The gunmetal clouds hang low in the sky. A cold wind whips at the doors and shutters of the school. Oblivious to the darkening weather, the children line the entrance to the newly built Children and Youth Library, jostling for a look at the workers adding the finishing touches. Pressing their faces against the window pane, they point at the tables, chairs, and new carpets covering the bare floors. A current of excitement ripples through them as a sealed pack of books is carried in, opened and the titles arranged on a bookshelf.
For the past eighteen months, the children have been watching with giddy anticipation the construction of the 284m2 library above their school. Through the heat of summer and bitter cold of winter, men, young and old, and from all walks of life, have travelled from surrounding villages to help build the library. Working alongside their parents and teachers, the children helped where they could, mixing sand, fetching water and carrying equipment.
The first of its kind in Afghanistan, the Children and Youth library in the remote Afghan region of Panjshir Valley is part of a joint collaboration between Mahboba’s Promise and Make A Mark Australia (MAMA). Four decades of war and instability has had a devastating effect on the literacy rate, with only 36% of the population able to read and write. During this period, the children have been the most vulnerable. A third of Afghan children are unable to attend school and are at an increased risk of child labour, recruitment by armed groups, early marriage, and other forms of exploitation.
The development of the Children and Youth Library is a significant addition to the educational resources available to the children and community. The library is stocked with 4000 titles, a large 70-inch screen TV for watching movies, and games including chess, Rubiks cubes, and Karambol (a traditional Afghan game akin to snooker). A museum houses glass cases filled with antique objects from the region including a hundred-year-old cooking pot. A computer lab has 9 laptops and 4 desktop computers, which is particularly popular with the teenagers.
The children’s long wait is finally over on the 13th of October, 2020 when the library opens its doors and welcomes its first visitors. The children swarm the rows of neatly stacked books written in Dari and Pashtu. Shoulders press against one another, they crowd the tables, their faces lit with the joy of having access to a secure environment to read, play games, explore, watch movies and meet friends.
Mahboba’s Promise and the MAMA foundation understand that the acquisition of a good education is the key to breaking the poverty cycle. Fostering a reading culture will allow the younger generation reach their full potential through education and economic independence. Since opening its doors, the library has been operating daily between 9am-3pm. A librarian has been appointed and plans are being made to revive cultural programs which have been driven into oblivion due to war and instability.
Continued International support is integral in arming Afghan youth with essential skills to be self-sufficient. Programs such as the Children and Youth Library have restored hope and dignity, resulting in more productive workers, healthier and better educated individuals, and ultimately, more prosperous communities.
In the words of a library committee member, ‘this is not the end. It is the beginning. A lighthouse in the form of a library has been built in the mountains of Afghanistan, sure to draw thousands upon thousands of children, youth and young adults every year.’
To learn more about Mahboba’s Promise current projects, please visit: https://mahbobaspromise.org/projects-2/
Mahboba’s Promise would like to acknowledge AMUST as a media partner and thank them for helping to create awareness of the charity.