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Kabul’s first library on wheels

Afghan children reading books in a mobile library bus in Kabul.

Afghan children reading books in a mobile library bus in Kabul.   | Photo Credit: AFP

The converted public bus offers pupils and street kids free access to books

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 — 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.

The library-on-wheels offers pupils and street kids free access to children’s books, which are in short supply at public schools and libraries.

It also offers one of the few spaces outside the home that children can use in a city where fear is increasingly keeping residents behind closed doors.

As both the Taliban and the Islamic State step up their attacks in Kabul, with civilians paying the price, many parents — traumatised by the violence, some of them already devastated by loss — have stopped taking their children out in public.

Charmaghz, used by as many as 300 children every day, is a rare exception.

The vehicle, which is rented from a state-owned bus company and takes precautions to avoid government buildings, main roads or other crowded areas targeted by militants in Kabul, is a relatively secure place for them to read, play chess and see friends.

Unlike traditional libraries where chatting is discouraged, the constant hum of voices fills Charmaghz.

The library bus was launched in February by Oxford University graduate Freshta Karim, who has dedicated herself to improving the reading and storytelling abilities of children in Afghanistan — an opportunity she never had as a child.

Thebus stops at schools, parks or orphanages throughout the week, and is an “efficient” way to reach lots of children, Ms. Karim said, helping to improve Afghanistan’s low general rate of literacy of just 36%.

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Printable version | Apr 6, 2020 3:41:28 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/kabuls-first-library-on-wheels/article24016693.ece

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