Editor's Note- Sayed Ziafatullah Saeedi is based in Afghanistan
“What kind of library it is? You have placed two [to] three cupboards in a balcony and call it library!" complained Horia, a second grade student, when she was first introduced to the library two years ago, "I can’t believe my eyes you have taken us out of our class to show a balcony-library!" But over the course of time, she has become a voracious book reader who never misses any of the library's programs.
Horia wasn’t the only one who initially doubted the library’s potential. Many local, elderly people also had their doubts.
“When we offered our idea to the school administration, they dissented to grant as a class to make a library,” remembers Sajia Darwish, the founder of Bale Parwaz Library, "Then, the only free space we accessed was the balcony and we concluded to turn it to [a] library" [SIC].
As a college senior, majoring in international relations in Mount Holyoke College in the U.S, Sajia came up with the idea of making a library in Kabul last year. In an online interview with Queens Free Press, she noted that her thirst for books as a student and their scarcity in Kabul, along with the moments she spent in libraries in the US inspired her to build Bal-e-Parwaz Library in Mohammad Asif Mayil High School.
Currently, the library offers a wide range of programs covering the arts, photography, story writing, digital literacy workshops, literacy classes, and other assorted seminars.
In one such workshop, an American reading expert shares current, useful suggestions on how to read books via skype. This is the first time many Afghan school students are able to take advantage of such instruction. The Bal-e-Parwaz Library also has a partnership with Princeton School that allows them to exchange their stories with their American peers. Hanifa Darwish currently shoulders the responsibility of translating the stories of Afghan students to English and vice versa. She says it is “constructive” for the students to find comments of foreigners below their stories.
Perhaps the most noticeable impact that the library has made is on Shah Wali, the school’s watchman. He has been working in the school for sixteen years. When he was a child, his access to education was limited due to war. But he is determined to make up for lost time, and is attending an all-female literacy class.
“After sixteen years working in the school, this library made me to the books I was deprived,” he says, “Now I can read magazines and the books in the library. Personally for me, it is a triumph"[SIC].
Fawzia, a mother of two children, works at Mohammad Asif Mayil High School. She has joined the literacy class in spite of shouldering all the responsibilities of a traditional woman in Afghanistan.
“I was born in a remote village,” explains Fawzia, “Education was inaccessible there. When we moved in Kabul, the Taliban were on power and they banned education for females. Afterwards, we migrated to Pakistan and our livelihood depended on sewing carpets” [SIC].
Fawzia sighs when she remembers the schooldays taken from her. Now she attends the literacy class in addition to doing her school work.
“At least I can find the hospitals because I know how to read, or I know how much I have spent a day," she says.
The activities of Bal-e- Parwaz Library- which literally means “Wings for Fly”- fly beyond the boundaries of the walls surrounding it. The students make their own handmade gifts and present them to street kids who are deprived of an education.
“It is very hard to explain how you feel when you give an invaluable gift that brings [a] smile on their lips.,” says Tamana, an eight class student.
There has been some backlash when people have found a bunch of girls, walking the streets to give their gifts to boys who are mostly school dropouts due to their financial circumstances.
“But we do it anyway,” says Hanifa.
“The students have changed in many ways,” says Hanifa, “I remember they were rude at the first days. A tangible alteration is the way they choose their words when they speak. They often pose a polite and respective tone when they address others" [SIC].
Afghanistan has a low literacy rate, and no individual has donated a single book to Bal-e-Parwaz Library as of yet. The only help they’ve received is one donation of sixty books from a private school. Other financial support has been provided by The Afghan Girls Financial Assistance Fund (AGFAF), a US-based charity.
The library, or the “House Of Book,” as Afghans call it, hopes to expand its offerings.
“We hope to do more,” says Hanifa Darwish, “In particular, make many books available to many students in the country.”