This ‘Camel Library’ Is Bringing Books to Pakistan's Remote Desert Towns

The library, operating three days a week, is the only source of books for may children in half a dozen villages in Balochistan province.
HJ
Islamabad, PK
February 11, 2021, 9:18am
camel library bringing books to children in Balochistan
For many children in remote desert villages in Balochistan, the camel library has opened new avenues. Photo by Haneefa Samad.

Fridays are special for 22-year-old Sughra, who goes only by her first name. This is when the camel-library comes to town, bringing books and a sense of culture to Mand, a desert town in Pakistan's Balochistan province. “I borrow poetry books and biographies. I return most of these books the following week,” Sughra told VICE World News.

Sughra was 15 when she got married as a child bride. After marriage, she discontinued her schooling and soon gave birth to two children who are now aged three and four. She never imagined herself reading again.

camel library bringing books to children in Balochistan

Sughra (centre), who was married as a child bride, reading with kids in her village. Photo by Haneefa Samad.

“This library is the best thing to have happened to me,” she says.

Balochistan province has one of the lowest female literacy rates in the world, along with the highest percentage of out of school children.

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The library, operating three days a week, is the only source of books for many kids in half a dozen villages in the region. There is no charge or membership fee. Most of the books are for students between the ages of four to 16 years. 

Sughra’s husband, Imtiaz Darzi, a daily wage labourer, is happy to see his wife reading with their kids.

Haneefa Samad, 29, is a teacher and a volunteer with the charity that runs the mobile library. Samad walks some four miles with the camel and its owner, Murad Ali, carrying books from a school in Mand to the villages.

“The library operates between 4-6 PM,” she said. “More than a thousand books have been issued to 300 children since it launched last October,” Samad told VICE World News. “The objective is to get them into the school system.”

camel library bringing books to children in Balochistan

Raheema Jalal (extreme right), conceptualised the library with her sister and federal minister, Zubaida Jalal. Photo by Haneefa Samad.

Raheema Jalal, a school principal from Mand and her sister, Zubaida Jalal, who is the Federal Minister for Defense Production, came up with the idea for a camel library and collaborated with a charity to make it happen.

“We got inspired by camelback libraries in Mongolia and Ethiopia,” explained Raheema Jalal. “We were not expecting such a remarkable response in this remote area.”

Apart from books, the library also has games, puzzles, puppets and educational videos.

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“We plan to expand it across the district and are hoping to receive donations”, said Zubaida Jalal.

camel library bringing books to children in Balochistan

Murad Ali with his camel, Roshan, carrying books to Manda town. Photo by Haneefa Samad.

Murad Ali said this is the first time he is using his camel like this. “I am illiterate. I’m  proud to see that myself and Roshan are able to help people.”

Mahal Naseer, a sixth grader from Hozai village said the books that appeal to her are all in the high school library, which she cannot access. “The camel library is a blessing in disguise for us,” said Naseer.

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