FRANCE

Paris suburb charities help families with school supplies

Rapper Mac Tyer handing out notebooks in Aubervilliers on August 29.
Rapper Mac Tyer handing out notebooks in Aubervilliers on August 29.
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It’s back-to-school time for students in France – and that means a lot of expensive school supplies. On behalf of several NGOs, rap artist Mac Tyer helped hand out free supplies to children in the Paris suburb of Aubervilliers this weekend. As part of France 24’s series on the French suburbs, a young journalism student took his camera along and filmed the initiative’s volunteers.

The two NGOs behind the initiative are already very active in Paris’ impoverished suburbs. ‘Explosif Mouvement’ [Explosive Movement] was set up by the rapper Mac Tyer and ‘Forces de Mixités’ [Strength of Diversity] grew out of the north-western suburb of Argenteuil and is led by Abdellah Boudour. Boudour sees mastery of the French language as a vital rallying point for youths from the neglected city suburbs in pursuit of a common identity, and has held reading and writing workshops in the past.

"They handed out supplies non-stop all afternoon"

Kalidou Sy is a journalism student originally from Bezons, in the French department of Val d’Oise. He’s been following the recent work carried out by ‘Force de Mixités’. This time, he took his camera to film the NGO handing out free school supplies.

This video (in French) shows the school supplies being distributed. 

 

 

I followed Soufiane, a 21-year-old volunteer, handing out supplies. He’s a student studying environmental management in Nanterre and lives in Gagny, in Seine-Saint-Denis [Editor’s note: A French department located to the north of Paris]. He’s been working with the NGO for six years. Although there were young volunteers working for NGOs at the event, youths also came from the surrounding area to help out.

Lots of people came, from 1pm to 4pm they were handing out supplies non-stop. I didn’t know much about the ‘Fusains’ neighbourhood, but it is clearly a poor, ethnically diverse area. It’s a good that Mac Tyer was there as people then didn’t feel like they were there just to get handouts and free school supplies as his presence helped create a fun and relaxed atmosphere.

 

“Most people had serious financial problems”

In all, 520 school kits were handed out, mainly to children from the Fusains neighbourhood whose families heard of the initiative by word of mouth or on social media. The school kits were paid for by companies based in the Paris region, as AbdellahBoudour explains:

 

We reached out to a whole range of potential donors, like shopkeepers, security firms, hardware stores, a bit of everything really. They either gave us financial donations or bought the school supplies themselves. We managed to raise 5,000 euros in all. With that, we bought 1,000 pens, 1,000 notebooks, 500 planners and 500 pencil cases. Each kit cost us around 10 euros or so because we bought in bulk. The families would’ve had to pay a lot more than that in stores. A school planner alone can cost around three or four euros.

Planners being prepared.

 

Most of the people there had serious financial problems. Many of them got in touch with us through social media to see if they could benefit from the donations and every case is different. There were divorced parents, and the case of one woman who has to look after her children even though her ex-husband still receives benefits. Some had just had their social security benefits stopped. We also saw refugee families, including one from Sudan. They were able to enrol their children at school but without the school kits we handed out, they probably would’ve turned up on their first day of class without even a pen. In areas like this, there’s a new person in desperate need of help every day.

Each student was given a letter signed by Mac Tyer encouraging them to be “curious and constantly learn, by any means necessary”.

 

“Everyone thanked us,” concludes Abdellah Boudour. “Every time we do something like this, we get such a positive response that it pushes us to keep going.”

 

In a report entitled ‘Large-scale poverty and academic success’ published in May 2015, France’s Chief Inspector of National Education estimated that up to “one million students live today in families that are either poor or extremely poor.” The report points out that the budgets for school supplies and meals were slashed by more than half between 2001 and 2013.