In Kuwait: A Reading Marathon to Support Noncitizen Education

At the end of September, the Takween bookshop in Kuwait held its sixth charity reading marathon, in an effort to raise money for private-school tuitions of children of expatriate workers and stateless people living in the country:

Abrar Alshammari 

Photo credit: Hussain Al Mutawaa.

Under the slogan “You read, a child learns,” Kuwaiti bookstore Takween held a charity reading marathon sponsored by Boubyan Bank and Clinica dental clinic from September 26-28. This was the sixth charity reading marathon held by Takween in the past two years.

The marathon arises as a response to the increasing need for aiding non-citizen students in covering their tuition fees, while simultaneously encouraging a culture of reading. For every ten pages that a participant reads, a sponsor donates 1 KWD. In this past marathon, 2658 readers participated, with 152,045 pages read, amounting to a total of 15,205.500 KWD that will help send children back to school.

In Kuwait, only citizens and children of Kuwaiti mothers have access to public education. All other residents, such as expatriates and stateless children, are allowed to enroll only in private schools. The country’s stateless community, also known as the Bidun, especially struggles with access to education. Stateless students’ parents often work in low-wage jobs, with difficulties in access to employment. For many, the main obstacle is in obtaining valid identification documents. With the proliferation of social media, an increasing number of stateless mothers and fathers have turned to Twitter asking for assistance in covering their children’s tuition fees.

Takween bookstore’s initiative has served as an umbrella under which these cases can be collected. Parents apply through Takween’s website for their child to be added to the database, and after the marathon Takween follows a checklist and visits each respective school to make the payment.

Photo credit: Hussain Al Mutawaa

In a collective, peaceful act of rejecting the prospect of children being deprived of education as a result of their family wealth or citizenship, readers from all walks of life, ages, and backgrounds in Kuwait came together for three days at 360 Mall.

Many spent hours on end at the marathon, determined to get the highest number of pages to count. A number of books were provided by Takween bookstore, which participants could borrow and then return to the appropriate shelf. A children’s corner was available, and there was also a selection of English books that allowed non-Arab readers, in addition to domestic workers who were accompanying children, to participate. Readers from the Kuwait Blind Association also participated in the marathon, relying on the selection of braille books provided by the association.

To have the marathon take place in a shopping mall was certainly a nontraditional choice. Shopping malls embody values of materialism and consumerism; the marathon utilized this space for a purpose resistant to these concepts: reading for the common good.

Over the weekend of the marathon, readers reclaimed this space, overflowing beyond the designated marathon area, sitting at nearby cafes and restaurants with their books. Curious shoppers and passersby would stop and ask what this activity was about, and many would decide to change their plans and participate in the marathon instead. It was fascinating to see the individual, private act of reading transform into a collective, public act of resistance by people from different age groups, nationalities, ethnicities, and political and religious values. What they all shared was the belief that no child should be deprived of the right to education, and that taking the time to secure a child’s access to learning was worthwhile.

More photos by Hussain Al Mutawaa:

Also by Abrar Alshammari:

‘Literary Massacre in Kuwait’: The State of Book Banning

Abrar Alshammari has an MA in Arab Studies from Georgetown University’s Centre for Contemporary Arab Studies, where she wrote her Master’s thesis on citizen-state contestation in Kuwait’s creative cultural sphere. Her research interests include social movements, creative tools of expression in the Gulf, the ongoing struggle and oppression of the stateless/Bidoon population in Kuwait, and women’s issues.