and went out less and less.

In September of 2016, I was the heaviest I had ever been in my life. I hadn’t stepped on a scales in about two years so I had no idea what I weighed, but I from how I looked and felt, this was an absolute low point. The lowest day was one off from work, and I was minding my niece and nephew. While I was outside their school waiting to collect them, the button popped on the only pair of trousers I had that fit me. I managed to salvage the situation with a hair bobbin, but felt awful. Walking down the road with the kids, I saw an ex-employer who I would be friendly with, but hadn’t seen in a few years, and literally crossed the street to avoid her. Later, in M&S, I spotted a friend of mine who I hadn’t seen in an age, and proceeded to spend 20 mins slinking through the aisles trying to avoid him. I was like Harriet the Spy dodging the aisles he was on. I would’ve left only they had the €14 meal deal on and I wasn’t leaving without that bottle of wine.

I literally just couldn’t face him. I couldn’t accept who I had become.

Funnily enough, both of my younger sister and brother are both Personal Trainers – the complete opposite of me. After a bottle of wine on the couch one night, half locked, I texted my brother Sam about training. I’d won a Flyefit membership (where Sam works) on Twitter in July – which I hadn’t even activated. Sam told me to come in and we’d get a plan sorted. The gym membership is less than €30 a month, which is an amazing price, and you pay extra for the personal training sessions.

September 3rd vs January 3rd – 19lbs gone – I have shoulders again! 


I came in and stepped on the scales, but was adamant I didn’t want to know what I weighed. I just couldn’t face it. I could barely walk up the stairs in the gym, let alone do the squats Sam was asking of me, however, we got through our first session. The next day, I was in the most physical BITS I had ever been in. I had to have three baths in one day. My entire body felt like it had been savagely beaten – I had never experienced pain like it. But we kept going and it got easier with each week. Mind you, I do still be in bits after. No pain, no gain!!

For the first month, Sam asked that I cut out carbs and alcohol. I was allowed veg, meat, cheese, nuts, eggs and butter. I did a huge shop for the week, which only cost about €50 in Lidl, and began cooking the most delicious meals every evening, making double the amount so I’d have something for lunch the next day. I swapped my morning cappuccinos (approx 180 cals) for flat white (68 cals) and had eggs for breakfast instead of muffins, and I’d walk a bit of the way to work instead of getting the bus the whole way. I was brought up vegetarian, and only started eating meat when I was about 20. I never got into beef, so I stick to chicken, salmon and bacon. I also despise fruit and colourful veg like peppers so I stick to all of the greens. I am now, at the age of 27, only realising my obsession with asparagus (gorge done under the grill with butter, salt and pepper… divine!)


I am allowed one cheat meal a week, which is usually an Honest Pizza or Smokin Bones and a few slimline G&T’s on a Saturday night – this keeps me focused. Takeaways have become a once a week treat, as they should be. I also don’t ‘meal prep’ as I love fresh food. I couldn’t imagine eating a lunch on a Thursday that had been in my fridge since Sunday – but I know this works for loads of people.

I’ve adapted to the low carbs thing with no issues, and dropped an initial 12lbs over September and October. I was THRILLED. I train with Sam for an hour on Saturday and Sunday, and send him pics of my meals throughout the week to show him staying on track. He constantly keeps me motivated and pushes me at my training sessions. I ask not be weighed at every session, but every few weeks instead. I refuse to become a slave to the scales and to this day I still have no idea what I weighed to start or what I weigh now and I don’t want to know. I truly believe the scales affects people more than they realise. Such a large part of healthiness is a healthy mind. Feeling amazing about yourself only step on the scales and see you’ve put on a pound can be incredibly damaging to our self esteem. I personally prefer to take progress pics to keep me going.

Poached eggs, avocado and smoked salmon // Grilled chicken, baked mozzarella, tomatoes, asparagus and broccoli // Eggs, salmon, broccoli, avocado and tomatoes // Spinach, Franks Hot sauce chicken, mozzarella and tomatoes. All carb-free. All delish!

