Madalina’s two weeks of fieldwork here in Canterbury, Kent have just recently come to an end. During that time she conducted workshops with our performers on media censorship, attempting to cultivate in them a critical eye when it comes to messages, mediums and manipulation.
In order to provide an alternative point of view than those we’re typically bombarded with by mainstream British media, we conducted an interview with Jasmin O’Hara, the co-founder of Worldwide Tribe. Worldwide Tribe is a grassroots charity based in Kent and which began as an artistic endeavour to create a documentary dispelling myths around refugees. Very quickly however, Jasmin saw that more direct aid was needed, and the documentary soon expanded into an organization providing on-the-ground relief. Preserving their original ethos, Worldwide Tribe continues to champion truthful language around refugees, and seeks to replace their false representations with honest encounters.
Q: Who is the Worldwide Tribe?
A: Well actually it’s a big family. It’s me, my two brothers--one who’s a producer and the other a musician--his girlfriend, and my boyfriend who does a lot of groundwork, being as directly effective as possible. Then also my best friend who’s doing all of our administration. Originally The Worldwide Tribe was a travel blog which I had started some years ago while I was working in India as part of Pants Poverty, a fair trade fashion company. The blog has now expanded though and is encompassing the documentary that we’re all making together about Calais, although it’s now also extending to our work in Lesvos.
Q: So the original intention was to create a documentary. What changed?
A: We still are making a documentary, but when we arrived in Calais and saw their horrendous living conditions, we realized that more direct aid was essential. So I posted about it on Facebook, and suddenly it had over 60 thousand shares. We got inundated with positive messages and people wanting to help in some way. In the end my house, my friends’ houses, our garage were bursting with clothes and food and other donations.
Q: What are you hoping to communicate through your documentary?
A: Really we’re trying to challenge alienating preconceptions about immigration. These people are just like us, and it’s only a matter of circumstance that the roles aren’t reversed. We want to evoke compassion and a revolution of thought.
Q: Like not seeing refugees just as an undifferentiated mass of ‘others’ but as individuals—
A: --Exactly! Yes I’ve cried but I’ve laughed a lot as well! I mean really they are us, like us, people who you make relationships with, some maybe you don’t along with so well, while others become real friends. And I mean real friends who you’d share your life and thoughts with and you’d get that in return.
Q: What, in your opinion, is the biggest misrepresentation in the media?
A: That refugees are coming to the UK to take benefits. They are not coming here for economic reasons. The people who I meet with and live in the camp with are mostly well educated, they had money and a car and job back home. They haven’t left to drain the UK’s economy; they’ve come here because they were being persecuted in their country. They’re desperate to work! And can I add something else?
Q: Of course.
A: A lot of them are not even aware of how they’re being represented in the media. A lot of them don’t even know that they’re so unwanted by the UK. In their mind, they’re strong and resilient people who have escaped persecution and gone on an epic journey to find peace and safety—they feel like heroes! They’re beginning to become aware of their skewed vision of the UK though. They’re realizing it’s not a place of refuge as they had thought.
Q: What is the relationship of the citizens of Calais with the camp?
A: Not good. A few times there have been people who come driving in with their cars at night, running over tents and knocking over stations. A few refugees have been hospitalized because of this.
Q: What is the camp’s response?
A: Confusion. They simply don’t understand this hostility being thrown at them.
Q: Have you spoken to them about the winter?
A: Winter is a big concern, and not only because their living conditions are so ill-prepared for it. I mean, these people are from Africa and the Middle East and they’re not used to the cold. I remember at the beginning of October they were huddled up with coats and hats and asked me if it was this cold in the UK. I felt terrible saying “yes, and worse!” But they’re just not prepared. We don’t have enough relief for them from the cold and the damp. They’re constantly exposed, there’s no space where they can go to get dry or get warmed up.
Q: Have you felt that your work there is changing the situation?
A: Yes, and it’s really gratifying. Since we’ve been there the camp has moved from what I call Stage 1—which is basic food, shelter, and clothes—to Stage 2 which is setting up a proper distribution network and trying to get wifi. More urgent than Calais right now though is Lesbos. This is where my boyfriend is right now. Lesbos is Stage 1, and it’s mostly women and children who couldn’t make the journey here.
Q: How are you, personally, coping with all that you’ve taken on?
A: It’s a roller-coaster, and so often it’s overwhelming. It’s a huge amount of responsibility and at the moment all of our work is exclusively volunteer-based, which isn’t sustainable in the long run. We’ve all had to move back to our mum’s. But we’re applying for charity status, and in the meantime we’re doing our best to manage all of the material and financial donations people are so generously giving to the camp.
Q: Before I let you go, is there anything else you want to say?
A: Just that anyone who goes to Lesvos right now to help will save lives. They’re desperate, and you would save a lot more than one life by going there.
Our interview with Jasmin took place on Wednesday, October 28th. Since then, Worldwide Tribe has established a funding campaign online, where you are able to support their ever-expanding volunteerism. If you want to contribute but, like many of us, are unable to pick up their banner by traveling to Calais or Lesvos to provide personal relief, a donation is a wonderful gesture of autonomy.
Facebook: Worldwide Tribe
Pictures courtesy of Worldwide Tribe