A Space to Share a Love of Reading

Mahsheed Mahjor ’17 works to build literacy and provide access to books in Afghanistan.

By: Meghan Kita  Tuesday, December 10, 2019 04:48 PM

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Photo courtesy of Mahsheed Mahjor.

According to UNESCO, only 45 percent of male and 17 percent of female Afghanis are literate. That’s one reason Mahsheed Mahjor ’17, who’s from Afghanistan, started Book Cottage in 2013. Book Cottage is a volunteer-run community library in Kabul that hosts a weekly youth reading group as well as other events.

“I was fortunate enough to grow up in a family that encouraged reading, and as a result of reading, I grew to be curious and ask questions,” says Mahjor, who’s now working toward a master’s degree at the London School of Economics and Political Science. “When I was thinking about giving back to my Afghan community, I thought, Why not share and promote the joy of reading with the children?”

Book Cottage launched with funding from Vital Voices, a nongovernmental organization that collaborates with women leaders. Mahjor, one of the NGO’s 50 HERlead fellows in 2012, earned one of the group’s 15 available grants to begin Book Cottage. It took some time for the project to catch on, Mahjor says, because the country lacked an established reading culture. But now, Book Cottage is flourishing—with as many as 20 children, ages 3 to 14, attending groups regularly—and other similar initiatives, including clubs for adults, are appearing around the city and the country. In May, Book Cottage received coverage in The Guardian in a piece about the rise of book clubs in Afghanistan.

“I was thrilled that my team and I have been able to spark interest and encourage adults to not only read themselves, but also to take active roles in their households to invest in their children by fulfilling their curiosity and introducing them to the diversity of the world through books,” Mahjor says. To learn more, visit bookcottage.org.

This story originally appeared in the Fall 2019 issue of Muhlenberg Magazine.