As the present global refugee crisis continues to outpour, with migrants fleeing war from across the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe, it is safe to say that another—equally damaging crisis—has also been quietly unfolding especially for children refugees; a crisis of literacy. This crisis is threatening the future of an entire generation of youth, also considered as the most vulnerable of refugees, who are suddenly faced with a future with little or no prospects for a safe and stable life as a result. Until the international community decides to take an acute and a more comprehensive action to address the underlying conflict and its consequent displacement, I believe that we as publishers need to step up and support refugees where we can.
Efforts to offer access to books for children refugees and provide ones that humanize the experience of these refugees for young, more privileged readers is one pivotal task that continues to demand our efforts.
Offering access to books for children refugees, as well as providing knowledge that humanize the refugee experience for young, non-refugee readers, are two pivotal tasks that continue to demand our efforts.
It is important to recognize that some publishers are finding ways to fill this gap. There are now a number of authors, artists, and creators in the children’s publishing world who have taken on the responsibility of producing books that narrate these difficult life events. One such book is “Sea Prayer”, by the New York Times bestselling author Khaled Housseini; It details a story of a Syrian father looking forward to the break of dawn and a boat to arrive, so he could rescue his family by embarking on a sea journey in search of a new home. The book is powerfully evocative of the plight of displaced people and focuses on their humanity and universal values.
Other initiatives that address this problem have also come to life. One such project provides parents access to children’s books through their mobile phones, which encourages them to read to their children. This project has been launched in a number of countries in South East Asia and the Middle East.
Such initiatives offer these parents a tool that can help them keep the momentum of their children’s interest in reading. It also leverages on the tremendous key role parents and caregivers possess play in their children’s reading development, especially since they are in many cases their children’s first teachers. By benefiting from the use and wide availability of mobile phones in high conflict impacted communities, the publishing world has tapped into a very big opportunity that helps offer an efficient and swift solution during this ongoing tragedy.
So, there is not only hope, but also ways in which the publishing community can come together to alleviate this crisis. Educators, writers and publishers need to also work together to curate further collections of books that provide refugees a safe and easily accessible channel where they can dream and create new realities beyond their immediate difficult ones. Books, have the power to help these children discover and understand their emotions, support their emotional healing process, and encourage them to express themselves constructively, and gives them a platform through which their voices and experiences can be shared.
For non-refugees, these books humanize the refugee experience, which ultimately encourages empathy, understanding, connection, and will bring compassion and trust between communities, and a sense of common grounds.
It is undeniable that every child should be able to benefit from the power of reading. Books are often a child’s first glimpse of the outside world. And children—all children—deserve to be given this chance. This is even more important for children and adults who are living the refugee crisis day in and day out. It is, therefore, our duty in the publishing world to be a solution and a beacon of hope, understanding, and humanity. As I witnessed myself in the refugee camp in Jordan, we publishers, in many cases, might be the only shining light in the lives of these refugees.