This month we had extra teacher volunteers available during school holidays and so we were able to run classes in both Calais and Dunkirk.
Our facilities at Calais have improved as we are using classrooms built as a result of French fundraising in the Southern part of the camp. The classrooms are not ideal, as they are built out of cheap wood which is too thin and the wrong gauge. This means that the classrooms require lots of posts to hold the roof up, so our classroom space is quite restricted. But at least it is dry and serviceable.
We were invited to dinner in some of the impromptu shops and ‘eating places’ which have sprung up in the Calais camp. When an invitation has accompanied a meeting to discuss something then we have accepted. But we do not frequent the outlets otherwise. We understand the complexities of the situation and the needs of families to survive and provide shop services to each other. But we ourselves are ‘visitors’ to the camp each day, and we appreciate the need to observe local legal requirements.
The conditions in Dunkirk are dire. There are no living huts and no shops. It is a grim struggle to survive in an inhospitable pit of mud and filth. The toilets are constantly overflowing and the mud often has an ominous smell to it which suggests that it is infected with human waste.
We are back to teaching outside as the police will not allow anything which could be used for building to be brought into the camp. It is absolutely freezing. The only merit with the ice is that at least some of the mud has frozen over. We were using boulders to sit on for classes but they were getting far too wet and muddy. One of the refugee families has helped us out by making some benches. The wood for the benches have been taken from broken pallets. They aren’t particularly elegant but having a flat surface raised out of the mud is actually a very helpful step forward.
We have discovered an accessible fast food outlet 15 minutes from the Dunkirk camp. It has sinks with hot water so that we can regularly clean up. Equally importantly it has copious quantities of hot coffee. The outlet doesn’t open until mid morning, but then the camp doesn’t wake up and get moving until the same time.
Due to the cold weather we have had to modify teaching so that it is extremely kinaesthetic and involves lots of movement to keep the children warm. Kinaesthetic learning gives us a dilemma. The worse the cold then the more we need to keep the children moving. But the worse the cold then the more risks there are to slipping on the ice.
The site is crossed with ditches and holes which contain water that children could easily drown in. On more than one occasion we have picked toddlers out of mud which they have sunk into up to their knees. One poor girl was crying because she literally couldn’t move and step out of the mud. There are no meaningful lights and so it becomes extremely dangerous when the dark sets in. Its an absolutely appalling place for children and unsuitable for educational activities. We just focus on doing what we can.
The children at Dunkirk are almost entirely Sorani speaking Kurdish children from Iraq and neighbouring regions. We understand that there were some tensions at Calais between communities and that was one of the reasons why Kurdish people started leaving Calais and going to Dunkirk instead. It is also whispered that the opportunities for people smuggling at Dunkirk are ‘better’ and so families trying to get themselves smuggled quickly to other countries see Dunkirk as a better option, despite the horrific nature of the situation within the camp.