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Egypt’s Human Library Defies Society’s Stereotypes

23 March, 2017
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Through exposure and education, the Human Library is taking on an epic task: defying stereotypes, one at a time.

Based in Egypt, the Human Library is a series of events that introduces patrons to people from all walks of life and of various experiences with the goal of digging deeper than the stereotypes we see in people.

March 3 marked the library’s third event, held at The Passion Point in Cairo. The guests who came to share their stories were called “books”, because they act as living books for people to read and learn from. Both books and readers joined together for a day of learning and growth.

At the start of the event, readers were given a list of rules to abide by so that they would treat books fairly, and with respect. They were asked to respect the mental and emotional well-being of books and honor their bravery for sharing their stories.  

The titles available for reading at the event included a karate champion who is a wheelchair user, a single mom, a Syrian refugee, and a woman who is shaking up beauty stereotypes. All gathered to share their unique and inspiring stories to avid listeners and answer any questions.

The gathering was split into groups of four or five and each group sat with a book for half an hour to hear the stories and experiences they chose to share, then the readers would shuffle to another book. Between rounds, the Human Library presented the guests with a lecture by Mohamed El-Gayar. El-Gayar would tell readers that no matter how much we think we know about people, we only ever scratch at the surface and there is a magnitude of information hidden from us.  

A group of four highly-motivated people, led by Asmaa Ismail, came together through their passion for learning and understanding people from different backgrounds to create the Human Library. They worked tirelessly to bring such an experience to the Egyptian public. Their main motivation is the belief that stereotypes tear down societies rather than strengthen them, and they have made it their mission to shine a light on topics, and people, that are perpetually misunderstood.

The event concluded with a presentation by graphic designer Ghada Wali and artist Norhan Moaz about their campaign “Who Said So?”, which targets stereotypes in Egyptian society with video testimonials that focus on preconceived notions encountered in the street on a daily basis. Their art presents common stereotypes in a very bold and unashamed manner.

Next, the Human Library hopes to kick start their initiative in universities across the country in order to further their message of understanding the world through a lens that deconstructs stereotypes.

To learn more about the Human Library, visit their Facebook page.

Tags human library education Stereotypes