If I feel like a sandwich for lunch I’ll have one – no point denying yourself but you have to exercise control. I don’t drink wine anymore – in fact, I’ve completely gone off it, despite being fully addicted for ten years. My new obsession is a slimline G&T or prosecco on cheat nights. If I feel like a snack I’ll have a Fulfil bar or some almonds.

I absolutely let loose over Christmas and the New Year, as we all should! I enjoyed myself, and who knows, probably put on a few pounds – the main thing is, I don’t know if I did and I don’t care. I no longer see my weight, I now see my body. I see it changing every day, my confidence growing and my personal style evolving as a result.

I can safely say there is no quick fix or magic diet. Figuring out your weakness, which for me was the cycle of believing I ‘deserved’ all of these treats, and getting some support such as a PT, was all I needed to get me on the right track, and I honestly couldn’t recommend it more. Even now, when I’m getting my cheat meal, I find myself going for the chicken wings instead of the chicken burger because I know it’s the healthier option – our bodies need to be looked after and nourished, not constantly ‘treated’ to processed meals and sugar. It’s like I’ve seen the light, and I finally understand!

I still have a long way to go – I’m now 19lbs down in 19 weeks, and I feel FAB. I’ve been way thinner before than I am now, but through starvation and unhealthy ‘quick-fixes’. Knowing I’m doing this the right way, the healthy way, it doesn’t concern me how long it takes – I’m just so happy I am on the way.




Ireland is failing refugees, but you can help TODAY.

It was September 10th 2015, a mere eight days after Aylan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian boy who drowned in the Mediterranean Sea’s photo shocked the world, that the Irish Government announced plans to ‘take 4,000 refugees in new programme’.

The number was way behind figures pledged by other European countries at the same time, but it definitely felt like we were making some progress.

At the time, the Government said that’priority would be given to unaccompanied minors’, with Minister for Justice and Equality, Frances Fitzgerald, saying ‘refugees would start arriving in groups of 50 or 100 within weeks, with more coming before the end of the year’.

Almost one year on, Ireland has taken in 311 refugees.

Since September 2015, 4,051 men, women and children have drowned trying to make the perilous journey across the Mediterranean sea, in search of the lives we were born with the privilege of.

Both as a country and as individuals, we have a duty to help our fellow human beings, and there are several ways in which you can help.

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Contact Frances Fitzgerald – NOW!

Tweet, email or write to Minister Fitzgerald, and ask her why, a year on, we have only fulfilled 8% of our pledge?

Tweet: @FitzgeraldFrncs


Write: Minister’s Office

Department of Justice and Equality

51 St Stephens Green

Dublin 2, D02 HK52

I’ve put together a sample Tweet and Email/Letter template which you can copy and paste.


Hi @FitzgeraldFrncs why has Ireland only taken in 311 of a promised 4000 refugees and what are YOU doing to fulfil this promise?


Minister Fitzgerald,

I am writing to ask you why Ireland has only taken in 311 refugees, when almost one year ago you pledged that Ireland would take in 4,000?

At the time, it was promised that ‘priority would be given to unaccompanied minors’, yet there are still hundreds of these parent-less children languishing it the Calais refugee camp? If it wasn’t for the tireless work of volunteers in the camp, these vulnerable children would be in even more dangerous situations. They are traumatised, malnourished and beyond scared.

Can you please let me know when and how the figure of 4,000 will be fulfilled, and provide an update as to what you are doing about the current situation in Calais, where hundreds of undocumented children have gone missing just an hours flight away from Dublin?

As Minister of Justice and Equality, you have a duty to help these children, as you promised to do.

Kind Regards,


How You Can Help – Today!

There are no major NGO (non-governmental organisations) in Calais, but there are hundreds of volunteers who are giving up their time to help alleviate the pain, hunger, fear and destitution facing refugees in Calais.

I can’t stress how even the smallest amount of money can help, be it to provide shelter, food, phone credit, medical supplies or solidarity. 


