The warmer weather has improved the mood across the camp. The rain last week made it difficult for families to cook outside, but this week we have seen a return to open fires. One of the fires even seemed to have sea gulls roasting on it.
We saw the vast majority of our pupils this week, although some children we only saw for relatively small periods. Many of the children are still spending most of the nights out trying to get on lorries and they turn up to school so tired that we are often having to send them home to get some sleep. There are only 98 children in the camp at the moment, and even the new arrivals came to see us within 48 hours of arriving, so we are maintaining a high level of engagement.
This week saw further liaison work with local French schools. Some children visited the schools in Grande Synthe and we even had some of the primary school teachers come out and spend some time with us in the camp. We are very impressed by the commitment of the French primary teachers as they definitely seem to be going the extra mile in order to build links and explore ways of ‘normalising’ the educational experience of the children. There is still considerable work to do, however, as some children are reluctant to engage. Families are only in the camp because they have taken a decision not to seek to stay in France. Going out of the camp to local French schools is therefore, not always an appealing prospect, especially as the lifestyle and the circumstances of the families are orientated towards trying to get out of the situation that they are in.
Sadly we had more incidents of violence between the children this week, as a result of misguided attempts to give out toys in the camp. People think that they are being helpful when they donate toys, but it can lead to significant fighting when the toys are distributed and it can make individual children the targets of others who want to steal their toy. One of the big problem toys is proving to be water pistols, which are not only attractive in themselves, but they also cause major problems when they are used on each other. We ended up having to effectively close school one afternoon and just spend the time mediating between the children and trying to repair relationships fractured over toys.
Our school building is still working well, although we have had some surprising problems occurring this week. It is light in the camp until nearly 10pm at the moment and children in the evenings are hanging out in the school area. We noticed this week that an enterprising group had worked out how to remove the glass from one window in order to enter and use the building in the evening. We also noticed that another group have discovered how to climb on the roof and were using it as a playground. The entire camp site is covered in boulders, so our flat roof represented one of the few smooth play places that the children could find. We have cut down their climbing route, but also promised that we will try to do something about the ground surface near the school building.
The ground surface has been a problem since we moved in. Countless children have been injured by the rocks and gravel. We have tried engaging organisations and people to try and get finer gravel laid on top, or even to have sand or wood chips put down to reduce the injury risk. But nothing has been possible so far. (When we initially raised the problem as an urgent potential injury issue, we were told that injuries don’t matter as the refugee children are not citizens and so cannot take legal action if they are injured). Over the last week the problem has become more acute, as we have had the very challenging task of trying to get one of the children in a wheel chair across the boulders. As we can’t find anyone to help sort this problem out, we therefore thought that we are just going to have to try and do what we can ourselves. We received a donation of a set of shovels and rakes, so a couple of teachers have been out raking, breaking and moving rocks. We are still a long way from having a flat area that children can play in, but at least we have a relatively clear path which we can get a wheel chair down, and a small area around the school building which is now ‘less bad’ than it was.