My Time in Northern France

Bonjour! Je m’appelle Dylann. Working in a refugee camp, French is only one of the languages that I am exposed to this summer, some others being Kurdish, Arabic, and Farsi. This summer I am working with an NGO that assists refugee women in Northern France. It is a small team ranging between 5-8 members throughout the summer. We work partly in tandem with several other organizations in a large warehouse in Calais. This is where we keep our material goods, including clothes, tents, and other survival tools, such as cooking appliances.

The Calais warehouse is beautifully decorated with art and positive messages

Our main worksite is an informal camp in Grande-Synthe, which is a suburb of Dunkirk. Our main services include distributing material goods, connecting people to professional services such as doctors, lawyers, and emergency accommodation, and conducting educational and fun activities with the women and children. Some of our activities have included going to the aquarium, the beach, or even henna and nail painting. Since the children do not have access to formal education, we provide English lessons twice a week. I have been put in charge of conducting these lessons, and have been inspired by how keen the children are to learn.

Painting henna designs with the women and children
A little boy enjoying some arts and crafts

Another project that I am involved with this summer is called the Human Rights Observation. Every morning, the police evict people from the camps, in order to limit the amount of people congregating in informal living areas. Although this in itself is a human rights violation, as under French law vulnerable people have the right to emergency housing, our task is to observe the evictions and watch for human rights violations. People are often arrested or brutally handled during these evictions, which we gather data on for court cases, and even take testimonies from people who have experienced such actions. 

Being readily able to assist these women means working long days, sometimes meaning over 12 hours a day or well into the night. Despite these long hours, the work is incredibly rewarding. Never before have I been so blown away by such love and support from a community who has faced so much devastation. I have met some of the most incredible and inspiring people, some of whom I actually live with! My team lives together in a house, and are hosting a refugee family. Seeing as this family has a newborn baby, the organization decided to host the family in our home. It is two parents, a three year old boy, and a soon to be two month old baby girl! I have become very close with the family, and have enjoyed learning about the Kurdish culture through the food, music, and traditions that they have shared.

Nawserri- A delicious bread that has become a morning favorite

When I’m not working, I enjoy going for runs through the small village where I live, or playing with our house pets. It has become a Saturday ritual for my team to go swimming in the ocean every week, no matter how cold the water is, and being in the north of France, it is often quite cold! Seeing as no two days have been the same here, I am looking forward to the remaining weeks of my internship!

Check out some more photos below!

A furry friend named “Kish Mish” which means raisin in Kurdish
Exploring the French countryside with Kish Mish
Sunset at Malo Les Bains, voted the most beautiful beach in the north
Beach homes in Dunkirk
Henna art from a party we hosted for the women and children

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Wow, Dylann, what a terrific and enlightening experience you have had. I guess you really know the mean of “white privilege” now. It must be very difficult to watch the plight of some people and question why them, why not me. Often your kind of experience will definitely influence the path of your career. I know you will come home a changed person with gratitude for all your good luck. It will be wonderful to see you back on campus and to be together with you and all the other CISLA interns. Have a safe trip home….a très bienôt, Mary

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