Rebuilding Iraq one book at a time

Etuti Institute builds library in Nineveh Plains

October 2018 | By Joe Snell | Photos contributed

Nineveh Plains, Iraq  – The Etuti Youth Center’s new library in Northern Iraq is not your typical local library. Nearly empty shelves surround a single wooden table and a couch, built into the far edge of the room, overlooks the Nineveh Plains. But in only a few months, this space has evolved into one of the area’s most significant reconstruction projects for youth education.

IMG_3524“Think of it as one living room,” said Savina Dawood, co-founder of the Etuti Institute, a non-profit educational organization that provides aid to communities in Iraq and Syria with a focus on minorities and indigenous peoples. “It’s not this huge space. It’s a small library, but it’s beautiful and the concept is what matters.”

The library, named Ashurbanipal Library after the Assyrian king who established the world’s first library, is part of the Etuti Youth Center, a two-story building with rooms dedicated to programs ranging from music and job training to women empowerment.

“In Nineveh, we don’t have these centers where the youth can go and learn and gather together and exchange information,” Dawood said. “This is the idea of the Etuti Youth Center, to have a location that youth can gather like this because there isn’t any other location.”

The Etuti Institute, a non-profit organization with volunteers based around the globe, works toward bringing young Assyrians together to build a generation of new leaders. Founded in 2013 in the Nineveh Plains, the group has hosted a number of initiatives including an annual Leadership Program, a Christmas toy drive, and a soccer tournament.


The idea for the center began in 2016 as Etuti recognized a growing need for youth in the region to have a safe, education-oriented area to gather. The institute first settled on a space in Erbil and in April of 2017, doors opened to a rented house that functioned as the center’s temporary home.

Etuti InstituteIt was a modest space: the smallest room in the house was chosen to manage the entire project and consisted of three desks, one computer, and one printer.

Only five months into Etuti’s one year building contract, Assyrians began returning to their homes in the Nineveh Plains and there became a growing demand for projects, support, and empowerment in the region. Etuti started looking for space to relocate their center in Nineveh and eventually found a two-story house in the area.

While outlining how to use the space, they identified a room where they could begin a new program: a small library for youth to gather to read and borrow books. One of the library project leads, Aiden Zahra, and a small team began collecting books and materials for bookshelves and furniture.

“We custom-made our shelves and furniture from an Assyrian carpenter in Nineveh,” said Zahra, who also functions as Etuti’s Board of Director for their Iraqi branch and co-manager of the Etuti Center in Bakhdida. “We also organized a books campaign to collect donated books and are organizing them based on language and category.”

Today, the library is semi-open as the group works on collecting and purchasing new and used books as well as a borrowing system. They are also growing their fragile books collections and have received a number of older texts that either don’t have a second copy or are not available as digital copies.



This summer, Assyrian twins Sharukina and Aturina Oushana of San Jose, California heard from Savina about the new library. The twins decided to use their upcoming birthday to start an online fundraiser. Because they were turning 31, their goal was to raise $3,100. Within less than two days, however, they had raised over $4,000.

“It was one of the best birthday gifts for us because when we originally visited Iraq, it changed our lives completely,” Sharukina said. “Assyrians focus on helping more with the basic needs but we need to take into consideration anything that’s educational as well.”

With that money, Etuti plans to buy more books as well as a computer and iBooks and iPads so library users have the option of downloading electronic books.

“Everyone is helping with construction of the houses and the churches and things like that. What we are trying to do is build knowledge because that’s something no one can destroy, it’s within a person,” Dawood said. “Once you have knowledge about something, no one can destroy it for you. It’s a different type of power, a different type of empowerment.”

Visit the Etuti Institue to learn more about their new youth center:

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