LAHORE: The first day of the Children’s Literature Festival (CLF) kicked off with verve and was attended by hundreds despite light rain.

The event was inaugurated by Punjab Minister of Higher Education Raja Yasir Humayun Sarfraz, who was the chief guest on the occasion. Addressing the event, Mr Sarfaraz spoke about changing the rigid education system so that critical thinking could be promoted. He said the examination system of the country needed to be improved so that the concept of an entrance test could be abolished.

The minister added that CLF was a wonderful platform to enhance learning among children through interactive activities such as storytelling, panel discussions, STEM workshops, puppet shows and music. “The more you read, the more you learn and the easier it gets to understand new languages. One learns a great deal through books that remain lifelong friends.”

Children from several schools of Lahore attended various sessions and activities. People from all socioeconomic backgrounds also visited the festival. “It is a superb effort by the organisers and we are extremely pleased to attend this event every year,” said a teacher while trying to keep her excited students together.

Farah Batool, another teacher, said that the event was impressive and very knowledgeable, for both teachers and children. “The best part was how children were taught how to write their own storybooks,” she said.

About the session, titled ‘Digital story writing and digital literacy activities’, Rabya, a parent, said: “Digital media is the future and it is a great step to introduce such a session at the event.”

A stall set up by Big Bytes, a social enterprise, was displaying and teaching children how to engineer simple things. “We teach them basic electronics which they can use to make robotic toys and other logic-based things,” said Shujaul Hasan, the head of the initiative.

Meanwhile, Amtul Basit from Idara-i-Taaleem-o-Agahi said their stalls on quilling, snakes and ladders and artwork had received tremendous feedback, both from children and parents. “[The parents] wanted the event to last longer. On the other hand, kids at our stalls made some terrific paintings with the theme of truck art, heritage. The game of snakes and ladders was based on the theme of Lahore.”

One of the important sessions of the day was ‘Every Child Counts: Safety in Schools and Libraries – about child protection inclusion and respect for diversity’.

Sameena Sardar, head of the child protection unit in the British Council, moderated the event. The panelists included child rights activist Iftikhar Mubarak and Children Library Complex Project Director Dr Ayesha Saeed.

The session discussed with children – mostly young adults -- how they should ensure their safety and what they should feel unsafe from. It explained good touch and bad touch as well as various situations and scenarios where children could end up being unsafe. Children with disabilities and girls were identified as the most vulnerable groups for being victims of danger in any form.

Another well-attended and interesting session was storytelling from and book launch of educationist and CLF director, Rumana Husain, called Jungle Main Mangal (Jingles in the Jungle). There was another book launch and storytelling session of Sheeba and the Private Detectives, written by Madiha Rehman and read out by Rumana Husain; short story reading from Suno Kahani Meri Zabani. Other book launches included Paani Ki Kahani by Sarwat Mohiuddin, Life and Other Short Stories by Moiz Sohail.

Daylong sessions included arts and crafts, quilling, mobile library, Alif Laila Book Bus Society, Citizens Archive of Pakistan, science stalls, Harappan pottery/clay modelling activities by Sheherezade Alam, puppet making, dramatic story telling and theatre, and a daylong book fair.

Published in Dawn, January 23rd, 2019

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