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BOOK BUS. Afghan children read books inside a bus library in Kabul, Afghanistan. From sunrise to sunset, the bus drives around Kabulís neighborhoods, stopping in each place for a couple of hours at a time. The mobile library was the initiative of 25-year-old Freshta Karim, who wanted to give Kabulís children something badly missing in her own childhood ó a chance to widen oneís horizons, free of the shadow of war and poverty. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

LIBRARY ON WHEELS. An Afghan child holds a book out of the window of a bus library in Kabul, Afghanistan. Inside the blue bus are rows of neatly stacked books for children, hundreds of them in both Dari and Pashto, the two main languages in Afghanistan. And small tables and stools for the kids to sit on as they discover the joys of reading. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

From The Asian Reporter, V28, #7 (April 2, 2018), pages 2 & 4.

Library on wheels brings joy of books to Afghan kids

By Rahim Faiez

The Associated Press

KABUL, Afghanistan ó The children of Kabul love the blue bus ó they rush toward it every time it pulls into their street, eager to come onboard, their young eyes brimming with excitement.

But itís no ordinary bus. Its name is Charmaghz, the Dari word for Walnut, and itís a library on wheels ó the first such enterprise in Afghanistanís war-battered capital.

Inside the bus are rows of neatly stacked books for children, hundreds of them in both Dari and Pashto, the two main languages in Afghanistan. And small tables and stools for the kids to sit on as they discover the joys of reading.

From sunrise to sunset, the bus drives around Kabulís neighborhoods, stopping in each place for a couple of hours at a time.

The library was the initiative of Freshta Karim, a 25-year-old who recently earned her masterís degree in public policy from the University of Oxford, England. She wanted to give Kabulís children something badly missing in her own childhood ó a chance to widen oneís horizons, free of the shadow of war and poverty.

The idea came to her two years ago, Karim said, when she was hosting a small reading club for children at her home. She thought about ways to expand the project and bring reading opportunities to more children in the city.

"I donít know how many of us can really forget the pain that the war has given us. Maybe children are too young to think about it, but I still feel that they realize it," she said. "I hope a program like this can give them an opportunity to forget those things."

Just weeks into the project, she was thrilled by the kidsí fondness for the bus.

"We were not expecting so much love from the people and such acceptance, I am so amazed," she said.

Karim said few people her age remember going to libraries as kids, the war had deprived them of so much. According to Save the Children, nearly a third of all Afghan children are unable to attend school, leaving them at increased risk of child labor, recruitment by armed groups, early marriage, and other forms of exploitation.

"Many schools even donít have buildings," Karim said. "Talking about a library is a luxury."

On a recent day in her western Kabul neighborhood of Kart-e-Char, 11-year-old Marwa could hardly wait for the bus to turn the corner of the road so she could see it, run, and jump in ó and start reading.

"The first day I came on the bus, I was so happy that I didnít want to leave and go home," Marwa said, smiling.

She wants to know more about everything ó her homeland and the world, she says.

Karim and her team believe itís important for the children to choose the books that appeal to them freely and keep reading. Itís the best way to develop critical thinking, she said ó and hopefully also a step toward combatting Afghanistanís 62-percent illiteracy rate.

The blue bus, decorated with colorful paintings to appeal to the young ones, was provided by the transportation ministry. All the books have been donated by different organizations or individuals. The donations also pay for the fuel that keeps the wheels turning day-to-day.

University student Siyam Barakati, 21, is one of the five-member team on the bus. He is the storyteller and his job is to read to the smaller children who cannot yet read.

"It is really enjoyable for me to be with kids. For a short time, I forget everything else," he said. "Itís a good feeling."

For 10-year-old Sameer, books are his new friends ó and a source of knowledge to pass on.

"I read a book here, and learn something from it," he said. "Then I go home and tell the story to my sisters, and I get to learn more."

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