IBBY Children in Crisis: REFORMA

The organization REFORMA (an affiliate of the American Library Association) works with migrant children detained in the south western USA. It began soliciting children's books in Spanish to be delivered to the children in the detention centres in Texas and New Mexico and to the shelters and group homes around the country where these children are sent after being processed by the immigration services. In the second phase of the project they will distribute backpacks that will contain books as well as paper, pencils, erasers, crayons and a writing journal for children to use in their journey toward their destination. In 2015 the IBBY Foundation provided funding for REFORMA towards the acquisition of books for this project. A specially designed English/Spanish "library card" was added to the backpacks to introduce the children to the library system in the USA.This idea was later adapted for libraries in Canada, where English/Arabic and French/Arabic library cards were printed to welcome Syrian refugee children to Canada and its libraries. The new US library card, to be re-issued in January 2019, can be seen here.

The artist Alfonso Ruano has donated all the illustrations from his highly regarded book, written by Jorge Argueta, Somos como las nubes / We Are Like the Clouds, to support the IBBY/REFORMA Children in Crisis Project. The auction ran from January to August 2017 and raised $7,500 for the project.

The Other Refugees: Children from Central America

Sixty million people around the world became refugees in 2015. Half of them were children. Syrian refugees have been highly visible with good reason. But the approximately hundred and twenty thousand unaccompanied children from Central America that have made and are still making the very dangerous trip to try and find safety and a way to survive in the United States are virtually invisible. And there are an almost equal number of families with children (primarily single mothers) who have also arrived in the same period. Read full article here.

Reading Saves Lives 

Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, as well as parts of Mexico, are once again experiencing renewed conflict with the death rate climbing to levels seen in the 1980s. This conflict is primarily driven by the war on drugs. In Central America the repercussions of the previous war, in particular the corruption, extreme inequality, poor policing, and broken social structures have resulted in governments finding themselves virtually incapable of protecting their citizens. As in most war zones children suffer the most grievous consequences.  The flood of unaccompanied children seeking refuge from the violence is a direct result of the past 45 years of war in the region.

The International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY), the United States branch of IBBY (USBBY), IBBY México/A leer, REFORMA, the American Library Association and the Texas Library Association call on the US Government and the bodies responsible for the care of unaccompanied refugee children and families while they are detained in facilities and as they are released to allow them access to appropriate books, to have contact with Spanish-speaking librarians who are trained in using books as therapeutic agents, and to ensure that their well-being is monitored as they are processed through the system.  Books and reading save lives and give traumatised children a chance to become whole, contributing citizens as they grow up.

In August 2015, a delegation from Texan and international library and literacy organizations visited South Texas on a two-day fact-finding trip to better understand the circumstances surrounding the detainment of unaccompanied children and to meet with child advocates and service providers for refugee and unaccompanied minors. Read the full press release here.

Expanding the REFORMA Outreach

Since those early days REFORMA has been expanding its outreach, establishing  stronger connections with the Southwest Key shelter program and creating links with the Kids In Need of Defense (KIND) legal program across the country. The KIND connection began with the newest REFORMA Chapter, REFORMA del Valle Central in Fresno, California, and has expanded to New York, New Jersey, San Francisco, Los Angeles and beyond. They also work with other legal offices like Casa Cornelia Law Center in San Diego providing books to the children and families who are visiting these legal offices as part of their immigration process.  

REFORMA connects the shelters and the children with their local libraries for library visits so that they can see that librarians who speak their language stand ready to connect them with the community and with books. The San Diego Public Library has been working since 2015 with the local shelters, providing library visits, crafts, book donations, summer reading programs and a wide range of other support.

In November 2018, REFORMA purchased books  at the Guadalajara Book Fair that will be shipped via IBBY to the Central American youth who are waiting for entry into the U.S. at the Tijuana border. Read the complete 2018 update here

Activities to welcome refugee children in Canada

The idea of welcoming children with a library card was later adapted for libraries in Canada, where English/Arabic and French/Arabic library cards were printed to welcome Syrian refugee children to Canada and its libraries. Inspired by the IBBY-Reforma project IBBY Canada has partnered with groups that welcome refugees to Canada to participate in a Readers and Refugees program of storytelling for refugee children, aged six to twelve. The reading sessions, held in a hotel in the northeastern part of Toronto, were led by four storytellers and involved upwards of forty or fifty children. A description of the challenges and pleasures of this project can be read here.