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Students support humanitarian effort in Calais

University of Gloucestershire students have been making a positive difference to the lives of people fleeing war, poverty and persecution after helping to provide thousands of meals working as volunteers alongside a national charity.

Seven students from the University of Gloucestershire Refugee Support Society made a 230-mile humanitarian trip to Calais to support the grassroots organisation Refugee Community Kitchen in preparing nutritious food for hundreds of adults and children living in refugee camps.

The student-led Society held fundraising activities that were well supported by members of the public to help finance the trip, including a Cheltenham to Syria Miles Challenge in which they walked the equivalent distance (3,000 miles) between January and May, bake sales, a film night, and a quiz in partnership with Cheltenham Welcomes Refugees, a local charity supporting displaced people in Cheltenham.

Students sorting through carrots
Students sorting through boxes of carrots for the Refugee Community Kitchen in Calais

Leaders of the Society, Eleanor Hill and Victoria Witherington, said: “It’s one of the best things we’ve ever done. We had the chance to connect with some amazing people, work hard in a busy kitchen and offer our time in support of a really important cause.

“It was our Society’s goal for the year to take on a volunteering project of this scale and continue to raise awareness of the challenges associated with forced migration.

“We chose Refugee Community Kitchen because they are committed to giving people space to gather and connect over good, nutritious food and hold values of kindness and acceptance at their centre.”

The group worked with other volunteers throughout the week to prepare meals for distribution in Calais and Dunkirk.

Describing the work of the group in the kitchen each day, Eleanor, who is also the Students’ Union’s Education and Community Officer, said: “Everyone worked so hard, and they spent all the time smiling. We washed vegetables, prepared salads, curries and puddings, and washed so many pots. I was so proud of the efforts of the group and seeing everyone come together.

“While we had such a great time helping in the kitchen, it was a real reminder that there are so many people in need of support and compassion.

“We learnt so much about the approach to supporting displaced people during our time there, and it’s pushed us to advocate even more for better awareness and support of these communities.”

Victoria added: “We really came to terms with how many people needed help, and the different attitudes that exist. Working in the kitchen was a life-changing experience, and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to help and learn more about the challenges faced by displaced communities.”

The pair, who met through the Society, expressed thanks to those who have supported the group to get to Calais.

Eleanor and Victoria said: “We’re really grateful for the support from the Students’ Union, who helped us get the trip off the ground, and to everyone who supported and advocated for us during our fundraising activities.”

The University of Gloucestershire Refugee Support Society is a community of like-minded students committed to making change by taking action and raising awareness in support of refugee and asylum-seeking communities locally, and elsewhere in the world.

The society is partnered with Cheltenham Welcome Refugees and Gloucester Welcomes Refugees, which support refugee families as they settle into life within local communities.

Eleanor added: “We try really hard to make the group a place where people can learn more about the narrative around forced migration, and do our best to bring students together.

“We invite other activists and charities to give talks about their experiences and views on refugees and asylum seekers, hold creative workshops to plan our fundraisers and try to attend local events.

“We also meet to get to know one another and bring students together. We do our best to promote inclusion and kindness and make this the centre of everything we do.”

If you are a student interested in joining the Society in the new academic year, you can sign up at the Students’ Union Welcome Fayre on September 20 at Park Campus. Or if you’d like to see more of what the group are up to, you can follow them on Instagram @uogrefugee

Main image: The seven students who made a 230-mile humanitarian trip to Calais to support the grassroots organisation Refugee Community Kitchen