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There is no doubt about it, if it wasn’t for the non-stop and tireless efforts of kitchen volunteers, people would be starving to death in Calais.

Please donate to either :


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I can’t express enough how much of a necessity phones are in the camp. They are a lifeline, a form of communication, a way to wile away the long lonely hours in the limbo that is Calais. If you’ve asked yourself ‘why do they need smartphones?’ ask the same question of yourself.

Donate credit money via Paypal here:

Be the reason someone can ring their mother, wife, children.


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Photo taken by me, of a volunteer and resident in the Calais camp.

VOLUNTEER: Volunteers are ALWAYS needed in Calais. Volunteer roles with the Help Refugee group include food prep, building, sorting donations, and distributing in the camp.

I can only speak from my own experiences, but volunteering there was a life-changing.

To sign up email: 

Solidarity Not Charity

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Source: Isolda Heavy, volunteer in Calais and founder of Calais Field Music

 Calais Field Music, set up by Isolda Heavy, features music recorded from the camp in Calais. Isolda records camp residents performing pieces of music, makes them downloadable online with all proceeds going to the musician.

Find out more here:

Unaccompanied Minors

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Baloo’s is a youth centre and project supporting 12 – 18-year-old boys living in The Jungle refugee camp, Calais.

Every week they take a group out – and at this time of the year, it’s the beach. These children and young men have made traumatic journeys across hundreds of miles, witnessing things no person, let alone a child, should ever have to.

Help them forget for a few hours by donating here:

Whatever you do, do something.

8 Facts You Should Probably Know About Asylum Seekers Before Opening Your Mouth On The Subject

Up till last year, and like many Irish people, subjects such as migration, refugees, and the asylum seeking process were all shoved together and filed under an ‘I couldn’t care less’ folder in my head.

For pretty much my whole life, I was known amongst friends and family to pass stupid remarks such as ‘but sure why would they come here if they’ve no jobs lined up?’ … ‘Why are they out begging – they should get jobs!’ … ‘Sure they’re only coming over here for the dole!’ etc, etc.

If I was speaking about asylum seekers/migrants/refugees (as I said, at the time there was no distinction between them, in my mind) in any regard, you can bet the comments were ill-informed, uneducated, single-minded and said without any regards for actual fact.

Since volunteering in a refugee camp twice last year, and having had the privilege of learning more in the last six months than I did during six years of secondary school (which was my fault, not the schools!) I can safely say that informing yourself of the current crisis is literally ~the~ only way in which we can converse on such matters.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not suggesting we all up sticks and head over to Syria with our Trocaire boxes in tow– but we do need to educate ourselves to a level where we are not spewing out what is effectively  hate-spreading, racist bile,  and in turn, basically making the world an even more revolting place than it already is.

At the time of volunteering, I was working for myself as a Fashion Illustrator. I used to spend hours of my own time drawing celebrities in order to gain notoriety for my social media pages. Upon returning, and no longer idolising those who had the power to change the world with one tweet, but took naked photos of themselves instead, I swore I’d use my previously-occupied-with-drawing-Kylie-Jenner time to do something that might actually mean something, and wanted to use my experiences and learnings to write about  Refugees, Migration, Asylum Seekers and Direct Provision.

Like many, I see so much embarrassingly untrue shite on my Facebook wall – and even if one person learns something from this, and it stops them from posting some vitriolic racist untruth in the comments section of  an Irish Times article about any of the above, then my work here is done.


Photo from the Irish Independent


So, what exactly is an ‘asylum seeker’ then?

An asylum seeker is a person who has left their home country and is seeking to be recognised as a refugee. If they are granted this recognition they are declared a refugee. This basically means several white people will interview you, and then decide if what you’ve told them about the war, persecution, starvation, and oppression you’ve suffered in your home country is enough to warrant you a refugee.

And where exactly do these people come from?

Globally, the top three countries of origin for refugees are the war-torn Syria (250K dead in four years), Afghanistan (over 25K dead since 2001) and Somalia (estimated 1 million dead since 1991).

I suppose they get handed a house as soon they get here?

