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(Some of) My Heroes

This has been a challenging assignment…so hard to choose just a few heroes!

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, during, 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: http://www.giraffe.org

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