Brazil, which has been home for migrants from the Middle East since the 19th Century, has from 2013 acted to facilitate residency applications for Syrians and other nationals, fleeing conflict in Syria. In 2020 respectively, refugees here amounted to just over 3,800 persons, and asylum seekers, nearly 4,300 (UNHCR, 2020).
Consequently, many such migrants make their way to São Paulo, housing Brazil’s largest population of more than 12 million people, to find their new homes, and face the challenges of integrating into a new set of norms. In the main part, the need exists to sustain a cultural attachment to their homelands.
With this as the backdrop, Kalimat Foundation, visited São Paulo in April 2018, to donate books on behalf of Pledge A Library, to Biblioteca de São Paulo, located in the Parque da Juventude in the north of the city. The event was marked by the visit of recently arrived resident children and parents from the Middle East.
Omar, being one of the youngsters in attendance, developed a fast and very strong attachment to an alphabet book in Arabic. So much so, that when it was time to leave and hand it back, he let out a ringing cry that reverberated throughout the hall. One could have heard the sound of a pin drop in the silence that enveloped the aftermath. He did not wish to let go of his newly prized possession. His mother explained that they had come from Lar Sírio Pró Infância, a refugee centre that did not house similar resources.
Propitiously for the young man, a second Kalimat library was by coincidence available for donation with the team. In response, the delegation added Sírio Pró Infância to the itinerary, and on their final day in Brazil, brought the books along with them.
It was largely thanks to Omar’s passion for the book he saw, that instigated delivery of the 100 titles in Arabic. Their meaning, presenting a chance for literacy and anchoring a cultural connection, for many of the centre’s children.