The Centre for Narrative Research has begun short university courses on 'Life Stories' with residents at the Jungle refugee camp in Calais. Teaching started in November 2015  and continued through October 2016.  Photography, art and poetry workshops were also offered. Camp residents co-organised all these initiatives as well as participating as students. Participants were reading life stories (for instance, those of Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama, as well as Malala Yousafzai), discussing them, examining poems from those of Mahmoud Darwish to the recent work of JJ Bola, as well as photographic representations of lives, and creating some of their own. 

'Life Stories' was taught at Jungle Books, a library and school built and run by volunteers and residents, at L'Ecole Laique du Chemin des Dunes, and at the Oromo School. Students came from a range of countries - Sudan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Syria, Ethiopia, Eritrea. Many were professionals - electrical engineers, opticians - or university students or graduates in a range of subjects from English literature through political science to physics.  All were keen to further their education, and also to use this course to gain a more public hearing for their stories about their journeys and lives.  

Calais Jungle poster

We facilitated camp residents' co-authorship of a book as a result of this project. 'Voices from the Jungle' was authored by 22 students and appeared with Pluto Press in 2017.   It was later translated and published in French by Guillotine (2020).

Calais Jungle view

Material from this project has also appeared in many other English and French language publications and has been presented at book fairs and conferences and other talks internationally. 

'Life Stories' in the Calais' Jungle won the 2017 Guardian Universities Widening Participation award. 

Nelson Mandela book

Photos by Katrine Møller Hansen. Please do not reuse without permission. 
 
Details of the project appear on the University for all website.

Material and testimonies from the book project can be viewed at UEL's Living Refugee Archive.
 
In a pilot project, part of the University for All initiative and of UEL's Life Stories courses at Calais, photographer Gideon Mendel worked with residents of Calais refugee camp to create visual records of their lives, from their own perspective. Please see further details of the project.

Subsequently, the 'Life Stories' short course has been taught with refugees in Manchester, young people from refugee backgrounds in West London, refugees and migrants in the OLIve Open Learning Initiative programme in East London, and the UNITE migrant workers' group in central London. It has also been used online as part of the MOSAIK project's integration of refugees in Jordan and Lebanon into higher education. For some of these UK-based projects, please see this website.