Tuesday, 8 December 2009

One step forward, two steps sideways

Christmas is bearing down on us with ever increasing velocity. Books are being boxed up and made ready for shipping to various locations. On Friday several hundred books will be picked up ready for shipping to the UK. In Leiden we are expecting a visit from the Kessler Stichting who run a number of refuges and drop-in centres in the Hague. We have saved a number of special books for them to be given as Christmas and New Year gifts - with gift labels instead of the usual rubber stamp.

On Saturday last we attended a children’s party in Amsterdam for mainly Surinamese and Antillian children avoiding the customary Dutch phenomenon of Zwarte Piet. This ‘tradition’ involves the servant of St Nicholas, generally played by white people in blackface (a la Al Jolson), jerry curls and velvet puff pants and tights. He tends to be the fool and magically generally has a Surinamese accent. In spite of all this, some people try to say that Zwarte Piet is not ‘really black’ he got dirty coming down the chimney… well, um, did he get lipstick and a perm on the way down and why are his clothes spotlessly clean? The origins of this curious piece of Dutch folklore are shrouded in mystery and excuses. It may even date back to the days when St Nicholas was considered to have been accompanied by the devil - represented as, surprise, a Black man.

The fact that this racist tradition persists in the 21st century should perhaps not surprise us in a country that was so tardy in abolishing slavery. But the fact that at the main Schiphol airport you rarely if ever see Zwarte Piet suggests that the Dutch know perfectly well the image is offensive to many. The idea that each year Black children in Dutch schools are teased and made fun of around this time is distressing to some and infuriating to others. Zwarte Piet is represented in caricatures on wrapping paper, mobiles, stickers, cookies and chocolate as a figure akin to a golliwog – a figure which long been seen as a racist image in the UK.

Nonetheless, this party was fun, the children enjoyed themselves and we gave away more than 200 books in just a few hours. This the second time we’ve given books as presents at this party and I hope we’ll find a way to continue this much more positive tradition in the future.

We'd like to give special thanks to the Arbeiderspers and Querido who donated a huge number of books for the fourth year in succession . We are always truly thankful for this gift of quality literature, non-fiction and children's books.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Hey, did I tell you the one about how we got shortlisted to the top 12 projects out of over 100 entries to the How to Make a Difference competition run by the Community Channel . Unfortunately it was once again a case of 'always the bridesmaid, never the bride' (as me mum used to say). Disappointing at first, but once the results were published, we were really glad to see which project had won. Vision Housing .
We'll be contacting them soon to see if we can supply books to them - sounds like just the kind of project we want to work with.

This makes the fourth time we have been runners up in a competition. In 2005 we received a certificate for being in the finals of an Ashoka Changemakers competition. I looked at it today. Nice to have on the wall.
Then in 2006 we were nominated for the Samen Sociaal Prize (Social Together Prize) in The Hague. We all had to have an information table and to give a 5 minute presentation of our projects. For some unknown reason, the MC interrupted my presentation with a question (can you believe it was 'where do you come from?'). I was doing this in Dutch and was sticking to a really tight time schedule.... Well I answered him fast and continued. The winners came on and went wildly over time with their presentation, so it was very clear that they had been chosen as winners from the outset - and another nudge nudge, wink wink between one of the judges and the project at the next table suggested to me that the whole of the afternoon proceedings were little more than a pantomime. Why did they have to put the rest of us through so much suspense? I think there were 10 projects of which 3 got prizes and the rest of us a bunch of flowers.
Then in 2008 we were nominated for a prize in memory of a popular Green Party politician, Ab Harrewijn. Part of the preparation for this one was to have a short film made about the project. These films were shown on TV West, a local station. I think they were shown two or three each week. Unfortunately... we had no control of how the project was filmed and absolutely no say in the final cut, so it was very much up to luck whether or not the journalists understood what you were trying to do.
Well, the good thing was that the final 4 were all invited to The Hague to do a short interview about their projects. The winner received a prize of 5000 Euros and the runners-up 1000 Euros each. Certainly not to be sniffed at and absolutely the most useful prize to date.

So, we are always interested in any possible competitions to gain ourselves worldwide fame and gigantic cash awards ;-)
Well - even a small portion of recognition is very very welcome. I'm not complaining!

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Spreading our Wings

I just got some really brilliant news.
For years I have been puzzling about what to do with all the German books we are given. No-one in the Netherlands seems to be interested. I have taken some to the UK but the one person who finds homes for them there has been somewhat overwhelmed with the quantities.

This evening a German friend living in the Netherlands said that she had just called a friend who was thinking ot setting up something similar. So who knows, we may even have a branch of Borderline Books in Germany in the next few months.

I am also working on friends in Belgium to do the same....

Meanwhile, the project in Groningen has already donated several hundred books in the provinces of Groningen and Friesland and will gradually spread to more of the northern provinces. They are also working on a project whereby they will make and lend specially designed bookshelves. - Photos soon.

I'm working on a new web design and hope that will be online in the next few weeks - in the meantime the existing site has all the information - just looking a little raggedy after 5 years.

