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Bringing Cheer To Children…

The children in Mand – a small town in southern Balochistan bordering Iran, an impoverished rural area of Pakistan – wait eagerly for Roshan, everyday! Roshan, saddle panniers hang low with books that bring both cheer and a peek into the world outside to these children, comes to meet them thrice a week through the desert in remote south-western part of the South Asian Nation, arguably Pakistan’s most impoverished province, which has low literacy rates and has been battling insurgency for over 20 years. COVID-19 is the latest deterrent, but that has not stopped the cud-chewing Roshan from making weekly visits to villages carrying English, Urdu and Balochi books for children aged three to 15, as part of the Camel Library Project. Roshan, the camel, carries books for students, who are unable to go to schools because of the COVID-19 Lockdown in sparsely populated province.

Children react as Roshan, the camel, carries books in Mand, Pakistan

Reports suggest that it is difficult for vehicles to visit remote villages in that region, as the streets are too narrow, there. However, Roshan faces little problem in visiting those villages. Children, shouting “The camel is here!“, rush out to meet the animal when he arrives at their respective villages. Schools were closed in Pakistan in response to the COVID-19 Pandemic in March 2020 for the first time. Since then, they have only opened sporadically. The Government of Pakistan advised around 50 million school and university students to continue their studies from home. In Balochistan, students are facing various problems because of this, as many villages have no Internet access.

Raheema Jalal, a High School Principal who started the Camel Library Project with her sister Zubaida, also a Pakistani Minister for Defence Production, has said that she had launched the Project in August 2020. Jalal has claimed that Roshan helps children around her hometown continue learning despite staying at home. Meanwhile, they roped in the Alif Laila Book Bus Society (ALBBS) and the Female Education Trust Balochistan (FETB) to deploy local herder, Murad Dur Muhammad, and his 12-year-old camel, to carry books to help hundreds of children continue their education in Balochsitan’s remote Kech District. She has profusely thanked the two NGOs – FETB and Alif Laila Book Bus Society – for helping her in running the Children’s Library Projects in Pakistan for nearly four decades. According to Jalal, Roshan visits four different villages in Kech District thrice a week and stays there for nearly two hours. Children borrow books from the camel and return them when Roshan visits them next. Nine-year-old student Ambareen Imran said: “I like picture books, because when I look at the pictures and the photographs, I can understand the story better.

Children listen as a woman reads a book brought by Roshan

Meanwhile, Jalal said that she would require around USD 118 a month for Roshan in order to continue and expand upon this particular project. She expressed hope that it would be possible for her to cover more villages in the region in near future. Murad Ali, Roshan‘s owner, admitted that he had refused to accept Jalal’s proposal to use the animal for the project, initially. Later, he realised that camels were the sensible mode of transportation. Now, Ali enjoys his trips to those villages with Roshan. According to Ali, Roshan makes the children happy and he, too, earns a handsome amount.

In this case, it may be added that Basarat Kazim, President of ALBBS that donated the books for the project and an author of children’s books, speaks on the Society’s journey, and giving children a sense of the normal in these difficult times. He shared that ALBBS was started in 1978 by Dr Juanita Baker, an American living in Pakistan at the time. Till then, there were no children’s libraries in the country, and a stationary double-decker bus, used for this purpose, won everyone’s hearts. It is symbolic of the Children’s Library Movement in Pakistan. The outreach is through libraries and mobile libraries in schools, distribution of 100-book box libraries to celebrate IBBY’s (International Board on Books for Young People) work in Pakistan and bus, rickshaw, camel and bike libraries. The project caters to children from all sections of society with a mission to create understanding, with its funds concentrated on the financially disadvantaged, to ensure that education in this part of the world be worthy of children.

Children stand next to Roshan, who brought books, in Mand

It may be noted that similar tasks have been undertaken in undivided India, taking help of different media of communication, of which, noteworthy are the works by the members of Anjuman Tarraqi Pasand Mussanafin-e-Hind or Progressive Writers’ Movement of India, from as early as 1936, the moderns Plays, and even more recently – works by late Sumitra Bhave (January 12, 1943 – April 19, 2021) and Sunil Sukthankar (born May 31, 1966) of Marathi Films and Theatres, to educate people on social issues…

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