Mobile Libraries in AfghanistanMobile libraries in Afghanistan are making waves in a nation where education, particularly for women and children, has faced numerous challenges. These traveling libraries are not only fostering a culture of reading but also empowering the youth by broadening their horizons, especially in the context of the recent political changes.

The Plight of Education in Afghanistan

Afghanistan’s educational infrastructure has faced considerable challenges over the past few decades. War, political unrest and cultural norms have limited access to quality education for many, especially girls. According to UNICEF, by 2018, around 3.7 million children were out of school in Afghanistan, with girls making up 60% of this figure due to factors like traditional norms and the Taliban takeover affecting girls’ education.

The Taliban Takeover and Its Impact on Education

The Taliban’s takeover in Afghanistan in August 2021 has had a significant impact on education, especially for girls. Following the takeover, the Taliban implemented several restrictions, including barring girls from attending school beyond the sixth grade. This move, among other restrictive measures, targeted the education and employment opportunities for women and girls in Afghanistan.

According to UNESCO, more than 2.5 million, nearly 80% of school-aged Afghan girls and young women, have been out of school since 2021​​. The Taliban’s restriction tightened in 2022, barring girls from attending secondary school and university, making Afghanistan one of the most restrictive countries globally concerning women’s education.

Charmaghz, a Kabul-based non-profit organization, has provided educational resources to children amid these challenging circumstances. The organization repurposes old public buses into mobile libraries, offering a space for children to read, think and ask questions. Although they had to halt operations temporarily due to the Taliban’s takeover, the dire need for educational support for children propelled them to continue their mission.

Charmaghz: Wheels of Knowledge Amidst Adversity 

The Charmaghz Mobile Library was launched in 2018 in Kabul, Afghanistan, by Freshta Karim. The name “Charmaghz” is derived from Farsi, where “chahar” means four and “maghz” means brain. This reflects the foundation’s philosophy of work, which is to create opportunities for critical thinking.

With the mission to provide spaces for critical thinking and children’s imagination in areas heavily affected by conflict, they offer mobile library services across Kabul and have various activities to encourage children to express themselves. Each mobile library is stocked with about 400 books in Dari, Pashto and English, covering topics ranging from science to history and has five active mobile libraries in Kabul, namely Khairkhana, Karte Naw, West Kabul, Khoshalkhan and Baghe Bala with about 1,000 visitors per day.

Three of the five libraries under the Charmaghz initiative received funding throughout 2021 with support from the Afghan private sector, indicating local support for such initiatives.

Positive Impacts of Mobile Libraries in Afghanistan

These mobile libraries are doing more than just spreading the joy of reading. They’re creating safe spaces where children, especially girls, can gather, share ideas and cultivate a love for learning. Regular reading sessions, storytelling events and discussions are organized, fostering a sense of community and shared learning.

By providing access to books and creating spaces for learning, mobile libraries contribute to bridging the educational gap in regions where regular schooling might be inaccessible or inadequate. The outreach to schools, parks, orphanages and communities, coupled with providing a wide range of books, extends educational resources to those who might otherwise have limited access.

The Road Ahead

The success of initiatives like Charmaghz is a testament to the resilience and determination of the Afghan people. There are efforts to promote reading among children, such as creating community libraries in Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps in Kabul in 2021. 

The Afghan government, with support from international NGOs, is recognizing the potential of these mobile libraries and is considering plans to support and expand these programs. The hope is that, soon, mobile libraries will not just be limited to Kabul but will be found across the country, bringing education and hope to every corner of Afghanistan.

The work of organizations like Charmaghz is a beacon of hope amidst the bleak educational landscape for girls in Afghanistan. Highlighting the operations of such organizations helps to ensure that the international community does not overlook the plight of girls and women in Afghanistan amidst other unfolding global crises.

– Laeticia Mbangue
Photo: Flickr

Unique Library Programs

Access to books is vital in developing countries. However, it is often difficult to bring libraries to these countries. Across the world, many organizations promote literacy through unique library programs.

School Library in a Box

Book Aid International is a charity working to create a world where everyone has access to books. Book Aid International has a unique library program called School Library in a Box. School Library in a Box takes libraries to students in the “poor and remote areas in the Kagera Region of mainland Tanzania and the Zanzibar archipelago.” In these areas, children’s schools do not have libraries due to lack of government funding.

The project provides 700 books written in English and Kiswahili to schools. Student librarians transport the books to classrooms to allow children to enjoy independent reading before their lessons. School Library in a Box also provides training for educators on how to use the books to support their classes. The teachers use the books to support their lessons and to help children develop reading skills in both English and Kiswahili.

This charity collaborates with non-government organizations (NGOs), national library services, community library networks, local government and individual institutions to make its vision happen. For the Zanzibar library services, it collaborates with Zanzibar Library Service and with the Kagera Region it works with Voluntary Service Overseas.

An evaluation of eight schools that participated in this project found that reading levels of students have improved and school lessons became more creative and engaging. As a result, students in many schools proactively chose to read independently. Students borrowed books and established regular reading periods. In 2016, the program supported 40 schools and 39,101 children.

Mobile Libraries

Around the world, many organizations have created mobile library programs. Mobile libraries are now in countries such as America, Nigeria, Norway and Columbia. These libraries transport books by boat, elephant, donkey and bus to reach children who need access to library services.

Though it might seem like a new phenomenon, the first mobile library was established in 1859 in Warrington, England. This mobile library used a horse-drawn-cart and lent about 12,000 books during its first year in service. Today this unique library program idea has greatly expanded and many organizations now have mobile library programs.

In Columbia, Biblioburro brings books to children via donkey. This library is run by an educator who wants to increase his pupils’ access to books after noticing their low literacy rate. Over the 22 years since it started, the program has expanded to include a network of libraries, including a brick-and-mortar library. Biblioburro began distributing laptops to help children learn about the internet.

Other unique mobile library programs include Epos, the boat library, which travels along the coast of Norway. This boat carries 6,000 books. A unique mobile library in Nigeria called iRead Mobile Library travels by bus and carries 13,000 books.

There are many unique library programs around the world that help increase literacy. Ultimately, government funding is needed to permanently solve this issue. These unique library programs inspire many and are creating a world where literacy is more accessible.

Emily Joy Oomen
Photo: Wikimedia Commons