Children in Crisis: Restoring School Libraries in Beirut, Lebanon

Monday 15 February 2021 by Rania

The pictures are unforgettable: a massive explosion in the port of Beirut on 4 August 2020 destroyed houses, shops, restaurants, hospitals and schools throughout the city. The destruction was especially damaging in neighbourhoods of low-income families living in overcrowded conditions close to the port. In addition to the physical destruction, the people of Beirut were heartbroken, appalled at the man-made disaster that came on top of years of a shrinking economy, corruption, poverty and rising prices.

All the schools in Beirut were affected, some were fully destroyed and others face overcrowding as the children are relocated. 120 schools were damaged, affecting some 50,000 children who, even now, might not be able to return to school for some time.

Early visits by LBBY (Lebanese Section of IBBY) to the damaged schools revealed broken windows and damage to doors, desks, chairs, as well as to the few books that were available. There was little money and, though wishing to cooperate, many of the school principals were overwhelmed with the task.

LBBY rapidly drew up a proposal for working with the school libraries to help restore or create new library spaces, collect books and train the librarians and teachers. A plan was presented to the Executive Committee of IBBY and funds were raised through the Lebanon Appeal of IBBY Children in Crisis programme that was launched in August 2020. The IBBY Children in Crisis Fund provides support for children whose lives have been disrupted through war, civil disorder or natural disaster. The two main activities that are supported by the Fund are the therapeutic use of books and storytelling in the form of bibliotherapy, and the creation or replacement of collections of selected books that are appropriate to the situation (more information on the IBBY Children in Crisis Fund here).

During this time, LBBY also contacted its members and schools to gather as much volunteer help as possible. They quickly formed a partnership with the Lebanese branch of UNESCO to cover the some of the financial and logistical needs for the restoration of five schools. These selected pre-school and elementary schools account for 1,800 children between the ages of 3 and 11 years.

From among the schools affected by the explosion, LBBY selected schools with a supportive principal and a librarian or teacher willing to undergoing training in how to use the books. Another important factor in the choice was if there was physical space for a library in the school. The LBBY team identified different areas of Beirut, with different religions and communities with schools teaching in Arabic and English or French.

Book donations were arranged locally as well as through IBBY France, IBBY UK and other donors. Thus far, they have managed to collect about 6,500 books in Arabic, English and French, and more books are on their way, such as from IBBY Canada.

After the initial clean-up and repairs were completed, the restoration project began purchasing new books in three languages (Arabic, English and French), buying shelves and cupboards and other furniture, as well as school supplies for the libraries. They created cozy reading areas for the children and finally, provided the teachers with training and workshops on how to run a school library.

Teachers will be taught how to use the resources in the library during a normal school year, as well as during home-learning periods due to the Covid-19 pandemic, to teach children basic literacy and numeracy. Also, how to use the library resources to support students and parents who are overcome with trauma to help them regain their wellbeing through targeted social-emotional learning (SEL) activities. The libraries will become not only literacy centres, but also SEL centres.

Alalia Girls Public school, 430 children

Wall painting: Sinan Hallak (Lebanese Nominee for the 2022 Hans Christian Andersen Award)

Mohammad Salem

Ras Annabi Public School, 304 children

Shakib Irslan, 1400 children

Shakib Irslan, 1400 children

Tarik Aljadida the second, 1125 children

In a short amount of time, a huge amount of work has already been done by LBBY and their volunteers to bring bright and welcoming library spaces for children to the damaged schools. By the end of December 2020, just five months after the explosion, the project had been extended to create libraries in a total of eight schools, mainly pre-school and elementary, reaching more than 4,000 children.

Nevertheless, once the libraries have been repaired and refurbished, there will still be a lot of work to be done especially in training and running workshops for the school personal and librarians, so as to ensure that the children have an inviting place to read.

We are very grateful for the financial support given by UNESCO and IBBY, as well as for the solidarity shown by the whole IBBY community.

To donate: https://www.ibby.org/about/donations


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