Thursday, 28 July 2016

Syria's Secret Library

 'When a place has been besieged for years and hunger stalks the streets, you might have thought people would have little interest in books. But enthusiasts have stocked an underground library in Syria with volumes rescued from bombed buildings - and users dodge shells and bullets to reach it. Buried beneath a bomb-damaged building, it's home to a secret library that provides learning, hope and inspiration to many in the besieged Damascus suburb of Darayya.
 "We saw that it was vital to create a new library so that we could continue our education. We put it in the basement to help stop it being destroyed by shells and bombs like so many other buildings here," says Anas Ahmad, a former civil engineering student who was one of the founders.
 "In many cases we get books from bomb or shell-damaged homes. The majority of these places are near the front line, so collecting them is very dangerous," he says. "We have to go through bombed-out buildings to hide ourselves from snipers. We have to be extremely careful because snipers sometimes follow us in their sights, anticipating the next step we'll take."
 Since a temporary truce broke down in May, shells and barrel bombs have fallen almost every day. The location of the library is secret because Anas and other users fear it would be targeted by Darayya's attackers if they knew where it was.
 It turns out that even the greatly out-gunned Free Syrian Army fighters, who have the daunting task of defending the town, are avid readers.
 "Truly I swear the library holds a special place in all our hearts. And every time there's shelling near the library we pray for it," says Omar Abu Anas, a former engineering student now helping to defend his home town.

 Unfortunately for Omar, his fellow fighters and the people of Darayya, they may soon have little time for reading. Over the past two weeks Syrian government forces and their Hezbollah allies have moved into all the farmland around the suburb and even some outlying residential areas. For now though, Omar says the library is helping to strengthen the town's defences as well as its resolve.
 "Books motivate us to keep on going. We read how in the past everyone turned their backs on a particular nation, yet they still made it. So we can be like that too. They help us plan for life once Assad is gone. We can only do that through the books we are reading. We want to be a free nation. And hopefully, by reading, we can achieve this." '

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