I first met Mary Jones, a very sensible and stoic English teacher who has been living locally in Northern France for years, in October 2015. Amid the panic and chaos of the humanitarian disaster that was unfolding in Calais, she had calmly set about making a little library and school, alongside refugee friends she had made in the camp. Together, they had created a sanctuary of calm amid the chaos of the humanitarian crisis that was unfolding.
Mary was constantly running around getting gas bottles; Western Union Transfers; mobile phones; and various other bits and bobs for her friends, whose needs and concerns she listened to, cared about and acted on.
She was doing all this before any major organisation arrived and the money she used came out of her own pocket. This, she later reimbursed with receipts ( apparently illegal in France, although perfectly normal and legal in the UK). Taking Western Union payments for people, small amounts of 200 or 300 euros at a time, so they can buy food, groceries, phone credit or whatever they may need is apparently, embezzlement! And yet, one of the most unjust things facing people without papers is their inability to receive money, when they are stuck in Europe. A passport is needed.
Mary never romanticised the jungle or encouraged people to go to the UK. During the first week I met her she arranged for representatives of the French organisation Terre d' Asile to visit the camp and persuade people to claim asylum in France.
Later she set up a Kids Café - a safe space for the children to relax in the evening, receive free food, legal information and education.
When the government announced they would demolish the Cafe and all the other cafes and shops in the Jungle, Mary took the authorities to court: she won.
Last week the government appealed this decision, and declared the restaurants could be demolished. At the same time, Mary was arrested.
Larger NGO's and the UK and French governments are now battling over how to "safeguard" children who have been forced to live in the intolerable conditions of the Jungle - many for over a year.
Meanwhile, a very ordinary citizen, but one who has done very extraordinary things - primarily stepping up and caring for children when the French and UK governments failed, has been dragged through the mud, just before her much loved library and kids space is bulldozed.
It appears that Mary is being publicly vilified for failing to obey the strict and bureaucratic laws of French finance. This is ironic given she has spent the past 16 months caring for people who have remain trapped in a dangerous, and uncertain limbo caused by other aspects of French and UK bureaucracy.
Anni posted the following testament to Mary's integrity via Facebook
Here's Mary hacking down the brambles to plant the seeds of Jungle Books, which grew from a garden shed full of books to a busy school, refuge, arts centre and somewhere that refugees and volunteers could identify with and hang out.The Kid's restaurant came about because Mary and Sikandar could see the dangers that the hundreds of unaccompanied kids in the jungle faced daily. They've created a safe place which provides a lot more than just a meal. It's hard to imagine that anyone would want to destroy Jungle books or the people who had the courage to build it. I've known Mary for a billion years and any of her friends who knew and inevitably loved her mother Nina, will not be surprised to see Mary's devotion to the people in the Jungle. She's a true humanitarian and I can only presume that the allegations held against her come from some seriously wrong and devious sources.
Rowan posted the following comment on Facebook
I only came to Calais for a few days. That was the plan. But I met Mary Jones at Jungle Books Library back in September 2015. She was to busy to talk to me, so I watched how she ran around this little library she had built with the refugees who lived in tents around it. I watched how even with all the madness of the emergency situation of thousands of refugees with out shelter, food, clothes, she had the time to speak individually to each person who asked her for help. She treated everyone with kindness and patience listening to there needs. She worked with refugees from the start not as an aid worker and those in need, but just as people all together.
I realised then that if I was going to help, that's how I should do it. She has inspired me to keep doing this over a year on.
In that time she has worked tirelessly at great personal expense to assist people in the camp in what ever way necessary. She set up a Kids Cafe giving a space and free food for under 18s. A place run by refugees.
When the government announced they would demolish the cafe and all the other cafes and shops in the Jungle, Mary took the authorities to court. Mary Jones vs the Prefecture. And she won.
Unfortunately, in the last week, the authorities appealed the decision and arrested Mary on trumped up charges. This English teacher will stand up to anyone in defence of people ignored and forgotten by most.
At the same time, she faces false allegations from another disgruntled volunteer. Allegations that led to the authorities wanting to demolish shops in the first place. This volunteer claims they are dangerous and Mary is out for self-gain. Any one who has been in the camp knows this is rubbish, and anyone who has met Mary knows that she is the very embodiment of Refugee Solidarity and the grassroots movement of ordinary people standing and working with other ordinary people who have been forced to flee their homes.
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