Article 26 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everybody has a right to an education. However, children who have been forcibly displaced and now reside in Calais and Dunkirk are being denied this fundamental human right on a daily basis.
I decided to volunteer with the School Bus Project because they aim to create spaces of learning and empowerment within a hostile context created by the French and British governments. A recent report conducted by Save the Children found that for children who have experienced trauma, education is vital in their recovery. Our work is then incredibly important; we foster the tools to develop resiliency and provide consistency in a turbulent environment.
What we do
The School Bus Project doesn’t provide “English classes”, the education we seek to facilitate is more holistic than that. We aim to facilitate spaces in which collaborative and reciprocal learning takes place according to weekly themes around which sessions are planned. We try to build confidence and offer mental stimulation in our sessions in which everyone, including the volunteers, has the opportunity to teach and to learn.
In each session, our aim is that anyone can get involved, regardless of their ability to speak English. For example, when our theme was history and memory we made a timeline of human history, and to make the activity more interactive, those who wanted to be creative could add their own illustrations. The guys could chat with their friends in their own languages about events on the timeline and then we also had a debate about creationism versus evolution with one individual.
We also offer smaller, more focused activities to develop language skills, but we always try to make it as interactive and fun as possible in order to reach those of all abilities. A lesson like this is sometimes not what people want out of the session so we take board games, packs of cards and sports equipment too. When working with younger children we structure our sessions around learning through play, games, and craft activities. This works best when we get their parents involved.
In our sessions, we try to encourage peer to peer learning, especially when teaching in a group of mixed abilities. Not only does this encourage a sense of community through human connection amongst our service users, but it also gives them a chance to take ownership over their learning in an environment where their autonomy and self-worth are constantly being denied. As learning facilitators, we see a session where we’ve had to speak very little as the best case scenario because our service users have engaged and are discussing the content with each other.
My experience of volunteering with SBP
Being a longer-term volunteer has meant that I have been able to see how SBP’s work has positively impacted on the lives of those we support. One individual on our first meeting just wanted to play Connect Four with me for the whole session and we could only communicate through very basic English. What was most memorable for me was that we connected over the fact that my name, Sophie, is Eritrean. On my third session, he came over to the learning tables for the first time and joined in with a vocabulary game but seemed to lack the confidence to engage fully. In my last session, he came over and got involved in learning the names of animals in English and teaching me the names in Tigrinya.
In such awful and dehumanizing living conditions, it’s amazing that the SBP can reach individuals like him to not only learn English but to empower them and build their confidence.
Your donations will help us continue our work providing vital educational opportunities for children and young people in the most challenging situations. We’ll spend it on educational resources, keeping our bus running, building a new bus and looking after our volunteers. Donate here, Thank you!
Hundreds of displaced people – in Calais, Grande-Synthe, Paris and beyond – are sleeping on the streets. They have faced another winter without shelter, and are dependent on volunteers for support. If you are able to help us help them, please donate here.
This article was written by Sophie Buckle for Help Refugees and the School Bus Project.