Few people seem to benefit from literature as much as children. Reading can absorb them completely, stimulating their minds and helping them develop a subtle understanding of the world around them. For this reason, children’s authors work to create characters and scenarios their audience can relate to – this allows them almost to become part of the story, imagining themselves fighting the same battles as their friends on the page. Developing a love of reading in childhood is so important because it allows the individual to feel at ease with books throughout their life. Yet the millions of children and young people displaced by the ongoing conflict in Syria are at risk of feeling completely alienated from the world of words and learning, not least because of a lack of literature dealing with the issues they may struggle with their whole lives.
Above: the type of book given to Syrian children in refugee camps (photo credit: justgiving)
This is the problem that the UNESCO certified project “Books for Syria” hopes to help combat. Their original publications are designed with therapeutic value in mind, recognising the lack of resources available to help Syrian children understand and come to terms with the horrors around them. Children in the refugee camp at Killis in Turkey, as well as in some Syrian schools, have already begun to receive books and take the accompanying workshops, as shown in videos on the organisation’s Facebook page. Particularly impressive is a workshop on first aid run in a girls’ school, in which the girls, all about eight or nine, demonstrate how to treat someone who is struggling to breathe. All are completely serious and incredibly capable. Not all the books have such practical applications, of course – “The Tent that Flew Away” is clearly supposed to help children cope with the precariousness of life in a war zone. The quality of materials and teaching is highly admirable, and it is clear that wherever humanly possible, this organisation will form part of the enormous effort to provide Syria’s children with some form of education in spite of everything.
The project seems to reflect an interesting shift in the culture surrounding aid provision since the start of the Syrian conflict. Rather than being dominated by high-cost Western-led programmes, the country has seen a shift towards local initiatives and community self-help. Naturally, this can’t be entirely self-sufficient, and leads to uneven provision due to limited resources; the upside in theory is that organisers base their activities around real needs which they have noticed during their daily lives. This certainly seems to be the case with Books For Syria, as anyone can see how engaged the children in their video clips are by their syllabus. The programme could also provide rewarding work for the thousands of young Syrian adults frustrated by being unable to use their higher education because of the war. Books For Syria is an idealistic project, but there’s a strong argument for any ideology that can provide an alternate, non-violent narrative for young Syrians surrounded by people promoting messages built on anger and hatred.