Stories from home: Arabic-language books for local refugee children

As their families work to rebuild their lives in a new country, Syrian refugee children living in the New London area will now be able to enjoy the simple pleasure of reading stories from home.

Connecticut College’s Committee on Refugee Relief and Education acquired dozens of Arabic language children’s books for the New London Public Library, after learning of the need from Start Fresh, a New London area refugee settlement team associated with New Haven-based Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services.

“We learned that parents are speaking Arabic to their children, yet are not able to read their children stories because there are no Arabic-language children’s books available,” said Professor of Government and International Relations Tristan Borer, who chairs the committee.

Written by Arab writers, the roughly 80 hardback texts range from colorful picture books for the youngest readers to chapter books for teens and young adults, and are available to all Arab-speaking families in the region. The books arrived by mail from The Khalid Shoman Foundation - Darat al Funun in Jordan, and The Little Arab Magazine in Kuwait, in response to a request from committee member Waed Athamneh, assistant professor of Arabic studies.

“Our mission as a committee was to help refugee children read excellent Arabic books to not only learn Arabic, but also to connect with their culture and values,” said Athamneh, who interviewed women and children living in a refugee settlement camp for her new book, Refugee Voices: Women of al-Zaatari Camp in Jordan.

“I learned about the dangers of losing one's identity as a refugee child, so the urgency to provide good education for refugee children never left my mind,” Athamneh said. “As a professor of Arabic literature, nothing matters to me more than literacy and literary education, especially for children and young adults. Moving forward, our goal as a committee is to further support refugee relief and education initiatives in cities and towns beyond the New London area. I look forward to working with the New London Public Library, and seeing the little children read and learn in Arabic soon.”

Comprised of faculty, staff and students, Conn’s Committee on Refugee Relief and Education began in 2015 as a task force to explore ways for the campus community to lend support to newly resettled refugees from mainly Arab countries. The committee works closely with Start Fresh to identify needs and develop programming.

Earlier this year, the committee and Start Fresh co-sponsored a screening of the award-winning documentary Salam Neighbor, which raised close to $1,800 for local Syrian refugee families.

Put the world together in new ways. Learn more

July 20, 2017