We have also joined UnLtdWorld to assist with networking in the UK.
Don't forget - Borderline Books is built to be a portable project. If you think it would fit in with something you are doing, get in touch and we can help you get things up and running.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Refugee Week and after

Refugee Week has been and gone. We had a table at the Civic Centre in Newcastle on June 19 and did our best to make it attractive by wrapping books in pretty paper and putting labels on with the names of the organisations we have given books to in the last couple of years.
Somehow we thought that the judges for the best stands were the visitors to the event, but it seems we were all supposed to vote for each other. Never mind, better luck next year.
The positive part was that we renewed contact with a number of projects we met last year and have now added the Pakistan Cultural Society, Open Door, Acane and the Comfrey Project to our list of recipients.

The Comfrey Project has three allotments in Newcastle and Gateshead where refugees can come to practice their gardening skills, learn about growing vegetables, fruit and flowers, or simply enjoy a few hours in the open air with friends. I went to the allotment in Felling with a couple of boxes of books to be shared between the three locations. - Seeing people cry out in joy at finding books in their first languages - Arabic, Farsi, Pashto - was hugely rewarding. Books with photos of Iraq and Afghanistan were studied with interest, and not a little sadness as they portrayed these countries 25 years ago, long before they had been bombed by the Americans and the British. I hope to spend more time close to the earth with this delightful group of people.

The Pakistan Cultural Society also invited me to come to some of their events, including a poetry reading in August. This promises to be a wonderful event with poets from many parts of the world.

This week Borderline Books has given away close to 600 books in total. Apart from those already mentioned, the recipients were Direct Access, with whom we hope to work more closely in the future, Shelter, Crisis, Open Door and Acane, an organisation of African refugees in Byker.

At the end of the week we will be sending another 100 or so books on their way to a school we have been supporting in Kenya. Anyone who knows the principles of Borderline Books knows that we tend to give priority to people living in the countries where we operate - currently the Netherlands and the UK. The main reason for this is simply that there are many organisations who work to send books and other items to countries in Africa and Asia, but few who concentrate on giving similar items to the Africans and Asians who are our direct neighbours. Nonetheless, we never refuse books to people who are travelling to other countries and wish to fill their suitcases with words.

We do our best....

Saturday, 28 February 2009

Take two

I wrote a new blog a few days ago and it disappeared into some sort of black hole, so here we go again.

January was fairly quiet after a bumper Christmas in the UK. In February, however, we took 1000 books to Groningen and another 600 a week later. We are hoping that a new BookSpace will be created there and that the project will be used as a work-activity at the 12de Huis, a organization supporting drug-users.
It would be wonderful if a project could be built up to supply books to organizations in the provinces of Groningen and Friesland. Since we fist started with Borderline Books we have tried to build up contacts in Groningen as it is twinned with Newcastle upon Tyne. Now that things are up and running in Newcastle it has been wonderful to see the Groningen contacts begin to flower.

On 26 February we also took part in the Winter Festival organized by Libertas in Leiden. On Thursday 26th we were open to the public for the entire day. We had around 50 visitors, amazed that we had such a huge variety of books and that for one day only, they too could choose books for themslves. After all the effort we have put in over the past 7 years it was interesting to see that none of the visitors appeared to have heard about the project. That will change now and we hope that we may also get some new volunteers.

We had another visit from Leger des Heils (Salvation Army) in Den Haag. Their clients are always happy to spend a couple of hours browsing the bookshelves and they took a new supply of books for their drop-in centre. We are still working on a plan to cooperate on the creation of a BookSpace in Den Haag. There are probably thousands of book-hungry people in that city and we have long cherished the idea of getting something up and running there.

Next target: Nijmegen! We are planning a meeting with Rutger Kips, another of the nominees for the Ab Harrewijn prize last year, to see if we can work together to create another BookSpace on the opposite side of the country from Leiden.

Our total outflow in February was almost 2000 books. We need more months like this!

We expect to need to move from our current location in Leiden within the next few months, so it is imperative that we build up more projects around the country to make the books available to those in need. Suggestions welcome, help welcome, funds welcome.

We'll keep you posted.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Year end and New Year

This period is always busy for us. The weekend before Christmas we brought books to the St Vincent de Paul Christmas dinner for the third year in succession. This time we brought some used clothes along as well as books. In addition we took books to Crisis Skylight, Womens Aid Newcastle and WA Gateshead, North East Direct Access, the Barnardo's organisation for teenagers in Whitley Bay, The Base and in the new year also to Shelter, Newcastle. In all we gave away between 600 and 700 books during this period.

We are particularly pleased to have made a number of contacts within Shelter and hope to build on this in order to provide books for Shelter clients across the country.

The general plan for 2009 is to build on our contacts in the UK, while easing the Dutch side of the project into other hands. The contrast between the ways in which Borderline Books is received in the two countries is huge. While in the Netherlands it has taken 7 years to build up a handful of regular recipients, in the UK the project is welcomed with open arms. Very often this has led to the organisations building on that first book donation to create their own libraries.

The Borderline Books dream is that the project should be dynamic and inspiring and open doors to new ideas and creative projects.
We continue to pursue that dream.