Plans are in the works to build libraries in Darfuri refugee camps, thanks to an initiative by the Book Wish Foundation. All the proceeds from a new book, What You Wish For, will support the work of the U.N. refugee agency to build libraries in the camps in eastern Chad. The book is a collection of short stories and poems donated by renowned young adult authors such as RL Stine, Cornelia Funke, Sofia Quintero, Meg Cabot, and more, with a forward by renowned Sudan activist and actress Mia Farrow.
Enough’s John Prendergast spoke at the New York launch of What You Wish For this week about the importance of literacy and education in Darfuri refugee camps, a primary aim of the Darfur Dream Team Sisters Schools Program. The event took place at the United Nations in New York and also featured Udo Janz, executive director of the UNHCR office in New York, who gave an overview of the agency’s work in eastern Chad, and Grainne O’Hara, also from UNHCR, who described the lives of the refugees in the camps.
Prendergast followed their remarks by telling the story of Isaac, a refugee who had to abandon his education when the violence in Darfur began. Isaac’s story is one of the many Prendergast heard during his trips to the refugee camps. The idea for the Darfur Dream Team Sister Schools Program was inspired by a trip to the refugee camps with NBA star Tracy McGrady in 2007. Through their conversations with refugees, it was clear that the refugees wanted support for education in the camps. This video captures Prendergast’s remarks on the panel:
As Udo Janz noted during his presentation, with much of the focus on basic services for the refugees, funding for education is limited. The Darfur Dream Sister Schools Program and “What You Wish For” are rare projects supporting refugee education and literacy. It also provides hope of a brighter future for the refugees. Mohammed Yahya, a Darfuri activist, underscored the value of library project in remarks at the end of the panel discussion. Refugees "need hope and dreams," he said. "Books grant freedom, provide great education, and inspire great ideas."
After the first panel, Logan Kleinwaks of the Book Wish Foundation and organizer of the event introduced some of the authors who generously contributed to the book. During their panel discussion, they highlighted the universal importance and transcendence of reading. A quote from Sofia Quintero, one of the authors featured in the book, captured the need for libraries in the camps: “If there's any place that's sacred and open to everyone, it's the library."
From the perspective of the Darfur Dream Team, the event, like the book What You Wish For, was a great opportunity to combine the efforts of organizations working to bring education and literacy to Darfuri refugee students with the inspired work of a group dedicated to delivering “some of the world's neediest readers the books they wish for,” with special attention to reading level and culture. Through the libraries, the Darfuri refugees will have access to new worlds through books while increasing their literacy skills in a safe space to learn.