19 February 2019

The book 'Voices from the Jungle', produced by students on the University of East London's (UEL) award-winning 'Life Stories' course in the Calais Jungle, was presented to HRH The Duchess of Sussex when the Duchess made her first official appearance as Patron of the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU). 

The book was presented by Dr Aura Lounasmaa, lecturer in social sciences at UEL, during an event at City, University of London. Dr Lounasmaa told the Duchess about UEL's work with refugees

It was a great opportunity to speak with the Duchess of Sussex about global education and research challenges she cares deeply about. 

"I had the opportunity to discuss the University of East London's work with refugees and present her with the book our students on the award-winning Life Stories course in the Calais Jungle produced, the 'Voices from the Jungle'. I hope the Duchess enjoys reading these stories."

Dr Lounasmaa, lecturer in social sciences at UEL, said.

'Voices from the Jungle' is an anthology of stories, poems, photographs and drawings by 22 former inhabitants of the Calais Jungle camp. It was published last year by Pluto Press. 

A UEL team of 30 staff members and students travelled to the camp in northwest France over the course of 2016 to offer residents the accredited Life Stories course in makeshift school buildings. The published work shares the life stories of people who travelled to Europe from conflict-torn countries such as Syria, Sudan, Afghanistan and Eritrea.

In 2017, UEL's work on the course won the institution the Guardian University Award 2017 in the 'Student diversity and widening participation' category.

Judges described Life Stories as an "inspiring and innovative project with real impact. UEL went well beyond what was done in other places. The university showed real commitment to reaching out to a really marginalised group and to challenging places. The project challenges current political ethos and ideas, it's a real beam."

Dr Lounasmaa, who is now working on the OLive Open Learning programme of UEL courses to prepare refugees for higher education, was part of the Life Stories team.

Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Sussex became Patron of the ACU, an international organisation which is dedicated to building a better world through higher education, at the start of the year. The Duchess was welcomed to City by its President, Professor Sir Paul Curran and Dr Joanna Newman, ACU Chief Executive and Secretary General.

UEL is one of the ACU's 500 university members supporting the development of higher education as a power for good across the Commonwealth and beyond.

During the visit to City University, the Duchess joined ACU staff, students, and academics and met students from the Commonwealth studying in the UK, for whom access to university has transformed their lives.

Dr Lounasmaa said, "We spoke about our OLIve course for refugees and asylum seekers hoping to get into university, which UEL has been running for two years, and the importance of including creative methods into our teaching. 

"The event also provided a wonderful opportunity to connect with students and scholars from across the Commonwealth, as well as the ACU staff, over UEL's research focus areas, such as gender, conflict and menstrual health. I think UEL's connection to the ACU provides wonderful opportunities to develop the impact of our work, and I look forward to connecting with colleagues across the ACU network at future events." 

Photograph is of the Duchess of Sussex meeting with Dr Aura Lounasmaa (far left) with (right) Dr Joanna Newman, the new Secretary General of the ACU. Photograph is courtesy of ACU.

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