Camels at the helm of Pakistani mobile library

A Pakistani organization is donating books for a mobile library service which brings literature to students via camel.

A Pakistani organization is truly helping youth get over the nation’s daunting literacy “hump”. Lahore’s Alif Laila Book Bus Society has donated books to be used for camel-led mobile libraries, which delivers them to students who can borrow and return them for free.

One of the camels—named Roshan—delivers books weekly to four villages in Balochistan, Pakistan’s most impoverished province. Balochistan has the highest percentage of students out of school in the country. In addition, the province has a troubling 24% female literacy rate and 56% male literacy rate.

With no library in the area and schools having shut their doors due to COVID-19, Roshan’s trips to Balochistan villages are instrumental in keeping students intellectually engaged. When the book-bearing camel strolls into town, children aged 4-16 can borrow books, exchange books with other students, or return books they have previously borrowed.

Once the pandemic began causing school closures, Rahima Jalal, a local high school teacher, and her sister Zubaida decided that using a camel would be an effective way to keep students engaged in reading. Rahima tells The Guardian that “the idea of using camels comes from Mongolia and Ethiopia. It suits our desolate, distant and rough terrains.” As a result, camels were a logical choice for navigating the Pakistani landscape while simultaneously making educational enrichment more accessible to students currently out of school.

The Jalal sisters have received positive support from students for the mobile library project. So, they recently coordinated another camel-led mobile library in the city district Gwadar. A camel named Chirag and his handler, teacher Ismail Yaqoob, visit five towns in the district every week.

The Alif Laila Book Bus Society has established over 7,000 libraries since its inception in 1978. In that time, the organization has donated over 1.5 million books to students across Pakistan.