Mobile library

LONDON – Undeterred by the risk of suicide bombers, 25-year-old Freshta Karim travels around Afghanistan’s troubled capital every day in a big, blue bus to share the magic of reading with children.

After graduating from Britain’s prestigious University of Oxford, she set up Kabul’s first mobile library to let some of Afghanistan’s 3.5 million out-of school children — mostly girls —listen to stories and pore over picturebooks.

“When I was a child, I did not have the opportunity to go to a library and read the storybooks I wanted to read,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Kabul.

“My goal is to enable them not only to think critically, but also to be able to question the wrongdoing they see.”

Afghanistan has one of the world’s lowest literacy rates, with only three in 10 adults able to read, according to the United Nations cultural agency, UNESCO.

The Taliban have been waging an insurgency to overthrow Kabul’s Western-backed government since their 2001 ouster and control large parts of the country.

While the education system has made significant gains since the Taliban era — when girls were excluded from formal education altogether — worsening security has forced many school closures.

After decades of war, more than four in 10 Afghan children are not in school, government data shows, with many working to support their families.

Ms Karim set up the Charmaghz – meaning walnut in Dari – mobile library with three friends in January in a bus rented from the government, and painted it with colourful symbols, stars, balloons and footprints to attract children.

They installed bookshelves above the windows and chairs and desks for children and adults to sit and read — a luxury in a country where four in 10 schools do not even have a building, according to Human Rights Watch.

A sign over the windscreen reads “4 Maghz”, or four minds, to spark the interest of passers-by.