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

afghan-womens-protest-highlights-a-desire-for-more-aidOn August 13, 2022, Afghan women in the capital city of Kabul gathered in front of the education ministry building, to protest human rights abuses by the Taliban including depriving women of the ability to work and participate in politics. They were also aiming to secure more aid and support from nations abroad. The Taliban swiftly responded by chasing and beating the female protestors. The international community, including the U.N. and human rights groups, have condemned the Taliban’s repression of women’s rights.

The Current Situation

The Afghan women’s protest was motivated, in part, by a desire for more humanitarian aid to be distributed to the 24 million Afghans in need. As of August 15, 2022, approximately 20 million of these Afghans are at critical risk of starvation and an estimated 1.1 million Afghan children may face severe malnutrition this year. Drought conditions and a spiraling economy have only exacerbated these issues. Furthermore, the Taliban have restricted women’s right to work and closed school to most girls after the sixth grade. As a result of these restrictions on women, Afghanistan has lost upwards of $1 billion. The government budget this year is a fraction of the 2020 budget and the economy has become increasingly dependent on foreign aid to fund public spending.

The Response from Other Countries

The deteriorating human rights situation in Afghanistan, especially for women and girls, has led to increased foreign intervention. For example, the U.S. has admitted more than 81,000 Afghans since the Taliban regained control over the country. Furthermore, on August 12, 2022, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) announced a $30 million commitment in support of gender equality and female empowerment in Afghanistan. This money will also be allocated to organizations seeking to advance women’s rights in Afghanistan. However, the Afghan women’s protest shows that these efforts have been too far and in between and highlights the dire need for more international partnership on these issues.

The Efforts of International Organizations

The humanitarian situation in Afghanistan has also prompted aid from international organizations. In fact, since the Taliban takeover, U.N. agencies have stayed in Afghanistan and provided aid to nearly 23 million people. Moreover, on June 10, 2022, the U.K. provided donations to The World Food Programme (WFP), which allowed the organization to aid 17 million Afghans through cash transfers and food and nutrition support. This helped families address their most urgent needs by putting food on the table.

The Road Ahead

Afghanistan has been plagued by violence and anguish for decades now. Many children and young adults do not know of an Afghanistan that is not war-torn and barren. They do not know of the nation that was on its way to international prominence – this might be the greatest tragedy of all. Despite the havoc caused by the withdrawal of U.S. forces, humanitarian agencies such as the WFP have stayed in the country. Countries, such as the U.S. and the U.K., continue to provide aid to the Afghans in a pragmatic manner. Although this is indicative of the international community’s determination to help Afghans, as the women’s protest has emphasized, there is still a considerable amount of work left to do.

Abdullah Dowaihy
Photo: Flickr