Pupils in Northern France were encouraged to think about the “feelings, pains, and hopes” of migrants, in workshops which were instead supposed to educate and spread awareness about journalism.
Journalist Sheerazad Chekaik-Chaila was tasked by the commune of Valenciennes with holding workshops to educate teachers, pupils, social workers, managers, and parents on the work journalists do and the value of freedom of expression.
The project is sponsored by the regional of arm of the Ministry of Culture, which after the Charlie Hebdo attacks set up a media awareness and education campaign.
Working with a group of classes from schools across Valenciennes, France, Chekaik-Chaila is instead spending the five weeks she has with the pupils talking about migration.
In a lesson attended by La Voix du Nord, the Liberátion journalist invited pro-migrant activist Haydée Saberan, whose book Those Who Pass argues “implicitly [against] absurd laws that prevent the free movement of people, [which] promote poverty, insecurity and crime”.
The group of middle school and high school pupils were tasked with reading Saberan’s book before her guest appearance at one of the workshops. One of the people who attended the session reported that everyone was “moved” by it, and highlighted a passage from a chapter of her book which focuses on a young Afghan migrant who fled to France “in fear of his life”. It said: “When he left home, he was a child; When he arrived here, he was an adult.”
Saberan, a journalist whose work centres on migrants living in camps like Calais and Dunkirk from which they hope to reach Britain, was presented as an “expert” on migration.
She stressed to the teenagers the importance of understanding the “experience, the feelings, the pains and hopes of these men, women and children [migrants] who journeyed to France with their lives in danger”. This, she said, formed the core of her approach as a journalist reporting on the Calais Jungle.
La Voix du Nord last month reported on a school visit by Chekaik-Chaila, noting that the teacher who invited the journalist said: “When we got the offer of meeting a journalist and working with her, we jumped at the chance. It’s important for them to understand [the media]”.
Chekaik-Chaila explained that she will help pupils understand “the media, the importance [of journalists] and why they can be criticised but how they are oh so precious”.
However, it was revealed in the same article that she would begin working from the next Friday with pupils on the topic of migration.