Le Village Gaulois in Brittany
IN 1967 a young Breton schoolboy was shocked as he watched televised pictures of the Biafran war in Nigeria.
These pictures triggered a dream in the young Jean-Marc Le Bail to find a way to help African people. In 1978 he built his own house and joined an ecological society which supported third world projects.
In order to fulfil his dream he went on training programmes and by 1980 he came up with the idea of building a leisure park, from which he could donate some of the money to help with schooling of 2,500 pupils in north Togo.
Three years later his dream starts to materialise and with friends he set up M.E.E.M., le Monde des Enfants pour les Enfants du Monde who were responsible for building and bringing to life the Gaul village at Pleumeur-Bodou.
I decided to find out from Jean-Marc Le Bail himself how Le Village Gaulois came to be built and how it is supporting the people of Africa.
The group's aim is to save 60 per cent of the July to August profit to support work in African developing countries, these are linked to agricultural development, provide work for inhabitants in the villages whist preserving cultural characteristics.
But in the early days, and with the society formed, the committee still needed a theme to work to, a site to find and most of all money to be found.
The idea of building a Gaul village was perfect for several reasons. It was cheap to construct as the building materials were found all around the area in the form of straw, soil, wood and stones and construction was easy as there was no need to employ professional craftsmen.
To raise money the members, of which Jean-Marc Le Bail was president, sold second hand goods in two villages near by. They then came up with the idea of washing cars until this was stopped by a far right movement and they went back to selling goods at second hand markets at Tréguier and Ille Grande.
For Jean-Marc the ideal site was in the valley where he played as a child. However, the mayor of Perros- Guirec was not supportive and wanted it in a craft area. The members managed to win the day.
So it was that in 1985 the land was purchased and in the winter and spring of that year they started to clear the waste land and in the autumn they dug out the pond. The following spring the wet areas were filled in and the pond created. That summer young volunteers arrived and the first work camp was organised.
For the volunteers July 5, 1987 was an important date as the first hut was inaugurated. The volunteers discovered the Cote de Granite Rose, cooked with fire, slept on straw mattresses in dormitories, washed linen in wash tubs and used cooking as part of their education, spoke Gaul words and according to the volunteers, they lived the Gaul way of life.
As the number of young volunteers increased they wanted their own house.
In 1989 the village employed three permanent workers and a special huts were built for an office, a changing room and a workshop which were replaced in 2000; Jean-Marie Le Bail had by now stepped down as president and had become a member only.
Visitor numbers had grown and they wanted refreshments so a créperie was built in 1990, which was replaced in 2002 to comply with health and safety regulations.
Since 1986 games have been supplied on the site, which are added to each year, to amuse and educate visitors and in 1991 a craftsman's house was built.
In 1992 the village went into partnership with teaching missionaries to finance schools in bush villages. To show and explain the humanitarian action of the Gaul village a typical African village from the Savanna region was constructed in the form of huts and a school.
The volunteers then built a watch tower to enable communication and organisation of the village from the top of the tower.
The next project was the the Cairn/maze, which took four years and hundreds of volunteers to complete.
On a wet Sunday in 2001 some visitors set fire to the watch tower and two smaller ones had to be built to replace it.
My husband and I visited the Gaul village as I am interested in the history of the period. The first game we saw was one which involved catapulting supplies into Vercingetorix's oppidom at Alésia, which is near our home!
We found the area mostly accessible to disabled people as there is a disabled route marked.
The games are great fun and bring pleasure to young and old alike, well we enjoyed them.
A German couple spoke to us and said, "We though our two children would be bored. They are 13 and 14, just look at them."
In meeting Jean-Marc Le Bail I found someone who is committed to his project which started as a dream over 40 years ago, and I wondered how involved they were with the work in Africa?
"We work in conjunction with the Rotary Club in Switzerland," he said. "They provide that support, we concentrate on the school projects and we also keep in touch with some of the pupils who have passed through the system.
"One of the boys is now married and has children of his own. His brother is now working to stop forced marriages in the area. But it is not something we become involved with as we don't think we should become involved in cultural matters."
And when I wondered what was the spark that set him off, Jean-Marc replied: "I felt I had to do something, although at the time I wasn't sure what.
"Now that so many volunteers have passed through the village, I hope they have all learnt something, about La Vie Gaulois, our project and themselves."