The Princess and the Prose

In December 2021, a team representing Everyday Refugees Foundation, a Public Benefits Organisation based in Amsterdam in the Netherlands, travelled to Heerhugowaard, a town in the north. The purpose: to deliver and install a library of 100 children’s books donated through Kalimat Foundation’s Pledge a Library initiative. The beneficiary here was AZC Heerhugowaard, a government migrant reception centre and safe shelter.

According to mid-2021 UNHCR statistics, the Netherlands welcomed 97,621 refugees, 7,391 asylum-seekers and 2,087 stateless persons. In earlier 2019 reporting from the same agency, there existed a staggering 1,046 unaccompanied children searching for a new home in the country.

AZC Heerhugowaard with its capacity to house 600 people, represents a decent, secure shelter and facilities for families. Here resided 100 Arabic-speaking children at the time of the visit, originating from Syria and significantly from Yemen and Iraq, in addition to other Middle Eastern states.

Saher Abdalla, a 43-year-old lawyer who travelled with his family from Damascus, stated his excitement in anticipation of bringing his two children to the library, exclaiming ‘We are thankful…having Arabic books makes us feel closer to home’, thus resonating one of the objectives in Kalimat Foundation’s mandate – Honouring Arab Culture, in order to protect and secure a sense of belonging with the motherland.

A new arrival at the Heerhugowaard facility named Mohammed, a dentist from Homs, on witnessing the installation iterated a similar message, ‘My 4-year-old daughter Ayla has been excited ever since hearing from the other children that new books in Arabic will soon be here…we appreciate this initiative.’ Mohammed and his young family had until then endured a journey of at least three years, fleeing to Turkey in 2018, and reaching the reception centre in Holland in November 2021.

Another young resident, 9-year-old Aisha, also from Homs, was delighted with the new library as it formed and filled up with books. She rather quickly set her sights on one particular book titled Princesses of the World, to take back to her accommodation. A story which describes young royalty – 14 princesses to be precise – during their travels and travails across lands and cultures, was quite possibly a narrative prose the young Syrian princess in Heerhugowaard related to. Like the protagonists of the story, Aisha had departed from her home to discover and experience new lands, new languages and new manners of thinking.

“I’m so excited to read this book, bring it back and borrow more, thank you!”.

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