No actually. They don’t. While their application is being processed, asylum seekers are housed in Direct Provision accommodation centres around the country.  This means that they  are basically put in to hostel-like accommodation, where large families are often housed in one room, and singles usually share a room with others of the same sex.  The shower and toilet facilities are shared, and their meals are cooked for by those running the centres, and served at a set time each day.  There are no facilities for preparing meals in the vast majority of centres.

And what exactly is Direct Provision?

Direct Provision was set up in 1999 as an emergency measure by the Irish Government. In 2002 there were almost 12,000 applications for asylum. At the start of 2014, there were 4,360 people living in direct provision, with more than 3,000 people have been in the system for two or more years. At the same time, there were more than 1,600 people who have spent five or more years in direct provision. FIVE YEARS. Direct Provision was only ever meant to be ‘a thing’ for six months.


It sounds like a hotel, what’s so bad about it?

Direct Provision has been labelled “inhuman and degrading” in a court case being taken against Justice MinisterFrances Fitzgerald, Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton and the Attorney General Maire Whelan, asserting that the system is illegal under both the Irish Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights, and all other international human rights conventions that Ireland has subscribed to. (source:wiki)

Direct Provision robs innocent people of both their past and their future. Living in a constant state of limbo, not being able to do a thing for yourself. Not being able to cook traditional meals for your family and having to queue with tens of others to put your hand our for basics such as nappies and female hygiene products. It is utterly  degrading, and a complete violation of human rights. it is almost 20 years in Ireland, it is a disgrace.

Ok, so why don’t they just get jobs then!? 

Oh, didn’t you know? Asylum seekers are not permitted to work in Ireland, therefore they are forced to depend on the state. There are highly skilled, and of course, those less skilled than others, people not being allowed work. Most are begging to be allowed to work.

 So they’re basically just scrounging on the dole?

Nope. Asylum seekers receive a weekly allowance of €19.10 per adult and €9.60 per child.  This must cover any additional school expenses, clothing, footwear, toiletries, phone credit, internet access, etc. €19.10 – the equivalent of a box of smokes and a bottle of wine in Spar.

That must cost us taxpayers a bomb!

There are approximately 5,000 asylum seekers living in DP at the moment, which, imagining 50% are adults and 50% children, would cost the state around €70,500 in ‘handouts’ per year.

To put that in some context, the total Social Benefit expenditure in Ireland  in 2016 will amount to €19.638 BILLION, and the recent ‘Christmas Bonus’ awarded to those in receipt of Social Welfare cost the state €197 million alone.

The weekly allowance given to Asylum Seekers is amounts to about 0.0003% of the total Social Welfare budget. Despite the 1000’s of Irish people offering to volunteer with asylum seeker living in Direct Provision, the Irish government does not allow any such help, and chooses to pay private contractors in excess of €50million a year instead.

Some other facts about Direct Provision:

  • Children are entitled to go to school and college, but the majority cannot afford to. Remember, adults get less than €20 a week, and children get less than €10. Think how hard it is for an white, Irish, catholic child to secure a place in a primary school and now try to imagine how much harder it is for an asylum seeker.



Something to think about, eh?


Holly Shortall

Things I Learned in 2015.

Having just experienced the most eye-opening year of my life, I wanted to write something that would reflect the fact that 2015 was a pretty big year for me. These ‘Things I Learned’ pieces can often come across as narcissistic, self-indulgent drivel, so please know that I am writing this so that others might learn a thing or two as a result.

I learned a lot this year, mainly as a result of opening my eyes to the real issues going on the world – y’know, the ones that matter a bit more than the size of Kylie Jenners’ lips. I met people from so many different backgrounds, people who are now friends, who bore with me as I went from being someone who cared about those who had more than me, to being someone who cared about those who had less.

