Few of us in the west can imagine the struggles faced every day in the Afghan capital, Kabul, where every time you or your children step out in public, even to somewhere as innocuous as a public library, might be the last thing you do.
With the Taliban and Islamic State treating little children as legitimate targets in their war against western values, young readers face huge challenges finding books and safe place to enjoy them.
Enter, stage left, the walnut.
The door of the blue bus slides open and dozens of children excitedly bound up the steps, eager to get their hands on hard-to-find books in Kabul’s first mobile library.
Named Charmaghz – the Dari for walnut, which is associated with logic in Afghanistan because the nut resembles a brain – the converted public bus is hard to miss as it winds through the dusty streets of the Afghan capital.
Offering street kids free access to children’s books,
Charmaghz draws up to 300 children a day
“Boys, you sit in the back and girls in the front. It is important to be organised,” one of three volunteers tells the children as he pulls books from an overhead shelf and places them in outstretched hands.
Unlike traditional libraries where chatting is discouraged, the constant hum of voices fills Charmaghz.
Children sit cross-legged on the carpeted floor or at desks reading aloud from some of the 600 books that have been donated by Afghan publishers.
Channel News Asia reports that while more than eight million children are enrolled in schools across Afghanistan, another 3.5 million school-age kids are unable to attend school.
The library bus, rented from the state bus operator, began its new task in February, thanks to Oxford University graduate Freshta Karim.
Karim grew up a refugee in Pakistan and returned to Afghanistan after the fall of Taliban in 2002. “When we were children we did not have access to… libraries for children. I remember as a kid at school we didn’t even have chairs – we were sitting on the floor to study.
Karim, hoping to solicit donations for two more buses, said,
I don’t think a mobile library will solve the thousands of problems that we have in our education system. But a mobile library is a small effort among a lot of efforts that we have to make.
She’s so right. Small gestures, seemingly insignificant in the scheme of things, are what help make the world a better place.
It’s not just a book on a bus. It’s 600 books on a bus, serving up to. 300 children a day, most of whom would never otherwise have a book in their hands