What makes a house a home?

This is a question I have been thinking about recently, inspired by my experience volunteering with the Refugee Youth Service (RYS) in Calais for 10 days last December. My main role was to help support the RYS team, but I also led a series of Lego-based workshops for the young people in the camps. These workshops gave me an insight into what the concept of home means to some of these young people.

Initially, I had assumed I would run structured workshops using Lego, however very early on I realised that none of the young people had ever encountered Lego before. This therefore meant delivering a very different kind of session, one using facilitated play rather than a more formal structure. I set up the sessions on a table in an area used for food distributions outside the camps themselves, ensuring it was an open space for anyone who wanted to join in.

While playing with the Lego, it quickly became clear that there were two things that the participants were mainly building: houses or lorries and cars. Although perhaps not surprising given the circumstances, what really stood out for me was the attention to detail in each build and the fact that each person included the same element in their structure that transformed their building into a home; every single house created during the sessions included a roof. I have previously run similar sessions here in the UK, and yet no participants have ever built a Lego house with a roof on top before. While this may seem like an obvious thing for a person living in a refugee camp to look for, the sheer quantity of houses built with roofs had a profound effect on me.

           A number of these tiny homes also had security guards placed around them for safety, and a moment which had a deep impact on me was when a young person made his two security guards two of the RYS members of staff, seeing them as the safest people to protect his home.

           The team at RYS works tirelessly to ensure that unaccompanied minors (some as young as 12) have safety and stability in their lives at times of extreme trauma and chaos. While facilitating the play sessions with Lego, I was reminded of how young these children are and how much of their childhood has been stolen by circumstances outside of their control. When we read newspaper headlines that scaremonger or distance the issues it can become all too easy to forget that each child risked their life to reach Europe, and that each is in need of love, safety, security and a place to call their home.

My time with RYS has had a lasting impact on me, and I would like to thank each client I worked with last year, as you have enabled me to fund my time in Calais. I am extremely grateful to have a career that allows me to spend time working to support those who need it most.

RYS are the only Safeguarding and Child Protection organisation operating in the region. If you would like to make a donation to support their vital work please follow this link.

Camilla Gordon