It’s been an emotional and frustrating but life-changing year. Having spent a decade working in the fashion industry, in one capacity or another, I found myself no longer caring about it. It was a time for a big shake up. I finally realised I have more to offer the world than just drawing or dressing shop mannequins. I am entering 2016 a new person, with a new focus and a new career. Don’t get me wrong, I will always have a soft spot for Victoria Beckham, and I will always find Kim Kardashian’s cartoon-esque body proportions fun to draw, but it’s time to move on to the next chapter. 2016 will be the I learn more, and earn more….and hopefully eat a lot less.

So, with this in mind, I decided to write about a few things I learned  during the ups and downs of 2015.

It’s hard work being a ‘creative’ in Ireland.


Having spent the guts of three years working as a freelance fashion illustrator and fashion writer, I have found the experience to be great, but, also incredibly difficult and frustrating.

Despite having the most famous woman in the world, Kim Kardashian, share my drawing of her to tens of millions of followers across her social media platforms in 2014, I still found myself getting requests from Irish publications and businesses asking me to work for free. ‘We don’t actually have a budget for this, Holly, but we can share it across our social accounts which will be great exposure for you.’ GREAT! Let me just call my landlady and see if she’ll accept ‘exposure’ in lieu of actual rent money this month. Sigh.

Other times, I would be requested by companies to do a lot of work in a seriously short space of time. ‘We need ten drawings by Tuesday’. I would stay up all day and night getting the work done, submit it, and then have to chase the payment for AGES – sometimes it could take up to six months.

Other times, I was asked to go and speak on TV, without any form of remuneration. Not even travel expenses, despite asking if they could cover a taxi. ‘We just don’t have the budget – sorry!’ This left me €40 out of pocket – on several occasions. It’s just not the direction I want to go in any more, and not something I think anyone should do for free.

White Privilege is a very real thing.


Having visited the Calais refugee camp twice in 2015, I began to meet, and become friends with, more and more people with activist backgrounds – who often discussed the term ‘white privilege’. The first few times I heard this I was outraged – how dare someone imply I think I am better than people who are not white? But this is not what it means. Benefitting from white privilege means you can walk the Earth unaware of your colour.

Much like ‘Male Privilege, it is something that those who possess it, are blind to it. White people have, since the dawn of civilisation, had the monopoly over those who are not white. For example, open any fashion magazine and count how many non-white people feature. If youre white, you wont notice unless you intend to. This needs to change, we need to be more inclusive of other races in every aspect of life, and open our eyes to the privileges afforded to us on a daily basis.

The media has a lot to do with this – when someone white commits a deadly crime, he is referred to as ‘mentally unstable’ or ‘a problem child’. If they’re Muslim, it’s automatically a ‘terrorist attack’. If they’re black, its ‘gang related’. It’s these small-minded generalisations that help breed the hate that exists more today than ever.

Working in the media can suck.


Yes, I have had many many amazing experiences working for myself, but for the most part, I have been lonely, deflated, and at times, felt almost depressed. There is no sick pay, no holidays. No guaranteed work. I had a particularly horrible experience with a national newspaper this year – the the final nail in the coffin.

Having provided this publication with a massive amount of content ideas, and at least two articles a week, I was unceremoniously discarded like a piece of trash for allowing another paper to publish a personal blog post I had written on my trip to Calais.

The day my blog post was published in the other paper,  was the last day I ever heard from the paper I had been freelancing with for a year. I sent Twitter DMs, Facebook messages, and at least six emails, each one going ignored. This horrible treatment and lack of communication lead to anxiety attacks and chest pains for three weeks. I literally had no idea what was going on, I was left high and dry, my bank account was down €500 a month and I  was struggling to pay the bills. To this day, three months later, I have still never being given any explanation as to why I was treated so badly by the paper in question. They didn’t ‘own’ me, but I guess they thought they did.

I have absolutely no regrets, not one. I was already feeling like writing articles about the Kardashians and make-up meant nothing to me any more, and the fact that I am still receiving messages from people all over the world telling me how the printed blog piece changed their perception of Refugees, means the world. You simply cannot buy that feeling.

We place far too much emphasis on our social media popularity.


