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I Really Think So

This has been a challenging assignment…so hard to choose just a few heroes! Here's a start...

The Sumerians, an ancient people of Iraq, invented the first written language almost six thousand years ago and some of the world’s most influential libraries are in Iraq. Alia Muhammad Baker is the chief librarian of Al Basra Central Library in Iraq. In early 2003, at the start of the US invasion, she feared for the safety of the library. With help from friends in her community, she saved 30,000 books before the library was burned. The library was rebuilt and reopened in 2004 and Mrs. Baker was reinstated as chief librarian.

Two compelling children’s books tell her heroic story. The Librarian of Basra, written and illustrated by Jeanette Winter is a beautiful and lyrical rendition of Alia’s story. It opens with a quote she cited from the Koran in an article in the New York Times in July of 2003:”In the Koran, the first thing God said to Muhammad was, ‘Read’.” An edgier version of her story, Alia’s Mission: Saving the Books of Iraq, is a graphic novel by Mark Allan Stanley. (The book is also available in Arabic.) As Stanley “…it’s not necessary to see through walls or fly or have any superpowers at all to be a real life hero.”

Another hero is also an Iraqi woman known on her blog as Riverbend. She began her blog in August of 2003. Eventually two volumes of her postings were published and received wide reception. She speaks as an ordinary young woman dismayed by the chaos of war and the destruction of her beloved Baghdad. She speaks movingly of her frustration with the confinement she finds imposed upon her. She says…”the kilo of eggplant I absolutely have to select with my own hands is just an excuse to see the light of day and walk down a street.” Her last entry was in October of 2007 after she and her family immigrated to Syria. She asks if Syria is really a beautiful country (it is) or if it is the peace and safety she finds there that gives an impression of beauty (that too). Riverbend is one of many widely read bloggers and journalists who gave voice to their experience of invasion, war, and violence in Iraq. She is certainly one of the most eloquent.

On another continent, another group of women heroes addressed 14 years of war and violence in their country, Liberia. They formed the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace and by 2003, were successful in pressuring a successful conclusion to long stalled peace talks. Their campaign, led by social worker, Leymah Gbowee, is hauntingly documented in the 2008 film, Pray the Devil Back to Hell. These women aided the campaign of, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who on November 8, 2005, became the first female elected head of state in Africa.

Most of the heroes of our world are unsung. I’m very fond of the Giraffe Heroes Project. As their web site says, “this non-profit honors the risk-takers, people who are largely unknown, people who have the courage to stick their necks out for the common good, in the US and around the world.” This amazing project encourages people to recognize the day to day heroes among us. I think all of our VOF Correspondents deserve such recognition! Check out:


Farona's picture

I don’t how people justify

I don’t how people justify “war” – slogans like, “give war a chance” “retributive justice” bombards our airwaves. With a war, we only destroy a nations culture, history – tyrants only keeps re-appearing in new forms and shapes . Mrs. Alia is an amazing women. She a heroine, a courageous women who involved community to save national treasure when men were busy fighting each other.
I am definitely going to read ‘the librarian of basra’!

The problem is many Middle Eastern including KSA do not cover Iraq from different angles. There’s much more to Iraq than bombs falling from the sky or someone bombing a supermarket. Western media, on the other hand, entirely desensitize Iraq with B-52 aerial shots ! What we don’t hear or see – is stories involving local communities.

I checked out “Riverband” – she writes in very simple yet engaging way. I laughed out loud when I read “It’s funny how you learn to act a certain way and don’t even know you’re doing strange things- like avoiding people’s eyes in the street or crazily murmuring prayers to yourself when stuck in traffic. It took me at least three weeks to teach myself to walk properly again- with head lifted, not constantly looking behind me.” what she describe is common behaviour in ME countries when we ‘fear’ something, like murmuring prayers !LOL
I have never lived or been to a war-zone. I was just one and a half when the gulf war broke out. But I vividly recall those sirens outside my home. Although the War never dragged Saudi Arabia into it’s web but a lot of were very anxious. My parents stored extra supplies, everyone glued to their TV sets. And sirens after midnight ! really sends chill down your bones...
It still scares me, I don’t know how I recall every detail, since I forget a lot !
My mother lived and migrated during the 1971 War between BD-Pak. My maternal grandma was worried for her family so they left Karachi for Dhaka. My mother, Fahmida, and her family hid in a truck and travelled for days without water. She recalls drinking her own tears when she was thirsty ..

