Acclaimed author Alexander McCall Smith has discussed his contribution towards a project to bring the joys of literature to young refugees with the help of UNHCR.

The novelist has become one of 18 acclaimed authors helping to ensure that children living in refugee camps can also enjoy the pleasures of reading. The writers have each contributed a short story to a collection entitled “What You Wish For” and organized by the Book Wish Foundation. All of the proceeds will be donated to UNHCR to build libraries in camps housing more than quarter-of-a-million refugees displaced by the conflict in Darfur.

McCall Smith, who is best known for “The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency,” spoke recently with UNHCR’s Laura Padoan about “The Strange Story of Bobby Box,” his contribution to the collection, and why he believes that books are vital to our well-being. Excerpts from the interview:

Why did you think it was important to support this project?

I think there’s the general importance of supporting people in need and facing often pretty cataclysmic disasters in their life. And this group of refugees is, I think, particularly deserving of support because what they have suffered is particularly acute. So, generally speaking, we should do what we can to help people in need, and refugees are very much in that category.

The book’s proceeds will fund a library in a refugee camp in Chad. UNHCR and other agencies provide food, shelter and water to refugees. Do you think that books are also important for people living in refugee camps?

Oh tremendously. I should imagine that books for many people in difficult circumstances provide an escape from the grim reality of their lives. But they also give people an opportunity to pursue their education, to remain in touch with the outside world. Books must be really important in those circumstances. If you look at a charity in the United Kingdom called Book Aid International, that’s a wonderful, wonderful thing. They send half-a-million books over from the UK to African countries, and these books are an absolute lifeline. So I think books must make life much more bearable.

What is your wish for the refugees from Darfur?

I’m sure that it’s the same wish that everybody would have for these people, that the desperate circumstances which prevail in the Sudan should be resolved in a peaceful and just settlement. That’s a general wish which one would have for them, which would enable them to return home. I very much hope that the peace initiatives continue, and that the rest of the world starts looking more seriously at issues such as the supply of arms, for example, and I would hope that those who have supported the things which led to this should consider very carefully what they really mean in the region in future. A peaceful solution, the breaking out of peace is what we really want in the region.

Read more of the interview here.

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