Using only a large bus, a young Oxford graduate has launched a mobile library in Kabul, Afghanistan, to bring the joys of reading and learning to children and adults alike. In a country where not everyone has the opportunity to go to school, this library is making a world of difference.
History of Instability Has Affected Children’s Education in Afghanistan
Kabul, the capital city of Afghanistan, has a history of violence. The nation has been marked by unstable governments and other violent groups, many of which plan attacks in the city of Kabul. Parents tend to keep their children behind closed doors to keep them safe.
Afghanistan also has a very low literacy rate, with only 36 percent of the population being able to read, and among women, this figure drops to 17 percent. Between three and five million children in Afghanistan are estimated to miss school this year, 85 percent of whom are young girls.
Freshta Karim, a public policy master’s graduate from Oxford University, saw this as an opportunity to help children in Kabul begin to learn and have fun. Karim grew up as a refugee in Pakistan, then returned to Afghanistan in 2002 after the fall of the Taliban. She says that she missed out on some childhood experiences due to the violence in the region and the inability of many to attend school. She recognized the importance of providing a space where children could be children and learn and grow as individuals.
With the help of a group of young educated volunteers, Karim launched the mobile library in Kabul in February 2018. The library is named Charmaghz, the Dari word for walnut, which in Afghan culture is associated with logic.
Mobile Library in Kabul Receives an Overwhelming Response
The library offers free access to more than 600 books in Dari, Pashto and English. In addition to books on many topics, there is access to board games, poetry, and music that allows children to learn about Afghan culture. Charmaghz stops at parks, schools and orphanages around Kabul for a few hours at a time, making two to three stops per day to provide access to as many children as possible.
In the first three weeks of operation, the library had more than 1,000 visitors. The library now draws approximately 300 people per day and has many regulars. Children come to learn, read and play with their friends, adults bring snacks and tea and volunteers come to lead sessions with children to discuss stories.
“It is beyond our beliefs and expectations how people love our program. We are humbled by their response. They appreciate and support it,” Karim said of the individuals who visit the library. Charmaghz was started to help a younger generation learn to read and broaden their horizons, and it seems the public is responding well to the new addition.
The team operating Charmaghz would like to ultimately expand. Currently, the mobile library in Kabul is financed by donations from Afghan professionals, and small donations from anyone who can afford to give anything. With this support, Karim believes expansion to other areas of Afghanistan, and providing more services, such as documentary screening, would be possible.
What started as a small effort to bring reading and learning opportunities to children in Kabul has become a staple of the community, encouraging children to grow and continue learning despite difficult circumstances.
– Katherine Kirker