After a natural disaster or during a political conflict, humanitarian aid naturally focuses on providing food, health care, shelter, and clothing. Once these basic needs have been met, we believe that it is essential for affected communities to connect to worlds of information and knowledge in order to fight ignorance and boredom and to build resilience for a more self-reliant future inside and outside the camps. For the last seven years, our responses to humanitarian crises have prioritized access to information, education, and knowledge to empower populations at risk.
To strengthen the capacity of local communities at risk, we have created innovative tools like the Ideas Box and KoomBook, and we have partnered with local organizations to establish safe spaces in the camps where families and their children can actively participate in educational and cultural programs.
We also believe that culture is a formidable force for promoting peace and reconciliation. Access to information, education, and culture are critical in conditions of post-conflict and transitional justice to promote healing and build more tolerant communities.
Lastly, we advocate for a cultural approach to humanitarian action centered on the cultural needs of the communities served, and with their active participation in the creation of educational and cultural projects.
We seek to strengthen the protection, education, psychosocial welfare of vulnerable communities in humanitarian emergencies and post-conflict situations. We also seek to transform the norms of humanitarian assistance in prioritizing the cultural dimensions of aid for at risk populations. (For more information, read our international petition, The Urgency of Reading).
The Middle East is a critical response zone for Libraries Without Borders, which has implemented four Ideas Box projects in Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq, and is preparing a dozen more. We implement projects in both refugee camps and host communities. Our programs in the Middle East are built in accordance with regional humanitarian response plans, with a particular focus on issues related to education, child protection, and capacity-building of refugee populations.
Libraries Without Borders supports the millions of refugees that have arrived in Europe since 2012, with over 1.3 million in 2015 alone. In a pilot project, LWB launched three Ideas Box programs in Greece (Lesbos and Athens), one in Germany (Düsseldorf), and three in France (Paris and the Grande-Synthe camp). Initially, we designed these projects to have rapid impact, support refugees in transit, provide legal assistance, and help refugees locate family members. The Ideas Box projects quickly became safe spaces, which our local partners helped develop into zones focused on education, child protection, and the empowerment of refugees.
- The African Great Lakes Region
We began our first Ideas Box program in Burundi in early 2014. By 2016, LWB had four Ideas Box programs in Burundi — its largest single country operation so far. These Ideas Boxes attract thousands of people every week and have since become landmarks in refugee camps. With political conflict spreading in the region, LWB has broadened its work to include Rwanda, Tanzania, and Kenya.
- The Peace Process in Colombia
As Colombia moved toward peace with Latin America’s longest standing revolutionary group, the FARC, the Colombian Ministry of Culture reached out to LWB to support the implementation of mobile libraries in areas where demobilized fighters would live. Despite the failure of the popular peace referendum in 2016, LWB continues to work in Colombia with the Ministry of Culture and the Colombian National Library. In 2017, LWB will have 20 Ideas Box projects in the country, part of the use of cultural tools to promote peace, reconciliation, and tolerance among Colombians.