IBBY Canada sponsored a panel at this year’s Ontario Library Association Super Conference entitled Reaching Refugee Children Through Stories.
It was held at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre on January 30, 2019.
Moderated by IBBY Canada’s VP, Fred Horler, the panelists included Deborah Ellis, award-winning Canadian author and activist; Patsy Aldana, former publisher of Groundwood Books and Past President of IBBY International; Lynde Yasui, General Manager of COSTI Reception Centre; and Sulekha Sathi, Chair of Toronto Public Library’s Diversity and Inclusive Services Committee.
The panel’s focus was on providing librarians with an overview of the international refugee crisis, its impact on children and how books are making a difference. Panelists discussed how stories and reading support refugee children across the globe and then brought the narrative closer to home by focusing in on local programs.
Unfortunately, Deborah Ellis was unable to attend the conference but she kindly shared her thoughts in a prepared statement that was read by the moderator. She drew on her vast experience speaking with children around the world to talk about the connection between compassion, resilience and sustainability. She also shared some personal experiences of meeting with people forced to flee their homes and the strength she found in their stories. She finished by challenging us to decide, “Do we build walls or bridges? Fear builds walls. Stories build bridges.”
Patsy Aldana spoke about the work of IBBY International and the Children in Crisis program focusing on two projects in particular.
Jorge Argueta is a Salvadorian award-winning poet and author of many highly acclaimed bilingual children’s books and short stories. He returned to his native home of El Salvador to open a library for children. Located at his home in an area known for a high level of violence, Jorge has created a safe space for children to visit and enjoy his growing collection of books. Neighbouring gangs have accepted this oasis and have allowed free access to the library in an area where freedom of movement is often limited. Jorge has expanded his efforts to include a library at the local weekly market and he is looking at developing a third library in the city centre of San Salvador.
Patsy reminded the audience of IBBY’s long standing relationship with Afghanistan. She described the work of Aschiana, the Afghan IBBY section, and how working within the IBBY framework has helped to develop a greater understanding in Afghanistan of the importance of books and reading especially in the lives of street children and children of the internally displaced population.
She asked us to remember that all of this may be jeopardized if the new “peace” negotiations with the Taliban take place without guarantees for education, the rights of girls, and protections for NGOs such as IBBY. We mustn’t forget these children who may soon need our support more than ever.
Lynde Yasui gave an informative and insightful overview of the immigration situation in Toronto, specifically as it pertains to COSTI. Established in 1952, COSTI is a community-based multicultural agency that provides employment, educational, settlement and social services to all immigrant communities and individuals in need of assistance. Each year they serve almost 40,000 individuals from all over the world from 18 locations in Toronto, the Region of Peel and York Region. Lynde talked about the many programs that COSTI offers their clients and made particular mention of IBBY Canada’s Readers and Refugees Program, which has received rave reviews from COSTI staff and participants.
The final speaker was Sulekha Sathi, Chair of Toronto Public Library’s Diversity and Inclusive Services Committee. Sulekha stressed the importance of valuing individual needs, experiences and differences. She talked about the importance of each branch to identify the needs of their unique community and provide the appropriate support. Collection development is important but so too is marketing. Sulekha asked the librarians in the audience to make sure that the services available at each branch are clearly identified and promoted, including signage within the library in appropriate languages so that new users can easily find materials.
The panel drew over 80 attendees and was very well received. IBBY Canada is very grateful to the panelists for taking the time to participate and share their insights and expertise.
— Fred Horler, Vice-President