Its true, and its sad. I spent many hours wondering why a particular illustration I would do and post on my Instagram would get less likes than another. Had I posted it a bad time? Should I have drawn someone else? Or was it in fact, shit? Wasted hours wondering why other illustrator’s likes and followers were growing by the day, and mine were stagnant. I lost all the love I had for it, over 20 years of scribbles, sketches and illustrations, as I let myself get bogged down by the numbers. I am hoping to rediscover my love for the art of fashion illustration this year, by changing careers, not doing it as a full-time job any more, and simply allowing it to once again become an occasional hobby.

We live in a world where (not all, but alot of) kids are constantly outdoing themselves with selfies, prank videos, and attention-seeking statuses in search for the lauded ‘likes’ that in reality, mean absolutely nothing.

Don’t get me wrong, I am obsessed with social media, I loved tweeting and I cannot wait to begin my job as a Digital Account Manager for a company called New/Slang this month – I am excited about using social media  to create interesting content and to benefit our clients as opposed to myself.

We need to stand up for those less fortunate than us.


Having lived in a bubble of middle-class privilege for almost 26 years, it was easy to believe that nothing existed beyond my own day-to-day life. Yes, I have experienced tough times, but I was never in position where I couldn’t ask for a loan off family or friends. This year, I made some very silly comments on Facebook about the people in Jobstown who protested against irish Water charges and who surrounded Joan Burtons car in anger and I am still pissed off with myself posting silly and ill-informed opinions on the matter.

While I cannot say I know what it’s like to live constantly on the bread line, I can now see that people are angry, Irish people are seriously fucking angry. There are families who are having to send their children to school hungry. There are women working several jobs to pay their rent. There are men living in constant fear of something costly happening, like their car breaking down, as they simply do not have the money to fix it.

Just because you can pay your water bills (which I have continued to refuse to do) doesn’t mean everyone can. Just because you can buy a Starbucks every morning, does not mean other people can’t afford a jar of Nescafe.

Ireland is a morally corrupt country, with people in power who have absolutely no experience of having nothing or living in fear of the next electricity bill or doctors visit. It’s 2016 and there still in a need for soup kitchens in Ireland. That alone is outrageous. If you’re not already, it’s time to get angry.

Direct Provision is no walk in the park.


Direct Provision centre at Lissywollen, Athlone, 2013

If, like I once did, you thought migrants, refugees and asylum seekers were entitled to the same benefits as Irish people, you are seriously mistaken.

The system of Direct Provision was originally introduced as an “emergency measure” in 1999, before the scale of the asylum crisis became clear. Direct Provision is how the State meets its obligations with regards to the accommodation of asylum seekers. It is designed to be a cashless system, with residents in receipt of full board accommodation, with their food, utilities etc fully paid for by the state, In 2002 there were almost 12,000 applications for asylum.

At the start of 2014, there were 4,360 people in direct provision, with more than 3,000 people have been in the system for two or more years. At the same time, there were more than 1,600 people who have spent five or more years in direct provision.  Adults in Direct Provision centres are given €19.10 weekly, while children are given €9.60 per week, and having met someone who lived in DP for five years, it sounds like a truly horrible existence.

You completely lose all your independence, are not allowed cook for yourself, and have to stand in queues and ask for basic things, like nappies or toilet paper and there is no opportunity to work, or to integrate into Irish society. People are robbed of their identities and have little hope.

Knowledge is power.

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One thing I will totally admit, is that I’ve spent most of my adult life regurgitating media-drivel as fact. With no real opinions of my own, I didn’t realise until very late this year that without arming yourself with factual knowledge, your opinion literally means nothing. Without even realising, I would rehash opinions I had read online, passing them off as my own – something a lot of people do without realising.

Volunteering at the Calais refugee camp this year provided me with first-hand knowledge and experience of a world crisis, and the basis to form my own opinion on something that a lot of people think they know everything about.

Now, if I am having a conversation with someone who has informed themselves on the topic, and clearly knows more than me, I find myself talking less, listening more, and then going off and reading up on the conversation in question. Then, next time I find myself in a similar situation, I can voice my own informed opinion.

