Four years ago, a young Shiyar Sheikho was spotted buying a large collection of valuable books at the Dar Al Mada bookstore in Erbil, Iraq. When asked about the motives behind the purchase, the young man said it was for a book club started by Syrian and Iraqi refugees.
Sheikho, who personally founded the club, explains to Asharq Al Awsat that after presenting the group’s activities to Dar Al Mada’s CEO Ihab Al Qaysi in 2014, he managed winning over a significant grant that covers reading material for members.
Bringing together a group of literature-loving youth, Sheikho’s book club schedules weekly discussions and reading sessions whereby participants express their opinions and reviews on the common read.
First gathering on November 25, 2014, the reading group mainly constitutes of Syrian refugees and internally displaced Iraqis who focused on making a good first impression in Iraqi Kurdistan, where they were seeking sanctuary.
“Dar Al Mada donates the reading material, provides a place for us to gather and suggests key cultural figures for holding debates,” Sheikho said while citing the publisher group’s logistic support given to the group’s ambitious and underprivileged youth.
Book discussion and debates is meant to revive prints and encourage participants and community households to read more and have personal libraries, said Sheikho, adding that “up until this very day, his group has completed 80 sessions, covering 80 bestsellers, renowned literature works and educating books.”
“We distribute books free of charge to the Syrian refugees in cooperation with the German Goethe Institute,” Sheikho said when asked about what happens to books after being discussed. He added that donations roped in by his readers group are distributed as well.
Klilick Youssef, 28, and her family fleeing bloodshed in northeastern Syria, arrived to Iraq’s Qushtapa Camp in 2014 and has been an active member of the book club.
“Reading books is a great experience, and I truly enjoy having discussions away from the hardships I face at the camp and daily war news,” Youssef said, highlighting that the book club provided a breathing space at a time her life is mired in chaos.
The Qushtapa Camp for Syrian refugees is located about 15 kilometers south of Erbil. Taking note of its location, the German Goethe Institute offers free transportation for Syrian refugees wishing to participate at Sheikho’s growing book discussions.
In May, a Dar Al Mada mission visited camp grounds to encourage Syrian refugees ailed by the horrors of war to take a positive step in their life and partake in the Erbil-based reading group.
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