Extended stay in Calais Jungle: What we accomplished

In the West, we like to take credit. I could say that I, or Expressive Arts Refuge, or a joint effort with Secours Catholique accomplished the successes described below. It would be equally accurate to attribute these accomplishments to the refugees. Neither is entirely true.

Something special happens when intention and openness, vision and context coincide. There is one more ingredient, without which little of import happens.

I love the guys in Calais Jungle, and they feel it. Even the most aloof of those I’ve come to know now calls me Mother. The French directors Bertrand Degremont and Greg Barco who helped them bring their original play to the stage also love them. Hisham Aly of Secours Catholique Calais who organized their participation in a theatre workshop and subsequent Caritas conference, loves them.

And they love us, and come from cultures that generously express love.

Here are a few of the changes I noticed in refugees during my extended 3 weeks in Calais Jungle: Six refugees without backgrounds in public speaking presented at Caritas’ conference on migrants in Saint Malo, France. Two arrhythmic guys clapped in perfect rhythm on three songs in a row. Five guys who could never make their voices match a note except by accident matched notes perfectly three days in a row. Fourteen refugees who had never before acted performed a play that moved an audience of 450 – 500 and stirred deep conversations about violence perpetrated on refugees in Europe. Musicians living in Calais Jungle performed 3-4 times. They learned how to manage a sound check; share a mic; and shape a beginning, middle and end to a song. Three men who had become refugees taught language classes (in Farsi and Arabic). All the guys who had become refugees improved their French and English. Each made friends with Europeans, and soaked in some European customs. Their bodies opened wide to both the elements and fellow conference participants as they walked 15 kilometers through sand, mud and knee-high water to Mont St Michel.

What did I,as director of Expressive Arts Refuge, do? I directed three concerts, some rehearsals of the afore-mentioned play written and acted by refugees, gave a presentation with Caritas’ Hisham Aly on the challenges and rewards of working at Calais Jungle. Five people who attended our open forum session plan to volunteer there.

All of us – volunteers and refugees alike – are richer for the intentions and openness we generated, and the vision and contexts we co-created. The guys returned to their tents and 30 showers for 9000 residents of the Jungle. The second photo depicts an additional shower for a fee.

I got home to California last night, thinking about the guys singing in the bus on their way home to the Jungle from Saint Malo, France. I’m exploring spending Christmas in Calais, with my new sons.

Author: earefuge

I direct EAR (Expressive Arts Refuge) whose work focuses on refugee youth in France and Greece. At home in Oakland, California, I direct World Harmony Chorus and World Harmony Ensemble.

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