23 Feb 2016

#HelpCalais: How a hashtag started a life-saving charitable fund

Helping handshake

A good deed can go a long way.

London-based chartered psychologist Dr George Fieldman, an altruism expert, says random acts of kindness create a ‘virtuous circle’ - where one good deed leads to another. A sort of paying it forward that can make the world a better place.

Take Help Refugees. It began with a tweet packed with some celebrity sparkle and grew into a social movement to support refugees.

Less than two months after first starting the hashtag, #helpcalais, the grassroots organisation registered as a charitable fund (under the auspices of Prism the Gift Fund) quickly became the biggest giver of humanitarian aid to Calais.

The fund also provides essential supplies, medical aid plus search and rescue to help refugees across Europe and supports long term volunteers and groups working on the frontline of the crisis.

Huge support

The public response to the #helpcalais campaign was overwhelming, with people donating money, goods and equipment, as well as their free time and skills.

Tanya Freedman, co-director at Help Refugees says: “We’ve had an amazing response – from the hundreds of supporters who forfeited a Christmas gift to give something to a refugee instead, to Paloma Faith, who not only headlined a fundraising gig, but also gave us one of her spectacular stage outfits to auction. And one volunteer who couldn't find us online, offered to build us a website and worked through the night to have it ready next morning.”

Tanya says the fund acts fast to change lives and get aid where it’s most needed, and is proud to have made a significant difference.

“Some of our stand out achievements include building shelters for every woman and child in the Calais camp so that they didn't have to go through winter living in flimsy tents.

“We also provided two ambulances to the Syrian Civil Defence, the White Helmets, to do life-saving work after bombings. And our volunteer Greece co-ordinator saved a drowning five-month old baby girl on his very first shift.

Tragically, this is a regular occurrence but knowing we are changing lives every day is what keeps us going.”

Far reaching aid

In the last six months, the British public has supported Help Refugees in providing in excess of £200,000 of humanitarian aid to the refugees in Calais, with more than 10,000 British volunteers assisting in this process.

Between 35-40 articulated lorries full of British public donations have been sent to Calais and Dunkirk, and working alongside French partners L'Auberge Des Migrants, the charitable fund has built more than 2,000 wooden shelters to help protect against the elements during the worst of winter.

In Greece, the fund helps provide hot meals to 6-7,000 refugees daily in Athens, Lesvos and Samos as well as giving hundreds of pairs of shoes to refugees arriving in the border town of Idomeni.

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