So there you have it – it was a big year of learning, growing and developing. I am excited for what 2016 will bring and wish you and yours lots of love and light for the year ahead X

Nine Things I Learned Volunteering in a Refugee Camp

I am not a political person, nor am I activist. I work three jobs in the fashion industry. I love makeup and fashion and I am obsessed with all things celebrity. I am 26 years old and I have never been outside of Europe, except for a brief trip to the States a few years ago. I’m still not sure why I decided to go to Calais to volunteer. I saw the photos, like most people, of little Aylan’s body washed up on the beach, and as I had some free time I just thought ‘why not go over and help?’. At the time, I had no idea that the camp was predominately men, and by the time I found this out it was too late to back out. I had seen photos from other volunteers online, of them doing art workshops and watching movies with the kids, just making them smile in general – I wanted to do that! I racked my brains as to how I could get out of going, but in the end decided to just do it. I kept telling myself, and other people, that it would be an ‘adventure’ and ‘an experience’.

What followed was the most eye-opening experience I have ever had the privilege to be part of. As someone who doesn’t know my Iran from their Iraq, my Fianna Fail from my Fianna Gael or my Democratic from my Republican, I am still literally in shock at how wrong I was in my perception what a refugee is and what the camp would be like.

Most of my 53 fellow volunteers have political, activist, or charity-work backgrounds, so it is quite conceivable that I was one of the few who walked in to the camp with literally no idea of what to expect. Besides all of the human rights issues, the asylum laws, and the fact that the UK government gave France €18Million to build a fence around a camp that has no sanitation or hot water, there is one fact that has remained with me. These people are human beings, just like us.

I wanted to write a very simple and basic guide as to what I experienced while there, in the hope that I might persuade even one person reconsider their media-influenced views of what a refugee is, and what the camp is like.

It’s not a jungle.


It might be called ‘The Jungle’, but it certainly doesn’t look like one. By its very definition, a jungle is ‘an area overgrown with dense forest and tangled vegetation, typically in the tropics’. What we’re talking about here is a small corner of France, inhabited by approximately 4,000 people. There are no monkeys swinging from the trees, or coconuts landing in the sand. It’s basically a highly populated piece of land, surrounded by 20 foot high barbed wire fences. It may be in Calais, but it definitely doesn’t feel like it. Playing football with some Sudanese guys in the camp, I felt like I could have been in a shanty town in Mumbai. In case you didn’t know, the UK and France are two of the richest countries in the world, and as I mentioned above, spent €18 million on a fence around the camp. The few toilets that are in there are left un- emptied and over following and there are shower facilities for a 1/7th of the camp a day that they are made run for like cattle.The conditions are absolutely appalling

There’s nothing to be afraid of.


As we drove from the ferry to our hostel on the night we arrived, we had witnessed hundreds of men walking through Calais, headed for those tunnels of hope. I was almost in tears with fear, and upon discovering the wine in the hostel was only €1.20 glass, proceeded to drink myself into a coma to help me sleep that night. On our first day on the camp, I drove in with one of the builders. Men and women were shouting at us from outside the car. At this stage I was shaking. I got out of the car, and realised they were shouting ‘Welcome! Welcome!’. Then they asked if they could help us build. Who knew? Refugees offering help, as opposed to looking for it. Every single perspn I encountered smiled and said hello, and the manners of the men in the camp were impeccable.

It was actually quite safe.


Considering I read a lot of papers and online publications, I spent the first day in camp with my iPhone practically padlocked to my knickers. I’d read about people being mugged for their phones in the camp, and about how if you were seen with one in your hand you’d be subject to several violent men fighting over it to make a call. Within three hours I knew I had nothing to worry about. In fact, most of the camp residents had better phones than me anyway. I dropped a €10 note on the ground at one stage and there was a stampede of guys fighting over who would hand it back. To be fair, we were only in the camp till 6pm, so I have no idea what it’s like at night. I’m sure, like any town or city, it can be fine in most places and rough in others. But that’s just life, isn’t it?

