In February 2016, Anna-May Richards (23 years old) went to Calais to help to run a children’s educational space in the Calais Jungle camp. Some of our group members know Anna-May and were very impressed by her dedication and commitment. We decided to support the vital work of the volunteer teachers by giving a donation, with which they have been able to buy and make teaching aids. Purchasing a world atlas using the donation was first on their list and this has already brought much joy to the children. Additional purchases were a handheld vacuum cleaner, paper and plastic dinosaurs.
We would like to share Anna-May’s experiences in her own words:
At the start of February myself and 3 others, began running a kids educational space for 4 hours a day, 5 days a week. Florah, an Early Years education specialist, had spent weeks beforehand speaking to the community and finding out what they wanted for their children and if the space would be necessary.
One parent from the community had had a small dome tent built so she could teach some of the men in the camp but for many reasons she wasn’t able to carry out the lessons any more. She encouraged us to use this space and gave us some of the resources she had access to.
After two weeks we moved into the old Baloo’s Youth Centre, which had more light but no warmth.
When the eviction notice was served, both the Maktab (the name of our school) spaces we had used were marked in the area for demolition. A few days before it was demolished we moved all our resources into Jungle Books, a library and education space that the courts had said were to remain. During the demolition we took a pop-up tent and built a make shift shelter on a sandy bank next to the lake in the field that the majority of the children and families were being moved into from the Southern part of the camp.
The Unofficial Women and Children’s Centre moved onto a double decker bus following the eviction and Florah worked closely with them to move the space onto the top deck. The space now runs from 12pm until 4.30pm but kids often turn up earlier and leave later. The new space is warm and light and cosy!
Firstly, we just want to provide a safe space and some refuge from the chaos of the Jungle. A place where the kids can be kids. We then work to make sure every day includes science, maths, literacy, social, physical and creative education. The children who have come to Maktab are aged between 16 months and 12 years. So we do our best to make sure as many activities as possible are differentiated or there are level appropriate alternatives. Which can be tricky given the age range!
So far the kids have made bottle rockets, capes and masks, planted broad beans and tracked their growth, built volcanoes, made solar system collages, conducted water cycle experiments, made instruments and kites, learnt about print making, animals’ habitats, cells and photosynthesis plus
We’ve found the children love to learn and love the structure of school – they like looking at a teacher with a white board and copying down the information into their own books with their names on. They often ask for ‘1,2,3…’ or ‘chemistry’. Back in the dome tent, on the first day we opened, two girls literally ran into the space, found the broken blackboard that had been half used for firewood, and wrote ‘ABC’ and ‘CAT’.
In response to this we developed a ‘Maths Box’. Each child, what ever age, has their booklet with their name on, a pencil case, and a folder. As a group we count along a number line in all the different languages in the room – Dari, Pashtu, Arabic, Kurdish Tigryan, German, Spanish, French and English!
With so many languages in the room we’ve all become marvellous mime artists! We do our best to translate the keywords from each topic but it’s not always possible. A lot of the languages aren’t available online and there isn’t always time to get translations from people in the community. This does mean that we don’t offer as much literacy focused learning as we’d like. We’re working towards having regular translators provide more literacy focused activities in the future.
We have no agenda to teach English because we don’t know where the children and their families will end up. But if any of the kids ask to learn something then we do our best to teach them.
Once the kids are in our care at least one of us always has eyes on them until we take them back to or they are collected by one of their parents. It seems like an obvious thing to do but too often volunteers take kids to their activities, workshops, or entertainment without telling their parents. Which in such an place as unsafe as the Jungle is so distressing for the parents and teaches the kids its okay to go off with strangers. Child protection is so important to us and we work to the same standards we would in a UK school.
We are well aware this is no where near an adequate education for the children and it’s a million miles from the provision they deserve.
One of the people that works on the bus also works with a group called Secours Catholique in Calais and they take people on day trips and for respite so we’re planning to take the kids to the beach one day soon, which will be lovely.
We’re working with the French school to get older children into a more formal school setting regularly and progress their learning. The kids go for 2 hours a few days a week and we’re starting to co-ordinate our themes and activities.
It’s so brilliant that the HBTSR donation is already being used for the benefit of the kids here and making their young lives easier and more fulfilled educationally and in lots of other ways.
Please get in touch if you would like to support the vital humanitarian work of Anna-May and the team of volunteer teachers at the Maktab School.