Refugee-run Libraries on the Thai-Myanmar Border

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We are honored to receive this award. It is because of many people’s supports of this project over the years. Thank you very much all who have supported us. Encouraged by this award, we will continue to support community libraries in refugee camps where refugees and displaced persons can spend their time in peace and help them to become independent for their future.
What the Judges said

The judges said Shanti Volunteer Association’s project ‘Assisting returnees’ integration and stable settlement through improving access to information and learning along the Thai-Myanmar Border’, is functioning in one of the world’s most challenging geopolitical hotspots. The judges liked the fact that Shanti’s 15 community libraries – in seven refugee camps along the border – are self-managed by refugees. All agreed that access to literature and information is a positive form of indirect self-reliance. They were impressed by the project’s provision of computers to strengthen IT literacy and the project’s provision of books in the Karen, Burmese and English languages, which the judges said: “is so important for nurturing independent learning, positive self-identity, as well as multicultural perspectives about the world outside of their immediate lives.”

Feedback from the Field

“I usually go to library everyday after school in the afternoon and on Saturday. I love to come to library because I can read story books, drawing pictures, playing games and singing action songs. I am very happy doing library activity with my friends especially playing game. One of my favorite picture books is the “One Inch Boy”, because the story is fun, make me happy when I read it and I also can learn a good words from the story books. Even though the One Inch Boy is a small boy, but he has a big heart and he is also wise and brave person. One day I want to become like him as a brave person. I love librarians who always providing library activities for us such as storytelling, playing games, sing action songs and teaching us paper folding. Librarians always prepare materials for drawing and colouring. Librarians are really friendly and teach us to become a good person. – Shinenady, child user of community library, Maela camp

“When I have free time, I like to go to library for lending books and reading books in the library. My favorite book is ‘NaKaTaYawChi’. It’s a general knowledge magazine book and it give me a lot of the information around the world even I live in the camp I cannot go outside but because of this books I know many things what happing in this world and learn from this books. Community library is very useful because it provides many sources of information, we can learn many new things and increase my knowledge skills. I also love reading books about Karen history books to know more about Karen people, and leadership and management books The community library has a great impact to the community. Reading books in library gives a lot of benefits for readers, we get encouragement, knowledge, updated information on events happened around the world; it can broaden our knowledge and open our eyes to see the world. For my future, if possible I want to go to the third country to continuous my high education to become a good leader for my community. – Saw, adult user of community library, Maela camp

Ms Tik’s story – She came to the refugee camp when she was only two years old and has spent most of her life there. As a child, she always came to the library and participated in activities.

She was 13 years old and in the sixth grade when she got married. Her life was altered by discrimination and condescension from people in her community. She felt that her life had no meaning and spent her time hiding in her house. At that time, her close friends and family supported her wholeheartedly. She and a friend who introduced her to TYV (Toshokan* Youth Volunteer) activities began to participate in them. Since joining library activities, her life has changed dramatically.

She said, “I started working at the library, learning new things, and gaining different experiences. I have met so many people, my life has become more meaningful, and I feel like I can do anything I want without feeling embarrassed. The library is like a school for me, a new world, and a light. Library activities have allowed me to be free. Now I look only to the future.”

Now she is a mother who still uses the library and is aware of and supportive of her child’s development and is a role model for other mothers.

*Toshokan means library in Japanese.

Mr Shaw’s story – His mother was a librarian, and the library was his second home. He read every picture book in the library. Since there was nothing to draw at home, he was the kind of child who would come to the library and draw as much as he wanted.

He wanted to be able to draw, so he would go to the library every day and imitate the pictures in the picture books. He continued to draw every day and won a prize in a contest in the library a year later. His drawings were published as picture books and read by children in the camp.

He immigrated to the United States in 2010. “When I was in the refugee camp, the library was the only place I could learn. When I came to the U.S., my life changed completely, but I started to feel like I was part of the world. In the refugee camp, I felt like I did not belong to anything. When I came to the U.S., I went through culture shock, and it was not easy. I struggled, but I continued to pursue my dream in the U.S. After graduating from high school, I went to college where I could study art. Now I work at a school teaching children the joy of art. It all started for me in the library in the refugee camp.”

Ockenden International’s four cash prizes recognise and reward innovative projects that deliver evidential self-reliance to refugees and/or displaced people, the hallmark of Ockenden International since its inception in 1951. The four annual prizes are open to projects or programmes focused on Internally Displaced People (IDP)/refugee self-reliance anywhere in the world. The other eleven 2023 finalists (with the other three winners italicised) are: