Tuesday, January 27, 2015

New Children's Library in Fez a Hit

The Medina Children's Library opened its doors last week. While the aim was for a "soft opening", with the official launch on February 28, the enthusiastic response has surprised  organisers

On Wednesday January 21, the new Medina Children's Library of Fez opened to the public. There was no formal announcement, and no proper signage. Yet children and their parents flooded the two room space, keen to find out what this small facility was all about. For many, it was their first experience of a library. 

More than 20 children attended that first day, and each of the following two days saw more than 30 children admitted. By Saturday, a system was put in place with a maximum of 10 children at a time for hourly sessions, overseen by two librarians. 

"This is the first time I have been in a library," said Aisa, 10. "Everything is beautiful - the room, the books and the storytelling."

When The View From Fez visited on Monday, minutes before the 4 PM opening time, children ran along the street towards the library laughing and shouting. More than 20 children lined up, impatient to enter. It seemed extraordinary that this amount of enthusiasm should be generated by a small library providing books in Arabic, French and English. It wasn't for a movie, or a musical, or a new video game parlour, but for children's books they could read in a quiet, warm space, with local librarians on hand to explain words they didn't understand.

Daily story reading sessions help to bridge the gap between the written and spoken words. After a story reading session by Aicha Morelli, Hassan, 13, said, "This is my first experience of a library. I am learning a lot from the books, and I really liked the story today. It was about how to collaborate with others, and how that will help us in our life."

While in Western countries, children have a plethora of entertainment and educational options available to them, in the Fez Medina there is precious little for children. There are few, if any, children's books available in the home and no playgrounds. When not at school, kids spend their time with their families. Or boys hang out on street corners, perhaps kicking pieces of rolled up paper in the place of a soccer ball, while girls help their mothers with cooking, or looking after younger children.

Aicha Morelli is one of the story readers giving daily sessions

The aim of the Medina Children's Library is to improve literacy levels in the Medina, by encouraging children to develop a love of reading. While the general level of illiteracy in Morocco hovers around 30%, in the Fez Medina that figure is considerably higher - particularly among women.

The Medina Children's Library of Fez is a private initiative by members of the recently formed non-profit Fez Association for the Children of the Medina, which is comprised of two ex-patriot residents of Fez and five local Moroccans, supported by donations from Riad Laaroussa and The View From Fez. Other local businesses, such as Mint-Teez Silk Screen Studio, have given their services free of charge. 

The Medina Children's Library is free to enter, and after the lending system is put in place, books will be available for borrowing by a subscription per child of 20 dh (US $2) per year.

More donations are being sought to increase the number of books and pay for ongoing costs. 

"Historically, Morocco is primarily an oral culture, but to participate in the modern economy, young people also need to be able to read and write well," said Suzanna Clarke, treasurer of the Fez Association of the Children of the Medina. 
"Books are a way of not only accessing information, but of stimulating a child's imagination. There is a saying that, "a child who reads is an adult who thinks". 

"We have been thrilled by the response of the local community. There is clearly a big need for a library here in the Fez Medina. If we can generate enough donations, we would love to increase the size of this library and be able to offer books to teenagers and adults. And perhaps even to broaden our services to other forms of media, which is the direction libraries in Western countries are moving in." 

The Medina Children's Library of Fez officially opened on Saturday February 28. 

Donations to purchase books and pay for running costs are welcomed. Please contact medinachildrenslibrary@gmail.com 

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