Mudassir Hussain did much of the legwork on creating the new “Take a book, leave a book” project of Rabhar Trust.
Housed in a structure with enclosed bookshelves at Princeton Junction train station and inaugurated on Oct. 28, this was the first local project for Rahbar Trust, which was an originally Pakistani nonprofit.
Part of the group’s goal is to “promote harmony among community members and hopefully encourage Book Swapping among individuals,” according to a Rahbar Trust press release.
For Hussain, a Pakistani immigrant who came to the United States a decade ago and moved to the West Windsor-Plainsboro area in 2012, volunteerism is an important part of his life and encompasses more than his activism with Rahbar.
“This is also the reason I’m on the recreation board—I have to give back to the community. This is my responsibility,” Hussain says.
“This community is such a nice community; there are so many people who respect you a lot and are so caring, you really want to give some time for them, particularly when your children are part of this community and educated by this school district,” he says.
Looking for a project that would “involve the West Windsor-Plainsboro community” and require them to “take ownership of the project,” Rahbar Trust devised idea of a book-swapping venture, but decided to do it on a larger scale than is true of similar neighborhood boxes—with the goal of maintaining an inventory of about 100 to 120 books at a time.
Hussain said that through this project, Rahbar wanted to bring back “those old traditional days when the book was the best companion”—rather than the streaming and tweeting that is popular today.
They realized that “there are many people, including ourselves, who would read a book and the book would remain on our shelves for many years”—even after it was of no more use—often because there wasn’t a good place to dispose of it.
So for the train station they conceived a structure with three shelves where “incoming books would come because people would like to donate them, and the outgoing books would be taken because people would like to read the books.”
With the help of West Windsor Mayor Hemant Marathe and Scot MacPherson, director of operations for the West Windsor Parking Authority and permission from its board, they built the library. So far it has worked as planned.
“All the books, as of today, are being donated by West Windsor and Plainsboro residents, and most of them they are the ones who are actually taking the book,” he said. “The idea is take a book, leave a book.”
During the weekdays the books tend to vanish, but during the weekends the shelves are replenished, so that “on Mondays the shelf is almost full.”
But they are not exactly like a library, because the purpose is not to have that book coming back,” Hussain says. “Wwe want people to take it if they want—they are donating and taking it.”
Muhammad Usman Mustafa who was also involved in the book swapping project, cofounded Rahbar Trust in Pakistan in 1996.
It starting by providing small interest-free loans to help people establish their own small businesses. Next it set up a free clinic for cataract surgery, which now does almost 4,000 surgeries each year. It also has set up small schools to provide vocational training to low-income girls.
Mustafa, a West Windsor resident, describes the organization as “humanitarian,” not religious. In the United States, its first project was providing help to Syrian refugees in Philadelphia.
Rahbar has also set up medical camps in Amman, Jordan, staffed by physicians, nurses and young people over the July 4 weekend, where they see 100 patients a day; distributed sanitary products and toothbrushes; and established micro-schools for refugees.
In Pakistan, Rahbar also runs a soup kitchen twice a week and is hoping to do a similar project here.
“Our plan is to put in small food pantries, like the book swapping near the train station,” Mustafa says. “We are hoping to do canned food—if you need it take it; if you have it, put it in.”
This has not been finalized yet because they are looking for some people to provide daily supervision for the pantry and ensure that it has no expired foods. Rabhar has also helped out for many years at the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen, where Mustafa’s son created a small library with three bookshelves.
In Pakistan, many family members and friends of the founders are involved in the Rahbar Trust, and they have a large network of activists in about 15 different districts there. In the United States, West Windsor is their base.
Hussain, 50, who grew up in Islamabad, says he immigrated to the United States for a couple of reasons: “Number 1, a better future for my children. Number two, I’m happy that we are part of this country and this community, and I am a very proud U.S. citizen.”
Hussain is self-employed and provides telecommuniications sales support to different countries, focusing in particular on the Voice Over IP protocol.
His son graduated from High School South in 2017, his older daughter is a senior at South and his younger daughter is in sixth grade at Grover Middle School.
Hussain himself has been an alternate commissioner on the township’s Recreation Board since his appointment in January 2017.
Mustafa is a cardiologist at Capital Cardiology Associates in Trenton. He graduated from University of Punjab Lahore and did his initial training in internal medicine in the United Kingdom.
In the United States he did a residency at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate Hospital, a cardiology fellowship at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center, and an interventional cardiology fellowship at Albert Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia.
Mustafa also provides voluntary cardiology services for patients at the Medina Clinic in Lawrence Township, which provides quality health services at no cost to the underserved members of the community.
“My day job is fixing all the broken hearts by stenting. Evenings and weekends, if we have time, we get together and try to do something good for the community,” Mustafa says.