A Girl Reads to Her Brother and Opens a World in Tajikistan

A Sister’s Care Opens a World through Books
Maftuna helps her brother Shukrullo gain hope and autonomy through the reading sessions they share every day.
Institute of Pedagogical Development
Fostering children’s love for books and reading
“I believe that the books add hope to my brother’s life, help him to develop a level of autonomy, and increase his confidence.”

July 2014—Eleven-year-old Maftuna Ismoilova and her 6-year-old brother Shukrullo live in the remote village of Dustov, in Khatlon province, Tajikistan. Like most children in Dustov, Maftuna and Shukrullo had no access to books for young children, not even at the school library, until the arrival of 433 books in 2013.

The books were provided by the USAID-funded Reading for Children literacy project, which fosters young children’s love and enthusiasm for books and enjoyable reading, and increases awareness of the government, families and communities about the importance of reading for pre-primary children.

Recognizing the deficit of children’s books and the importance of reading for cognitive development and school success, the project commissioned local Tajik authors and artists to write and illustrate 25 age-appropriate and culturally relevant stories for pre-school children. The project, implemented by the Aga Khan Foundation, then published the books and distributed them to 246 schools in Khatlon and Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Provinces.

Shukrullo has been paralyzed since birth and suffers from speech and language disorders as well. His father, Tohir Ismoilov, is a taxi driver who works long hours, and his mother, Jumagul Rahmatova, is a homemaker. But young Shukrullo needs constant support, so his sister spends a lot of time helping to care for him.

Until recently, even with Maftuna’s presence, the young boy still felt alone and removed from the world around him.

A few months ago, Maftuna discovered her school’s new mini-library and became a member. She thought that reading to her brother might help relieve his solitude. Although Shukrullo is unable to produce speech sounds correctly, reading with his older sister has become his favorite activity.

Maftuna attended seminars conducted by the Reading for Children project, where she learned how to use interactive reading techniques to better engage with her brother and improve his comprehension. Now Maftuna visits the mini-library regularly to borrow books for Shukrullo. When she reads to him, he is captivated by the illustrations and listens attentively to his sister’s descriptions. The two even use the stories for role-playing activities.

“I believe that the books add hope to my brother’s life, help him to develop a level of autonomy, and increase his confidence,” said Maftuna.

Shukrullo hopes to be able to visit the mini-library in his wheelchair one day to choose books himself.

The Reading for Children project runs from August 2012 to August 2014.


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