I am interested to know more about your work in Liberia – it’s an interesting country ! there are many from the African continent with whom I am friends with – but I haven’t met anyone from Liberia.

I visited the Giraffe project website – very humbling ! I liked their style . “Find a hero” “spot a hero” pretty cool. I hope I can open similar project in Saudi Arabia, it’s time the ‘hard working people’gets recognized. Too many prince and princess has turned the country into a lazy one ! marginalizing the hard working population.

Comic book heroes should be replaced with real life heroes – kids should know that you don’t need a wing or a turn into a spider to change lives !

Thank you for sharing this with us, I loved it – my heroes are also ‘unsung, community heroes’ ..

Do post your entry on the group journal so that other editorial midwives/mentors can read !

Potter's picture

Thank you!

Dear Farhaa, Thanks so much for your feedback. We have exactly the same feelings about war. I knew very little about Iraq before the Us invasion. I was working in Thailand during the Gulf War...the streets, especially around the western embassies were patroled by fully armed Thai soldiers...I'm sure they feared the if the Thai people had any responsibility for the conflict.

Actually, I've not worked in Liberia. (I spent one night there if a layover at the airport counts.) I was in neighboring Sierra Leone for three years and went back there to visit just as the Liberian war begasn to spill over into Sierra Leone. But I've tried to follow reporting on the Liberian situation because the two countries are so interrelated. Pray the Devil Back to Hell is an amazing documentary about the power women actually have when they find their voices and band together for the greater good.

I saw on the Giraffe site that other countries have picked up the idea and initiated their own programs. No capes, masks, wings or supernatural powers required! Years ago I accidentally met the founder of Giraffe. We were both staying in the same hotel and shared a dinner table. I almost fell off my chair when she began to describe their work. "Stick out your neck!" Don't you love that simple, simple concept?

You think I should repost my hero reflections? I'm still learning to negotiate Pulse Wire!

I'd love to hear more of your parents' story. I was wondering how they chose Saudia Arabia after leaving BD. Your mother drank her own tears? Please tell her she is also a hero! What thing to endure!

Amei's picture

I believe meeting you is no coincidence.

Dear Potter,

I was planning to go and do some boxing day special shopping as my electric kettle has given up on me... I love coffee, tea and warm water....but I am hooked on WP.

I am working on developing a website for Maldivians focusing on children and women. I have browsing through websites to see what I am after. My purpose of the website is to connect people. As I come from Maldives and people are dispersed among over 300 small islands I thought internet could be just one forum to connect. As I mentioned before, I am dreaming and working towards a mission.

In Maldives there are huge issues and problems created within - which is more scary as it eats the Maldivian citizen within without them realising what is happening. Just more than 300,000 people that are so divided among themselves for anything productive to happen at national level is so difficult. I got really frustration when I was working in Maldives, now that I am away from the situation I can take helicopter look and see what can be done. I want the peaceful Maldives back. I am only talking of a relatively small group compared to the other countries I should be able to start and achieve.

As you have cutural experties and worked in the middle east you have a understanding of our culture. It is a monoculture, Islam as way of life and speaking "dhivehi" as mother tongue. English/Arabic are the second languages - creating a divide among the small nation.

I am sad to state that in Maldives there are few people who work for the common good - more people have self interest and are too busy to spend time to participate in something that would challenge their comfort zone.

I am hoping to get truth and peace back to Maldives. This is the first time I have written in black and white in a public forum my thoughts for the last couple of months. I feel I am doing the right thing :-)

I am so glad to have met you. Thank you for sharing - I still have to create a logo for my Reach4Peace mission.


Potter's picture


It seems there are some talented artists in this VOF group. I wonder if you could get ideas for a logo from a few of them?

I love Stick your neck out! What a fitting slogan!

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