Afghanistan: Mobile Libraries

Afghanistan: Kabul, Herat, Mazar e Sharif and Paktya Provinces

Years of war, civil war and periods of flooding and draught have taken their toll on the children of Afghanistan. Many areas in Afghanistan have particularly high levels of unemployment with a significant part of the population illiterate and living in informal settlements and Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps. The children and young people are sent to work to support their families and are unable to attend school. Many engage in criminal activity and are kept in Juvenile Rehabilitation Centres, where there are, in fact, no resources for “rehabilitation” and no reading or writing facilities. 

Since 2013ASCHIANA and IBBY Afghanistan have received funding from the Sharjah/IBBY Fund for Children in Crisis to create long-term reading programmes for children in conflict and post-conflict situations in the Kabul, Herat and Mazar e Sharif provinces. In 2013 mobile libraries were created for the informal schools run by ASCHIANA. The project created libraries with books, other reading materials and story videos as well as provided training for reading assistants, library assistants and storytellers. Because many or all of the parents are illiterate the mobile libraries travelled with the teams of assistants to help the children read. 

Ten camps near Kabul and five camps and two outreach centres in Herat were identified. Project staff were trained in storytelling and how to motivate the children to read and to attend school. A six-month pilot project was begun in Mazar-i-Sharif to provide a mobile library covering 10 IDP camps reaching about 1000 children. Reading assistants, library assistants and storytellers were trained to use art and media stories to help children read and to encourage their interest in reading.

Based on the success of the earlier projects, funding was continued in 2014 and in 2015 was extended to Paktya. The staff provided training for 4 library assistants, 8 reading assistants (2 per province) and 4 storytellers (1 per province) with one overall project coordinator. The project was implemented at juvenile rehabilitation centres, IDP camps, kindergartens, schools and orphanages and at ASCHIANA centres in each region, involving overall over 8,700 children (over 4,500 boys and over 4,200 girls).

As in the first projects, the project brought the pleasure of reading and storytelling to these children. There was emphasis on active listening and active speaking, encouragement for children to tell and if possible, write, their own stories. Importantly it raised an awareness of the value of education in the children, their parents and community leaders. A good working relationship has developed between ASHIANA and the government departments and the Ministry of Education has made several requests to AFBBY for assistance in organizing existing libraries or establishing new libraries in school.

ASCHIANA and IBBY Afghanistan received further funding in 2016, where the focus of efforts was on putting mobile libraries in the form of book cupboards in different locations in Kabul province. As in other projects, youth groups will be trained to stock the books cupboards and organize reading and storytelling programmes for the children. ASCHIANA has purchased bicycles to allow the young people to go to different locations with a small box of books and work with children. The project will also keep one permanent car equipped with mobile library and a DVD player for educational films. See Project Update 2016 and Project Report 2015-2017 as well as Photos 2017. 

The IBBY Children in Crisis Fund provided further support for projects in Afghanistan in 2017 and additional funding was supplied by the IBBY Yamada Fund in  2017 and 2019.

In 2019 and 2020 ASCHIANA led a series of six book and reading culture workshops in Herat, Mazar and Kabul over a period of six months. The aim of the workshops was to build capacity and influence policy makers in Afghanistan to spread the culture of reading and establishment of libraries. The workshops focused on editing, writing, illustrating and handling of books and the creation of local libraries in schools, community centres or in government offices. There were three workshops in Kabul, two in Mazar and one in Herat, each involving about 25 participants, both men and women. The first workshop in Kabul had a target group of private and public entities who deal with writing, editing, printing and publishing of books, including writers, students, general public and government officials. The second and third workshop in Kabul focused on policy makers: public libraries personnel and policy makers in the Ministry of Education and the government printing press agency, the main book printing entity of Afghanistan. The workshops in Mazar and Herat involved participants selected from schools, colleges, universities, public libraries, printing agencies and children's organizations. In addition to practices established by ASCHIANA in the past, the workshops introduced several topics new to Afghanistan, including the use of comic books, alone or together with storytelling, to increase interest in reading in children, the creation and use of audio books and the creation of digital web libraries to improve children's access to books. 

Efforts in reading promotion continued in 2021 under a project with the goal of promoting reading amongst children in IDP camps in Kabul. The main activity was the creation of two one-room community libraries together with local leaders, camp leaders and youths. The libraries will be run by local volunteers and books collected with the help of ASCHIANA and individual book donations. One library is in a local community centre where children and adults can collect and read books, the second library was built at one of the IDP camps, where the school is very far away from the community and the children do not have access to books. Both the new libraries are equipped with more than 1,500 books for children and adults.The painting of one of the libraries, including beautiful wall murals, can be seen in Photos 2021 as well as some of the activities held in the other IDP library, which included the screening of documentaries on culture and nature with the hope of stimulating an interest in reading on these topics and drawing.