A group of primary school parents and staff have joined forces to make a difference to the lives of refugees and migrants living in the ‘Jungle’ at Calais.
Some of the Eden Primary School parents have just returned from their second trip to the migrant camp at Calais, part of which has recently been dismantled by French police.
Laura Fox is one of the parents – and artist-in-residence at Eden – who galvanised support for the refugees nine months ago, organising collections of much-needed items for them.
The Finchley Reform Synagogue member returned last week from her second visit to Calais.
“I came back thinking I’d seen the best of humanity and the worst of humanity there,” she said.
“We saw volunteers in their early 20s who had given up their lives to help others – some have been there for a year – and the refugees have built a community and some sort of shanty town.
“The worst was seeing young children, families and young men living in such squalid conditions and the way these people were being treated by the authorities.
“Regardless of the difficult political situation, it is completely unacceptable that people are living like this two hours from our doorstep. When we gave out the food parcels, the gratitude was very humbling.”
While always concerned about others, it was a conversation Fox had with a friend who had gone camping in France last summer and came through Calais and saw what was happening to those in limbo that secured her place as a helper.
“We felt that it is also ‘our’ story. Many of us Jews in this country are third, fourth or fifth generation immigrants and, as parents, we felt it was important to show our children that we are taking some social responsibility for others,” she explained.
She and other parents from the Muswell Hill school have organised collections of items including more than 200 sleeping bags, insulated mats, gloves and socks that were donated by schoolchildren – many of whom had allocated one of their Chanukah presents as a sleeping bag. These were taken by a group of six parents on Easter Sunday and distributed among those in need.
“We could have just bought items from a list and sent them to a depot from where they are distributed, but it was important to us that the children made the connection that their mums are delivering the things they have collected. There’s something poignant about the children bringing in a sleeping bag and loading it on a truck.”
Previous trips have included the collection and distribution of individual food parcels – packed by the pupils on Mitzvah Day – and sacks full of clothes that were sorted and labelled by them on Succot. Over Purim, children helped to sort and package items and sent messages and drawings of hope and peace.
Eden headteacher Jo Sassienie said: “In a world where the issues we face seem insurmountable, it’s important for children to know, in line with Jewish and universal values, that they can make a difference through small actions, problem solving and learning about the challenges people face and what they need to lead even slightly better and happier lives.
“The adults in their lives are the best possible role models for this and parents and teachers can inspire young children to want to be join in, get involved and help others. The pride which they feel as a result of these kinds of activities is a joy to experience.”