Books Bring Hope to Refugee Camps

“When I read a book, I make a new friend.”

Books provide a way to explore and learn about people and places we may never otherwise encounter. Inspired by imagination and new ideas, reading can change how people look at the world.

“When I read a book, I make a new friend,” said Bushra, a Blumont librarian at the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan.

As the world marks World Book Day, Blumont celebrates the opportunities that reading can provide.

Blumont recently constructed a new library in one Northeast Syria displacement camp. Libraries play an important role in any community, offering a place to meet and learn. In a camp, where tensions are often high and there are frequent conflicts, these shared spaces are even more critical as they provide a common place for people with differences to come together.

Funded by the German Federal Foreign Office, the library was established to give residents a place to read, learn, and gather. Blumont’s engineers designed a safe, accessible space that would allow people to gather for educational sessions or to just have a comfortable place to sit and read.

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Young children participate in a reading session
A Blumont Librarian teaches young girls the English alphabet

Camp residents played an important role in shaping the new library as people suggested the type of books they would like to see for both children and adults. Informed by community discussions, the library’s shelves were filled with educational tools, including math and language learning books; materials such as puzzles and coloring books; parenting and self-improvement books that were of interest to adults; and more.

“The library is an opportunity for us to learn new things and gain new ideas to improve our lives,” said Mohammad, a 12-year-old boy whose family came to the camp after being forced to flee their home in Aleppo.

Since the library opened, the community response has been overwhelming, with residents wanting to enjoy the books and participate in learning sessions. A librarian was hired to support educational opportunities, and the community continues to suggest ideas for more classes—and more libraries.

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Two young girls practice their reading at the new Blumont library

At the Za’atari Camp in Jordan, five Blumont-managed libraries served more than 23,000 residents in 2019. While activities were limited in 2020 to slow the spread of COVID-19, the Blumont team worked with partners and librarians to continue support for reading and educational opportunities.

Rather than gathering in libraries, a mobile library supported by the Kalimat Foundation helped bring resources directly to young people. Librarians and Arabic language coaches recently worked with the mobile library team to launch a reading club. Librarians prepared stories from the Kalimat mobile library and delivered materials to participants. Older children were encouraged to read to younger siblings and coaches provided support via a WhatsApp group. The program has been so well received that it will continue throughout the month of Ramadan.

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Two girls read books donated by Kalimat Foundation (photo credit: Kalimat Foundation)
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Wessam reads to his younger siblings at home as part of the Za’atari Camp reading program

“The library builds bridges for student education and knowledge,” said Ebtisam, a librarian. “Reading supports and develops a child’s personality.”

When the UNHCR-funded Blumont libraries at Za’atari are able to safely reopen, the librarians and language coaches will be ready to resume a busy schedule of activities—including storytelling, reading and language lessons, and even reading competitions. Their commitment to learning has inspired a new generation of readers.

“A book is the best companion for the energy and thoughts of the mind,” said Oday, age 15. “Through books you can increase your knowledge. It is the perfect tonic for the brain.”

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