Plodding through the desert in remote southwest Pakistan, Roshan the camel carries priceless cargo: books for children who can no longer go to school because of coronavirus lockdowns.
The schoolchildren, who live in remote villages where the streets are too narrow for vehicles, put on their best clothes and rush out to meet Roshan. They crowd around the animal, shouting: “The camel is here!”
Pakistan’s schools first closed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, and have only opened sporadically since then, with approximately 50 million school-age children and university students told to continue their education from home.
It’s been especially difficult in places like Balochistan where, in many villages, internet access is almost non-existent.
Raheema Jalal, a high-school principal who founded the Camel Library project with her sister, a federal minister, says she started the library last August because she wanted children around her remote hometown to continue learning despite schools being closed.
The project is a collaboration with the Female Education Trust and Alif Laila Book Bus Society, two NGOs that have been running children’s library projects in the country for 36 years.
Roshan carries the books to four different villages in the district of Kech, visiting each village three times a week and staying for about two hours each time. Children borrow books and return them the next time Roshan visits.
“I like picture books, because when I look at the pictures and the photographs, I can understand the story better,” nine-year-old Ambareen Imran told the Reuters news agency.
Jalal hopes to continue and expand the project to cover more villages, but needs funding: about $118 a month is needed for Roshan.
Murad Ali, Roshan’s owner, says he was taken aback when he was first contacted about the project, but thought camels were the most sensible mode of transport.
He enjoys the trips and seeing the happy children – and still earns as much as he used to when he transported firewood.
Balochistan makes up nearly half of Pakistan by area, but the sparsely populated province is also the country’s most impoverished.