Clashes, bombs, kidnappings, al-Qaeada: This is the usual news from Yemen. But other things happen in Yemen as well. There are guys, for example, who collect books to establish mobile libraries. Be it Arabic novels, Shakespeare or scientific literature: Reading enhances the level of education. I spoke to Abdulfattah Alghurbani about his initiative "Yemen Reading Points".
Abdulfattah Alghurbani, Yemen is suffering from an immense range of problems. Which ones are the worst?
For sure the current security situation and the constant electricity cuts. Too often we have no more than two hours of electricity per day. The electricity lines in the desert are repeatedly destroyed by criminal gangs, and so far the government has neither a strategy of how to fight them, nor has any saboteur ever been arrested. And apart from that we suffer severely from political and religious powerstruggles, tribal conflicts, corruption, malnutrition and the deplorable quality of education.
Your initiative "Yemen Reading Points" aims at encouraging people to read. However, 70 percent of the women and almost half of the men in Yemen are illiterate. Isn't your initiative too optimistic?
No. In order to build our country we need a good educational system. The ability to read is central. The goal of the initiative is to bring back education onto the political agenda and to get the government to establish libraries in as many schools as possible. It is my hope and vision, that within 30 years 25 percent of Yemenis will be addicted to reading.
Tell me: How do you plan to realize that?
First of all, we want to make reading more attractive to those, who are already able to read. Thus we are collecting books for mobile libraries. For example: We put up shelves in a shopping mall and fill them with books, that people can borrow for free. And we plan to put buy a pick-up truck, fill it with books, park it at a corner of a street and distribute the books from there.
But do you ever get any of these books back?
Well, a lot of books we never get back. But we are aware of that, and for the time being the most important thing is, that people read at all. However, we explain to the people, how much value and knowledge they can get from a book and give them our phonenumbers so that they can call, if they want to bring back the books - or if they have books they want to donate to our libraries.
What kind you books do you collect?
Alle kinds: From children's books, novels, scientific literature to the works of Shakespeare. They should just be in Arabic or English. Up till now we have a collection of around 5000 books.
Your initiative is based on volunteer work. I guess, this can be difficult sometimes.
It is, indeed. As we don't have an office or place yet, where people can visit us, we have to go and collect the books by ourselves. Our volunteers, however, aren't free all the time, so it happens that we cannot be on time to get the books. This is always really frustrating. But we are working on that.
How do you advertise your mobile libraries?
We have a Facebookpage and organize events in Sana'a at the Al-Lybi Mall, the Sana'a Mall, at Alsabeen Park, the Yemen-American Institute, the Books Expo 2013. And we have two new teams: One in Taiz and one in Al-Jawf.
Who is most interested in book so far: Men or women?
Which is your favourite piece of literature?
"Les misérables" by Victor Hugo. I have read it more than ten times.
Abdulfattah Alghurbani (35), is a specialist in geoinformatics and was born in the province of Ibb. At the time being he works on his dissertation at the Friedrich-Schiller-University in Jena, Germany.
This interview has been updated since it was first published in the Swiss magazine annabelle.