[ Editor’s note: The following notes were made by @michael_dunn during the “Learning from Emergency Mutual Aid”, of OpenVillage Festival (19th October 2017). Quotes are not verbatim but summarize what was said. If you feel something is mis-represented, please tell us in a comment or with the “Flag → Something Else” feature and a mod will fix it. – @anu]
I was part of the group who got a trailer from a festival and turned it into a clinic. Several of us had been involved in helping out in Calais. We drove it to a refugee camp in Serbia. We gave basic care: massage, footcare, taught stretching to people with bad backs (comes from sleeping rough), things like that.
Me and Michael work together at a unofficial refugee camp in Serbia. I imagine Calais to have been something like that. There were roughly 1000 refugee boys & men, mostly Afghans, essentially homeless, lived w/op structures & systems, they had nothing. And the network that existed came off the backs of the volunteers that were there…Save the Children, … UNHCR were there, but we could not see that they were doing anything at all, except prevent people from moving across borders. It was a mess.
We have a situation that is quite supportive,…in Serbia where the govt is just not there. As we see, look into the future, how do we interact with the 2 different contexts? Comes with hurdles & ?. We came from the mutual perspective that we should be in solidarity with teh people. The people … The irony is that those who have been through it are doing the most work. For instance, … How do we support ppl to look after themselves. This is beginning to how to do that, the first type of experiment.
Q: What did you do?
Footcare…bunions & ppl with scabies, problems with people who were sleeping rough.
Run mostly by two nurses. Change their socks…
We don’t think much about footcare, it’s easy for us. But these boys had terrible feet. They had unmatching shoes, they had their shoes stolen from them, they walked 20 km a day, etc. So they had horrible blisters, they had bad toenails, hygiene problems.
It was biblical, I came from a medical background, I’m a junior doctor. These boys were not accustomed to see female Western medical professional kneeling at their feet to wash them!
Language was a problem. They spoke Pashtuni, Urdu, & Farsi but we did not. I was exceptionally lucky to work with an American nurse who was Pakistani, and could communicate.
We did stuff like film screening, to address how to come together.
Q: How was the need determined?
A: 7 of us worked in Calais. We had the object before we knew what we were going to build. And asking the persons if they wanted that.
After 3 months, I felt most helpful by giving information, yes there is a health care need but that’s not what the people really wanted, thinking about the root cause the whole time. You have to be ready to evolve
The delivery of care is not easy, but it’s clear. But as we did it, we found that our work was directly caused by some other unmet need, like in Michael’s example if sewers plumbing. Well, of course, there are deep reasons why these people were emigrating in the first place.
What I’m learning here, is that healthcare problems are themselves caused by other, deeper problems. Does this mean that emergency mutual aid is pointless, and you don’t recommend getting into it?
No, not at all. The trailer is still on the road, and it will continue. For the future, I want to do first aid training with migrants to get lots of first aid kits to migrants. I’m sure that once I do that, there will something else
Q: What is the status, do the migrants want to go home?
I have a background in public health. I am from Oakland, California, and I am wondering about taking care of our large homeless population. Right now we are struggling with large fires, and they affect unhomed communities. We had to find a way to respond rapidly to meet their needs.
Though not a lawyer neither an accountant, I know about law and accounting. The UK government asked me to be a researcher and to think about the unthinkable, like, what happened before companies existing. Resilience comes from the bottom up. And resources, keeping the lights on, and human resilience. I view human arrangements as agreements: companies, governments, armies, rock bands all are agreements. I’m interested in what agreements, what instruments can we mobilize to do what we need to do? My experience is that it is achievable.
We live in ZAD (Zone À Defendre), an autonomous community living together on a big stretch of land outside Paris. I’m very interested in … I’m interested in building a practical infrastructure in order to build solidarity in our group. But I’m also interested in the struggles around other groups. For example, growing vegetables for other communities, and others who need it, to be a place that welcomes different types of people. And also I’m part of the medic team at ZAD. I’m learning skills , first aid & medical skills in order to help the ppl around. To help ppl who are victims of police violence, and I’m very interested in sharting this knowledge.
I am also from ZAD. We are not specialists, but we do have to deal with lots of issues. We are here to share experiences; larger projects, but also smaller tools. We need this, because our way of organising implies that we sometimes find ourselves isolated.
I’m Tori and I’m part of of a collective…how power affects our health. I have a background in autonomous organization …, more relevant to this conversation, I did solidarity work in Athens? With this work, oftentimes, there is a situation that as an individual, we have to confront very different belief systems, and we can encounter violence. How do you resolve some of the things on the fly?
I’m Gehan, I don’t bring any technical expertise, how do we practice mutual aid in emergency situations, how do we create an infrastructure in these situations would be v interesting to explore
I used to think that the public was a mass of people waiting for our help. But then I started squatting, and got around to asking local people “what do you need?” and this worked better. Also, it turns out local people have capacity. And I wonder if it would be possible to mobilise that capacity, and how.