Every night when Dunstable mum Kerrie Duggan smothers her four-year-old daughter Rosara with goodnight kisses before sinking into her own soft, warm bed, her thoughts turn to a Syrian mother she met a fortnight ago in the Calais refugee camp they call The Jungle.
Creative career mentor Kerrie, 38, had made the journey for two reasons: she wanted to find a caravan called Phoebe Hope, named after her cousin’s baby daughter who died two weeks after being born and donated to the camp in her memory; and she wanted to talk to the family who live in it now.
“I wasn’t optimistic about finding Phoebe Hope,” Kerrie confesses. “But we were walking through a group of shabby caravans and there she was – a green, weathered looking van. We knocked on the door and it was opened by a lady and her teenage son.
“I showed her a photo of Rosara standing at Phoebe’s door.
“I can’t explain what happened next but it was one of the most moving experiences of my life. Fatima ran out and held me and thanked me over and over. She couldn’t speak English but her son Sajjad could speak a little. He said: ‘This is your van.’ And I said: ‘No, it’s yours.’
“Fatima offered me food and tea and showed me a picture drawn by her seven-year-old son Mohamat.
“Our tears dropped as we hugged and I promised to visit again. We spent only a few minutes together, but I felt deeply connected.”
The former Manshead student is determined to go back and spend more time with Fatima and her family.
She would also like to set up a creative project for the women and children in the camp.
She says: “Many charities are doing amazing work. There’s a church – a tranquil haven in the midst of all the madness. There’s a small school, and health, youth and legal centres in shabby donated tents and shanty huts – a human civilisation rising up in the face of the lowest adversity.
“There are youths playing badminton, football and scaling make-shift buildings. They’re finding ways to keep warm, numb the pain and escape the living reality of existing here.
“Make no mistake, this is no holiday camp, it’s a slum because no-one has taken charge of this humanitarian crisis, there’s no infrastructure.
“It’s the ground zero of choices, whether you’re an economic migrant or a war refugee.
“But in the despair are glimmers of hope. In the sadness there is strong faith. In the dismay there is still laughter and in the humiliation there is still pride.”