The PWB team’s picked and eager to go, we meet up all together in London and we travel via airports and transfers with big bags full of kit to donate.  The team:  Jules Cooke, Jamie ‘Mr sunshine’ Moore, Peter Duncan and Gina ‘Bazinga’ Disney, all bringing their ‘A’ game and clown noses. The residency is a week long and it is the first (of hopefully many) combined outreach projects between The Flying Seagulls and Performers Without Borders.

We meet The Flying Seagull team out there and learn their set up. We had a block of work every morning. Like: putting the walls on a big top (canvas is to valuable to leave out overnight) and putting the fences in the right places, stewarding the road that separates our site from the camp,  followed by an hour of games – familiar to the children as their team has been on the ground already for 6 weeks. It’s a high impact carousel of activities! NB: we cannot take picture of the participants.

There is then a short  pause. Time for the second session, walls up or re arranged to support new activities, fences out, stations staffed, older children given carrying equipment responsibilities – finally circus begins. Another hour jam packed and filled with laughter and development. Walls down, props packed, hot sun, lunch time. Teams split and some have to stay behind to watch the roof of the tent that remains (so it doesn’t get used for housing), whilst others head back to plan rehearse and check resources, gear up for an evening session: walls  up again, benches out, don’t forget the van keys, then a spectacular evening show/film/disco in a packed out big top tent, inclusive of families and onlookers, pack down and lock up. PHEW! Knackering!

It sounds complex and daunting. The experienced Seagulls tell us of the challenges of people who are in the camp, the likely behaviour, tensions and the dynamics of groups, the struggles faced by NGO’s and the local population. We are plunged into a project working with children from 1-18 years old, after long traumatic journeys now living in a chaotic and sometimes violent camp. We pour love and energy and positive messages into the space we have – which is basically a field of gravel, a big top and a shipping container.

Children come racing out of the camp responding to Ash Perrins honking tuba music and call and response singing and dancing. Now we understand why we need to steward the road. Between 80 and 150 each day – for games, and songs and a chance to try: trapeze, unicycling, tightrope, flower sticks, hula hoops, stilts, acro, games. They devour everything we offer – scarf juggling, skipping, crafts and face painting are added to the mix.

It’s a tight organisation of resources and deployment of people create a safe, playful space. We appreciate the Seagulls energy and experience in working in this setting- the systems work and we are adding to the opportunities. Over late evening meals we reflect on our work and the impact – share stories from the mouths of refugees and from researchers. We look at the strategies we have, the value of the work, transferability and sustainability. One teacher from Syria came and expressed that he felt he “couldn’t make a difference here but that we could”, and that he “prays every night that we will be here tomorrow”.

What do you say to a teenager who is getting up at 6.00am in a cold and wet camp to queue for food, so he can feed his family and be back, ready to help enthusiastically to put up tent walls, distribute stilts, turn a skipping rope? How do you thank him when he appears at every workshop and show, is helping with all the set ups and pack downs?  What do you say to multiple unaccompanied minors? (40% of people in the camp are children, some of the unaccompanied are under 10 years old).

We have some numbers – 18 hours of workshops, over 1,500 participants, more than 600 in the audience for evening shows, but the difference is in giving some magic, and humanity and hope – for children and their parents/carers. Another local mentioned that there are ‘no smiles here, but that there are kids smiles up and down the hill three times everyday because of this project’. If our neighbours are in trouble we should not be building walls, we should be building long tables – we should also be sending people out with practical offers – not just of shelter and food, but of the chance to play and laugh and have a bit of childhood.

What a week to remember! Big THANKYOU to the Flying Seagulls for the opportunity to work with them. We hope we will be back again several times!

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