inDepth: BookWish Foundation, Part II
If you have ever found comfort in reading a book, imagine the value of that momentary escape to a child who witnessed genocide in Darfur and is growing up in a refugee camp in a harsh desert. –from the Book Wish Foundation website
Imagine for a moment that you have been forced from your house, community, your homeland, with nothing—absolutely nothing—at gunpoint, and perhaps while witnessing or experiencing unspeakable violence along the way. You’ve lost everything you care about the most in this world. Finally, you are roughly settled in a living situation that is akin to nothing you could have possibly imagined—where you will remain for the next seven, perhaps eighteen years.
It’s the middle of the desert; food and water rations are minimal; violence is a constant inside and surrounding the camp; it is overcrowded, and your opportunities to earn an income are very limited. Not to mention the extreme lack of natural resources. Remember, you have done nothing for this seemingly terminal punishment, for this abandonment, for this life that feels at times worse than prison.
Then, despite the challenges, you manage to organize makeshift reading classes with many of your campmates, only to be stymied by a lack of textbooks. An angel from a British NGO working in the camp asks what textbooks you would like, and, to your delight, partners with Book Wish Foundation to deliver them to you, making your wish come true. (Book Wish Foundation’s literacy textbooks are already used by more than 2,000 refugees, and this number will increase significantly when the library opens.)
Soon, you discover that a library will be built by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), and you are asked for your book requests, which are sent to Book Wish Foundation. Perhaps, with books to continue your education beyond primary school, you or your children won’t succumb to the fate of so many around you who, without access to higher schooling, have fallen prey to early marriage or recruitment by militias. Education and literacy will provide you with hope: hope for your future and the future of Darfur.
* * *
People can donate specific requests for curriculum books, for example, the “Headway” books from Oxford University Press, which is the most widely used English curriculum around the world and is often specifically requested by the refugees. However, according to Logan, “The book that we published [What You Wish For] is the easiest way to help,” explaining that Book Wish is giving 100% of the book proceeds to the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, to fund their current library project in Iridimi (which, depending on the number of books sold, could eventually expand to additional refugee camps). The money includes both the advance they received from the publisher and any royalties on books sold. All of the authors and their literary agent worked pro bono, so even though the publisher and booksellers still take their cuts, neither the contributors nor Book Wish profit in any way.
Though What You Wish For is aimed at early teens, this book is a great gift to give to any book lover. It includes photos of the refugee camps, and information about why books are so important to refugees.
“It’s very impressive that all the authors have given their time pro bono to contribute writing to the book. Some of the authors [including, R.L. Stine, author of the Goosebumps and Fear Street series, and Ann M. Martin, who wrote Baby-sitters Club] the readers may have even grown up with.”
Special Note from Dina:
Interviewing Logan Kleinwaks for this article taught me so much. Perhaps what I took away the most is how much we in America take for granted. How one-click shopping brings any book my heart desires to my doorstep within days. Or how my kindergartener gets to leisurely peruse her school library weekly and bring home the book that delighted her that day. She just turned five and is as excited about learning to read as she is about ballet class, riding her bike without training wheels, or practicing writing the alphabet one letter at a time.
If I were to be able to make one wish, it would be for refugee camps to be obsolete. But since that wish cannot be fulfilled, at least I can wish for every refugee in Africa to be given the gift of a book and the opportunity to learn how to read it.