Balochistan reading initiative
'Reading rooms' made in abandoned buildings in Balochistan as part of initiative Image Credit: Twitter/@sikanderbizenjo

Celebrated Brazilian novelist Paulo Coelho wants you to donate books to an initiative in the rural province of Balochistan, Pakistan that has gained attention on social media. Pakistanis have appreciated the author's support for the campaign that aims to build "reading rooms" across the province.

It all started when students from Balochistan began the Wadh student library committee and together they started converting many abandoned spaces into small libraries and "reading rooms".

Sharing a news report about the initiative, Coelho, @paulocoelho, tweeted: “"Send books to Balochistan, they’re building reading rooms.”

Graduates start reading initiative

According to Pakistani media reports, Siraj Sheikh, an engineering graduate from the University of Khuzdar, and five of his friends are opening small-scale libraries in secluded towns across the district.

Their latest one is Wadh Students Library, which reportedly started in an abandoned building used by people doing drugs.

There are currently around 40 students working towards maintaining the Wadh Students Library.

“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,” Sheikh was quoted as saying by local media.

After days of waiting, they received a call, granting them permission to convert an old abandoned building of the Revenue Department, local media outlets reported.

From shaky buildings to reading rooms

The run-down three-room house had a shaky roof and paint was peeling off the walls, reports stated.

The youngsters went to work from 7am till sunset for 50 days to improve it. They used their pocket money and donations from residents, Pakistani news media reported.

“Some donated Rs1,000 (Dh28), some Rs500 (Dh10) and some just helped us with the labour,” Sheikh was quoted as saying.

They put in shelves, painted the walls, and laid a carpet. They still need to get new tables and chairs as the old ones are broken, local media outlets reported.

“Most of the students who come here don’t find this a hindrance and just sit on the floor,” Sheikh was quoted as saying.

A youth response system, ‘Balochistan Youth Against Corona’ that is mostly working to provide food to underprivileged families during the pandemic, donated 500 books so far.

BYAC founder Sikander Bizenjo put out a request for support on social media, which helped the cause.

Sharing about the ongoing campaign, tweep @BanariMengal tweeted pictures of books for children in Awaran District, in the south of the Balochistan province: “Book distribution for a library in Awaran for kids.”

According to local reports, another library is underway in the Nal district.

The revival of these libraries started during the COVID-19 lockdown when students from the province who had travelled to other parts of the country for higher education came back to their villages.

“When I was studying at my university in Quetta, I used to wake up at 5am and walk to the library in the city just so that I could get a seat there,” Sheikh was quoted as saying.

Social media response

The initiative as well as Coelho’s response has gained a lot of attention from netizens.

Twitter user @hass_akbr wrote: “Paulo Coelho supporting the wonderful work being done by @sikanderbizenjo in Balochistan.”

Commenting on the current state of the underdeveloped province, tweep @nidkirm wrote: “Students in Balochistan collecting donations to build their own libraries in the face of relentless violence and systematic underdevelopment. What could be more inspiring? What could be more tragic?”