Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Multicultural Perspectives: ChildLit Festivals in Pakistan

Last September I wrote about the Children's Literature festival in Pakistan--turns out it has blossomed into an insightful and inspiring series of events, inviting resident authors, scholars, and children to two to three day events aimed at broadening awareness for the existence, importance and influence of children's literature in Pakistan. When last I checked, they had held their fourth conference, but it looks like CLF 2013 is ready for its sixth conference this weekend, on May 24-25. It follows on the coattails of the first Literary Festival in Islamabad that was held last month, also successful on its own terms.

I'm really impressed by the tenacity and eagerness of the Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi (ITA), or the 'Center of Education and Consciousness,' who have been organizing these conferences since 2011 with the Oxford University Press. Amid all the mayhem that is painted across media about the state of things in Pakistan, movements like this are vital for the spirit of the local community and serve to develop the regard and support of the international community.

I had the opportunity to interview one of the festival coordinators from ITA, Sheba Sherin, following their November festival. At the time, the festival had incorporated events and activities in honor of Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani girl shot last October by the Taliban for her vociferous advocacy of education for girls. She is now one of the most recognizable young faces in the world, being named one of Time's 100 most influential people of 2013 and recently announcing an international grant for girls' education.  The CLF had honored her and Sherin described some of those efforts to me:
Malala was supposed to be the Young Ambassador of the CLF. However during the time we had approached her and were to have her officially on board with us, her unfortunate accident occurred. At the festival we had a special stall known as "Tribute to Malala--Letters, posters and cards dedicated to Malala Yousafzai". At the stall, children were given art materials through which they created beautiful letters and cards for her. Also a special short documentary created by Fauzia Minallah from Funkor Arts, was screened at the inauguration ceremony of the festival. The short animation was a tribute to Malala extending the support of millions for her.
Sherin also shared her insights on the role of children's literature in Pakistani culture. "Enhancing reading abilities and learning through promoting literature and the habit of reading books is something that automatically leads to excellence and brilliance, "she told me, articulating the need to instill in kids the value of books and reading.

At the time that I corresponded with her, the CLF was planning to coordinate events in smaller cities and less urban areas, including Swat and Bahawalpur for holding festivals at a smaller city level. They certainly hit the mark though in holding one in the capital of the country at such short notice. Hopefully this weekend will mark another momentous experience for kids and adults, and continue to spark a zest for learning and literacy, imagination and hope.

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