As the sun begins to sink toward the horizon, the iftar meal signifying the end of a Muslim’s daily Ramadan fast approaches. Shunning food and water during daylight hours is taxing. For refugees who already lack sufficient access to food, the struggle is even greater.
But in a cramped kitchen in the Jungle camp of Calais, Jamal Ismail works with his wife, children and a few volunteers to ensure Muslim refugees in the camp have a free, halal meal to fill their stomachs each night.
Horrified by the death of 3-year-old Syrian refugee Alan Kurdi, whose body was found on a Turkish beach in September, Jamal and his wife Sofinee left their home in Durham, England to volunteer in the Jungle.
The very name of the camp leaves a bad taste in Jamal’s mouth. It sounds like a place where only animals live, he said. Although he and his wife originally intended to volunteer for just a few days, realizing the scope of the refugees’ need, they chose to open Kitchen in Calais.
Jamal and Sofinee are Muslim themselves, as are their children and volunteers, which makes it easy to connect with the refugees, Sofinee said. Unlike the rest of the Jungle, where there are no restrictions on who can come and go, volunteers at Kitchen in Calais are heavily vetted.
Currently they are all college students, also from Malaysia, who have experience in Arabic and do not openly associate themselves with politics. The volunteers are not just cooks, but role models to the refugees, she said.
“Sometimes [the refugees] have lost hope, they’ve lost family,” Sofinee said. “It’s important to have volunteers that stand stronger than them to give them hope.”
— Kali Robinson