We are continuing with Maths and English classes in Calais. We are working from a variety of different sets of community spaces, as this avoids the need for us to construct our own structure. We are keen not to create our own working space, as the building of a centre is a distraction from the more important work of teaching. We are teachers, not builders. Every minute in which a teacher is wielding a hammer is time wasted when we should be wielding board markers. So even though the community facilities which we are using are far from ideal, at least it means that we can keep focused upon the more important task of teaching.
The steadily worsening weather is starting to become a problem. As teachers we have all taught in English “mobile classrooms” at points in our careers. These are the temporary huts which are freezing in the winter and boiling in the summer. However they are positively luxurious compared to what we have in Calais. Nothing prepares teachers for working all day in the cold. There is a supermarket and fast food outlet 10 minutes travel away from the camp and we are making sure that teachers take breaks every couple of hours. The opportunity to wash the mud off hands and get a warm drink is absolutely essential. The cold becomes steadily debilitating, sapping the energy and will of both children and teachers.
We are continuing with two distinct sets of classes. We have primary classes which are working with 5-10 year olds from Syrian and Kurdish communities. We have secondary classes for pupils aged 13 or more. Some of the older pupils are unaccompanied minors and they have latched onto older children or adults as protectors. We are not sure some of those relationships are healthy or advisable, but for young children living on their own and scared of what each day brings, the situation is at least understandable.
Some of the unaccompanied minors do not want to attend school classes, as they are projecting their age and maturity as ‘post school.’ This is so that they can establish themselves in the community and look less like vulnerable children. In order to engage those children we run ‘open age’ English classes and take the teenage unaccompanied minors alongside adults. This enables the children to attend without ‘losing face’ and it means that we can reach out and engage them. As we get to know the children they often point out other children to us who are scared and hiding.
As well as our work at Calais, we also visited Dunkirk camp this month. The Dunkirk camp was even more shocking than the Calais camp. The conditions and facilities were far worse and the scale of misery, sickness and need was far higher. We were absolutely astonished that people can be left to fend for themselves like this. The camp is right next to an expensive housing estate and some of the people in the camp have been raiding the bins of the French Dunkirk residents, looking for food.
There were literally hundreds of children running around the camp, with almost nothing meaningful provided for them. We met a school teacher who had fled from Syria. He told us that he was interested in setting up a programme for the children but he felt overwhelmed, as he also needed to keep his own family fed and supported each day. We have agreed to work with him to start running some classes at Dunkirk, modelled on how we are doing it at Calais.