LAHORE: The Children’s Literature Festival (CLF) concluded on Saturday at the Children’s Library Complex.
“The response has been absolutely amazing,” said Baela Raza Jamil of Idara-i-Taleem-o-Aagahi (ITA), one of the organisers of the event. Each year, she said, the response was getting better in all the cities that saw the CLF.
“On the first day, at the start, I saw very few people and was disappointed but within 20 minutes of opening, people began pouring in and it was difficult to turn around without bumping into someone. About 35,000 people attended the festival in three days.”
Ms Jamil said the children came this year with everything decided beforehand, and took part in many activities. She also thanked the sponsors and the government departments concerned for taking interest in the event.
“We want to give a message of peace and we held sessions talking about Malala Yousufzai and Dr Abdus Salam, the Nobel laureates, and how they should be recognised and applauded in Pakistan. We discussed child marriages and other important issues concerning children. Children have made about 100 canvases which will now be taken to other CLFs to be displayed.”
What was even more surprising was the some teachers and children had bunked off school to come to the event, Baela Raza Jamil said.
This year an Indian theatre group, called Play for Peace, also joined the festival. Swati and Agyatmitra who were part of the group spoke to Dawn, saying their target were the audiences belonging from marginalised communities. In India, for instance, this meant the 33pc lower castes and the Muslim minority communities. In Pakistan too, religious minorities were one part of these communities.
“We went to a Christian school in Youhanabad and held theatre training workshop there,” said Agyatmitra.
“The main thing is to help these children, conscious of their different identity, feel associated with the mainstream and be a part of it. We want to remove the feeling of marginalisation among these young children so they can form their own independent identity,” he said.
Swati said the organisation was based in Chicago where it was created in the mid 90s but it had bases in other countries, including Vietnam, China and Nepal, but hopefully the positive response that it had received in Pakistan would help form a base here too.
Agyatmitra and Swati said it was not common to see children from both public and private schools come together in such a festival and in such an intelligent, interactive environment.
“I don’t think such a festival has happened in India,” they said, adding the session was a great opportunity for children from different classed to come together.
In a session on the media, Khurshid Hyder and Mansoor Malik, both Dawn Group journalists, along with Ameena Saiyid (Oxford University Press), participated.
“We had so many interactive sessions for children, especially those revolving around storytelling and writing,” said Rumana Husain, a Karachi-based educationist, children’s writer and one of the directors of the CLF.
“Education system in Pakistan has snatched away most creative and independent thought from children. Writing books that are non-fiction are difficult because it requires research but getting an original idea for writing fiction too is important.”
She said the children were inherently smart but the techniques employed in schools for the teaching was such that they did not learn applying thought. She said that children should be encouraged to write and because many Pakistanis were trilingual, they should attempt to write in any language they feel comfortable with, without feeling ashamed.
“I also urged teachers to help them learn without rote and that is the reason we have started the Teachers Literature Festival. Changing the approach in the classroom will help the child to have more learning opportunities,” she said.
Meanwhile, Baela said while the Children’s Library Complex which had a remarkable building for children, was full when the CLF or other events took place, but the rest of the year round it was usually empty.
“The government should really promote its usage among children if it is interested in tackling the education issue,” she said.
The interactive sessions for children from the age group of 4-20 were conducted by Baela Raza Jamil, Haseena Moin, Mira Hashmi, Khalid Anum, Ameena Saiyid, Nadia Jamil, Fehmida Riaz, Saif-i-Hasan, Zambeel, Imrana Maqsood, along with many other renowned personalities. Their interactive sessions and discussions included book reading, lectures, musical interactive performances, theatrics and orations, art of reading with expression, and creative arts.
Published in Dawn, November 30th, 2014