Voices from the Jungle Digital Testimony Archive


In 2015-2016, the Centre for Narrative Research at the University of East London (UEL) ran an accredited Life Stories short course in the former Calais Jungle.  This course, facilitated by academics and students, enabled participants in the Calais Jungle to undertake a university course and engage with the educational process in different ways.  Residents from the Jungle wrote stories and took photographs, and documented their experiences, some of which were collected into the book Voices from the “Jungle”: Stories from the Calais Camp published by Pluto Press in 2017 (ISBN: 9780745399683).

Museum of London Archaeologu (MOLA) Chief Executive, Janet Miller, talks with artist Gideon Mendel about the items he collected from the Calais Jungle, why he described his collecting as ‘archaeological’ and what he hopes archaeologists can add by studying these items.


The ‘Jungle’ camp

There were between 3,000 and 10,000 people living in the Calais camp when we were teaching there, with few facilities, as the camp was informal (with the exception of a fenced container area, some group tent accommodation administered by French social services, and a small French government facility for women and children). Demolitions reduced the work of some volunteer associations, and food was often sparse. Infrastructure -water and sanitation – were poor, and education and especially medical facilities were sparse.

The camp was a physically demanding and psychologically difficult place in which to live. However, it also at times opened up into a dynamic space for refugees and migrants to resist racist and exclusionary narratives about who they are, establishing meaningful relationships of solidarity among themselves, as well as with volunteers from the UK and across Europe.

‘University for all’ recognises that university education, like other fields of education, is a dialogue, that students themselves must shape their own education, and that teachers learn from students, as well as the other way around.

The ‘Life Stories’ course

In the UEL course, participants read life stories (for instance, those of Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Barack Obama, as well as Malala Yousafzai), discussing fictional and critical representations of stories (Sam Selvon, Chimimanda Adichie), examining poetic (JJ Bola, Mahmoud Darwish, Maya Angelou, Warshan Shire), photographic, and filmic representations of lives, and thinking about theories of good lives (Plato, ‘The Republic’). This work involves both substantive discussion, and development of English skills. Students also create written, oral and visual life stories of their own.

This included both Visual Storytelling and Participatory Photography workshops as part of the `Crafting multimodal narratives in the Calais camp’ project, which was supported by UEL’s `University for All’ civic engagement project and impact fund.  These workshops utilised the multimodal narrative approach to help encourage and enable participants to tell their own stories.

“Working with multiple modals of narratives, [the project aimed] to help participants to tell and share their life stories in context.”

This helped enable the curation of life histories through a range of narrative processes, including creative writing, poetry and life history reflections, enabling participants to reflect on their own story and to give value to their testimonies.  The Displaces participatory photography workshops curated by photographers Gideon Mendel and Crispin Hughes.

The course’s ‘life stories’ focus is a way to develop critical reading and writing; to expand English skills; and in some cases, to express important aspects of students’ experience.

Higher education for refugees

‘University for all’ is a response to widespread recognition that people who are refugees are under-served by and have poor access to university education, despite having very strong motivations and qualifications. Students on the ‘Life Stories’ course in Calais 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.  Many students used the course as a ‘gateway’ to other higher education possibilities.

Since November 2016, UEL has been a partner in the Erasmus+ funded Open Learning Initiative (OLIve), which provides introductory courses for migrants into UK Universities.

Who Opens a School..

Developed with University of East London’s Centre for Narrative Research, led by Prof Corinne Squire, this film tells the story of l’ Ecole du Chemin des Dunes (ELCD), in the ‘Jungle’ refugee camp, Calais.

The film shows the school’s situation in grassy wasteland, close to routes to the UK, highly policed, but protected by decorated fences and children’s murals. The soundtrack moves from the roar of traffic and wind, to the babble of voices inside. Title cards move the story from the ‘Jungle’ as a zoo, to ELCD as ‘Forum’, a space of democracy and hope.

Made in close consultation with ELCD teachers and pupils, the film tries to represent refugee issues in a new way. It foregrounds the written ‘voice’ of Zimako Jones, the refugee who founded and built ELCD, and the beauty of the school. It avoids picturing individuals, since revealing identities could be problematic. The film, like ELCD itself, aims at building knowledge and empowerment.

Digital Testimonies

The Voices from the Jungle Digital Testimonies can be accessed as follows:

Additional Resources

Additional resources to accompany these testimonies can be downloaded in this section including a selection of work from the Displaces Calais -Starting Out project, all made by camp resident photographers:

Displaces – starting out (pdf)

Displaces – starting out (powerpoint)

A selection from the pilot and the later more extensive workshops – Displaces: A participatory photo project with residents of the Calais ‘Jungle’ camp. Gideon Mendel and Crispin Hughes Displaces examples2

Further Information

Further information on the associated work of the UEL Centre for Narrative Research (CNR) can be found by following the following links.

Links and Further Information:


Course work will also be archived with UEL’s Refugee Council archive and some will be available on the Centre for Narrative Research’s website.

References and Bibliography

A selected bibliography of resources and further reading related to the Voices from the Jungle digital testimonies:

Calais Writers. (2017) Voices from the ‘Jungle’: stories from the Calais refugee camp. Edited by M. Godin et al. London: Pluto Press.

