We visited the Calais Jungle last week. We were appalled at what we found. The entire site is a sprawling shanty town spread across a muddy and rubble strewn waste land next to Calais port. The site includes areas covered in glass and bits of broken concrete, as well as sand dunes closer to the sea. There is an all pervading stink of chemicals from a nearby factory which clogs the throat.
People are living in tents and little huts which are manufactured from waste wood. Some of the huts are perched precariously on the tops of dunes, literally houses built on sand which regularly collapse when the wind hits them. Other tents and huts are built in holes to protect them from the wind, but they are constantly battling against damp and water.
There is limited sanitation around the camp, which consists of stand pipes installed after a court order forced the local administration to provide humanitarian access to water. Dirty washing water spills across pathways stinking and adding to the muddy puddles which make movement around the camp difficult.
There is very limited lighting, positioned along the main thoroughfare. It is extremely dark at night and people tend to stay in their tents and huts and keep as quiet as possible.
The camp has an appearance of being mainly adult men. This is because there is a separate women’s and children’s unit which has been built at the Jules Ferry centre near the port, to provide protection to vulnerable women and children. However, there are a significant number of women and children in the camp but they tend to be very much less visible.
We were shocked to see so little being done for the educational needs of the children. The camp has been here for months. Why hasn’t anything been set up? It isn’t difficult to engage the children. We sat on a rock and had children gathering around us in minutes. Then, as the children got their friends the group grew larger. The children are not difficult to find. They are not difficult to engage. Why is there no education organised for them?
We walked around the camp and saw various volunteer efforts to engage children. There were a couple of local French people providing French classes. We chatted to them. Neither were professional teachers but they were very enthusiastic, and embarrassed that more wasn’t been done by the local administration. We met some artists and musicians who come in to the camp to provide activities for children. We also met some English volunteers at Jungle Books who were providing English classes to adults.
As we walked around the camp one of the Afghan elders approached us. He told us that the activities were appreciated by the children but what they really needed was ‘proper school,’ so that they could learn to read and write. We couldn’t agree more.
We have therefore agreed to start providing some classes for school age children. We are focusing on Maths and English and plan to coordinate lessons so that the children can still take advantage of art and music activities going on elsewhere in the camp.