ACKU Box Library Extension, Afghanistan

  • Date published:
    30 January 2019

Programme Key Information

Programme Title: ACKU Box Library Extension
Implementing Organization: Afghanistan Centre at Kabul University
Language of Instruction: Farsi, Pashto
Funding: United States Agency for International Development (USAID) implemented through the Asia Foundation; the Dupree Foundation; the British Council; Foundation to Promote Open Society; City, University of London; the Royal Norwegian Embassy and the US Embassy in Kabul
Annual Programme Costs: Over US $200,000
Date of Inception: 1996

Country Context

All citizens of Afghanistan are guaranteed the right to free education up to degree level, according to Article 43 of the Constitution of Afghanistan (Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, 2004). The transitional Afghan government has made tremendous efforts to realize this right as it rebuilds the country, despite the ongoing war.

In 2001, the transitional Afghan government pledged to take the necessary steps towards the resurrection of the country’s education system at the International Conference on Afghanistan in Bonn, Germany. Furthermore, at the World Education Forum in Dakar (2000), Afghanistan pledged its commitment to the six goals of the Education for All (EFA) movement, which are linked to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Subsequently, the EFA goals and the MDGs have informed the Afghanistan National Development Strategy (ANDS), 2008-2013 – a policy framework – and the National Education Strategic Plans from 2017 to 2021 (MoE, 2015, p. 2).

The implementation of the ANDS has resulted in the significant improvement of education indicators. In particular, the female youth literacy rate increased from 29 per cent in 2005 to 48 per cent in 2012 and the male literacy rate increased from 43 per cent in 2005 to 64 per cent in 2012 (MoE, 2015, p. 10). Furthermore, the estimated duration of a child’s school education increased from an average of 2.5 to 8.1 years over the 2001 to 2011 period, and the estimated number of children enrolled in school increased from one million (mainly boys) in 2001 to more than 9 million in 2013 (39 per cent of whom were girls) (MoE, 2015, p. 10). Despite these achievements, however, there is still a high demand for better education in Afghanistan and a need to enhance the quality and relevance of education as well as the infrastructure of educational institutions (MoE, 2016, p. 13).

In this context, the role of libraries becomes critical for promoting a culture of reading and learning throughout life. However, there is a serious lack of access to libraries in Afghanistan, especially in rural areas. Although Afghanistan’s 21 institutions of higher education, 91 colleges and six regional universities have made considerable progress in developing their library infrastructures, these libraries are usually out of the reach of rural populations (Kaur, 2009, p. 169). Furthermore, reading materials in two official languages, Farsi and Pashto, are often limited or unavailable in these areas. This limits the ability of rural populations to access the literature and reading materials required to develop and improve their literacy skills.

To address this issue, the ACKU Box Library Extension (ABLE) programme develops reading materials in Farsi and Pashto, and distributes these resources to rural populations through existing libraries or through the distribution of metal box library extensions to locations without libraries.

Programme Overview

The Afghanistan Centre at Kabul University (ACKU) founded the ABLE programme in 1996 with the primary aim of making reading materials accessible to newly low-literate Afghans. Newly low-literates are those individuals who have acquired basic but limited literacy skills that relapse over time due to a lack of resources and opportunities to develop these skills. The ABLE programme works with Afghan writers to develop and publish basic and relevant reading materials in the Farsi and Pashto languages. These materials, along with books acquired from local bazaars, are distributed to both established libraries and also to some locations without established libraries.

To date, ABLE has commissioned and published over 385 books written by Afghan authors in both Farsi and Pashto and supplied more than 411,488 books to more than 260 community and school libraries in all 34 provinces of Afghanistan. Furthermore, approximately 500,000 individuals access books from ABLE box libraries annually.

