Sajia Darwish, a student at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, opened Baale Parwaz Library (BPL) this past summer at Mohammad Asif Mayel High School in Kabul. Since the library’s opening, approximately 200-350 students visit the library each day. Students are reading, checking out books and staying to complete homework.
The library is open six days per week and is only available to the girls who attend the school. In the winter months when school is closed, the library is open to children from the general public.
The building of the library was funded by the Afghan Girls Financial Assistance Fund. The fund seeks to empower men and women promoting gender equality in Afghanistan. Darwish says the organization also supports her education in the United States.
Baale Parwaz means “wings to fly” and is a mission close to the heart of Sajia Darwish. She recalls growing up with only two small shelves of graduate-level books to read. These books gave her hope and escape from the conflict and unrest around her. This project reflects her hope for better access to education for Afghan girls in coming generations.
Darwish aims to support a proliferation of reading and access to books not just in libraries, but also in homes among families. The more books that are going home, the more family members are exposed to the knowledge, entertainment and potential of books. She hopes Baale Parwaz Library will inspire others to be built.
She created two reading clubs for book discussions to encourage critical and analytical thinking, something not encouraged in Afghan society. It was also important to Darwish for the library to have enough open space for collaboration between students.
“I have learned how to create a counter-model for the patriarchal society of Afghanistan: through first empowering myself, and then empowering other girls and women,” said Darwish.
This project is significant as 85 percent of women in Afghanistan are illiterate and the country is ranked as the worst in the world for women. Women are seen as objects that are under total control of males in their family.
Darwish sees that extending books and education to young girls in Afghanistan as a starting point for breaking the patriarchal norms and devaluing of women that has been systematic for decades. She stands as a role model to young women everywhere, but especially in her home country.
Wings to fly, indeed.
– Mandy Otis