When natural disaster strikes, books are often the last priority.
Long after food, clothing and shelter are provided, the arts and literature tend to languish in humanitarian crises, and yet, they are the very elements that can provide a mental escape, psychological relief, and a means of literary transport and a path to normalcy for those who have experienced crises – especially children.
In the Philippines, Beep Beep Books, a mobile book library project of the Pandoo Foundation, is bringing books back to children affected by Typhoon Haiyan (also known as Yolanda) on Nov. 8, 2013. The typhoon leveled parts of the island nation, destroying homes, businesses, schools, and libraries – and of course, the books they contained.
Filipina-American teacher Marcie Dunham dreamed up the project as a way to bring hope to children affected by the natural disaster.
“Buy a jeepney. Fill it with books. Make learning magical. Inspire children," she told NBC News of her idea.
The project refurbishes jeepneys, the ubiquitous means of transportation in the Philippines, and repurposes them as mobile libraries. Beep Beep Books collects new and used books, puts together “starter sets” of 100 children’s books to help school libraries restart, then delivers them to remote rural communities in Cebu Province with a team of storytellers and teachers, according to NBC.
Quite simply, Beep Beep Books's goal is “to provide story books and hope to the children in disaster-hit areas," says volunteer coordinator Eva Gamboa. "Our major aim is to bring new teaching methods, lessons and resources. We want to foster a love of reading in children by engaging them in storytelling, giving them better access to books, and a thirst for learning.”
Beep Beep Books is evidence of a growing movement to provide books and encourage reading as a means to help healing after humanitarian disasters.
In 2012, a coalition of groups created an Urgency of Reading campaign that argued that "books are “nourishment for the mind” and should be a critical part of emergency relief efforts after disasters like Hurricane Katrina, the Haitian earthquake, or the Indian Ocean tsunami," as we reported in a 2012 post, "Should books be a part of emergency relief efforts?"
“In humanitarian emergencies, reading and writing are essential to healing and reconstruction," the campaign stated. “While there is no question that organizations and governments must devote the majority of their efforts to promoting the physical wellbeing of disaster victims, more attention should be given to nourishing the mind as a second measure to help victims cope with catastrophe and move forward."
Healing through books? That's a cause we can get behind.