Imagine taking a risky walk through bombed-out buildings, the entire time hiding from snipers. Now imagine that you’re dodging bullets and risking your life to…read. For many of us, this seems crazy, but for some people in Damascus, Syria, risking their lives to read is the only thing that keeps them sane.
For more than four years, Damascus has faced violence, hunger, and political unrest. More than 2,000 civilians have been murdered and many important buildings, including libraries, have been destroyed.
Hope and inspiration are hard to come by in Damascus. That’s why a group of brave citizens, many of them former students, decided to make a secret, hidden library.
Down a steep flight of stairs in the basement of a bombed-out building lives more than 14,000 pieces of hope and inspiration. The library’s creators have collected more than 14,000 books from abandoned buildings destroyed by bombs.
And collecting these books is dangerous business. Collectors risk life and limb each time they venture out to find new titles for the library. So why do they do it?
For one, much of the content found in the books is useful. Many medical volunteers no longer have access to medical literature and can find some of the information they need to help people in the secret library.
But actually, most of the visitors to the library are simply looking for hope and inspiration. They want to remember a time and a place that wasn’t devastated by bombs and bullets.
For now, the library is deemed too dangerous for children. But there is one child that visits daily. Fourteen-year-old Anas lives next door, so he has easy access. He says that even though people could be looking for food instead of books, he thinks that the brain is just as important as the body. He says his brain has become stronger because of the books. In turn, he says he feels like his soul is also being fed.
Even those who have the grueling job of defending what’s left of Damascus say that the books are important to them. Some of them go to the front lines carrying a rifle in one hand a few books in the other.
Omar Abu Anas is one of those guys on the front lines trying to defend his home. He says, “Truly I swear the library holds a special place in all our hearts. And every time there’s shelling near the library we pray for it.”
Omar says that the books are helping them remain hopeful for freedom.
And as African-American writer and human rights leader, Frederick Douglass, once said: “Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.”