The school of travel

For ten years, aboard his motorhome, Olivier Desheulles has been teaching those who do not go to school, the children of the last travelers in horse-drawn caravans in France, in Normandy. They are still a dozen families to roam the roads, but finding a land of welcome and a field for the horses has become difficult. Caravans are relegated from industrial areas to suburban car parks, never very far from a shopping center, but not very close to the school. The Manouches do not go there.
In 2009, the Association for the Education of Gypsy Children, which campaigned throughout France for the opening of mobile school branches, obtained the creation of a post of teacher seconded from the National Education. Olivier Desheulles, teacher at Notre-Dame de Carentan, is the only one to apply. His colleagues are astonished; the parents believe in a disciplinary sanction. He defends education for all. Today, the master has about forty students, aged three to eighteen, to whom he teaches the basics: reading, writing, counting. Every day of the week, he parks his school on wheels at a different camp.

Municipality of Thaon, near the football stadium, Saint-Gabriel-Brécy, on the side of the road… The caravans land for a few days. When there is no more grass for the horses, the journey begins again, over a perimeter of about twenty kilometers west of Caen. As soon as Olivier parks the motorhome, the two boys, Vittel and Poney, rush inside. The teacher comes to class half a day a week. It is not enough to learn to read and write. “Initially, I wondered how to do it. Now I tell myself that it's better than nothing and I invent other ways of learning. These kids are exceptional, spontaneous, curious about everything. Of course, everything takes more time, but it is also a luxury. And I know that every seed I plant eventually sprouts. »
Shogun and Craben, the parents, did not go to school; they can neither read nor write. The generation before, that of the grandparents, nevertheless frequented it. It was the time of the single class in the communes of France. The travelers put their caravans in the village and the children went to school. But the caravans were ordered to settle on the outskirts, the small schools closed and the complexity of the registration procedures permanently distanced families from the educational institution. It is to renew this bond that Olivier brings the children to school.

The beginnings were chaotic. Olivier had to adapt to the impromptu moves of the trailers, sometimes justifying himself in front of finicky administrations.
There are the teacher's small victories, such as the three-day outing at the end of the year. “I was told it would never work. I talked to parents about it for a year. On the day of departure, only one was missing. And the disappointments, when the children grow up and become, very early, girls ready to marry or boys to work. Olivier remembers his two teenage daughters for whom he had found an internship as childminders. “The girls knew how to deal with the brats. They loved the first day. But when I came back to pick them up the next day, the parents told me they were sick. I received a text message from my students that evening: “Excuse us Olivier. It's not our fault. Were the parents afraid that their daughters would escape them? Wasn't that my gadjo project more than theirs? I know I can't do the impossible, but every little seed you sprout eventually grows..."

Texts and recordings Marylène Carre / Grand Format