Paris as Classroom


How Students Help Paris's Refugee Community

Student clubs at AUP regularly work with the local community and provide plenty of opportunity for you to engage directly with the city around you. AUP Campus UNICEF helps students take part in outreach projects across Paris in support of UNICEF’s mission to save, protect and educate children. The club organizes regular volunteering opportunities for students to support children in disadvantaged circumstances in collaboration with Paris-based housing association, Aurore. 

Aurore accommodates people in underprivileged situations, including those seeking asylum, by providing housing units across Paris. Every other Saturday, Campus UNICEF representatives provide tutoring sessions for children living in Aurore housing, helping them with homework and providing other activities and entertainment. “It allows parents to take a deep breath for a moment,” says Sandra Lefaure, an AUP senior and the club’s Vice President. “They can’t get a break otherwise!” As well as organizing childcare, the club has held a clothing drive on AUP’s campus to provide adults in Aurore housing with clothes for job interviews. 

The work allows students to meet people from all over the world and to hear their stories – while also putting students’ language skills to good use. As Lynn Elhadjali, the club’s Co-President and an AUP senior, explains: “That’s the really good thing about AUP. You have speakers from all over the world. We’re working with refugees who speak Arabic, Sudanese, Russian – AUP's multicultural environment is really useful in that sense.” She tells of one child who, prior to coming to France, spent time in Italy. An Italian student from AUP was able to help the child communicate in a new home. 

On campus, the club encourages student participation by organizing bake sales, art workshops and other collections. The money raised goes toward UNICEF-sponsored causes; this year, this included gender equality projects in Cameroon and climate change resilience in Myanmar. “The bake sales are always a big hit,” says Sandra. “We made over 300 euros in one day.” Events and initiatives are often tied into worldwide events such as Mental Health Awareness Week and International Women’s Day. 

The group’s fundraising activities are supported by the designated Campus UNICEF advisor for France, so there are many possibilities for collaboration with the Paris-based offices in the 9th arrondissement. Club members can learn more about what it’s like to work for an international organization. “We recently held a water sanitation event, and we had a couple of leaders from UNICEF come and talk about the work they do in the field,” says Sandra. “People think that UNICEF only work with kids, but they also have a big input elsewhere – water sanitation in refugee camps is a great example.” 

There are additional benefits to a club with such close ties to an international organization – similar clubs exist in French-speaking universities across the country, allowing for collaborative social events, networking and language immersion. “It’s really easy for the clubs to click,” says Lynn. “During the pandemic, when in-person events weren’t possible, we organized a group chat with other Campus UNICEF groups across France.” One recent collaboration was on a joint event in aid of Palestinian children, organized with the club at the American University of Beirut. Another event is planned in collaboration with Lebanese associations providing mental health support for children in the aftermath of the Beirut explosion in August 2020.