Freshta Karim on inspiring the next generation of children in Afghanistan

Freshta Karim is the director of Charmaghz, a Kabul based NGO dedicated to promoting critical thinking among children through providing resources and space on buses turned into mobile libraries. This article was written before the Taliban takeover in 2021.

I live in Kabul, Afghanistan. I am the Director of Charmaghz – a local organisation working to give opportunities to Afghan children and encourage critical thinking. We run mobile libraries across cities. We have 5 libraries so far. Over 400 children visit these libraries, and we provide them with a range of services. We get to work in some amazing communities, and I spend a lot of time with children and young peer groups. It’s a very good energy at times, though living in Afghanistan is extremely tough with the deteriorating situation. However, the sense of community is quite strong which helps lessen the impact.

A major challenge young women are facing are the uncertainty on the rights of women in peace negotiations in Afghanistan. The Taliban’s opinion towards women is quite repressive – top-down inferior view that doesn’t see women as equal to men. Now that peace negotiations is underway, a major challenge for Afghan women is what the result will be. Can women continue having equal rights the current constitution grants them? If there are changes, what will those changes involve/mean for women? Will it put women down, bring women back or create further oppression towards women? Or allow us to work to continue creating societal change?

Other issues also that women are facing include social opinions about women and the lack of economic empowerment. Women’s economic opportunities are extremely limited, so this is a major problem for them to enjoy their other rights.

Access to education is still a huge challenge for female children which in future as they grow creates inequalities comparing to their male peers. From the 3.7 million Afghan children who are out of school, majority of them are female children. Also, the number of drop out rate is higher among female than male children. The number of female students attending university is also less than men. All these factors end up decreasing women’s opportunities and experiencing their potential. I see huge potential of women being wasted and remaining unexplored. Most of these women are unaware of their potential as they don’t have the ability to learn or explore what they are capable of.

COVID-19 has had a big impact on the education sector in Afghanistan. It was a year of learning lost for all children across the country. It will also have led to higher drop out rates – we don’t have the data yet but are assuming this will be the case. The learning lost will be huge, particularly for female students. The government must work on policies to address this.

The US withdrawal from Afghanistan also had a huge impact on Afghan communities. The US made this decision, and this has led to the deterioration of the situation and political instability and created a lot of stress.  As much as we were having political instability and a lack of result in current peace negotiation, the withdrawal of troops has created stress and panic. People can’t make life decisions. To make life decisions and future plans, you need stability and certainty. This uncertainty is more the case for women. If a peace agreement fails to come to life, the possibility of civil war increases. If this happens, women and children and men will be in a highly disadvantaged position. It would have a huge impact on women, but also the whole community.

At Charmaghz, we have three focus areas. It works to promote children literacy, mental health and critical thinking. We initially started with promoting critical thinking, but we realized that many children visiting our libraries were having difficulty with their reading and comprehension skills. Also, they we realized that don’t have mental health supporting while living in a very tough environment like Kabul where explosions and bomb blasts happen quite often.

When children come to library, they will receive these programmes. We also go to schools, orphanages, and so far since our launch in 2018 we have had more than 200,000 visits. It makes us the most visited library in Afghanistan. This is a huge achievement for a country with such a low literacy rate.

In the future we plan to expand our work throughout Afghanistan. Kabul is a huge city with a population of over 5 million and has a huge young population that we want to reach. Our first target is to reach to every child in Kabul, then reach out into other communities and rural areas. Will take us many years to come. We dream of the day when every child in Afghanistan has access to library services. Not just library- they should not just be simple libraries – they should be a place for thinking, growth, critical thinking and realising their potential and socialising.