I’m sat on a warm Eurostar train, speeding back from France to London and I’m grinning widely. Yes, because after a long cold day I’m in a heated carriage- but also because the past 48 hours have been productive.
The last few days have brought many smiles to my face, as working with children usually does to a teacher, yet this week I’ve taught very little. Teaching isn’t just about the kids, yes, they are the reason for many eureka moments and penny dropping memories, the sparks that light lessons up, but this week was about our facilities, accommodation for our learners and professional relationships.
Yesterday the Grand Synthe camp moved. Our whole catchment area had to up and regroup, to resettle, a mile down the road, into France’s first ever refugee camp to meet international humanitarian standards.
As we pulled up bright and early at the old squalid camp with its rivers of mud, home to our school these last few months, a number of buses were already lined up, some full. In camp people were packing and others queuing ready for the move and the air felt thick with optimism and hope. Unlike the scenes we have seen of late on the television of Calais, the refugee families of Dunkirk were keen to leave the squalor and dirt.
Our day was spent packing the generously donated resources, taking down our washing line display and tentatively moving our desks and chairs through the slippery pallet walkways. It was odd that a classroom, our school tent, so full of hustle and bustle last week was suddenly so empty. We sat a little, quiet. All school buildings feel odd without students, ours was no different. It was a bit sad. Don’t get me wrong, I won’t miss the human faeces dotted around the tent, the treacherous bridge over the nappy filled stream, but I will miss the teaching that happened there. The learning that took place.
We had to dismantle the old green tent, flatten it to the ground- you see there has been a little silliness- some of the older camp residents have taken to burning the empty tents, like a dangerously misjudged end of term prank. Our time in the old camp yesterday and today was punctuated by pops of fuel cannisters, sirens and smoke and although it sadly seemed a little inevitable, we were at least reassured that our students were out, on the way to MSFs new safer camp. Our focus was just to get the tent emptied and down so that if these fires do spread that no one would be at risk of being caught inside our former space.
The large numbers moving so quickly overwhelmed the new camp a little, the little wooden sheds that would become home to many simply weren’t enough to house the families and men wanting to move. It was a bit stressful for all involved and as the new official, permanent, classrooms won’t be built for a week or two, until all the residents have a roof over their heads, be it wooden or fabric, we had little idea what we were moving to.
So today, we arrived at MSFs new site, and we mucked in and built our own tents. We erected the classrooms that tomorrow our students will come to for their lessons. Two new white tents, in an area already earmarked for the school. It was a little challenging, we had limited resources, one hammer, an uneven gravel floor, freezing hands and running noses. I’m not an outdoorsy type really, so I admit to being a novice at this tent stuff… But with the help of a few kind volunteers we managed to get our space in place and classrooms set up. Desks and chairs went in, ready for school to open tomorrow. We are back to smaller spaces and no heating once more, but it’s looking promising none the less.
The best part of the day for me, without doubt was spent walking through the rows of huts, grinning, laughing, seeing familiar faces and hearing the familiar shouts of ‘teacher’ and ‘friend’. The huts, their new homes, are numbered so we walked from 1 to 278 knocking on doors, talking to parents, children, volunteers, finding out where our students now live and taking a new register of their names and addresses. We found 53 of them ranging from 6-16, although I was a little sad to find no sign of Spiderman and his family yet- despite their tent being empty since first thing yesterday. The parents we engaged with were more enthusiastic about school than before, and our students were excited to see us and hear that lessons will start at usual tomorrow morning. We had a few just turn up at the school tents, eyes wide and smiles beaming, one came in and sat right down amidst our chaos, but we had to explain we were moving and building the rooms ready to get lessons running as soon as possible. They took it well, many excited to play tennis or run around in a safe communual area a few metres further up the street and promised to come back tomorrow.
I’m optimistic. It’s early days and it won’t all be plain seas and smooth sailing- there are still refugees at the old camp with nowhere to go. But here there’s already hope, electricity and the sound of children’s laughter. It’s safer. There’s no nasty calf deep mud.
We walked out of camp this evening, in the drizzle, exhausted and hungry, but under newly strung street lights that sparkled and glimmered through the cool night sky. I’m back in London now, but tomorrow my wonderful, dedicated, tired Edlumino colleagues will open our new school as usual, come rain or shine. They’ll do what teachers love to do, they’ll teach. They inspire the students, and me as their colleague.
And next week I’ll be back. Hopefully Spiderman will meet me there.
Natalie Scott is a qualified English teacher, currently teaching in a school in Hertfordshire. To read more from her reflections on teaching and education go to https://nataliehscott.wordpress.com and follow her on twitter @nataliehscott