Cantat, C. et al. (eds) (2019) Challenging the Political Across Borders: Migrants’ and Solidarity Struggles | Center for Policy Studies. Budapest, Hungary: Central European University. Available at: https://cps.ceu.edu/publications/books/challenging-political-across-borders-migrants-and-solidarity-struggles (Accessed: 23 March 2020).

Cantat, C. (no date) ‘Rethinking Mobilities: Solidarity and Migrant Struggles Beyond Narratives of Crisis | Intersections. East European Journal of Society and Politics’. Available at: https://intersections.tk.mta.hu/index.php/intersections/article/view/286  (Accessed: 23 March 2020).

‘Constructing multimodal narratives: Exploring life stories in East London and Calais refugee camp – migART’ (no date). Available at: https://migart.bard.berlin/constructing-multimodal-narratives/ (Accessed: 13 April 2020).

‘Displaces – Calais and beyond’ (2016) Educating without borders: UEL and friends in Calais and beyond, 23 January. Available at: https://educatingwithoutborders.wordpress.com/displaces-a-project-by-gideon-mendel-and-calais-jungle-residents/ (Accessed: 23 March 2020).

Dzhangal Archaeology interview with artist Gideon Mendel (no date). Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ZJt5Kc6uj0 (Accessed: 13 April 2020).

Educating without borders: UEL and friends in Calais and beyond (no date) Educating without borders: UEL and friends in Calais and beyond. Available at: https://educatingwithoutborders.wordpress.com/ (Accessed: 23 March 2020).

Esin, C. (2017) ‘Telling Stories in Pictures: Constituting Processual and Relational Narratives in Research With Young British Muslim Women in East London’, Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 18(1). doi: 10.17169/fqs-18.1.2774.

Esin, C. and Lounasmaa, A. (2020) ‘Narrative and ethical (in)action: creating spaces of resistance with refugee-storytellers in the Calais “Jungle” camp’, International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 0(0), pp. 1–13. doi: 10.1080/13645579.2020.1723202.

Life stories – University of East London (UEL) (no date). Available at: https://www.uel.ac.uk/research/centre-for-narrative-research/collaborative-research-events/life-stories-at-the-jungle-refugee-camp-calais (Accessed: 23 March 2020).

‘Life stories in the Jungle in the media’ (2016) Centrefornarrativeresearch’s blog, 13 July. Available at: https://centrefornarrativeresearch.wordpress.com/2016/07/13/life-stories-in-the-jungle-in-the-media/ (Accessed: 23 March 2020).

London Group AGM and The Dzhangal Archaeology project | The Institute for Archaeologists (no date). Available at: https://www.archaeologists.net/civicrm/event/info?reset=1&id=41 (Accessed: 13 April 2020).

Lounasmaa, A., Hall, T. and Squire, C. (eds) (2019) ‘From margin to centre? Practising new forms of European politics in the Calais “Jungle”’, in Challenging the Political Across Borders: Migrants’ and Solidarity Struggles | Center for Policy Studies. Budapest, Hungary: Central European University. Available at: https://cps.ceu.edu/publications/books/challenging-political-across-borders-migrants-and-solidarity-struggles (Accessed: 23 March 2020).

Mendel, G. (2017) Dzhangal. GOST Books.

‘Multimodal narratives – Calais’ (2016) Educating without borders: UEL and friends in Calais and beyond, 9 June. Available at: https://educatingwithoutborders.wordpress.com/creating-multimodal-narratives-in-the-calais-camp/ (Accessed: 13 April 2020).

Professor launches course for Calais ‘Jungle’ camp refugees (2015) Times Higher Education (THE). Available at: https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/professor-launches-course-calais-jungle-camp-refugees (Accessed: 23 March 2020).

Refugee Heritage: the archaeology of the Calais ‘Jungle’ (no date). Available at: https://www.torch.ox.ac.uk/refugee-heritage-the-archaeology-of-the-calais-jungle (Accessed: 13 April 2020).

The case for an archaeology of the ‘Jungle’ (no date) MOLA. Available at: https://www.mola.org.uk/blog/case-archaeology-jungle (Accessed: 13 April 2020).

The Dzhangal Archaeology Project: an archaeological perspective on modern migration (no date) MOLA. Available at: https://www.mola.org.uk/blog/dzhangal-archaeology-project-archaeological-perspective-modern-migration (Accessed: 13 April 2020).

Toys, tins and tear gas: recording objects from the Calais ‘Jungle’ (no date) MOLA. Available at: https://www.mola.org.uk/blog/toys-tins-and-tear-gas-recording-objects-calais-jungle (Accessed: 13 April 2020).

‘University for all – “Life Stories” in Calais, Manchester and London’ (2016) Educating without borders: UEL and friends in Calais and beyond, 3 January. Available at: https://educatingwithoutborders.wordpress.com/university-for-all-2/  (Accessed: 23 March 2020).

Zaman, T. (2019) ‘Neighbourliness, conviviality and the sacred in Athens’ refugee squats’, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. doi: 10.1111/tran.12360.