Refugees are really generous!


Yep. As stated before, these guys wanted nothing from me. In fact, having sat down for teas and coffees with some of the guys I met there, it would be considered rude to offer to pay. In their eyes, we were guests and it was their responsibility to look after us. I had my first EVER cup of tea in the camp, which I probably won’t be repeating, but sat under a tarpaulin, shielded from the rain and sat around a fire with some of my fellow  volunteers and two guys from the camp, it was a really nice memory that I’ll keep forever.

There are children there.


As I said I was kind of heartbroken when I heard the camp was all men. This however, is not true. More and more women and children are arriving by day, mainly from Syria, Sudan and Eritrea (a country I’d never even heard of until last week) I was taken at how little some of the children smiled, but I guess they’re used to volunteers coming in and out of their lives on a daily basis. By day three, they practically knew the Irish crew by name so it was smiles all round. One moment that really struck me, was when I was called into a tent that housed a family of three. The son, who was no more than one year old, was sick. He just lay there, on the damp floor of the tent, staring into my eyes. I really hope he gets out of there, and gets to experience even 10 %of the amazing childhood I had.


The food was delicious

I definitely did not think it would be safe to eat in the Afghani Restaurant, which is run by a few guys in the camp. With no basic sanitation on the grounds, or hot water, I was almost 100% sure I’d be vomiting for a week.

How wrong was I? Completely.  We ended up eating there every day, the food was ridiculously good. I actually really miss the rice and beans now that I am home. Besides the restaurant, there was a barbers, a few shops selling basics like water, cigarettes and chocolate, and of course, the famous nightclub which is used as a place to let off steam.

Living conditions are atrocious in the camp, so they’re making the most of what they have.


No one knows the difference between Ireland and The UK!

This is something that I was originally livid about, but when it dawned on me that I too haven’t a breeze where Iraq or Iran are, nor could I find Sudan on a map, I got over it. Listening to the many stories from those living in the camp, it seems there are three main reasons that they’re going to the UK. Number one being that English is most of their second language. Imagine being a Syrian with OK English, looking for work in a small town in France or Germany? Good luck. Secondly, a lot of the men in the camp either have families in the UK already, or they have families at home. The family reunification period in UK is relatively short when compared to other European countries. The third reason is that the UK is considered a place of ‘hope’. It’s somewhere people from all over the world have been able to go, created lives for themselves and safely raised their families. Kind of like how we all went to America that time, during the famine.  People ask why they don’t stay in France? They’re in France now and they’re been treated like shit. I certainly wouldn’t stay – would you?

There are some seriously educated people there.


I met some guys from Syria who told me that they had two choices at home. They would either be enlisted in to the military to fight against ISIS, or they would be enlisted in to ISIS. Now, if that was me, I would leg it. Most of the people I spoke to in the camp were highly educated (hence the perfect English that meant I could converse with them) and the literally just wanted to get to UK in order to get some decent jobs. Now, don’t get me wrong, I most certainly didn’t speak to everyone in the camp, and I’m sure, like in most societies, there are people with less skills to offer than others. I met one guy, a dentist, who promised to fix my teeth if he ever gets to Ireland! Fingers crossed. We also met construction workers, translators, doctors and engineers – seriously skilled people who just want to work and raise their families in a safe country.

You can make a difference.


It’s pretty easy to live with idea that it’s impossible for one person to make any sort of important change in the world, or for one person to make a difference, especially in a crisis that’s of such magnitude. I can’t say for sure that I made a huge difference by myself, but I know that collectively our convoy made a massive impact on the camp and we were all basically strangers beforehand. The residents of the camp may not have known where Ireland was before, but they certainly do now! A lot of my friends have messaged upon my return from Calais, saying things like ‘the world needs more people like you’, and while I’m not exactly Mother Theresa, I see no reason why they can’t be those people themselves. As the famous saying goes, ‘be the change you wish to see in the world’. The more you lead, the more people will follow. No matter what you believe in, stand up.