Year 6 Boys send their wishes to Refugees

Elmhurst School for Boys

20th May 2016

My day in Calais was spent visiting the refugee camps and seeing the warehouse where all the donations that are sent over are organised.

Our first stop was the warehouse. This is run by mostly English volunteers. Some of them are camping out in caravans on the land besides the building. The warehouse is huge! There are many different things that have been donated and these are constantly being organised by the volunteers. I saw enormous piles of boxes and bin bags waiting to be sorted out. I saw shelves and shelves of tins and packets of dried food and many different spices and buckets of freshly prepared vegetables that some of the volunteers were cooking up for a delicious vegetarian lunch.

After that we went to 'The Jungle'. This is the big refugee camp that has often been talked about in The News. Most of it has recently been dismantled. The people that remain there are living in small makeshift shelters made of wooden boards and plastic sheeting. The shelters are about the size of a garden shed. There are pools of muddy water, here and there in the tracks between the shelters.

There are mostly young men living in the Jungle now. The families have been moved elsewhere. The men were very friendly and trying to keep their spirits up.  They asked us for supplies that they needed - special prayer stones and jeans for someone’s young daughter. There are even some small shops in the Jungle. These are also made from wood and plastic, cobbled together. They are selling simple supplies like basic toiletries, dried food and cans of drink. 

People have very little here. Little money. Little employment. Little entertainment. Volunteers help to organise football games and other sports and some actors even set up a theatre here, although I think they may have been moved on. 

We stopped by one of the Jungle ‘Mosques' so that the friends that I had come to Calais with could say their daily prayers. They had hung colourful material with religious pictures on the walls of the mosque and there was a thin carpet on the floor with a few scattered prayer mats. 

Next we went to another refugee camp in Dunkirque. This camp looked much ‘newer’ and more organised. The ‘houses’ were made with similar materials to the ones in the Jungle but they were in neat rows. They had proper purpose-built washing and cleaning facilities, a large covered outdoor communal area and a newly-built school. 

The school compound comprises of two small one-storey buildings separated by a little play area. One building is a primary school and the other is the nursery. The children were very chatty and exuberant. Some of them had only been there a few days. Most of the children that I met were from Iraq. They were aged between 3 and 7. They are already understanding and making themselves understood in English which is amazing!

The main teacher running the nursery school is a young English woman called Freya. She is so happy to finally have a proper school building. Up until a few weeks ago she was having to run classes from whatever building/house/tent was available on the day, so it’s so nice now to be able to settle in and make things cosy in the classroom.  We presented Freya with the fabulous board that you had created with all your lovely messages on it - she was delighted and thought your words were very kind and beautiful.  

At the end of the day, when the nursery was closing we gave out the fantastic boxes of gifts that you had prepared for the children. They were so excited to receive them. They gathered around, jumping and jostling to make sure we would not miss them out. At last they tore open the wrapping paper - it felt a bit like Christmas day! They especially loved the soft toys and coloured pens and drawing paper. Freya told me that in their makeshift new homes they have almost no possessions, no toys, as the long dangerous journey they had made to come here meant that they were not able to bring anything with them - often just the clothes on their backs. So these small gifts mean a lot to them. 

As we left the Dunkirque refugee camp and made our way back to the Shuttle station, I felt sad again, knowing that life is not at all easy for so many of these people. The funny smiles and raucous laughter of the children have stayed with me though. It is so heart-warming to know that children everywhere and anywhere know how to make the most of any situation. They will always find a way to play and enjoy life.

Written by Ruth Hargreaves for the pupils at Elmhust School For Boys

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