The Implementing Organization (ACKU)

ACKU is a non-governmental organization founded in Peshawar, Pakistan, in 1989. It was initially founded as a part of the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief (ACBAR) with the purpose of making humanitarian aid available to Afghan refugees in Pakistan. In 2006, ACKU relocated its main headquarters to Kabul after securing office space at Kabul University. Today, the organization promotes the sharing of research and information, the dissemination of knowledge, and the enhancement of the capacity development of Kabul University and other private institutions in Afghanistan.

Aims and Objectives

The primary aim of the ABLE programme is to encourage newly low-literate Afghans of all ages, especially marginalized women, children and internally displaced persons, to develop their basic literacy skills, by improving their access to appropriate reading materials and, in doing so, to foster a culture of reading and learning in Afghanistan.

Specific objectives of the programme are:

  • To develop simple and relevant reading materials in the native languages of Farsi and Pashto.
  • To distribute the reading materials to communities through ABLE libraries and through the distribution of metal box and wooden shelf library extensions to locations without libraries.
  • To manage and maintain these libraries through the appointment of library officers.
  • To provide communities, schools and individuals with readable books on subjects that interest them.
  • To strengthen people’s reading skills and encourage a culture of reading while improving their knowledge of a wide range of subjects.

Programme Implementation

Developing Relevant Reading Materials

An editorial board, in collaboration with young and well-known local authors, develops appropriate reading materials for distribution through ABLE libraries. Author selection is based on educational background, literary knowledge, professional experience, and knowledge of the specific topics that are under consideration for inclusion in the scheme. The authors are responsible for developing an initial outline for the suggested topic, which is then reviewed by the ABLE editorial board. If the initial outline is approved, the authors enter into a contract with ABLE under specific terms and conditions. The editorial board and the authors then work together to transform the initial outline into a relevant and appropriate publication for the target audience. These will be written in Farsi and Pashto, which are the appropriate languages for the two main target audiences (children and low-literate adults).

ABLE field staff play an integral role in ensuring that the content of this reading material is relevant and appropriate for the target audience. To do so, the ABLE field staff collect requests and suggestions from the audience through a readership survey process and through communication with local partners. Local partners include community leaders, local school or community officials, social organizations, civil society personnel, and local officers of the Ministry of Education. These requests and suggestions guide the content development process and assist the editorial board in selecting core themes for upcoming publications. By identifying core themes of interest to the target audience in this manner, ABLE provides a platform for the voiceless and highlights important issues and aspects – sometimes problematic – of life in Afghanistan.

For example, ABLE collected 20 untold stories of women who had suffered domestic violence and retold them in three fictional books. Other publication topics have included: vocational skills such as carpentry, gardening, sewing and farming; health and nutrition with an emphasis on the health of children, hygiene, a balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle; shared humanitarian principles of peace, philanthropy and togetherness; the country’s current rehabilitation efforts, with a focus on community development methods towards social change; history, with an emphasis on historical and cultural places and the arts; and many other topics, including education, the economy, mass media, psychology, women, literature, business, veterinary work, civil society, the professions, technology, employment, sport, travel, narcotics, peace, religion, science, and information technology (see Pictures 1 and 2).

Picture 1: ABLE children’s books

Picture 2: ABLE books on various topics

In 2018, ABLE organized a nationwide story-writing contest, entitled ‘Literature with Positive Message for Afghan Youth’, in Farsi and Pashto. ABLE received more than 130 manuscripts from contestants and, after evaluation by a committee of judges, eight titles were selected as the best work received. These were laid out, illustrated and printed (24,000 copies in total, 3,000 copies of each), and distributed all over Afghanistan through ABLE libraries, literary associations, writers, etc (see Picture 3).

Picture 3: The launching of books from the story-writing contest

Distributing Reading Materials through ABLE Libraries

The ABLE programme distributes newly developed reading materials along with those purchased from bazaars and markets to rural populations through selected schools or community centres, with or without established libraries. Schools and community centres with established libraries receive up to 500 books plus a metal box library extension or a set of bookshelves; schools and community centres without established libraries receive a metal box library extension or bookshelves (see Picture 4), which hold around 360 books.

