In April, 2022, several weeks after the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, we launched the crowdfunding campaign “Books for the Youngest Ukrainian Refugees.” Our aim: to collect funds for the publication of five Ukrainian-language picture books for Ukrainian refugee children living in the Netherlands. The campaign quickly grew in scope, as word of our project spread to Belgium, Luxemburg, and parts of Germany. Since then, Books for the Youngest Ukrainian Refugees has raised money for the publication and distribution of 20,000 books, and we receive new book requests daily from schools, families and refugee shelters.
The Books Away from Home Foundation is our response to a question we have often been asked in the last few months: "What about the other refugee children? Syrian, Afghanistani, Iranian, Eritrean..." It is an extremely valid point. According to UNICEF, "Conflict, violence and other crises left an estimated 36.5 million children displaced from their homes by the end of last year, the highest number recorded since the Second World War." Books Away From Home aims to provide native-language books to refugee children from all parts of the world, wherever in Europe they find shelter.
Our Ukrainian project, Books for the Youngest Ukrainian Refugees, will continue to run for as long as Ukrainian refugee children are unable to return to their homeland. In the coming months, we will also explore the possibility of developing new projects, each tailored to a specific language group. This will take time, and there will be plenty of questions along the way. How and where can we be most effective? What, if anything, is already available to these children? Are book rights available, and affordable? Will a particular book have cultural or political repercussions? Fortunately, we have a wide community of educators, reading specialists, translators, publishers, and native speakers with whom we can exchange ideas and discuss new possibilities.
A young Ukrainian mother wrote to us recently, after receiving our five picture books:
Russian aggression forced my family, my children to leave their home twice ... when you are going in 1 hour and you need to run right now, you don’t think about books at all. But time passes and your baby asks to read a bedtime story, and a book like in a fairy tale should appear. And lo and behold ... they appeared in their native Ukrainian language, having overcome thousands of kilometers. Now it so happened that simple human participation has become more valuable, higher than material goods. Thanks to everyone involved in this story. May goodness return to you with health, prosperity, generous helping hands at the right time.
A response such as this makes us realize, once again, why we founded Books Away From Home. The irony is that we wish it wasn't necessary.Next: Why it matters