"I had no training, yet was refusing shoes to people in sodden socks because they were the wrong age"by Frank Andrews / October 31, 2016 / Leave a comment
Over the weekend, as the French authorities moved in, the jungle closed to the vast majority of volunteers who decided to stay in Calais. We’re here in the town, working in the warehouses. But we know little about what’s happening inside the camp now, to the young people we have spent our time teaching or to those we have come to view as friends.
I came to the jungle three weeks ago on the recommendation of a university friend who thought my brand new French and Arabic degree might be useful here. With this enforced pause there’s time to think about what function people like us serve. One encounter stands out and helps to convey the dual sense of futility and hope that seems to inhabit most young volunteers.
It was my fifth day in the camp and I’d spent the morning distributing shoes to children—which meant having to refuse anyone without shoes who looked over 18. I was teaching a French class on body parts, when a tall, skinny, good-looking young man approached me as I was writing on the blackboard. He asked me if I would mind coming outside for a moment, so I asked another teacher—a volunteer from Paris—if she would carry on the class.
We sat together at one of the camping tables outside the school’s makeshift classrooms, facing towards the northern part of the Jungle. His name was Hamed, he was from Darfur and he was 23 years old—three months younger than me. He wore a T-shirt and jumper and his thin tracksuit trousers clung to his legs above his ankles. On his head he wore a woman’s hat that wouldn’t have been out of place in an Earth, Wind & Fire video. I sat beside him shivering despite my thermals, walking boots and waterproof jacket. He wanted me to listen to his story and write it down in French.