Mike Thomson wrote in July: 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.
Down a flight of steep steps, as far as it’s possible to go from the flying shrapnel, shelling and snipers’ bullets above, is a large dimly lit room. 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.
The siege of Darayya by government and pro-Assad forces began nearly four years ago. Since then Anas and other volunteers, many of them also former students whose studies were brought to a halt by the war, have collected more than 14,000 books on just about every subject imaginable.
Over the same period more than 2,000 people – many of them civilians – have been killed. But that has not stopped Anas and his friends scouring the devastated streets for more material to fill the library’s shelves.
“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.”
At first glance the idea of people risking life and limb to collect books for a library seems bizarre. But Anas says it helps the community in all sorts of ways. Volunteers working at the hospital use the library’s books to advise them on how to treat patients; untrained teachers use them to help them prepare classes; and aspiring dentists raid the shelves for advice on doing fillings and extracting teeth.
About 8,000 of Darayya’s population of 80,000 have fled. But nobody can leave now. [Continue reading…]