KABUL: An Afghan anti-drugs campaigner has opened a novel new chapter in his bid to help addicts kick their habit — by encouraging them to read books.
When Naqibullah Zaland’s attempts to raise awareness about the dangers of narcotics abuse fell on deaf ears, he decided to turn over a new leaf by distributing books and setting up small libraries in the remote eastern Afghan province of Khost.
Drug use in the sparsely populated region, which neighbors Pakistan, has been a problem for years, as it is throughout Afghanistan — the world’s largest opium producer.
Nationally, at least 12.6 percent of the adult population uses drugs, according to Afghan Ministry of Counter Narcotics data from 2015. In the country’s south and southeast the rate is believed to be much higher.
But by promoting book reading, Zaland hopes to change attitudes and win support for his cause by broadening minds and giving people the opportunity to take a fresh outlook on life.
The 26-year-old economics graduate originally set out on his anti-drugs campaign by visiting mosques and local neighborhoods where he put up posters and circulated fliers warning despairing young people about the horrors of addiction.
However, when his efforts gained little traction Zaland changed tack and launched his book reading initiative in Khost city.
“As long as people are not prepared mentally, society will not move in the right direction. Reading books can do that and will deter people from using drugs and I thought through book reading we can bring change in society,” he told Arab News.
Zaland has handed out hundreds of books to bus drivers and set up 10 mobile libraries in places such as barber shops, public baths, and clinics.
Reading material ranges from selected works of poetry, Islamic literature, and popular novels to works on culture and politics, and magazines are also included.
Initially, they were all purchased by Zaland himself, but as news of his project spread the collection has grown through donations.
Khost barber, Nasrat Gul, said: “Before we received the books, our customers used to get bored while waiting for their turn, and either took out their smartphone to play games or wasted their time in other ways.
“Now, when they come, we can offer them books instead. They love it and find it incredibly useful. Illiterate people and those with little education read magazines, but those who have some education, read other books,” he added.
Zaland is trying to encourage reading wherever he can as Afghanistan’s literacy rate is among the lowest in the world. He noted how he had managed to persuade family members and friends of school and university graduates in his city to gift them books instead of fresh flowers, the normal practice during graduation ceremonies.
“Now people give books as presents to the graduates. It is much cheaper, more useful, and has a longer impact for the goodness of youth than giving them flowers which they threw away after the ceremony,” he said.
Zaland’s next goal is to donate books to Khost prison where hundreds of inmates are held without access to vocational work or means of study.
While so far, his initiative has been a private venture, the project’s success has been attracting the attention of local authorities.
Talib Mangal, a spokesman for the Khost governor, told Arab News that the administration would help Zaland in his “good cause,” adding that the initiative was “very productive and useful for promoting a culture of book reading and educating people in an unofficial manner.”