– Abdul Bari Masoud
6 October 2023: At a time when new-generation kids are glued to smartphones and other electronic gadgets, Mirza Maryam Jameela, a 12-year-old girl from Aurangabad, Maharashtra, is trying to revive book-reading among them. Books have been Maryam’s passion ever since she learned to read. She turned her passion into a mission to start a library for children with books from her own collection. She established a “Mohalla Library” in a slum neighborhood. Within a year, starting on January 8, 2021, she opened 35 Mohalla Libraries at various locations in Aurangabad, which is a historic town known for its cultural and knowledge heritage. Children are reintroduced to reading thanks to these Mohalla libraries.
With no classes or school work to keep her busy during the lockdown, Maryam became aware of a lot of bored kids in her neighborhood. She approached Mirza Abdul Qayyum, her father, who owns the well-known bookstore known as Mirza World Book House.
Mirza, who himself enjoys reading a lot, easily agreed to back his daughter’s initiative. Mirza is also associated with the Read and Learn Foundation (RLF), a group that works to encourage reading among children in particular. The foundation’s objectives were entirely compatible with starting a library for kids.
Maryam and her father first established Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam Library on their Baijipura home’s balcony after collecting about 300 books, including donations. Local kids attended the opening of the library two years ago, and started going there, borrowing books, and returning them within a week.
The library was well-liked, and Maryam and her father quickly began discussing opening a second library in another neighborhood. Thus, the Rahemania colony’s second library was established under the direction of RLF with an additional 300 books. The response here too was encouraging.
Maryam decided to start more libraries after observing the children’s enthusiasm, and her father gave her the assurance that he would back her. Maryam wished to assist the youngsters living in slums. Her older sisters, who were also college students, helped support her. Maryam began soliciting donations from the public in order to establish the mohalla libraries. The neighbors and other contributors started off giving little sums, and Maryam bought a cabinet, some books, and some stationery to keep the library’s records up to date.
The anganwadi center of the mohalla, a spot in the schoolyard, a mosque, or a room in the home of a kind neighbor are a few locations where libraries have been set up. She admitted to Radiance that in some localities we needed to put in more work since occasionally the local populace was not very receptive to the concept of having a library. They did not think having a Mohalla library was useful. We inspired them by discussing the value of reading and how it shapes children’s personalities.
Speaking with Radiance, Maryam’s father, Mirza Abdul Qayyum Nadvi, said that in addition to encouraging youngsters to develop a reading habit, these libraries’ USP is that Urdu and Marathi are attracting readers.
In the evenings, libraries are open for an hour, offering books in English, Hindi, Urdu, and Marathi. General information books, adventure books, and biographies of historical personalities are all provided for kids. The kids take their duties very seriously, making sure that borrowed books are delivered promptly and undamaged. Both adults and neighbors, who occasionally help the kids keep the libraries up, have been impressed by their dedication.
In addition, Maryam and her father run awareness campaigns for issues including girls’ education and ending child labor. In some areas, the people were very cooperative; they offered space to run the library and even offered cool drinking water to the children who came to read in the libraries.
Maryam’s little endeavor is already becoming widespread throughout Maharashtra. Even the Telangana State Urdu Academy has established a children’s section to encourage young readers.
Parents and kids are now approaching her in an increasing number of towns to acquire ideas and build their own libraries for kids. More than 10,000 children have now benefited from this great effort.
Maryam is on a mission, and her motto is “Give me 10,000 rupees, and I’ll give you a library”.
Maryam aims to establish 50 libraries by the end of 2023. The mohalla libraries are named after Urdu writers, poets, and other well-known personalities. Some libraries are named after the parents of the generous donors who sponsor a complete library.
No one has overlooked Maryam’s outstanding accomplishments. She received a commendation from the American Federation of Muslims of Indian Origin (AFMI) in 2022. The award was given to her in New Delhi by Najeeb Jung, former lieutenant governor of Delhi.
She received the Mukta Samman in May 2023 from Mumbai’s News18 Lokmat. To thunderous ovations, Maryam recited Kitabein, a poem by Safdar Hashmi, at the awards event in Mumbai. She acknowledges that her father’s bookstore has benefited significantly from her library project, as the majority of the books are bought from there, despite the praise and attention she has received.
Maryam is a student at the Iqra Urdu Girls High School in Aurangabad right now.
She wants to be trained as a neurosurgeon. The Harry Potter books are some of her favorites. Additionally, she enjoys painting and coloring when she is not reading.
Her efforts have inspired similar initiatives in other towns surrounding Aurangabad, such as Jalna, Beed, Jalgaon, and Ahmednagar. So far, 35 Mohalla libraries have been set up in Aurangabad, 15 in Parbhani, and 5 in Burhanpur (Madhya Pradesh).