Notes from the Field

Books for Pakistan

May 27, 2009

Book Fairs take place all over the globe. In some places, such as at this weekend’s Book Expo America in glitzy New York City, the purpose is to promote beautiful new books from America’s top publishers. In grittier places, such as Pakistan’s volatile North West Frontier Province and Balochistan, the goal of book fairs is to spark an interest in higher education and extend much needed books to the country’s hardest-to-reach areas. In these remote areas of Pakistan, The Asia Foundation puts brand new textbooks donated by American publishers on display to help university students and teaching staff understand the resources available to them for free through our Books for Asia program. For over 50 years, the Books for Asia program has provided more than 3 million books to Pakistan’s students, researchers, and marginalized groups. While these donations present numerous transport challenges, the results are worth the extra effort and much appreciated. This week, our colleague, Mr. Syed Zahid Hussain, was interviewed during a three-day book fair held at the University of Balochistan. His remarks in The Asia Pulse capture just how valuable these donated books are.

Book donations play a different role at Shaukat Khanum Cancer Hospital in the heart of the Punjab. Founded by Imran Khan, one of Pakistan’s most illustrious cricketers, the Cancer Hospital is the region’s only medical facility specializing in cancer care and diagnosis. Colorful children’s books donated by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Pearson publishers help entertain and distract the children undergoing painful treatment, while also keeping their minds active during the interruption in their formal education. Books are a highlight of the day as they are rolled from room to room on what has become known as “The Asia Foundation Trolley.” At these times, patients and doctors alike gather around as the books are distributed throughout the hospital.

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The joyful reaction of the kids was evident at the trolley’s inauguration recently. For many children, these were the first brand new English language books they have ever held.

Books for Asia plans to extend this service to other hospitals as well. Read a press release about our needs in Pakistan and our call to action for donors and publishers.

To learn more about this donation or other special shipments like it, come visit our booth at Books Expo America in New York City (booth number 912) from Friday, May 29 through Sunday, May 31, 2009.

Melody Zavala is The Asia Foundation’s Books for Asia Program Director. Syed Zahid Abbas is the Books for Asia Director in Pakistan. They can be reached at mzavala@asiafound.org and zahid@pk.asiafound.org, respectively.

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