All posts by hollyshortall

8 Reasons Why I’m Voting Yes to Repeal

1. Because Abortion is Already Happening in Ireland.

In 1983 – 6 years before I was born – Ireland held a referendum that lead to the constitutional amendment recognising the right to life of the unborn child. This piece of legislation was introduced to ensure that there was no hope of terminations ever taking place in Ireland. Anyone with two brain cells could tell you that this hasn’t worked. We have simply exported the issue, with up to 12 women a day, who for whatever reason, are having to fly or sail abroad for terminations.

In a modern society, we can no longer condemn these women to laundries where their children are stolen and sold, so instead, we close our eyes and pretend they don’t exist. Like it or not, it is happening. Every. Single. Day.

2Because the United Nations Said I Should.

In 2017, a United Nations Committee found Ireland violated the human rights of a woman who had to travel to Britain for an abortion after her baby was diagnosed with a fatal foetal abnormality. The woman won her case, and the committee decided she was to be awarded not just compensation by the State, but that they were to also provide psychological treatment. At the time, the UN said Ireland needs to prevent similar violations of the rights of women by changing its laws on abortion. The UN by its own definition is a global organisation that brings together its member states to confront common challenges, manage shared responsibilities and exercise collective action in an enduring quest for a peaceful, inclusive and sustainable developing world and I for one respect its stance on this subject.

3. Because it’s Legal Almost Everywhere Else in Europe.

For 26 out of 28 EU countries, abortion is legal in a huge proportion of cases. Besides Ireland, Malta is the only other country in Europe in which terminations are illegal. Malta is a highly Catholic country and a devout nation where large percentages of the population attend church celebrations on a regular basis. Religion is at the epicentre of the majority of any public discussion, specifically with regard to matters relating to marriage, divorce, abortion, IVF and other matters of morality.

Sound familiar?…

4. Because Innocent Women Are Not Criminals.

Terminations abroad are not accessible to everyone, and in many cases, illegal tablets are purchased online. Abortion is a criminal offence in Ireland, meaning any woman caught with these pills could get up to 14 years in jail.

These pills – when administered by a healthcare professional – are of course, perfectly safe. However, if taken incorrectly in terms of dosage or timings, they can cause serious and potentially fatal problems such as uterine rupture and haemorrhage. Can you imagine the turmoil of something going wrong in one of these circumstances – knowing that you could be arrested and charged with a criminal offence if you were to present yourself at a hospital with internal bleeding after taking these tablets? I can’t.

5. Because Your Life Is Not My Business – and Vice Versa.

It’s as simple as that. What any woman chooses to do with her body and her life is not my decision to make or to live with. I am not pro-abortion. I am pro-choice. I have not, and will not, allow my personal beliefs on terminations to dictate my view on repealing the 8th. I respect and trust women and I believe its high-time the Irish State did the same.  That decision will not affect my life, it will only effect yours but please know that I support you.

If you are someone who believes that every pregnancy is a blessing or that all life begins at conception, all I can say is that I truly wish I lived life through your rose-tinted specs.

6. Because The Church Told Me Not To.

A simple Google search of movements rejected, opposed to and protested against by the Catholic Church include (but are not confined to) contraception, divorce and same-sex marriage. The list of historic and heinous crimes committed by the Catholic Church is just as  long, with Magdalene Laundries, child sex abuse and Tuam babies only serving to reinforce my beliefs that the power this organisation has over Ireland has left an irremovable stain on this country’s history. The Catholic Church has shown a long-standing resistance to matters regarding progressive sexual and cultural change and since I was about 12 years old, I was aware that it wasn’t an entity I wanted to align myself with. I know which side of history I want to be on, and it will never be the same one as the Church.

7. Because Every Woman Deserves Pre and Post-Op Care at Home.

As stated before, I don’t believe it is my business as to why anyone seeks an abortion. However, I firmly believe this country has a duty of care when it comes to the pre and post treatment of these women. I truly cannot fathom how in 2018 we still force women abroad for these procedures. Every woman in Ireland deserves access to safe and legal medical care. Nobody, and I repeat nobody, wants to have an abortion. It’s a painful and traumatic experience but one that 170,000 Irish women have gone through since 1980 – away from home, away from family, away from friends and allies. The illegality of it makes it a truly shameful experience and that should not be the case.

If Dr Peter Boylan, the former Master of the Holles St Maternity Hospital who personally delivered 6,000 babies, is calling for a Yes vote, I truly cannot fathom how anyone is voting no.

8. Because I Care About the Future for Women in Ireland.

I am as aware as one can be of the privilege afforded to me as a white, Irish-born, relatively educated, full-time employed, cis-gendered woman. Being aware of this means I am also very of aware those not in my position.

On May 25th 2018, I am voting YES. I am voting Yes for my sisters who have had to travel abroad. For my sisters in disadvantaged areas and vulnerable situations, with no access to safe legal abortion. For my sisters who are in their teens with their whole lives ahead of them. For my asylum-seeking sisters living in Direct Provision – not allowed leave the confines of the dire limbo they live in. For my sisters in abusive relationships. For my sisters with drug or drink addiction issues. For my sisters struggling to provide for the children they already have. For my sisters who have been raped. For my sisters who have just been told their longed-for baby is not going to survive outside of the womb. I am voting Yes for every single woman in Ireland who might some day be faced with having to have a termination for whatever personal reason, and I believe every single woman on this little island deserves compassion, care and access to safe and legal abortion – at home. Women have died because of the current legislation. This needs to change.

If the 8th amendment is successfully repealed on May 25th, women in Ireland will finally gain access to something that is afforded to their counterparts in almost every other European country.  It will be another step forward for this tiny country. You might not like it, you might never require a termination – Hell, you mightn’t even be a woman, but I don’t care.

I’m voting Yes.

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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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Source: VOAnews.com

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

Email: minister@justice.ie

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.

Tweet 

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

Email/Letter

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,

Name

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. 

Food

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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 :

https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/calaiskitchens

https://mydonate.bt.com/charities/refugeecommunitykitchen

Phones

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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: phone.credit.1@gmail.com

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

Volunteer

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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: volunteerincalais@gmail.com 

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: https://www.facebook.com/calaisfieldmusic

Unaccompanied Minors

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Source: IrishTimes.com

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: https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/refugeeyouthservice

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.

 

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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.

Direct_Provision_centre,_Athlone

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 Jenner’s lips. I met people from so many different backgrounds, people who are now friends, who bared 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.

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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.

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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’, white privileged means 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.

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Yes, I have had many many amazing experiences working for myself, but for the most part, I have been lonely and deflated. There is no sick pay, no holidays. No guaranteed work. I had a particularly horrible experience with a publication 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.  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.

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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 a lot 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 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.

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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 Burton’s 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.

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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 wracked 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 their Iran from their Iraq, their Fianna Fail from their Fianna Gael or their Democratic from their 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.

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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 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 unemptied and overflowing and there are shower facilities for a 1/7th of the camp a day that they are made to run for like cattle. The conditions are absolutely appalling

There’s nothing to be afraid of.

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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 in 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 person I encountered smiled and said hello, and the manners of the men in the camp were impeccable.

It was actually quite safe.

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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!

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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 residents of the camp, it was a really nice memory that I’ll keep forever.

There are children there.

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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 aback 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.

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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.12144727_404537876337389_4062970389792406863_n

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.

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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.

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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 me 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.