Needless to say, we here at Eye Want Change have always been big advocates of phones and the power they hold. We were inspired by the incredible significance of phones during the Arab Spring, which were used to capture events as they unfolded and later to spread information using social media. This began a wave of what is now know as ‘citizen journalism’, real people capturing real events, shirking government media control and the bias of big media companies and news outlets. Five years on, and the world is still in crisis. People continue to flee war, making perilous journeys and many have continued to use phones to document these journeys.
In the final 2 months of the ‘Jungle’, I was there working for Calais Kitchens, an organisation providing dry food parcels to every single resident of the camp. The soundtrack of the jungle, wherever you went, was the Facebook and Whatsapp dial up tone. Everywhere phones were making connections across the world, echoing the journeys made by the residents. Calls were being made to Sudan, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Syria. Often, by the time many had reached the ‘Jungle’, people had spent the last of their money on the long journey from their homes.
In February, James Pearce set up a group to provide phone credit to refugees and displaced people. This grassroots organisation has raised hundreds of thousands of pounds that have allowed refugees around the world to make contact with family and with friends, to retain connections with the homes they have left behind and to maintain new ones with the friends and families they have made. It has also been confirmed that a young teenage boy named Ahmed, 7, saved himself and fourteen others with phone credit provided by the group, when stuck in a lorry losing oxygen.
Despite my work for Eye Want Change, I had always found the prevalence of smartphones in daily life a nuisance. Often, sat around with friends, I would feel disheartened. There we were, with company, all staring down at our phones. But often in the jungle, conversations were centred around phones. When there was a language barrier, we would share pictures of our respective homes and family, share favourite songs on Youtube. It became apparent that something as simple as an internet connection could provide comfort, connection and at times, a lifeline.
Christmas is a time when many of us make journeys, take planes and buses to be with those we love. Since for so many, Christmas is no longer a time for religious celebration, it has become an occasion to celebrate family and friends. Never let it be underestimated what an incredible luxury this is. At this time, there are hundreds of thousands of people not only displaced from their homes but separated by sea and land from those they love.
The Facebook group ‘Phone credit for refugees and displaced people’ is growing daily, and with it a need for support. To continue the work that they do they desperately need funds. If you too want to celebrate connection this Christmas, please consider donating what you can. Connection, family and friendship are powerful and invaluable. From one mobile phone organisation to another, we love you and we think you do fantastic work.
Text: Christa Stengard-Green