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Calais School Offers Migrants Help in Time of Crisis

Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisis
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Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisis

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This is the Education Report.

Those sounds you hear are from the Chemins des Dunes School in France. The school serves a camp for migrants near the port of Calais. The students sit on chairs in a tent or outside in the sunshine. They do not pay to attend the school. Their teachers and the head of the school are all volunteers.

At a French language class, the students are learning terms for the weather, like rain and wind. Many of the migrants are from Sudan and Eritrea. They will soon see snow for the first time.

They are here to study art, Tai Chi and especially, French and English. Knowing one of those languages can help migrants in their efforts to live legally in France or in Britain, just across the English Channel.

Nigerian migrant Zimako Jones started the school. He says it is bringing together members of the city’s different migrant communities.

"Maybe you saw the Kosovar. He comes to school to sit down with blacks from Sudan, sometimes Afghan, two, three Afghan. For me, it's (a) pleasure for me to see them live together, unite together."

The school opened two months ago in this Calais migrant camp that people have started calling "The Jungle." Today, classes are full and more people want to sign up. Some classes are held outside of the tent, where the school began.

The school has a growing number of teachers. They work as volunteers without pay. One is speech therapist Virginie Tiberghien, who lives in the area. Some local residents have protested against the migrants. But others, like her, want to help the new arrivals.

"I often see people on the road so I wanted to meet them, to know the way they were living here. The school is a way to restore humanity. And so it's a good thing."

Volunteers are also coming from Britain. Science teacher Niamh McMahon is from Kent. She heard about the school on Facebook. She crossed the English Channel with food, clothing and school supplies for the many migrants.

"I just felt really emotional about what's going on here, how these people are being treated. They're desperate, they're running away from war and torture and suffering. And in a lot of cases, caused by Western policies. So I wanted to do what I could."

Zimako Jones wants to launch another school program just for women and children. He says the school shows that migrants can create something good in "The Jungle" of Calais. He hopes that Europe and its migrants can build a future together.

And that’s the Education Report. I’m Jill Robbins.

Lisa Bryant reported and wrote this story for VOA News. Dr. Jill Robbins adapted it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


Words in This Story

migrant – n. people who move from place to place, usually in search of work

Tai Chi n. a Chinese form of exercise that uses very slow and controlled movements

therapist – n. a specialist or someone trained in a given field

resident(s) – n. an individual who lives in a given place

desperate – adj. feeling or showing a sense of hopelessness

restore v. to give back (someone or something that was lost or taken); to return (someone or something)

Now it’s your turn. What are individual people doing to help migrants or refugees where you live?