Friday, 24 June 2016

Voices - photo exhibition - and a blog by Megan Howell VCD

Megan Howell is currently exhibiting her photographic work 'Voices' in MADE Cardiff. The photos document some of the forms of violence Megan witnessed in the Jungle camp in Calais. Below is a blog she has written about her journey since completing the VCD course last year.


Megan presents her photographs in Cardiff




When I started VCD in September 2014, it was supposed to be the beginning of a well thought out plan which would see me following the course with a masters in Play Therapy which I would use to work with children in refugee camps.  VCD had other ideas. 


By the time I graduated in September 2015, VCD had begun to put its plan into action and I had deferred my place on the Play Therapy Masters.  By Christmas I was still struggling to find a job, or even an unpaid internship, working with refugees and asylum seekers in the UK and I was despondent and frustrated.  Then I came across a Guardian article about the camp in Calais that somebody in my house had cut out and kept.  I read it a few times, did some research, contacted some organisations and decided to go and volunteer with Care4Calais for a month in January.


 A month counts as long term in Calais, where many volunteers bring donations at the weekend and stay for 48 hours to help out, so within days I was made a team leader.  I had responsibility for planning and implementing van led distributions in the camp and for overseeing the arrival and sorting of donations in the warehouse.


I frequently heard stories about violent incidents between the French riot police (the CRS) and the camp residents involving tear gas but saw nothing so I decided to spend more time in camp outside my working hours.  Then I saw incident after incident.  Capturing what I saw on camera and documenting it on my blog became a priority – an obsession even – as it became clear that what I was witnessing was the state-sanctioned, systematic and violent oppression of stateless people searching for refuge in Europe. 


In late February, the rumoured eviction and demolition of the southern half of the camp began under the protection of hugely inflated numbers of CRS acting with near complete impunity.  It was violent and traumatic and thousands were displaced and left destitute within the camp.


At this time, I met Dr. Rhetta Moran of RAPAR who was looking for volunteers to send the organisation daily reports to be used in their press releases covering the evictions.  I had been documenting the evictions photographically since the beginning and offered my services.  RAPAR used my photography and updates on their live feed and just like that I was a documentary photographer.  VCD’s plan was gathering momentum.


Once back in the UK, I began volunteering with the Welsh Refugee Council in Cardiff, where a series of chance meetings and conversations led to them funding me to put on a photography exhibition and awareness raising event about Calais as part of Refugee Week 2016, at which our very own Dr Zoe Marriage came to speak.  I was also given the opportunity to speak about Calais and the exhibition on the BBC Radio Wales ‘Good Morning Show’.


At around the same time, I received an email from Amnesty inviting me to apply to train as a human rights speaker in schools and am now in dialogue with them about using my experience in Calais to promote discourse about refugees and asylum seekers.


I have withdrawn from the Play Therapy masters and am letting VCD make the decisions as its plan seems to be for me to become an artist, activist, educator and campaigner so I’m going to enjoy the ride!  I just hope that, one day, being paid is part of the plan!

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