In March 2016, a library rehabilitation project in El Fasher, North Darfur, implemented through UNAMID's Quick Impact Projects (QIPs) programme was shortlisted by the London Book Fair International Excellence Awards 2016 for the Education Initiatives Award.
The El Fasher Cultural Center is located in the outskirts of the bustling central market, and includes a theatre, music room and a public library. The Cultural Centre has eight departments: art and painting, folklore, music and bands, drama, children and youth, poetry and writing, the library, and a general activities department, which includes handicrafts and languages. The Centre offers language, music and other types of classes for a small fee in order to raise funds, and occasionally organizes handicraft sales. It is also affiliated with El Fasher's own movie cinema, which is in need of rehabilitation.
The Cultural Centre houses a small public library collection. There is a small English-language book section, donated by the British Council, and a children's section. The library includes several large rooms which are available for various types of social events.
The library is a popular recreation, education, knowledge development and interaction spot, and in the interest of reviving the cultural and intellectual legacy of the people of Darfur, UNAMID rehabilitated the building and funded the project which provided computers, audio equipment, furniture, and more than 20,000 new books with the overall objective of stimulating the cultural activities as a way to address the root causes of instability and violence in Darfur, enhancing peace, and promoting education and expanded opportunities for all citizens of Darfur.
The rehabilitation of the library and the provision of necessary equipment and furniture was funded through two of the Mission's Quick Impact Projects (QIPs) and was implemented through a local non-governmental organization. UNICEF has also made a contribution through the provision of a children's playground, generator and maintenance of the Cultural Centre. The project created a new learning environment and improved the standards of the library. It now functions as a learning and training center, primarily for the youth and even the elderly. The library is currently serving up to 50 users on a daily basis and by promoting the culture of peace and non-violence, it has gradually became a library of peace in Darfur.
The project closure and handover ceremony turned into a large festive event for the people in North Darfur state. The ceremony, attended by the local authorities, UNESCO representatives, UNAMID officials, women and youth associations and local community members; it included traditional music performances, a drama representation by the "Ashorooq As Salam" theatre group and photo and art exhibitions. Mr. Ibrahim Abbaker, General Secretary of the El Fasher Cultural Centre, which houses the library, noted that "the project will improve the standard of the library and will serve as a learning and training center for our boys and girls, kids and even the elderly in the community."
The success of the project has proved that public libraries in Darfur have great potential for bringing peace and stability in the war-torn society through improved access to education, cultural heritage and knowledge development. However, lack of sufficient technical and financial support, and poor access to information services and facilities limit the capacity of public libraries in Darfur to reach and provide effective services to the local community members.
The implementation of the project was a model of successful cooperation between the peacekeeping mission (UNAMID), the Government of Sudan (State Ministry of Culture, Sports and Youth), UNICEF, civil society organization and the personnel of the public library. The enthusiasm, motivation and aspiration to restore the effective functioning of the library and the subsequent delivery of its services to the people was remarkable and represented a critical success factor for this important initiative.
The project has clearly demonstrated the need to explore continuously the innovative and inventive interventions to help communities recovering from the consequences of violent conflicts foster peace and resolve conflicts of different natures. It is important to encourage national and international actors in post-conflict settings to promote a culture of peace and non-violence at the grass-roots level in conflict affected areas through, inter alia, revitalization of public libraries which are often seen as the key factors for a positive change.