A group of bibliophilic friends are opening libraries, securing donations and encouraging by promoting book reading in Balochistan. Their endeavour received the endorsement of Paulo Coelho, the author of the international bestseller The Alchemist. Coelho recently tweeted a message, saying: “Send books to Balochistan, they’re building reading rooms.”
Siraj Sheikh, an engineering graduate from University of Khuzdar, and five of his friends are leading this enterprise by opening libraries throughout their town – Wadh. They recently opened Wadh Students Library in a dilapidated three-room building which was used as a drug hub in the past.
Talking to Samaa TV Digital, Sheikh said that: “We had been looking for a place to build a library but couldn’t find one after which we wrote to the district government asking for help.” After a few days of waiting, they received a call from the district authorities, permitting them to use the abandoned building of the Revenue Department as a library.
Converting a former drug hub into a functioning library wasn’t easy: the walls were fissured, the floor was broken, the roof was wobbly and the paint was peeling off. The renovation of this structure required fiscal resources as well as considerable labour. With the donations collected from the locals and their own pocket money, Sheikh and his friends overhauled the entire building into a functioning library within 5o days. They put in shelves, laid carpets and painted the walls. The library still needs furniture, but Sheikh doesn’t consider that a big issue. He says that in the absence of tables and chairs, the students are more than ready to sit on the carpets and read.
Baloch Youth Against Coronavirus (BYAC), a humanitarian group that distributes rations amid the pandemic, donated 500 books to the library. Sikandar Bizenjo, the founder of BYAC, argues that the youth of Balochistan are “well-read.” He said that when they contacted the youth about the books they needed, they received names of unexpected authors like Paulo Coelho and Elif Shafak – international bestselling authors from Brazil and Turkey respectively. With a little help from Twitter, Bizenjo managed to gather and donated 500 books to the library.
BYAC is currently lobbying to gather and donate books to 13 community-built libraries throughout Balochistan. One of them is in Awaran, a district in the south of Balochistan. The library there is for schoolchildren, but the youngsters are working to upgrade it to fulfill the needs of intermediates and graduates. Another library is in progress in Nal district.
Sheikh, an avid reader, is a student at the University of Balochistan in Quetta. In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, he returned to his home in Tuk, a village 25 Kilometres from Wadh. Sheikh realized that there wasn’t a single library in his village. To overcome this problem, Sheikh, with the help of his friends, started opening modest libraries throughout Wadh.
Sheikh is the son of a farmer and is the only person in his village to join the university in the pursuit of higher education. Most of the students in Wadh drop out of schools at the primary level and only a few travel beyond the town for higher education.
Unlike big-budget libraries laden with books, these community-build libraries are tiny and are in dire need of donations. Overhauling an abandoned building into a becoming library is an expensive and exhausting affair. Sheikh, Bizenjo and their group of friends alone cannot carry out this enterprise – they need assistance. Anyone willing to help them can reach out to them through the mail: Sikanderbizenjo@gmail.com or social media: https://twitter.com/sikanderbizenjo