Stories

There are 2,000 people in the refugee camp, each with their own story and background. Here are a few examples of the stories from both volunteers and students.

Jenny Wilson - volunteer

 

I first came to Dunkirk in January 2016 before the Adult Learning Centre had even been thought of! My day-to-day work consisted of putting tents up in the muddy swamp and taking kids to the park for a bit of fun.

 

Sarah and I then started giving English lessons in peoples’ tents. We got a good response and then moved into ‘the University’ - a wooden structure with a leaky roof – which became the first home of the Dunkirk Adult Learning Centre. Over the next few months we moved to the new camp, developed a routine, brought in lots of students and had a lot of fun!

 

My favourite part of the centre is the conversation class. I’ve had so many interesting discussions with refugees and volunteers and it’s a great time to relax and get to know people.

 

I am TEFL trained and have a bit of teaching experience but nothing can quite prepare you for the excitement, tears and friendships that come from volunteering with Dunkirk Adult Learning Centre.

 

 

Since being in Dunkirk I have been working in Uganda leading a team of young people running sustainable development projects and I am now based in London working with the UN's World Food Programme as a Junior Consultant.       

Sarah Walsh - Volunteer

 

Sarah Walsh is a Canadian student who volunteered in Dunkirk for one month during the summer. She believes strongly in the role of knowledge and learning - such as language education - as one of the most valuable tools someone can have and in the importance of promoting intercultural understanding. At the Dunkirk Adult Learning Centre, she assisted the volunteer teacher by coordinating outreach and encouraging new students with limited English to come to the daily beginners lessons, by teaching English one-to-one to students during classes and by leading the odd language or conversation class. During her time in Dunkirk, she was honoured to facilitate language learning and social language outreach, and enjoyed the challenges of a job that was different every day. Although she was heartbroken to leave the camp and her friends behind, she continues the work she began with Dunkirk Adult Learning Centre in Victoria, BC, working as a volunteer teaching assistant at a not-for-profit that holds language classes and community events for newcomers. 

Claire Fuller - Volunteer

 

To better understand better the migrant crisis on our doorstep, I went to Grande-Synthe Refugee camp on the first of April with the intention of spending a week volunteering. I finally left the camp in mid-June, after 11 weeks of incredibly eye-opening experiences that will stay with me for life. Within a few days I started to question how useful I could actually be as a volunteer and dwelled a lot over the fact that there were over a 1000 people resident in the camp, mainly young men under 25 who had so much to give to the world; energy, skills, ambitions, and all of this was going to waste as they spent months waiting in the camp unable to be productive. For this reason, I got involved in the Adult Learning Centre, a part of the camp I found possibly the most inspirational; offering English and French classes as well as a library to stimulate the refugees and enabling them to continue their learning experience. Having spent some time over the last few years teaching English voluntarily and with a TEFL qualification up my sleeve, I was thrown right into the deep end teaching all levels of students due to limited numbers of volunteers. It was difficult, but so much fun, every day was a learning experience and the connections I made were invaluable. One of the highlights was organising Kurdish and Farsi classes for the volunteers, reversing the roles so our students would become the teachers. It was brilliant for us as volunteers and empowering (and amusing!) for the refugees. My time at the Adult Learning Centre was probably the greatest learning experience of my life, it was tough, it was upsetting, it was knackering but I was constantly inspired by the incredible people I had the privilege to teach, by their determination, warmth and resilience. I feel very lucky to have encountered and befriended the people I met along the way, both refugees and volunteers. I achieved my initial goal to better understand the migrant crisis but gained an unbelievable amount more from the experience. Now I am back in the UK, working for a foundation co-ordinating a project to support asylum-seeking youth in the South East, a job that came to be by a chance encounter in the camp. I also meet up now and then with ex-students who are now living in the UK awaiting news on their asylum claims. Finding ourselves in the middle of gay-pride celebrations and taking two of my old students swimming in the sea for the first time were some experiences I will never forget. But the challenge isn’t over for these guys, even if they receive refugee status, settling down in to life in the UK is not an easy ride.