IBBY Children in Crisis: Gaza Libraries


In 2007, IBBY Palestine presented a project to IBBY to start educational projects and supply books to children living in two of the most marginalized and deprived areas in Gaza: Beit Hanoun, in the north near the Israeli border, and Rafah in the Al-Shawka area, in the south close to the border crossing with Egypt. The Katherine Paterson Family Foundation was approached and funding was secured for a project through the IBBY Children in Crisis programme and thus began the long-term commitment that IBBY has to the children of Gaza. 

Working with the Tamer Institute, IBBY Palestine (PBBY) provided training in bibliotherapy and supplied books and the necessary furniture needed to set up two small libraries.  The librarians organized activities for the children and workshops for adults where the importance of reading was stressed. The activities had to be halted in the early part of 2008 because of the escalation of violence against Gaza, but after a couple of months they could be resumed.  The training of the volunteers and libraries eventually took place in Beit Hanoun in January 2009. A description and photos from the Gaza libraries during 2008 and 2009 can be seen here.

The project progressed and the libraries were beginning to create a reading society amongst the children.  The psychological effects were also evident as the stress levels of the children dropped and they became more self-confident.  The teachers reported that the reading and writing skills of the children who attended the libraries had improved; also the work with the children with special needs was showing beneficial effects. 

The  Sharjah/IBBY Fund for Children in Crisis provided funding in 2012 to continue the project, which included upgrading the two libraries and providing more activities, including workshops with experienced writers and illustrators (see reports and photos here).  More books and some computers were purchased and librarians and teachers were trained at the Tamer Institute and at the al-Qattan Centre in Gaza. 

In July 2014, the Rafah library was badly damaged and the Beit Hanoun library was destroyed. In October 2014, IBBY launched an appeal for the reconstruction of IBBY’s Gaza libraries: IBBY Appeal for Gaza 2014. PBBY began to rebuild and refurbish what had been destroyed and the Sharjah/IBBY Fund commited another round of funding in 2015 for training, the purchase of new books, replacing the lost equipment and more activities for the children. A report and photos can be found here.

In April 2017, IBBY launched a new appeal for funds to keep the libraries in Gaza open and active: IBBY Appeal for Gaza 2017.  Photos from the libraries and the children's activities from 2017 and 2018 can be seen here.

Until the pandemic lockdown, the two IBBY libraries had managed to keep open, allowing the children of Gaza to enjoy a safe place where they could take refuge and learn, read, draw and play. The libraries were closed for almost five months, making it very difficult for the IBBY section to reach the children that needed support during this time. After long weeks of difficult lockdown, the library in al-Shawka Rafah was allowed to open to small groups of children who could visit to borrow and read books, as well as have a place to be able to write, draw and share their stories about their experience during the pandemic. The children visiting the libraries in Gaza were invited to express their thoughts and fears about the coronavirus. Their pictures and texts can be viewed here. IBBY Palestine has continued to distribute boxes containing pencils and notebooks, but also added boxes of face-masks and hand-sanitizer. Whenever possible, food coupons and clothing for the children were distributed, which was especially important over the winter months. 

Despite the setbacks the children have benefitted greatly from the libraries. The libraries have played an important role and made a difference in their lives – in their achievements in school, psychological health and confidence. The libraries also have a positive impact on the community, as many mothers have become members and readers.