Three cheers for Kitchen in Calais


  • In Your Face
  • Wednesday, 05 Oct 2016

Volunteers preparing food at Kitchen in Calais

RIGHT, how many of you reading had a warm meal today? How many of you had at least one full meal yesterday?

Don't be shy, shout out if you did. I know I ate my fill.

And with Malaysia being the relatively peaceful food paradise that it is, how many of you reading this can imagine what it's like to go without a proper meal - especially after travelling thousands of miles across different, often unwelcoming countries to escape conflict in your homeland.

A 47-year-old Malaysian engineer living in the United Kingdom and his family can, although they have never gone without food or had to live a refugee's life themselves.

Meet Jamalulail Ismail, who runs Kitchen in Calais with his wife Sofinee Harun, their children and volunteers.

I spoke with Jamalulail a while back to ask him what inspired his family to kick off Kitchen in Calais back in 2005 with one caravan serving 100 refugees of various nationalities in the Calais Jungle, and he told me it began with the now-famous photo of young Alan Kurdi lying lifeless on a beach.

"At the time, my wife said that we should go and see what we could do to help - and the one in Calais is the closest refugee centre to our home in Durham in Britain," said Jamalulail.

He described the experience as being a shocking one for him and his family.

"France is a very civilised country, but the conditions at Calais were really poor. People were looking for food and were living in tents, and the temperature can drop to 5 degrees Celsius at night," said Jamalulail, adding that his family's first plan was to provide gas stoves.

They bought 20 gas stoves with the hope that one stove would be enough for 20-30 refugees, adding that many of the refugees did not have kitchens to cook food -  with some even burning their clothes to start fires for cooking.

"We then saw over the next few days that 50 to 100 people were arriving every day and we felt we had to do something, and the first thing we noticed is that many of the refugees did not have kitchens with which to cook food.

“Some were burning their clothes to cook food, so we provided gas stoves," said Jamalulail.

Jamalulail and his family had a planned target to provide enough stoves for 4,000 people.

"However, by the time we had given out 110 stoves, we realised it was not a feasible plan due to safety and security reasons.

“At that time, my wife suggested that it would be better if we cooked the food and provided the refugees with food," he said.

I asked him where the food supply came from, and Jamalulail told me that most of the food used by Kitchen in Calais came from supporters and donors.

“All the food we use comes from donations which have been flowing in, thankfully.

“In May, someone from Bradford donated six tonnes of rice, two tonnes of dates, two tonnes of lentils and 20,000 bottles of mineral water," he said.

He said that it costs them roughly £2,000 (RM10,811.17) every day to feed 1,000 people, adding that Kitchen in Calais uses on average 120kg of rice, 60kg of potatoes and 100 tomatoes and 100 iceberg lettuces for the salad provided with the meal.

"However, we face challenges when it comes to volunteers and other logistical supplies like cooking gas, petrol and places for the volunteers to stay," said Jamalulail.

He also spoke of the challenges they faced in setting up and running Kitchen in Calais and the current challenges faced by the initiative.

"Our challenge for the first two months was that the refugees lacked shelter, and then temperatures fell to minus 5C in winter.

“So all our water froze up overnight. And now, the camp is becoming smaller as the French authorities have begun bulldozing in the area.

“There are different challenges," said Jamalulail.

He also shared what some of his volunteers overcame to get to the Calais Jungle.

"We can't begin to comprehend the trauma that some of the refugees have experienced. One of my volunteers saw her father killed in front of her.

“Another volunteer went for morning prayers and came home to find her entire family killed when her home was bombed. She's 14 years old," said Jamalulail.

At this point, I asked myself what does the future hold considering that French President Francois Hollande pledged at the end of September to "definitively, entirely and rapidly" dismantle the Jungle by the end of this year - an act that will seriously affect its almost 10,000 residents as well as Kitchen in Calais?

I found the answer in a statement on the official Facebook page of Kitchen in Calais,  https://www.facebook.com/Kitchenincalais/ .

Kitchen in Calais will press on and they need our help to do so as it is the generosity of donors that keeps this noble effort afloat.

"Although the eviction might start soon, people still need to eat - as usual at least once a day. We still need to make sure we are able to cook, serve and even pack the food to bring to women and children.

“It is going to be tougher than ever for them. Therefore, we need to be there for them in this difficult time for everybody on the ground.

“With winter coming, there are so many uncertainties and a hot meal is a necessity, especially for young children and families.

“We need your ongoing support," said the Kitchen's administrators on their Facebook page.

The Kitchen also put up a call for volunteers on Oct 3.

"We still need you. The minimum time spent as a volunteer is for a three-week period. We still require more volunteers for the period from next week (Oct 10) to November for now. If you are interested and available now, please email your resume to kitchenincalais@gmail.com.”

So with that all said and done - how can we as Malaysians help this fine example of Malaysians doing good?

Well, we can start by sending donations through https://www.youcaring.com/kitchen-in-calais-658468 or by emailing kitchenincalais@gmail.com to find out what foods they need and how to support by donating goods instead of cash.

And if you're reading this from the United Kingdom or France and have the time and skills to spare, why not send in your CV?

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