Libraries for Afghanistan thanks to Linda Norgrove Foundation

21st Birthday after leaving everest base camp 1995
21st Birthday after leaving everest base camp 1995

A network of 40 community libraries will be set up across Afghanistan thanks to the work of a tiny charity in the Outer Hebrides.

Afghanistan Reads – a community literacy project supported by the Linda Norgrove Foundation (LNF) – has been given a grant by the United States International Development Agency (USAID).

The $625,000 grant is specifically to fund a network of community libraries and literacy schemes for women and girls in several communities across Afghanistan. It builds on the success of a pilot project run by Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan (CW4WAfghan) in partnership with the Linda Norgrove Foundation.

John Norgrove welcomed the news, saying: “This is a project which can change so many lives. Education will empower women and is fundamental to the future of Afghanistan. It was a cause that Linda believed in passionately. This is a country that has seen so much turmoil and tragedy over the years but we believe that will only come to an end if the citizens, particularly women, are educated and empowered to change things for the better.

“We are a very small charity largely run by volunteers and do not have the capacity to run a project of this size. The opportunity to work with an established charity with an established operation in Afghanistan meant we could apply for support from USAID.”

LNF has funded the literacy pilot project for some time and was impressed by the commitment and organisation of the members of the Canadian charity. They realised the enormous potential of what could be delivered if similar support was available on a wider scale. The USAID grant will allow CW4WAfghan to run the community literacy project for two years. 840 women will receive literacy classes and more than 20,000 people are expected to use the community libraries.

It’s a massive boost in funds but as John Norgrove explained, they still need donations to fund other important work: “This is a generous sum, but it is ring fenced and we will have to continue to find money for the other vital projects we support such as the Disabled Children’s Home, the scholarships for women to study law and the medical treatments for children and women.”

Literacy in Afghanistan is amongst the lowest in the world. It is estimated only 20% of women are literate and the figure is three times lower in rural areas. Recent research from UNICEF Afghanistan suggests that only a third of women educated to primary school level retain their literacy skills because of a lack of ongoing access to written materials. Regular use of libraries in the community and locally based literacy classes, in the home as well as the community, can help address these challenges.

The Foundation, established in 2010 by the parents of Linda Norgrove, the Western Isles aid worker who died after being kidnapped, raises money for projects which help women and children in Afghanistan.

Having funded the literacy pilot project the Foundation realised the enormous potential if they could provide similar support on a bigger scale. But as a small charity they lacked the funds to develop the project. Linda’s work was on a USAID-funded project and her parents had previously made the contacts which led them to approach the organisation for support.

CW4WAfghan Executive Director Janice Eisenhauer said she was very encouraged by the partnership with the foundation and the expanding relationship developing between the two community-based organisations. She said, “It is an honour and a pleasure for our members in Canada and our Afghan staff in Kabul to have this opportunity to work in partnership with the Linda Norgrove Foundation. We share the same passion, commitment and goals towards universal human rights in Afghanistan and together we can strengthen our grassroots efforts.”