Before the Prints for Prints/Peace Corps photography workshop kicked off in Outat El Haj (more info on the workshop here), the Prints for Prints team spent a couple days in Fez. Several weeks before I left for Morocco, I connected with Cathy Bellafronto and she mentioned that a children’s library had just opened in Fez (in the medina/old part of town). Books and Kids are two of my favorite things, so I knew I would make it a priority to visit the library. Before I left Portland, I popped in to Powell’s to pick up a few books to donate.
Cathy was out of town when I arrived in Fez, so I emailed the library and received a speedy response from Suzanna Clarke inviting me to visit the library. After a few emails back and forth, my foggy jet-lagged brain made the connection that Suzanna was the author of “A House in Fez” – a great book that was gifted to me by a good friend for my birthday. I highly recommend it to anyone visiting Fez – or renovating an old house!
The library is currently open 3 hours per day, mainly in the afternoon. I (along with my Prints for Prints teammate Laura Moya) arranged to meet Suzanna on a chilly Thursday afternoon. We arrived earlier than the 4 pm opening time since we had allowed for extra time to navigate the maze of the medina. At 3:45 there was already a crowd of kids milling around the door. The library had only been open for a few weeks but the word had clearly spread. In fact, the library had to hire a guardian to manage the door and keep order. Only 15 kids could be allowed in at a time due to space constraints and they could stay for an hour before the next group came in.
The library is a wonderfully cozy space, with comfy carpet and a space heater. The walls are lined with bookcases containing children’s books in English, French and Arabic. Arabic books are in the highest demand. I brought a few English books (including my favorite of all time – Where the Wild Things Are) but wished I had checked Powell’s for Arabic books as well.
Safae Lahjouji, the librarian, watches over the kids with gentle authority, occasionally stepping in to help a child pick out books or remind the spirited boy that books are for reading, not hitting his brother over the head with. The majority of children are girls and sit together in small groups but remain very intent on their reading. I spent a huge amount of time in libraries growing up and it was really wonderful to see kids so interested in books and reading. There are usually 1-2 volunteer storytellers every day as well.
Suzanna (who serves as the Treasurer) admitted she was surprised by the instant popularity and warm reception of the library by the community. However, there aren’t many places for kids to hang out in the medina other than playing in the street – no playgrounds, community centers, boys and girls clubs, etc. Most homes have few (if any) books and the library provides a safe, warm place to hang out – particularly in early February when it is quite cold in Fez.
Plans are in the works to create a non-profit to manage donations and the administration of the library. The library hopes to increase its supply of Arabic books and potentially move to a bigger space once funds allow.
You can find out more about the library on their facebook page: www.facebook.com/medinachildrenslibrary
And if you know anyone traveling to Fez, ask them to pack along a few children’s books to donate. A visit to the Children’s Medina Library is a wonderful and unique experience.