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19 July 2007

Iraqis Perceived Books to Baghdad Program
as a "Bright Light" amid the Violence

The Associated Press

Reprinted here in its entirety.

Books to Baghdad Program Suspended

JACKSONVILLE, Ala. (AP) A Jacksonville State University professor is suspending a program that shipped more than 55,000 books and journals to universities in Iraq.

Safaa Al-Hamdani, the organizer of Books to Baghdad, said the program was so successful that other universities in Iraq started asking for books, and he felt he was no longer able to meet the demand. Also, his main source of books -- universities in Alabama -- appears to be tapped out.

"If you promise and you don't deliver, that's the worst thing you can do, especially during this time," the Iraqi native said. "It's a labor of love. I would love to continue to do it but ... I don't see how."

Books for Baghdad has largely been run on a volunteer basis. Al-Hamdani, or sometimes student volunteers, have driven to universities to pick up textbooks donated for the project, and Jacksonville State maintenance workers have helped pack the books and projectors, computers and other donated materials for shipment, The Birmingham News reported.

Safaa Al-Hamdani, a Jacksonville State University faculty member, has been leading the "Books to Baghdad" effort.

Since 2005, the project has sent four shipments to universities in Iraq, primarily in Baghdad. A humanitarian agency, International Relief and Development, has paid for the shipments, but Al-Hamdani and other volunteers have paid other expenses associated with the project out of their own pockets. In Iraq, Al-Hamdani's sister and her husband have helped distribute the books.

If a source of funds were available to pay for collecting, cataloging and packing the books, Al-Hamdani said, he might consider restarting the project. But at least 12,000 textbooks need to be collected before they can be shipped.

Al-Hamdani, a biology professor, said the book project sent the message that Americans care about what is happening in Iraq, and it became "a bright light" amid the violence.

"They believe, 'OK, we are not alone. There are some people thinking about us and they want to help,'" he said.


Information from: Montgomery Advertiser

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