KARACHI: Participants of a panel discussion at the Children’s Learning Festival stressed the need for developing reading habit among children.

Day two of the festival organised by the Idara-i-Taleem-o-Aagahi (ITA) under the umbrella of the Pakistan Learning Festival included the discussion about “Incredible Libraries of Pakistan” at the Arts Council of Pakistan here on Wednesday.

Poet Zehra Nigah’s verses and Rakae Jamil’s composition again brought up the sweet demand “Humein kitab chahiye, humein kitab chahiye ...”

CLF’s founder and ITA CEO Baela Raza Jamil stressed the importance of reading books and not just course books but story books and reference ones. “My granddaughter is two months old and she has her own collection of books made out of cloth. Though she is too young to read, she is learning to turn pages,” she shared.

Senior journalist Zubeida Mustafa explained to students the significance of a library. “A library is a home for books. The concept is for a book to reach a wide readership or readers. The reading can lead to discussions on the books read, things such as liking a book or not liking it and why,” she said, adding that it was also a good idea to give books as gifts. “That will help you develop the reading habit and once you start enjoying reading, you will want more books. Then someone or the other will have to fulfill your demand and set up a library for you,” she added.

Anila Yousaf of Pishukan, Gwadar, spoke about how she got children in her city fall in love with books. She said Pishukan had a population of 13,000, half of which had not seen much development. “There are no mobiles or internet there, but our children also need to learn about what is going on in the world and what other children in their age are doing. For this we needed interesting books. For that I reached out to donors through social media. Soon we had books and we had a library in our school. To run this library we have made a library committee of students who manage the library and its indexing and borrowing and return of books along with even its cleaning,” she said. “The children who borrow the books also pen their reviews which they share on social media,” she said.

Deputy Commissioner-South Salahuddin Ahmed spoke about the street libraries of Karachi. “You can’t eat the same food every day. You want different tastes,” he said. “Likewise, your mind too needs different simulations. And a library can offer different types of books on different subjects. Reading different books provides you with knowledge,” he said.

Shah Manzoor Baloch of Mubarak Village said that his village was one of 107 small goths, the only one with an elementary school. “The school makes our village slightly better, but still the children in our village did not know what a library was until the ITA gifted us a library along with tablets to enjoy ebooks. Though we also don’t get mobile signals or internet in Mubarak Village, we have loaded several books in the tablets for the children to read and enjoy,” he said, adding that the library was a traveling one that went to the children of other goths too.

Mehwesh Rehman of Happy Home School said that they had a well-stocked library in each of their 10 campuses. “We have proper library periods to develop the reading culture,” she said.

Artist, writer and teacher Rumana Husain said that last year when all the world was going online due to the Covid-19 pandemic, she happened to be abroad. “But every day for 200 days, I would read a story for children and upload it on YouTube,” she said.

“When I was little, I remember libraries even as small as pan shops in Karachi. It was thanks to such an environment that I had read Manto, Ghulam Abbas, Krishan Chander by the time I reached class nine. My father had also made me a member of the British Council Library here,” she said, while lamenting the mobile phone culture of today that is hurting children’s attention span. “Our children today don’t even have the patience to listen to their elders. If they read, they only do it to study for their exams,” she said.

Published in Dawn, December 16th, 2021

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