Mike's Story

GETTING OUR HANDS DIRTY

 

Roused by the harrowing headlines and his friends at Good Chance Calais,
Kneehigh director Mike Shepherd took a crack team of creatives to the Jungle to see how they could help. 

The gendarmerie stood in lines, with riot shields and tear gas at the ready as bulldozers cleared swathes of no man‘s land around the Jungle.

Ever watchful, it seemed as if the authorities were deliberately unsettling this unofficial community of desperate humanity through their unrelenting surveillance.

With a gut wrenching familiarity, these exiles and expatriates found themselves displaced once more, seeking out a place to pitch a tent and make a home within this sprawling wasteland.

Stoney-faced and cold, the authorities set to work clearing trees and valuable brushwood, as refugees appealed for firewood to combat sub-zero temperatures.

Then someone hurled a rock. And the dispassionate ranks of riot police reacted by discharging canister after canister of tear gas at half-frozen faces.

A CALL TO ACTION

We went to Calais not knowing what to expect. Our aim was simply to offer our support to Joe Robertson and Joe Murphy, founders of the Good Chance tent. Part village hall, arts centre and theatre, the two Joes and their team of volunteers have founded a haven for inspiration and education in the midst of the Jungle’s unrelenting chaos.

“…a haven for inspiration and education in the midst of the Jungle’s unrelenting chaos.”


Through commitment, passion, diplomatic skill and downright bravery, the Good Chance team adapts to the environment they find themselves in, however challenging.

We arrived at a time when the Good Chance tent had been forced to move from the calmer, gentler Sudanese and Eritrean areas to the Afghan area. There, we found ourselves among boys who, along with their fathers and their fathers before them, had only known war. Each day’s character was formed by the most urgent challenge. When we arrived, the generator had conked out, so there was no power, light or heat. The Kneehigh team was made up of storyteller and writer Anna Maria Murphy, virtuoso musician Ian Ross and genius engineer and inventor Rob Higgs. But in that context, our artistic aspirations had to be put to one side. Instead, we got our hands dirty and offered practical help where it was most urgent.

The desperate cold dictated our work that day. So we set off for the local bricolage to gather materials to create a false roof in the tent to help raise the temperature.

When we got to the superstore and opened the back of the van, we found two brothers smuggled away, hoping to be taken safely to the UK.

Having fled the Taliban and survived weeks in the Jungle, they still began each day with the fresh hope of escape. With heavy hearts, we took them back to the Jungle but learnt that two days later they had disappeared, perhaps scaling Mr Cameron‘s £6,000,000 razor wire fence to start a new life somewhere far from the Jungle.

There is much talk in the camp of when and where the “good chances" are. Throughout the next week we installed a lowered roof and a door in the Good Chance tent, and built a shed and secured a new generator. Rob also put in the groundwork for the future build of an adventure playground in the austere surroundings of the new temporary shipping container.

“We helped build accommodation for families, fixed kids’ bikes, made a shadow play of the story of Tom Bawcock‘s Eve, installed a shadow screen and light, dug soakaways. We went to the warehouse to help construct shelters and built an insulated charging station for power tools.”


We helped build accommodation for families, fixed kids’ bikes, made a shadow play of the story of Tom Bawcock‘s Eve, installed a shadow screen and light, dug soakaways. We went to the warehouse to help construct shelters and built an insulated charging station for power tools. 

Despite the stark focus on brutal necessity, we thought up theatre games for fun and to keep people warm, and created quick scenarios exuberantly performed by the two Joes together with the remarkable Afghan boys. We put on shadow plays, led sing-songs, juggled oranges and danced flamenco. We played cricket with an imaginary bat and ball, like they do in the film Timbuktu.

“Our fieldwork in the Jungle was immersive and reactive, frustrating and uplifting, impossible but urgent.”


Our fieldwork in the Jungle was immersive and reactive, frustrating and uplifting, impossible but urgent. We briefly saw the situation firsthand, and recognised it as one that is anything but clear cut.

We can only report on what we saw, and share what it felt like to be there. Read our 20 reasons to care about Calais.

 

Thank you Joes, thank you Jungle.
In hope, too.

Mike Shepherd

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