Encounter Calais

On the 10th February, when most of the schools were finishing for half term, 6th form from All Saints and McAuley Schools had an early start on their way to Calais. They took part in a project to learn and volunteer with refugee projects at the border, as part of a collaborative project run by the Diocese of Hallam Youth and the Columban Missionaries.

Before the group left, we were given donations of men’s beanie hats by the UCM, many of which had been hand knitted! Thank you to the UCM for their support. 

We were 6 young people and 6 educators in the group including Polly Witter, Chaplain of McAuley. We managed to fit into our itinerary: a visit to Secours Catholique (Caritas France), a Mass in French, a meal with a Jesuit priest, Fr. Philippe Demeestere, at a house of hospitality he runs in Calais (His engagement has included hunger striking for refugees’ rights), two full days volunteering with Care4Calais in the warehouse and out on distribution and finally a debrief at Aylesford Priory before heading back to Hallam. 

Each day we took time with the group to pray and reflect on the experience, led by James Trewby, the JP officer for the Columban Fathers and Sue, director of youth for Hallam. 

It is so difficult to share the many emotions and learning that we went through here in this short article. If groups wanted to know more they can contact Sue McDonald, but here are a few pictures of the group and two reflections that students, Lidya and Faith, wrote upon their return. The project was very much to learn through meeting and engaging with others, something all our students from Hallam did so well. We hope to be able to share more when we have had a little time to process it all.


These are two reflections the girls made upon their return home, we will share more of the experience after we have had our final reflection as a group. Thank you to Columban Fathers, Hallam UCM and the Guild of Our Lady of Ransom for their support in the running of this project

1. “For I know the Plans I have for You” (Jeremiah 29:11)

“What an amazing trip this has been, in such a short amount of time I’ve learnt so much about others but also myself, such amazing souls were met throughout our travel and have definitely left an impact on how I perceive things.

If I could take away anything it would be to always be appreciative of everything you have and never take life for granted. So many of the people we met had nowhere to stay, no one to talk to and no promise they would see the next day.

I thank the Lord for giving me the opportunity to take part in this experience and opening my eyes to the pain and challenges refugees are facing in their everyday life.

Even through all of this they still had hope in their God and his plans for the future. I pray God is with them on every stap of their journey and that He gives them the freedom they deserve”  (Faith, All Saints) 

2. “Don’t forget to show hospitality to believers you don’t know.”

Being able to volunteer at the camps in Calais with refugees who have been turned away and dismissed, enabled me to see the pain and suffering they went through. Yet I watched them be so thankful and compassionate of the little help we could offer them.

And being greeted and surrounded with people who were going through such a heart-breaking experience while never losing hope and faith in God should be something we can learn from.

Such an amazing experience, thanks to those for who made it happen! (Lidya, All Saints)