Operation ‘Forest Cleanup’ at EVAM Crissier

The EVAM Crissier residential complex

Two months ago I started work as a volunteer with Etablissement vaudois d’accueil des migrants (EVAM) at Crissier, on the western outskirts of Lausanne. EVAM assists people who come to Switzerland and claim political asylum from their mother country. While their application for refugee status is processed, EVAM, through government funding, provide accommodation, food, french lessons, cultural integration modules, medical assistance and attend to individual counselling needs of these people. Once applicants have applied for refugee status they are free to come and go in and Geneva and Vaud cantons on the condition that they complete the necessary educational conditions of their application. After two months at the EVAM Chrissier Hostel type accommodation they are also free to undertake paid employment in the community.
The Crissier centre houses approximately 330 adults and 30 children. Two people share each room and fourteen people have use of one one kitchen, one bathroom and three toilets. The people in this centre are from twenty one different countries as far afield as Sri Lanka, Tibet, Kurdistan, Libya, Eritrea, Guinea, Belgian Congo, Afghanistan, Iraq, Bosnia and Sudan. They all must learn French as a part of their agreement with the VAUD canton but thankfully for me many can speak some English. Each morning as I arrive there are many formal greetings and handshakes to pass by from the adults and high 5‘s from the kids that are not yet at school. It makes coming into work a pleasurable experience. Very different to other jobs I have had in the past where you might get a grunt or snide remark as a morning welcome.
My role is that of an activities officer for the children on Wednesday afternoons as there is no school for them then. We play football, cricket and watch fun dvd’s. We have also commenced a weekly creative education program for fourteen of the older children with the International School of Lausanne, where Jo works. This has come about through my meeting with Lisa Craddock, a teacher at Jo’s school. who has had this idea of her students doing  community access service with children of refugees in Lausanne. Each Wednesday we get together from 4.00 - 6.00 pm and do a range of activities including, cooking, sport, art and photography. One of our projects this year will include these students providing designs for the large waste bins at EVAM and also painting them. Another will be a public exhibition to take place in November, to highlight the difficulties of children caught up in politically violent countries,. This exhibition will include the children’s artwork, photography and writing that is produced as a result of this EVAM/ISL project. 

I also assist with adult projects which have so far included writing a proposal for a community vegetable garden, receiving clothing donations from ISL, an evacuation exercise with emergency services and a community cricket match. During the day I find time to talk with parents and their children, to hear parts of their stories, and help where I am able.
My awesome forest clean team
Today was one of the EVAM community activities that involved adults and children. On the southern and western perimeter of the Crissier complex is a large deciduous forest. Members of the extended EVAM refugee family volunteered to clean it of the rubbish that finds it’s way into the forest from the motorway traffic on the other side. For this exercise I had a team of ten people as well as an assistant from Afghanistan who could speak French and English. We had a couple of hours of collecting and sorting rubbish into recyclable and non-recyclable followed by afternoon tea in the cool shade of the giant trees. It was a worthwhile, fun time and everyone got the chance to work together for the better of the wider Lausanne community and make new friends. I met a lady from Tibet called Dotsang and three men from Sri Lanka who are going to help organise the cricket match on Wednesday. The 24 Heures newspaper also covered the occasion and will publish photos in Tuesday 24th May’s edition.

Libya and Afghanistan working together

For me it was a great way to observe human qualities expressed in action. Many different people from very different cultures, brought together by destructive circumstances outside of their own doing, but still left with the ability to express love, harmony and a sense of fun doing something most people would consider ordinary. And these people were very willing workers for no pay apart from a cold drink, some cake, cheese and chocolate and conversation with old and new friends when the work was done. I felt honoured to have participated in this particular forest cleansing project. To top the day off for me, when I took my adopted Libyan children Lopna (16), Hassn (11) and Roua (8) back to the underground concrete bunker that is temporarily their home, their mother Roda insisted I eat with them. After a bellyful of coke, chocolate and cheese I was a reluctant starter sitting down to a giant white plate of spaghetti and beef but in the end I just felt privileged to eat with such generous people.

Making good use of what you find

Lopna (Libya) Dotsang (Tibet) and Roua (Libya)

Lopna, Roua and Hassn who took most of these photos.
This waste bin was filled

Community refreshments


Popular Posts