Picture 4: An ABLE metal box library extension

Schools and community centres are usually identified by ABLE field staff through community requests and with the help of local partners. Various criteria are considered when selecting recipients, including the population density of the area, the remoteness of the location, accessibility to educational institutions and materials, demand for library services in the area, security risks associated with the district, and the willingness of schools, communities and local education officials to take part in the programme.

Once a school or community centre is selected, it enters into a contract with ABLE. This contract specifies the terms and conditions to be followed, the responsibilities of the books’ custodians, and the amount of material to be distributed within the specified contract period. The reading materials are donated to the libraries and therefore become the property of the library (see Picture 5) – typically, these locations are fixed and custodians cannot move the books to another location without prior agreement with ABLE. An extension of the contract is carried out if the library has performed its services adequately. If a library fails to meet the terms of agreement pertaining to the proper usage and access of the materials, the materials are moved to another location.

Picture 5: Books in an ABLE library

The libraries are open to everyone and there are usually no specific requirements for obtaining access, although some libraries limit access to women only (see Picture 6). Word of mouth has been key to promoting the libraries and users usually invite other people from their districts and villages to visit them. Library users are required to register their names in a logbook provided by ACKU.

Picture 6: High school girls reading at an ABLE library

Managing and Maintaining ABLE Libraries

Each library has a library officer (see Picture 7). Library officers are usually schoolteachers and principals, shopkeepers, mullahs, or other community leaders. They are responsible for establishing and running the libraries, and their tasks include keeping a record of borrowed books, sorting books, introducing users to the library and reporting on the conditions of the libraries to ACKU. The library officers are recruited by the school management team or by community organizations and they usually have a basic knowledge of librarianship, as ABLE is not in a position to provide training. Each year the ABLE team conducts a field assessment and evaluation visit to each project site or library to check the quality of the service provided. During this visit, the team will meet with library officers, check the logbooks, and investigate how effectively the library is being used as a learning centre. A certificate of appreciation is awarded to those libraries that perform well in their role of attracting and benefitting learners. This certificate also grants the relevant community permission to continue to run the ABLE library.

Picture 6: High school girls reading at an ABLE library

Monitoring and Evaluation of the Programme

Self-assessment by ABLE Field Officers

The ABLE team performs an annual self-assessment in which field officers visit library sites in the 34 provinces and collect feedback, suggestions, requests and testimonials from library users. This self-assessment is based on established criteria including a checklist, survey forms, logbooks, and direct communication with users and beneficiaries. The information is sent to the ACKU headquarters in Kabul and is used to improve and supplement the library centres in the following year.

External Impact Assessment

In 2013, The Asia Foundation (TAF – an ABLE partner) also commissioned an external impact assessment of the ABLE programme from Sage Solutions Consulting Services. The impact assessment was limited to ABLE libraries in schools. During the impact assessment, 475 students and 234 teachers in 13 provinces across Afghanistan were surveyed through questionnaires. The impact assessment also included group discussions and key informant interviews with librarians, headmasters and parents. Various carefully designed assessment instruments, such as questionnaires for students and teachers and guidelines for key informant interviews and focus groups, were used during this assessment. One of the objectives of this study was to discover the extent to which ABLE has contributed to the improvement of the basic literacy skills of children and adults in remote and rural areas of Afghanistan. The assessment revealed that the ABLE programme has indeed contributed to promoting literacy and a culture of reading among youth throughout the country.

Programme Impact and Challenges

Findings from the External Impact Assessment

The external impact assessment commission by TAF found that ABLE libraries had a positive impact on students, teachers and society as a whole.

