It's hard to believe that it's been a year and a half since the Dunkirk Children's Centre opened. Set up by a small group of independent volunteers to support the children living in La Liniere Refugee Camp in Dunkirk, what started out as a team of two in a tiny tent gradually grew into a thriving community with a nursery class, recreation centre and mother and baby group, catering for up to sixty children a day.
Volunteers came from all over the world to help deliver a program of arts, sports, games and non-formal education; sharing their knowledge, expertise and love. Over the thirteen months that the Children's Centre was open, around 700 children passed through our doors; some only staying briefly but all touching our hearts for a lifetime.
It's now been over four months since a fire destroyed La Liniere. Although the Dunkirk Children’s Centre has closed, we have still been working quietly behind the scenes, planning and setting up new projects to help more children in Europe and beyond.
In the days and weeks following the fire at La Liniere, our fantastic team conducted an extensive outreach program.
We visited families applying for asylum in France and supplied them with much needed essentials for school, and toys and books to help them to settle into their new lives. We also worked alongside other organisations to help link families to support networks including social services, schools, local volunteer organisations and legal advisers.
Our director, Freya White, and programme coordinator, Helen Wiggins, talk about their experience of setting up and running the Dunkirk Children's Centre.
"As we look forward to our next projects, we take a moment to look back, to reflect upon where we came from, the challenges we faced, happy moments, lessons learnt and things to be grateful for. When I set off to volunteer in Dunkirk in March 2016, I had no idea where it was going to lead me…"
Freya White, Director, Refugee Children’s Centres
"I have nothing but pride and satisfaction when I look back at what we created as a team over the last 12 months. I was so fortunate to see the effect of having so many caring and talented volunteers in our core team. You could really see how the children benefited and how much we grew together as a Refugee Children's Centre family…"
Helen Wiggins, Programme Coordinator, Refugee Children’s Centres
This September we will begin a new project with the Gambian Chapter of the charity World Faith to help develop a nursery school for refugee and disadvantaged children.
In recent years the Mango Tree Nursery School has struggled to accommodate the increasing number of children fleeing from conflict in neighbouring Senegal. There are currently sixty-nine refugee children enrolled at the centre, along with seventy-five local students, but there are just two classrooms, one broken water pump and many new children waiting to attend.
Refugee Children’s Centres is raising money to train local staff in delivering a play-based Early Years’ curriculum, and to provide additional classroom space, play equipment and learning resources. If you are a qualified teacher or would like to volunteer as a teaching assistant for a minimum of one month, contact us to find out more.
The Dunkirk Children’s Centre was funded entirely by donations. From the carpets under the children’s chilly toes, to healthy snacks and summer paddling pool parties, everything we did for the children of La Liniere was only made possible by you.
To those of you who donated your pocket money so we could buy bags of cornflour to make sticky goo, who gave up your precious teddy bears to bring comfort to the young children who found themselves going to sleep in an unfamiliar country, thousands of miles from home, or gave monthly donations to support the incredible long-term volunteers who ran the centre, thank you, from the bottom of our hearts.
The Refugee Children’s Centres team is made up entirely of volunteers and we are always keen to hear from people who would like to get involved. If you think you have skills you could offer us, or would like to lend your services pro bono, please do get in touch.
We are currently looking to fill the following positions:
We would like to take this opportunity to say one final great big ‘Thank You!’ to everyone who has helped support the Dunkirk Children’s Centre over the past fourteen months.
I think it’s fair to say that all of us have shed a few tears through our efforts to bring some stability and happiness to the children of La Liniere, but collectively we achieved our goal. There have been many tough times but there have also been many smiles, much laughter and, I hope, some happy memories and more positive futures as a result.
Thank you from everyone at RCC! X