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Children of Pebble Island

© Thomas Girondel

Located 22 km as the crow flies from the French coast, Yeu Island (also called the pebble land by its locals) is a peaceful place in the Atlantic Ocean where time seems to go slower than elsewhere. Cut off from the mainland, the breaking news is often overruled by local stories, and sea condition forecasts. With an area of 23.32 km², this preserved heritage has kept its authenticity, far from the urbanized and industrial world of the continent.

While the island’s economy has recently turned towards tourism to face the decline of the fishing industry, 4891 inhabitants — including 896 minors — live there all year round. They all rely on boats and have to take the weather conditions into account when wanting to reach the mainland; stormy days are feared when the waves and tides dictate their law. Containment can be oppressive in that rocky area, especially during winter. Due to, among others, its geographic isolation the Sicardières’ middle school has been ranked in the French priority education zone.

The above-mentioned restrictions are part of the islanders’ everyday life, everyone is aware of it, and lives with it. This is also what forges the youth, so committed to their pebble island. It results in their sportiness, independence, and a bigger maturity than can be found their (average) continental contemporaries. Free and at the same time safe in a constrained space, the children appreciate the protection and quietness the island offers, far from the continental hazards. Spending most of their time together, the autonomous circles of friends tight-knit since kindergarten are craving for adventures with the natural assets their island offers; they identify it as a life-size playground and know it by heart.

Each pupil has his perception of freedom which is typical for islanders. Their original behaviour is considered as a significant trait of their personality: frank, innocent, free and without restraint, the child of the pebble island is proud to be from this singular place. And so is the rest of these dynamic and committed locals who have maintained the authenticity that makes Yeu Island such a singular and timeless location for decades.

In the absence of a high school on the island, the 9th graders have to continue their education on the mainland. The change of environment is tough on them, especially during their first years of absence from home and more often than not from their childhood friends. So in general, they return to their pebble island from different boarding schools every weekend. However, due to the restricted job opportunities on Yeu Island, most of them have to give up their home sooner or later if they plan on pursuing their education at university and/or getting a job on the continent. Others though consider their future inseparably with their beloved pebble island despite its constraints, choosing their freedom and the islands’ inherited natural legacy over a standard career.

The feature was updated during the Covid pandemic - This part is about the kids who left the island to return to the mainland and have now returned to the boarding school. This work was made during COVID-19 restrictions in France since September 2020 to present day

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