Impact on students The libraries were found to contribute to improved reading skills and academic performance, and the promotion of a reading culture among Afghan youth. Focus group discussions and key informant interviews with parents revealed that children were fonder of books, had more knowledge about poems and stories, and had improved spelling and reading skills. Parents also noticed that their children spent more time reading, were able to complete their homework on their own, and increasingly applied the knowledge obtained from books to family situations. Teachers also observed students becoming more active in class.

Impact on teachers The libraries were also found to have a positive impact on the professional success of teachers. Teachers indicated that the three main perceived benefits of ABLE libraries were an improvement in their teaching methodology, an improvement in their own reading ability, and being able to stay up-to-date with information. Teachers also indicated that their three main reasons for using ABLE libraries were to plan lessons, conduct research, and to obtain information.

Social impact ABLE libraries were also found to have indirect benefits for society through their impact on students and teachers – 64 per cent of students and 63 per cent of teachers said they would share the knowledge gained from reading ABLE books. Students and teachers also indicated that ABLE books influenced their values and taught them how to deal with people.

Success Stories

  • The production, distribution, and consumption of the illegal drug opium is a widespread issue in Afghanistan. A man from Jalalabad, who previously farmed opium, took the opportunity to borrow books from an ABLE library about farming vegetables. Because the reading materials were in his local language and at an appropriate level for his reading ability, he was able to develop his vegetable farming skills and improve both his profit and his pride: he has replaced the cultivation of opium with saffron.
  • In 2015, an ABLE library was created at the Female Juvenile Detention Centre in Kabul and approximately 500 books, including ABLE produced materials, were provided for the centre with the purpose of giving the detained girls the opportunity to continue their literacy learning. A visit to the site by an ABLE field officer revealed that many of these girls were reading books and older girls were reading to smaller children who were unable to read.


  • ‘In the beginning, I borrowed books from our ABLE library and brought them home so that I could deepen my knowledge of Afghanistan history, which is my favourite subject. Then my husband asked me to bring books on Islamic law, and poems, as he had been teaching literature to high school students for 10 years. Later on, I also borrowed ABLE storybooks to read to my children at bedtime.’ – Frozan Razaei

  • ‘My father is always busy with his work and my mother is illiterate. ABLE books helped me with my homework. I can work on my own assignments and my teacher is happy, too.’ – Feedback from an ABLE reader at Saeefi High School in Herat City, Herat Province

  • ‘ABLE publications are a vital resource for school students and newly literate people within the community. I have learnt that, for the past 10 years, ABLE has successfully distributed thousands of easy-to-read books in Balkh province. I really appreciate ACKU implementing this unique program – ABLE libraries profoundly enrich public and school libraries in Balkh Province.’ – Engineer Ahmad Shah-Ansari, library officer in Rawza-e Sakhi, Mazar-e-Sharif

  • ‘One day, our history teacher gave us an assignment – the topic was about Darul Aman Palace. I was confused about where to find the relevant data. Then I went to our school library and started searching for a book containing information on Darul Aman’s history. I found a book entitled Artistic and cultural values of Architecture in Afghanistan in the ABLE section of the library, which was published and donated by ACKU’s ABLE program. It was the best historical book I had ever read about Afghanistan. I found out much interesting and up-to-date information about Afghanistan’s cultural heritage. I have shared what I have learned from that book with my classmates. The history of Darul Aman Palace was one of my favourite topics, which I learned so much about through the ABLE book, and I am so thankful to them for donating this book to our school library.’ – Asma, a sixth-grade school student from Ayesha-e Afghan High School, Balkh

  • ‘One day, our history teacher gave us an assignment – the topic was about Darul Aman Palace. I was confused about where to find the relevant data. Then I went to our school library and started searching for a book containing information on Darul Aman’s history. I found a book entitled Artistic and cultural values of Architecture in Afghanistan in the ABLE section of the library, which was published and donated by ACKU’s ABLE program. It was the best historical book I had ever read about Afghanistan. I found out much interesting and up-to-date information about Afghanistan’s cultural heritage. I have shared what I have learned from that book with my classmates. The history of Darul Aman Palace was one of my favourite topics, which I learned so much about through the ABLE book, and I am so thankful to them for donating this book to our school library.’ – Asma, a sixth-grade school student from Ayesha-e Afghan High School, Balkh

