Diana Atallah
The Media Line
January 14, 2013 - 1:00am


Palestinian passengers will be more tempted to read books after a new reading campaign is launched next week. A group of young writers are gathering books to put in mini-vans linking major cities in the West Bank, routes that can waste hours.

Wiam Karyouti, a sales employee and a young writer, first thought of the campaign when a passenger next to him asked him if he had another book for him to read. “I usually read in the taxi and carry books with me. I handed him a novel and he gave it back to me at the end of the ride saying he would go buy it,” Karyouti told The Media Line.

The incident triggered Karyouti to think of ways to encourage reading and use the spare taxi time only to find that taxi drivers welcomed the initiative of putting books in their orange-painted service cars, which take up to seven passengers.

Karyouti and his colleagues at a young writers club called “Bastet Ibda" (Creativity Peddlers) volunteered to make their idea come true and advertised for the campaign through their Facebook pages.

Since their announcement on December 26, they have received 600 books donated by NGOs, publishing houses, intellectuals and individuals who came to the collecting points in different West Bank cities.

After the collecting ends this week, seven or eight will be available in a cloth bag near each driver in 311 taxis for passengers to read. “The topics range from religion, science history and arts, to novels and children books, because we think that parents might travel with their kids,” Karyouti added.

“We still need another 600 books, but we won’t distribute all of them at once. We plan to periodically renew new books in taxis," Karyouti explained. 

Intellectuals and young writers agree that reading is not very popular among Palestinians and think the education system and lack of government support has a role in pushing people away from reading. 

“I see the same groups of people in book readings,” says Karyouti, who hopes that when he publishes his first poetry book, he will rely on friends to encourage their connections to read it.

Abd El Salam Khaddash, the Reading Campaigns Manager at Tamer Community Education Institute, told The Media Line the Palestinian curriculum doesn’t make students thirsty for knowledge and learning.

Khaddash added that the curriculum depends on memorizing books by heart, and doesn’t encourage creative thinking.

Tamer championed reading campaigns for the past 20 years focusing on a different topic each year. Last year, their “Father: read for me” campaign events included distributing children books in the dentists’ waiting rooms.

Although Ramallah’s public library, not far from the city center, has more than 40,000 books in different topics and languages, it only served around 7,000 visitors of the city’s 30,000 inhabitants during 2012. Around 300,000 people live within the borders of the governorate of Ramallah and Al Bireh and neighboring villages.

“A few visitors come for the sake of reading, but we have housewives, workers and retired people who come to read for fun. Students visit because they are required to study and read for their research papers,” library supervisor Ruba Husseini told The Media Line.

In 2012, around 1,000 books were loaned to the library’s subscribers who pay a yearly fee that doesn’t exceed $10. Using the library is free of charge unless photocopying is needed.

Khaddash thinks that reading has become less of a priority these days. “I was a student in the eighties and people were eager to know what would happen next with their lives, especially politically,” he said.

Tamer works with 75 libraries in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and around 50 public schools libraries to encourage reading. “We think that the librarians can play a part in encouraging learning and education but their salaries are too low and some work as volunteers,” Khaddash said.

He added that there is a problem with both libraries. Some community libraries are the first facilities to be affected when the local municipalities face financial difficulties. Also, the absence of specific reading classes in many schools or using this class for exams studying makes school libraries less useful to students.

Hala Kaileh, the manager of a libraries enhancement project in the Ramallah Municipality, told The Media Line that the municipality is working to develop reading in the Palestinian society. The municipality set up a new children's library to help make reading a habit for children. “Content of books is important but the library looking good is important to attract visitors, and we’re working on developing the children's library and including a film room as well,” Kaileh said.

Karyouti is not worried if people decide to borrow or keep the books they read in the taxis for themselves. “If I win a reader, I wouldn’t mind losing a book,” he cheerfully told The Media Line.

Khaddash told The Media Line he is optimistic. “I interview hundreds of people for jobs, and I care less for their university marks. Now parents care more for their children to be educated rather than being at the top of their class,” he said.

Khaddash added that it’s not important that readers increase by a thousand, but rather to broaden the idea into the importance of education and reading in life.


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