Charmaghz in Afghanistan

“We Promote A Culture of Reading And Knowledge-Seeking Among Afghan Children”

Can you tell us a bit about your organization Charmaghz?

Charmaghz was founded in 2018 to instill the joy of reading in Afghan children through mobile libraries. Based in Kabul and as an NGO, Charmaghz grew from the dreams of a group of Afghan youth whose childhoods were scarred by war and who wanted to secure a peaceful future for the next generation. We believe that a necessary first step towards that future is ensuring all children can read, write, and do basic math—though currently, only 7% of primary school-age children in Afghanistan are proficient in these skills. In Farsi, “Charmaghz” means “four brains,” which reflects our mission to expand and fulfill the potential of Afghan children through literacy. Charmaghz was founded and is led by Freshta Karim, an internationally recognized advocate for education and children’s rights.

Charmaghz is the largest chain of libraries for children in Afghanistan. We operate 16 mobile libraries, including five bus libraries, one van library, and ten mobile library boxes, to welcome children into a safe, supportive, and creative environment. While visiting our libraries, children are supported to not only build basic literacy and numeracy skills but also to engage in art activities, have an open mind, think critically, and develop a love of reading. Across all of our activities, we utilize trauma-informed approaches that support children to process the distress and grief that nearly every Afghan has experienced.

Since 2018, Charmaghz’s libraries have been visited over half a million times, and more than 46% of the visitors are girls. On average, our libraries facilitate over 2000 visits from children every day. Six days a week, the mobile libraries make stops throughout Kabul and also reach children in formal schools through our new Library Box project. We work in some of Kabul’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods, including Hazara communities and urban slums, where many children are facing extreme poverty, discrimination, and the fear of attacks on schools. In particular, the Taliban continue to forbid girls from attending secondary school. Despite these barriers, families value and recognize the critical importance of education, and we are committed to supporting their children. Our mobile libraries are staffed by trained librarians, 75% of whom also conduct community outreach activities to reach local leaders and families with key messages on the importance of literacy and education. 

The Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021 cast a storm of chaos, uncertainty, and fear over the lives of our staff and the children we serve. Despite this latest upheaval in our country’s long history—following decades of war as well as the COVID-19 pandemic—our team has remained audaciously dedicated to building the literacy and numeracy skills of every child who visits our libraries. We remain registered in Afghanistan as a local nonprofit and have developed a professional and neutral working relationship with the Taliban, who have permitted us to continue our operations. In addition, we have established a secure process for transferring funds from international banks to our Kabul office, enabling our trusted partners to continue supporting our mission. Now more than ever, we believe Afghan children have a right to quality education as well as a peaceful future—both of which must begin with a strong foundation in literacy and numeracy. In the coming months and years, we are doubling down on our commitment to support Afghan children on their lifelong journey of literacy and remain hopeful of what we can achieve together

What is your role in the organization, and what motivates you to do this work? What is your professional background before having this position?

My professional journey commenced in 2018 when I joined Charmaghz as a librarian working inside the first mobile library in Afghanistan. My hard work and commitment propelled me to get multiple promotions and finally ascend to the rank of Deputy Director for the organization. Recently, I was recognized as a literacy 30 under 30 leader by the International Literacy Association.  

I have an undergraduate degree in medicine from a university in Afghanistan. In addition, I have passed the Professional Project Management (PMP) exam and have officially gained a global degree in project management from the Project Management Institute (PMI). 

In my current role as the Deputy Director of the organization, I lead our operations team, including finance, procurement, HR, and our team of Librarians in Afghanistan, to diligently ensure that our team provides exceptional and high-quality educational services for the 2000 children who visit our library on a daily basis. 

In addition, I contribute to the development and strategic activities of the organization. I have the responsibility to report on the financial position of the organization to the Director on a quarterly basis in order to ensure that the organization maintains a healthy financial position. Furthermore, as a part of my main responsibilities, I ensure that all the organization’s policies are implemented and that we are fostering a good working environment for our colleagues that is aligned with our values, mission, and vision. 

