The first stop on my research trip has been to Lille, France. Lille is the third largest metropolitan area in France and is home to many refugees from Congo, Eritrea, Sudan, Chad, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and other places. Like many other European nations, France struggles with how to care for the large number of people seeking asylum there. Tent cities appear in parks, such as the much-publicized “Jungle of Calais,” and are torn down; some people are given housing, but then those locations are closed down as well after a period of months. Many of the asylum-seekers are minors, most are boys; some find families to live with, some sleep in church basements until the church becomes overwhelmed and they have to find a new place.
I was hosted by a kind and generous Christian pastor who introduced me to other Americans and Brits who are all trying to help find solutions and care for these people. They plan to start a community center where people, in particular the displaced minors, can have a place to find services, use computers, and build relationships. Many French “associations” exist as well, to help with needs for computer access, lawyers, and other practical aid. This type of place could be a perfect spot for refugees to connect with an online teacher-mentor who can help them develop a personal educational program to meet their goals. We met with a young man from Congo today who resonated with our question, “What if you have goals but you don’t know how to get started?” I was able to direct him to another Solve “solution” for college-aged students, called Kiron.ngo. Which brings to mind another challenge: there are so many good initiatives out there for refugees, but how do we get the word out?