As an elementary school student in Kabul, Aghanistan, Sajia Darwish had very few books to read: the school “library” consisted of nothing more than a spare closet with a few shelves of dusty books. Hardly anybody ever used it, and it had no children’s books at all.
But this was not an unusual occurrence in Darwish’s homeland: between the influence of the Taliban and the civil war ravaging the county, there’s been a major decline in both literacy and reading culture in Afghanistan. In fact, Afghanistan has one of the lowest literacy rates in the world–only 17% of women there know how to read.
“Because of the continuous war, people have been too busy finding ways to survive, and unfortunately reading does not seem very important,” says Darwish. “Over years, since many generations have been raised without giving much importance to books, reading culture has declined drastically.”
Darwish’s father, however, always encouraged her to read. Although there weren’t many bookstores in her hometown, they often picked up books at local stationary stores.
“I always liked to read,” says Darwish, “And it was kind of weird to me that everyone around me was not [reading].”
Now, a junior international relations major at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, Darwish is facing this problem head on. She has returned to her native city to build a library at Kabul’s Mohammed Asif Mayel High School.
The Baale Parwaz Library opened this past August: 15 meters long and just four meters wide, the library is built on a balcony and houses 2,500 books. Students from first through twelfth grade all have access to it–a drastic change from the library Darwish grew up with.
The library is supported by the Afghan Girls Financial Assistance Fund, which also helps with Darwish’s college tuition.
What do you think of Darwish’s campaign? Are you involved in any literacy outreach efforts? Share your thoughts below!
YouTube Channel: International Literacy Association
Featured image via Quartz