Programme Recognition

In 2017, the ABLE programme was awarded the national Bibi Gul Literacy Prize for its achievements in enhancing literacy in Afghanistan. ABLE has also been recognized by the Afghan Ministry of Education, TAF, the United States Embassy in Afghanistan, USAID, and the Dupree Foundation. Furthermore, UNESCO and the Deputy Ministry of Education for Literacy identified ABLE publications as good supplementary materials for basic literacy programmes and schools. The organizations that have included ABLE publications in their literacy programmes and curricula include: Koshan Private High School, Charmaghz mobile library, A Night with Buddha cultural festival, the Hero Foundation, GIZ (a sustainable development service provider based in Germany), various juvenile correctional facilities in Kabul, Education in Emergency Group, the Hindu minority community in Shuur Bazzar, and various orphanages in Kabul.


The main challenges faced by the ABLE programme are:

  • A lack of financial resources: ACKU has been unsuccessful in its attempts to gain funding from the Ministry of Information and Culture and other cultural governmental organizations, due to a lack of resources.
  • Traditional beliefs regarding education: in certain areas, conservative individuals have a lot of influence and are usually opposed to spreading non-religious material to locals. For example, in the Khogyani district of Nangarhar, an ABLE field officer was threatened and labelled a Christian missionary.
  • Security threats: schools are often the target of attacks by insurgents. In addition, in Taliban controlled areas any individual working for the current government or the overall establishment is considered an enemy. For example, two ABLE libraries were burned in Logar province and three other libraries were affected in Kunduz during the takeover of the capital of the province. Danger on the highways also poses a risk to field officers who are sometimes caught up in fighting between the Taliban and the Afghanistan National Security Forces (ANSF).

Lesson Learned

In the past, ABLE was limited in terms of its collaborations with authors and the number of its libraries. Outdated methodologies and publication styles were also used and many of the established libraries it worked with had no original books for children. Furthermore, many of the books it provided were in poor condition with no International Standard Book Number (ISBN). With time, however, ABLE managed to overcome these challenges by learning from experience and reflecting on survey results and suggestions. This has ultimately led to an expansion of the programme’s concept, content and scope of application, as well as an improvement in the quality of its publications.


ABLE has worked to serve the people of Afghanistan and increase access to reading materials for nearly 20 years. The programme aims to establish 10 new libraries per year and plans to expand to the most remote and rural areas of Afghanistan in the future. As the programme continues to increase in scope, its long-term sustainability needs to be taken into consideration. The continued functioning, growth and proliferation of ABLE libraries and publications requires further support from various stakeholders such as authors, translators, editors, field officers and library custodians. Furthermore, the expansion of cooperation with local partners, as well as the continued strengthening of existing partnerships, is key to ensuring the distribution of books and the monitoring of library centres. To this end, ABLE continues to improve its relationships with local authorities and community leaders, and field officers visit these stakeholders during the library monitoring stage.

Furthermore, diversification of the programme’s funding portfolio is key to ensuring financial sustainability. ABLE is in the process of establishing an e-portal to sell its books locally and globally. The e-portal will support the programme financially and all income earned will be reinvested into ABLE. In addition, ABLE plans to collaborate with local bookshops to sells its publications in their stores.



Afghanistan Centre at Kabul University

Phone: +93 (0)700 281 415
E-mail: info@acku.edu.af
Website: www.acku.edu.af
Online database:www.afghandata.org

For citation please use

Dolma, Chung. Last update: 30 January 2019. ACKU Box Library Extension, Afghanistan. UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning. (Accessed on: 5 August 2021, 11:05 CEST)

PDF in Arabic

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