Betsy Blakeslee, director of EAR, visits refugee friends from EAR’s 2016 program in Calais Jungle. France. These young men, determined to continue educations begun in Sudan, are applying to the University of Lille as the second group of refugee students from Calais Jungle. They wrote and acted in To Be or Not, a play detailing their journey from conflict zones to France, where they toured to national acclaim. Months later, they opt to leave the reenactment of their trauma behind in favor of education, work, and independence, including the apartment above.
We are so proud of their efforts to learn, adjust, and navigate an administrative labyrinth. When asylum papers arrive, they throw a party, dance and sing. But the challenges of living in a foreign country occupy them – visiting offices for papers, studying French, finding Halal restaurants, racism, worrying about family left behind in conflict zones, cultural clashes with French girlfriends.
Below, Olivier Vanderaa leads a writing workshop for students at University of Lille. Among them is Iranian Babak who is working on a writing project with Betsy. A guest contributor for one session, Betsy introduced the worksop participants to VerbQ, a free writing tool that Nicole Janik and she developed to expand English vocabulary and boost the writing of bloggers, students, and writers. Babak visited the site five times in six days.
Two of these remarkable young men commented that a small gesture of kindness, a vote of confidence, or a visit from a volunteer while they were monitored under strict control staved off loneliness or bitterness.
So we press on.
From July 17-23, Betsy will co-lead an intercultural music program in Calais, sponsored by Caritas. The EAR team then meets in Athens to run its signature Expressive Arts program of singing, body music, and English at Skaramagas refugee camp.
None of the funds collected by EAR in 2017 have been disbursed. We’ll assess the needs of refugees in Calais and Greece, and work with organizations on the ground to put the money to best use. (See previous posts about what 2016 funds bought.)
A big thank you to our wonderful community of supporters and well-wishers. You are the wind beneath our wings.