October 12, 2016
College student opens a new library in Kabul
by Julia Fleischaker
Sajia Darwish, extraordinarily just a junior at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, has opened the Baale Parwaz Library (BPL) in a public school in her home country of Afghanistan. It’s already being used by hundreds of students every day.
It’s been long understood that literacy is the foundation from which cultural revolutions are born, and the opening of Sajia’s library is the first step in a multidimensional approach to support a reading culture in her Kabul community. Currently, between 200 and 350 students visit the new library on a daily basis to read, do school work, or to take out or return a book.
Darwish’s accomplishments are all the more inspiring because of the challenges her gender faces at home. “Women in Afghanistan do not live. Their education, their choice of a life partner, and their everything depends on their fathers’ and brothers’ permissions…” The illiteracy rate of women in her home country is a heartbreaking 85%.
Darwish had to get approval not only from the school’s principal, but also from the country’s Ministry of Education. In an interview with C.M. Rubin posted at the Huffington Post, she said, understatedly, “None of the people I spoke to at the Ministry ever expected to see a young woman pursuing such a project.”
Darwish “wanted the elements of studying and collaborative work to be a part of the library in addition to a source of books,” but believes it will change the lives of more than just the school’s students.
Being able to read and work in a library and take out books is only a starting point. When students take books home, their families become exposed to the idea of reading for expanding their knowledge, for fun and for entertainment. Families, friends and others who are included become part of a chain of awareness that slowly cracks the wall between people and books. It is not only the physical existence of a library that is important. What matters most are the activities happening among the families and friends of its members beyond its walls. In the next five years, I am sure this small library will inspire others to build new libraries, which will lead to more books coming into homes of students than ever before. It will also have made more people realize the value of books. Insha’Allah!
The school that the library serves, Mohammad Asif Mayel High School, was the school Darwish attended as a child. Although no children’s books were available to read at the time, Darwish “read graduate level books which I took from a closet-sized room called the school library.”
I read because I wanted to find a safe space away from all the turmoil around me, and I found that space amidst pages of books. They gave me peace, strength and wings to fly away from bombs and rockets that kept falling. That is why I named the library Baale Parwaz, which in Farsi means ‘wings to fly’.
Julia Fleischaker is a former director of marketing and publicity at Melville House.