Syrian Couple Gives Back Creatively to Host Community

IMG_3609This fall I was in Istanbul at work on a project Streetwise Istanbul and while there I had the opportunity to meet Syrian refugees. A story about this was published last Sunday in the Spokesman Review. Among those I met were Samer Alkadri and Gulnar Hajo, co-owners of a new bookstore and cafe in Istanbul called Pages.

Gulnar is a children’s book illustrator who, this fall, won the Etesalat Award, an international children’s book recognition for her illustration of Nour Escapes Her Own Story, written by an author from Oman, Abair Alai. The story explores a young person imagining a better life. The illustrations featured in this blog post are from this book.IMG_3608

Gulnar is unable to attend the award ceremony in Dubai due to her visa constraints, but a friend living there will accept it for her. Meanwhile, she continues her contracted work: books for both a Moroccan and Lebanese press, and, a book with Bloomsbury Press UK about street children around the world, which will be published simultaneously in several languages. Gulnar likes to write and illustrate books about concepts: love, loss, happiness, courage. Rather than talking or painting down to children, her images are often bold, stark, and quite cerebral as the ones featured in this article, for which she won her esteemed prize.

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Two nights a week Gulnar reads and draws with Syrian refugee children who have relocated to Istanbul. I had the pleasure to participate one evening. It heartened me to see the cheerful colors in the children’s paintings. When I had visited a preschool in Bam, Iran, some 15 months after the devastating earthquake in 2003 that killed roughly 25,000 people, many of the children chose to paint on black paper.

As mentioned in the Spokesman Review article, Samer and Gulnar are donating books to 50 schools in Istanbul where Syrian children attend. The couple plans to stock these schools with 10 copies of five titles, books in English, Arabic and Turkish. They would appreciate help. Anyone wishing to donate to this book drive may contact them through the Pages Facebook page.

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Image on left is a Syrian refugee girl reading a 3D book at Pages Bookstore Cafe, Istanbul, Turkey.

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