A grant from the U.S. government and the work of a Los Altos-based non-profit has enabled stories from Afghanistan’s centuries-old oral tradition to teach reading and thinking skills to U.S. children since 1998. Now the published stories are being employed for the same purposes in their country of origin.
In 1998, Hoopoe Books, a division of the Institute for the Study of Human Knowledge, began publishing a series of illustrated children’s stories from the storytelling tradition of Afghanistan. To date, more than 600,000 Hoopoe books have been distributed in the U.S., used in schools and educational agencies across the country.
The popularity of the books in the U.S. led Hoopoe to launch a project, Books for Afghanistan, to repatriate the stories to Afghanistan, with a goal to develop the core skills in Afghan children and revitalize a storytelling tradition disrupted by more than three decades of conflict.
With the support of the Afghan Ministry of Education, since 2009 Hoopoe has distributed books and ancillary materials to libraries, schools and orphanages throughout Afghanistan in collaboration with the Khatiz Organization for Rehabilitation.
In summer 2010, Hoopoe’s Books for Afghanistan program came to the attention of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, resulting in a Public Diplomacy Grant award of $4.5 million from the U.S. Department of State to print and distribute more than 2.5 million books.
“Almost three-quarters of all Afghans over the age of 15 are illiterate – a disproportionate number of them female – and 5 million of the country’s 12 million school-age children have no access to education,” said Hoopoe Director Sally Mallam. “The need to increase literacy for all Afghans is vital as their country struggles to achieve stability, autonomy and peace, so there’s a huge amount of work still to be done.”