Importantly, I have the main responsibility of leading discussions with the de facto government of Afghanistan (the Taliban) to ensure that, as an organization, we have completed all the mandatory reporting to the related ministries. I am reviewing and approving all the final reports before their submission to the Ministries of Education, Finance, and Economy. Also, I am playing a vital role in managing our relationship with our key stakeholders, including our donors and communities in Afghanistan. 

Afghanistan has experienced war, corruption, and even the collapse of its government, and working in such a complex context is not an easy task. However, every morning when I wake up, seeing the photos of children visiting our libraries generates an immense amount of energy in my body and motivates me to work more and more. The commitment of my colleagues and their efforts to change the lives of children, the amazing working culture in the organization, and the unique and extraordinary leadership style of the organization’s founder and our volunteer colleagues are other reasons that keep me motivated. Ultimately, the motivation to work for children and their education in Afghanistan stems from a belief in the transformative power of education and the desire to make a positive impact on the lives of millions of children in the coming years through our projects.

Tell us about the project in your own words. 

Most of the schools in Afghanistan lack a library inside their building where children can access books beyond their school textbooks in order to explore subjects of personal interest. However, I believe that the children of our country, like others, deserve to have access to a library and dozens of books to broaden their knowledge and perspectives.

This project will enable us to launch 10 tent libraries inside Kabul schools to serve students who are in dire need of libraries and access to books. I believe this project will play a vital role in promoting access to quality education and knowledge resources for the school’s students. Through this project, we will be able to provide a place for children to access a diverse range of books so they can experience the transformative power of literature, expand their horizons, and develop a lifelong love for reading and learning. 

What are the main objectives of the project?

The main objectives of the tent library project include:

  • Promoting literacy: We aim to promote literacy and numeracy among 1000 students by offering storytelling and book reading sessions led by our expert librarians. 
  • Providing a safe and inclusive space for students: The tent library will serve as a safe and inclusive space where the students will be engaged in different learning, exploration, and fun activities. These libraries will be welcoming environments that encourage dialogue, respect diversity, and promote a sense of belonging among the students.  
  • Empowering marginalized students: We are aiming to establish tent libraries on the school grounds, which are located in the most marginalized areas of Kabul city, including Dashta Barchi. 
  • Supporting lifelong learning: With our current library projects, we are striving to create a culture of lifelong learning among children. All our libraries, including the tent libraries, aim to instill a love for reading and learning. Our librarians will encourage primary-age students to pursue knowledge beyond formal education that empowers them with the needed skills to become agents of change in the future.
  • Contributing to the well-being of the students: This project will help children participate in different activities that improve their mental health, including playing different types of games, participating in painting sessions, and many more.

How is the project contributing to the overall education and literacy rate in Afghanistan? 

The project will enable us to reach a total of 1000 children on a daily basis (100 with each library). By providing access to knowledge and resources, the project will empower those 1,000 students. We hope to scale up and expand our work in the coming years to improve the overall quality of education and literacy rate in the country. 

What do you think is the main impact of this project?

Overall, this project will create an environment that supports education, literacy, and lifelong learning among primary-age students. It will empower students with the necessary skills, bridge educational gaps, and promote a culture of reading and knowledge-seeking, thereby enhancing educational outcomes and fostering personal and social development in the country.


The interview was held with Ahmad Siyam Barakati, Deputy Director at the Afghan organization, Charmaghz.

Founded in 2018, the organization has fiercely advocated for education by teaching Afghan children the joy of reading through mobile libraries. Since then, Charmaghz’s libraries have been visited over half a million times, and more than 46% of the visitors are girls.

Most schools in Afghanistan do not have a library within their premises, depriving children of the opportunity to experience the transformative power of literature. The organization is revolutionizing access to literature for children through its concept of mobile libraries, providing a wide variety of books. They are empowering students with essential skills, bridging educational gaps, and cultivating a culture of curiosity and knowledge-seeking.

Currently, they operate 16 mobile libraries, including five bus libraries, one van library, and ten mobile library boxes, to welcome children into a safe, supportive, and creative environment.