Nico stands with his peer behind boxes of lettuce in The Jungle's kitchen area holding a head of lettuce. 1 week.
100 kilos of clothing.
1500 euros in fundraising.
kilos of chopped wood.
7500 provided meals.

It’s proof, to me, that when we work together – we can make a difference. My fellow graduates and I knew we wanted to start 2020 off by leaving an impact and supporting those in need – so, we got to work.

We connected through Webex, looked at the main challenges Europe was facing at the moment and quickly narrowed it down – helping refugees and asylum seekers is still a crucial need. Though the amount of asylum seekers declined from 9,000 in August 2016 to now 1600, the living conditions have not changed for the better and these people seem to have been forgotten by many.

With Cisco’s 40 volunteer hours that they provide to each employee annually to support a social project of their choice – we knew we would have the time to dedicate to this cause.

And that is how we ended up in the “Jungle”– what the refugee camp in Calais is often referred to as – where we would provide support cooking meals and working in the woodyard chopping firewood.

The Jungle’s name comes from the chaotic, terrifying circumstances that many refugees endure. Charity organizations like L’Auberge des Migrants, the one we partnered up with on site, are now organizing the camp and help to provide shelter, firewood, as well as daily meals.

Before going to Calais we were also able to raise over 1500€ via Help Refugees Ltd. to support their great work. Furthermore, we were able to collect more than 100 kilos of clothes from our wonderful colleagues in both the United Kingdom and Germany.

When it was finally time to start our week of volunteering, everyone was excited to drive to Calais and get to work. We started on Monday morning and were given a brief introduction to the warehouse and the different tasks that needed to be done during the day.

Then, the real work began! We spent the days working at the woodyard chopping and packaging firewood until 5pm. We all woke up with aching bodies the next day! Weather conditions were rough, and with each new muscle ache we all realized how truly difficult it must be to live inside these camps. The realization motivated us to keep the intensity of our work to a high level. By the end of the week, we had chopped and packaged about 4,000 kilos of firewood.

The group of graduate volunteers standing and sitting together in one of The Jungle warehouses.

You might think that working in the kitchens might be easier – but even that was a challenge! This task did allow us the opportunity to talk with other volunteers, however, while cutting onions and making sure the meals were prepped each day. 1,500 meals needed to be prepared…EVERY DAY! And, of course, cleaning up took a lot longer as well, which made for longer days that ended closer to 6pm. But, by the end of the week we had about 7,500 meals prepared – and that filled us with pride.

The 15 of us lived together in an Airbnb close by during this time. It provided us with the opportunity to grow as a team, reflect on the day, and bond with each other on a deeply personal level as well. We knew in those moments, and even now – months later – that we were truly making an impact, and this would be something we would forever be thankful to Cisco for empowering us to do.

All in all, it was a humbling experience and helped us to be more conscious about grievances within our society. We realized how lucky we are to be blessed with so many privileges that we often take for granted. It was great to be able to do this with my Cisco teammates, too. I can see how we’ve grown together as we experienced a challenge together outside of our ‘day to day’ work and we are much better because of it.

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Nico Hoffmann

VSAM - Commercial