Games without frontiers – chess and backgammon build bridges

Mark Stables in the Dunkirk camp, helping a refugee to feel at home
Mark Stables in the Dunkirk camp, helping a refugee to feel at home

Chess sets may not be the first thing most people think of when it comes to helping refugees.

But for Chichester man Mark Stables, board games are a luxury he knows will be appreciated at the camps in Calais and Dunkirk.

The refugee camp in Dunkirk

The refugee camp in Dunkirk

Mark, of Stockbridge Road, has spent time volunteering at the migrant encampment known as ‘Calais Jungle’.

“There was a real sense of being stuck and aimlessness without any sense of a plan for the future,” he said.

“This is allied to a sense that these are people who no-one wants to acknowledge.

“I want to take back backgammon and chess sets and set up some games clubs. This may seem a strange priority but they would provide enjoyment and distraction and allow people at least for a while to forget where they are.

“They would be in some sense a luxury in that they are not essential for physical survival but as George Orwell pointed out in Road to Wigan Pier, it is psychologically necessary for people with very little to have something that they don’t need.

“Backgammon is an Afghan game and very popular. With different ethnic groups living in very small and arid environments, the games would support communication and development of positive relationships. Personally, I love chess and it is a universal method of communication between people.”

Mark also noticed a real enthusiasm among people in the camp to learn English.

“After thought and discussion, I intend to take back dictionaries in a range of languages,” he added.

“These would be distributed and overseen by the two tent schools that have been set up.”

Mark said it is common for people who go once to the Calais Jungle volunteer to want to go back. He plans to return in October to set up games clubs in conjunction with key people in the camps.

“I am hoping that many people will have a set of either backgammon or chess at home and will be happy to donate, knowing that though its a small thing, it will make a tangible difference.”

When he was last in the Calais Jungle, Mark saw what effect a small gift can have.

Mark explained: “It was a great moment. I had gone to buy a new saw and while I was there, got some geranium plants.

“When I got back, I suggested to one of the refugees in the camp that he might like a shelf outside the hut to put the plants on, which he was clear he would.

“As soon as we had done that, he picked up the drill and fixed the number above the door, which I felt was a way of saying ‘it’s my house/home’.”

Call 07544278312 or email sussexsaddlebacks@gmail.com to offer games or dictionaries.

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