In a nation ravaged by war, where children have little to no access to quality literature, a school teacher is trying his best to make a difference. Saber Hosseini, who teaches children in the city of Bamiyan, central Afghanistan, has converted his bicycle into a mobile library which he rides to remote villages. “I came up with the idea for this project six months ago. I talked about it to friends in literary circles, who donated money and got some of their friends abroad to donate as well. I started alone with 200 storybooks for kids, and started riding to remote villages throughout Bamiyan province. Soon, I recruited more volunteers – now there are 20 of us, and we have a collection of about 6,000 books.” Most of these books are imported from Iran, Saber said.
Hosseini revealed that he chose to use bicycles for his mobile library project for a number of reasons. Many of volunteers simply cannot afford cars and most of the villages in his province are only accessible by bike. But there was also a symbolic meaning to his choice. “The Taliban used bicycles in their bomb attacks – so I wanted to replace violence with culture,” he said, speaking to The Observers.
Saber loads his cycle with books every weekend and rides to remote villages, most of which don’t even have schools. “Many of those children are old enough for the third or fourth grade,” he told Business Insider. “But in fact, they have not learned to read or write at all. This should not be happening.” He keeps track of all the books he has left behind, so that he can bring new ones for the kids the next time around.
“We work as a sort of library – every week, we bring kids new books and take back the old ones to distribute to children in other villages. Some of the adults have even taken to borrowing our more advanced books. At first, I chose very simple books, but now most of the older kids are able to read more serious books – for example, we’ve got simplified versions of books by Victor Hugo, Jack London, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Samad Behrangi, and Ferdowsi.”
Hosseini does more than just distribute books to children – he also stops to talk to them about a topics such as peace, tolerance, and why they should stay away from drugs. “One time, I talked to children in a village about guns, using the slogan ‘say no to guns and yes to books,’” he recalled. “The next time I went to their village, the kids had gathered up all of their plastic toy guns and handed them over to me – but they had one condition: they wanted their village to be the first in the next round of book deliveries so they could get first pick. It was the most joyful moment of my life!”
Sadly, Hosseini is forced to work with a limited budget and cannot always afford to get the kinds of books that the children request – mainly comics about Batman that they’ve seen on TV. There are other dangers associated with his work too – he sometimes receives phone threats warning him to only distribute religious books or face dire consequences. His wife, also a teacher, has not been spared either – a student once warned her that some of his relatives in the Taliban were planning to kill her.
“Despite these difficulties,” we want to keep going,” Hosseini said. “These kids live such stressful lives – they live in a society that is full of death and violence, and they often face violence from their parents at home, too. So we want to keep delivering a bit of joy and calm in their lives through books.”