By: Ziba Balkhi
It doesn’t matter if the weather is hot or cold, sunny or snowing. What matters is Matin Sediq has a new order. He hops on his motorcycle to travel the alleyways of Mazar-e-Sharif to deliver the precious cargo: a book.
The 25-year-old has witnessed the plight of girls and women in Afghanistan under Taliban rule and the risks they face. Realising that they cannot go out to pursue their education, he’s bringing an education to them by setting up a mobile library.
“Paik-e-Danayi is an initiative to distribute books to girls who are deprived of education,” he says. “Book orders are registered and delivered to the applicant’s doorstep, and after one to two weeks another book will be delivered and the old book is taken.”
He named it “Paik-e-Danayi” or Knowledge Envoy with the slogan, “Books for loan delivered to your home, for sisters deprived of an education.” It’s a free service, with Sediq not charging for his time or transport costs. What he gets in return is the joy of knowing he’s making a difference to every person he delivers a book to. “Girls are welcoming the initiative and they are very happy,” he says.
A psychology student at Balkh University, Sediq tells Rukhshana Media he’s disappointed with the Taliban’s views on women and girls, and he wants to do something to keep their hope alive. “They are condemned to suffer for no reason,” he says. And it’s not just the women. “As you know, countless numbers of our people have fallen into depression. Despair is spreading like an epidemic virus among young people.”
Sediq also receives some orders from boys, but maintains that the main focus of his plan is to deliver books to the girls who must stay at home after the Taliban banned them from school, university, and numerous other activities.
Borrowers can go to the service’s dedicated Facebook page to choose from more than two thousand books in both fiction and non-fiction, including genres such as politics, culture, psychology, religion, history, self-help, and management. According to Sediq, most of the books are his own or belong to friends who have donated. “More friends have promised to provide their books to deliver to readers so they can take part in this good work,” he says.
In the month since it launched, Sediq’s initiative has been well received in the community. He receives as many as five to 10 orders per day. But he only delivers two days a week – in addition to his university studies, he earns an income teaching in one of Mazar-e-Sharif’s schools.
The mobile library is not without its challenges. “In the current situation, it’s a risk,” he admits, “but because my goal is to spread knowledge, I will keep it up. We should all be kind to each other and support each other in the current situation.”
It has happened many times already that he cannot easily find the house he is meant to deliver to because street names and house numbers are not standardized or he’s been forced to walk because of the poor state of the roads to a house. “A few days ago, when I went to deliver the book to a house in one of the areas of Mazar-e-Sharif, the alleyway was so muddy that my motorcycle broke down,” he says. He had to walk himself and the motorcycle home. “I walked until the evening call to prayer because I had my motorcycle with me, so I couldn’t take a taxi and go.”
Since taking power in Afghanistan, the Taliban has imposed many restrictions on women and girls including barring them from education, many fields of work, and travelling long distances without men. Taliban members have also threatened people who try to help women and girls maintain their education or work.
Two weeks ago, a university professor, Ismail Mashal, was detained for distributing books. He was giving them away in the streets of Kabul, especially to women and girls, as a protest against the ban on girls’ education.
Sediq is aware of the risks to himself, but believes in his cause. “Books are capable of creating the biggest changes in the world – as long as they don’t get dusty on the shelves!” He says. “My only request is to all those who have read books and to those who don’t read books: hand them over to Paik-e-Danayi so that our dear readers can use them.”
A simple action with great consequences
Baran graduated from Balkh University with a degree in literature and was lecturing at a private university in Balkh before the Taliban came to power. After the education and work bans were decreed, Baran decided to read more books to pass the time she was forced to stay at home. Two weeks ago, she heard about Paik-e-Danayi through social media.
“We cannot sit and do nothing,” Baran said. “The only way out of this crisis and calamity that has befallen us girls today is to use all possible ways to teach and learn as much as possible.” She has so far borrowed books on educational skills and teaching methods.
“For example, through virtual classes and reading books at home, we can increase our level of awareness and knowledge,” she added. “Mr. Sediq’s initiative is a great convenience and a great help for girls.”
Fatima, a Balkh University student of public policy and administration, has recently borrowed the novel Les Miserables (or Binavayan) through Paik-e-Danayi. She devoured the book in a week.
Fatima says that now that the situation for women and girls is more difficult than ever, reading a book can help them in their darkest days. And knowing the people are starting initiatives like Paik-e-Danayi gives them hope. “It’s good that we see such great deeds in these difficult situations,” she says.