Terror-weary youth set up first-ever library in tribal agency

Public library at Jamrud: Photo by News Lens Pakistan


Peshawar: Khyber Agency: After nearly a decade of turmoil, conflict, and displacement that robbed the region of culture and education, a group of young people in Khyber Agency have started a public library at Jamrud – the first in the agency.

The youth say this is a significant development because of the threats to educational institutions at the hands of militants.

According to the Ministry of  360 schools were destroyed in three agencies of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) during 2015. Of that, 139 were in Khyber Agency.

“If we want literacy to grow, we cannot just depend on schools and colleges,” said Asmat Afridi, the librarian.

The library was established with help from the Rehmat Memorial Trust and has a capacity of 10 000 volumes. It currently holds 1700 books donated by locals. Afridi said the library is run on a volunteer basis by the local youth.

Afridi said setting up the library was also a sign that local people were getting past their fear of terrorism as they were now willing to gather in a public place like the library.

Khyber Agency, one of the seven tribal agencies along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, has remained volatile since 2001. Along with conflict, thousands of people have been displaced from the agency in recent months in the wake of military operations against militants.

Dozens of the schools, including those for girls, were destroyed in bombing claimed by militants or operations carried out by the security forces against Taliban and other anti-state elements in the area.

According to the agency education authorities, a total of 102 schools out of a total of 400 have been destroyed during the ten-year-long militancy in the Bara subdivision of Khyber Agency alone. Around 64,000 students have abandoned education, either fleeing to safer places or because their village schools in Bara were destroyed.

After a decade of debilitating militancy that destroyed most of the infrastructure in the Khyber Agency, government run schools and colleges gradually reopened in the restive tribal district along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border in 2015.

About the people’s interest in the library and member criteria, Asmat Afridi said before September, the library only had 20 members but right after the library was formally opened the number of members increased to 180, mostly students from educational institutions in the Khyber Agency.

The library is divided into several sections with books available on diverse disciplines including history, medicine, literature, general knowledge, culture, and Islamic history. There are also books for primary level children.

In the spirit of providing equal opportunity to all, the library is open to women only on Saturdays in an agency that still has a very conservative outlook on female education. Asmat Afridi said the step was taken to encourage women to come to library without fear or inhibitions.

Attaullah Afridi, President of Rehmat Memorial Trust, said the library aimed at providing an opportunity to the tribal students to become aware about developments in the rest of the world, to educate themselves and read.

“The conflict in the region has undermined the culture of seeking knowledge and education and we have been planning for the past 8 years about how to counter this,” said Afridi.  “With this library, we have finally hit upon an idea that would help raise literacy and create intellectual curiosity among the people.”

He said the library was possible because of the struggles of the students. He appreciated the help of those who contributed books and volunteer services to establish the library.

He mentioned that the place where the library is now was once famous for shops selling drugs. He said they were looking for sponsorship to upgrade this library by introducing e-library services that would help students to access knowledge and books easily.

Saima Malik, 19, a student of Bachelor’s in English told News Lens Pakistan she was a member of the library since last month. The membership gave her access to books that helped her study, she said.

“I am very happy with the library that has provided the first ever opportunity to girls in Bara Tehsil to continue education,” said Malik. “We have an exclusive day for women which is very good in that it helps us avail the facility comfortably.”

Aziz Ullah Khan, a student of 2nd year, is an avid reader of general knowledge books. “I daily visit the library and read books here right after the college classes,” said Khan. “It really helped me improve my general knowledge and other information,” he said.

Khan said he lived in a place where they didn’t have media or television to access information. “The opening of library is a ray of hope for me. I am very happy that the library will help us in every stage of education.”

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