Tour de France: On the road again to volunteer with refugees

It’s been an eventful few weeks here volunteering with refugees in France, with the work of the charity spreading across the country. I was part of a team of three who left Calais last week for a road trip through France to visit CAOs (the welcome centres that the refugees in Calais have been placed in while awaiting asylum claims to be processed).

Our first stop, 650km later, was Clermont-Ferrand, a town that had previously only been on my radar because of its prestigious short film festival. I don’t know what it is about film festival towns that make me expect sunshine. I envisage Cannes or Los Angeles, which is hilarious given how many of these festivals I have attended in cold and grey cities like Berlin, Chicago – even Dublin. But still, I expect the sun to come out in celebration of the glitz and glamour.

Clermont-Ferrand is not so glitzy. Or sunny. It was -6ºC and icy. Strangely enough, though, it was still beautiful.


I pulled our van up outside the CAO and we started to unload. We must have looked an unlikely team, three fair haired, fair skinned girls rocking jeans and boots and layer upon layer of outdoor clothing, lifting and carrying box after box of supplies for the 51 men calling this CAO their temporary home.


As I’ve now come to expect in France, things did not run entirely smoothly. Due to authorisation problems between the charity and the CAO management and lots of red tape, we were told to wait until the following day to complete our delivery.

It was the first of many complications that were to decide the course of the rest of our trip, but like the superstars that we are, we joked about the extra date added to our tour.

The following morning, authorisation now granted, we returned to the CAO and brought blankets, jackets, clothing, toiletries and food to the community living there. I was really excited to see so many familiar items that had been donated in Leitrim make it into the hands of individuals in need. One of the men, Ahmed, an Afghani Kurd, told me he was seeking asylum in Dublin. Can you imagine his excitement to find out there was a large Kurdish community in Carrick on Shannon? He’d never heard of it, but now his mission is to visit when he finally gets to Ireland. I gave him a Carrick on Shannon Community School jacket and I’m not sure who was more proud of it, but from the beaming grin on his face, I think he may have just about beaten me.


And so we moved on to Figeac, another 300km further from Calais. Crossing the Auvergne mountains in the snow was stunningly beautiful and spirits were high. Until, surprise, surprise we ran in to more red tape issues in Figeac. It was getting a bit tiresome.


We were just getting the bureaucracy sorted out and had finished with as much as our work as we were going to get through for the day when our van (which we had nicknamed Coco ‘Kidney Beans’ Chanel in reference to her fickleness and the amount of Kidney Beans she was carrying around France) decided in true French fashion that she just couldn’t be bothered.

She wasn’t alone.

Mild hysteria set in, though, and, forced to spend the night in Figeac, there was nothing for it but to sample the regional wine and to celebrate. It was my birthday after all!

After another long, disappointing morning, we’d had more than enough of our Tour de France.  Coco’s prognosis was not good and she was not going to be ready for almost a week. We showed her the same loyalty she had shown us and we ditched her. We embraced our inner French motorists and hired a nippy little car to get out of dodge. It was very late the next night when we got back to Calais. I’ll be honest, I breathed a big sigh of relief after the long journey.

Note to holidaymakers: If faced with the prospect of a week in Figeac, RUN! (or hire a car and drive as fast as you can).

Despite the slightly disastrous trip, though, I keep thinking of Ahmed in Clermont-Ferrand and imagining all the different possibilities his future holds. I hope he gets to Dublin. I hope he visits Carrick on Shannon. I can’t even begin to imagine the kind of journey he’s already been on but I hope that whatever red-tape lies ahead of him, he gets to sigh in relief at the end of it too.





22 Comment

  1. Sara says: Reply

    You are doing great things, volunteering and charity is very important. It is good to hear these experiences!

    1. Rambling Ruth says: Reply

      Thanks Sara!

  2. It sounds like you did a good job maintaining some perspective over it all though – and I’m glad you were able to make the best of things on your birthday!

  3. I’m glad you looked at the right side and enjoyed your birthday after all, God knows why he make you stay there. Happy belated birthday by the way!!

    1. Rambling Ruth says: Reply

      Thanks Josselyn!

  4. Amazing work you are doing. Keep it up. We need more gentle hearts like your own.

    1. Rambling Ruth says: Reply

      Aw, thank you

  5. It is so great that you are volunteering and helping out. This is something that is in such high demand.

  6. Daisy says: Reply

    Some trips are not really that enjoyable because of the roadblocks. So, we just got to look at the bright side and still enjoy what we can.

  7. stacey says: Reply

    I did stay on the red carpet in Cannes on a perfectly sunny day only to get photobombed but no one told me.

  8. Erin says: Reply

    Your writing skills are absolutely beautiful. Have you written any books? If not, you totally should. I would give anything to be able to write as eloquently as you do!

    Maybe when you all are on your long drives, you can start your first book writing about this once in a lifetime experience (that is, if it hasn’t been started already!).

    1. Rambling Ruth says: Reply

      Thank you so much, you’ve made my day. As it happens, I am an aspiring writer and have written a book, it’s just not published yet. I’m in the early stages of the second one now so fingers crossed all works out.
      My blog is a kind of a catch-all blog so I do from time to time mention my writing and any developments so if and when I get my big break, I’ll make sure to share.

  9. What a great read. Those mountain views are amazing and so picturesk.

    1. Rambling Ruth says: Reply

      Thanks Liz. They really were pretty!

  10. People like you restore my faith in humanity. It was a great post and i enjoyed reading it

    1. Rambling Ruth says: Reply

      Thank you, that’s very kind!

  11. Hannah says: Reply

    Really enjoyed reading this, it’s great to get the perspective of individuals like yourselves going out to help people. Its also nice to think that the idea of some day getting to Dublin and visiting Carrick-on Shannon will help Ahmed through such a hard experience. I hope he makes it here too.

    1. Rambling Ruth says: Reply

      Thanks Hannah!

  12. I LOVE Paris! I visited about 10 years ago and had the most amazing time. It is by far one of my favorite cities. My husband is deploying to Europe later this year and I am already planning a trip to visit him for a while to take my children to experience all of the things that I did while I was there.

    1. Rambling Ruth says: Reply

      Amazing. Everywhere in Europe has something cool to offer. What a brilliant opportunity for your children

  13. I think it is absolutely fantastic that you are helping the refugees. I wish that there was more that I could do here to help them. They have been through so very much, and have such a long road ahead of them. My heart breaks every day when I read news about them.

    1. Rambling Ruth says: Reply

      They’ve had a tough time. It’s important that we remain accepting and support them however we can.

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