The variable weather continues in Northern France and the week has ended with large parts of the camp flooded. We had to effectively abandon school one day because floods prevented us getting up the road to the school. We spent part of that morning helping the smallest children traverse the water to the toilets. Several children found that desperation got them through the water in to the toilets. But then, on remerging, they found that they couldn’t work out how to get back through the water, without assistance.
Toilet facilities for children is something which we have been concerned about for several months. In fact it was also an issue in the previous camp. In the old camp we had the children using the school tent as their toilet at times, as it was the only dry space which they felt comfortable in. We can still remember our consternation on occasions when children literally pulled their clothes down in the middle of a lesson in order to relieve themselves in the corner of the tent. Thank goodness we are well beyond that stage now, with clearly designated and maintained toilets in the new camp.
But there are still no toilets set aside for children. The smallest children really struggle with adult toilets, especially as they consist of the ‘hole in the ground’ style. The disabled children in particular find them next to impossible to use and teachers have ended up having to try and hold children over toilet holes in the most unsuitable and undignified of circumstances. The women’s toilets have at times had erratic disposal systems, and so children have found themselves sometimes literally slipping in streams of blood from discarded sanitary items. The youngest girls have sometimes said that they prefer to use the men’s toilets, but that of course raised its own problems. Whilst the new camp remains incomparably better than the old camp, it also remains the fact that children’s toilet facilities remain in a ‘less developed’ state.
Educationally the main developments this week have been steps to develop and deepen collaboration with local French schools. We had a few communicational teething troubles, resulting in lines of children standing around awaiting missing busses, and parked busses awaiting missing children. But we are all very committed to making transition work and so we held another joint planning meeting this week with French teachers, educational professionals and camp organisers. By the end of the week we were back on track with a consistent bus service leaving the camp at 13.15 each day, taking between 15 and 25 children into French schools for afternoon lessons.
In the meantime we are sharing our pupil records with the French schools so that we can try to make sure that the children end up in the right friendship groups, in the different schools. We are also trying to make sure that we get a spread of the children with the best English in each group. Most of the children have studied English as their main second language in their Kurdish schools. The children’s French is very rudimentary, at best, so French teachers and Kurdish pupils alike keep reverting to English as a convenient lingua franca when they cannot communicate in French.
We have also now begun closing the camp school whenever the bus is running to the local schools. This allows teachers to go with the children to the French schools and to re-assure the pupils if there are concerns. Yes we have had a few teething troubles in the French schools. We had one small boy expressing his viscerally held emotions on the door of the school. But we debrief the pupils carefully after each visit. We identify what is working and what isn’t working, so that we can make sure that we iron out problems before each next visit.
With transition moving forward to well, we have written to the mayor of the town to say that we believe that we can withdraw from providing educational services in the camp by a provisional date of August 31st. We are happy to be flexible if necessary, but we can also see that the first day of the new term is an ideal point at which to hand over the children’s education to the resources of the French state.