Let’s see how many people we can get on board to promote reading habits among children. With this aim, the Children Literature Festival’s (CLF) session on ‘Role of youth and innovation to promote reading and libraries in urban areas’ kicked off on a lively Saturday afternoon at the Arts Council of Pakistan, Karachi.
“Cell phones have become a useful device when it comes to entertainment, why not utilise them to record stories?” suggested Baela Raza Jamil, the moderator and founder of CLF. The session was not all lectures or debates – it was more about interaction and brainstorming. The objective was to have children, university students, teachers, parents and educationists on board to promote reading and libraries. The small over-crowded room was all ears as innovative ideas were thrown around by all present in the room.
Panelist Yaminay Chaudhry of the group Tentative Collective volunteered to get children of different schools on board to promote reading through filmmaking, adding that she hoped to lend a rickshaw for the project.
Another panelist from the Oxford University Press (OUP), Mehboob Mitha, said that the OUP’s mobile library could also be used for this initiative. “If anybody wants to call the mobile library to school, our representatives are approachable,” Mitha offered. “There are some unfortunate areas in the city and the children there cannot access books but through this mobile library initiative, we could go to them and they could rent the books for free for two weeks.” He added that the registration fee is just Rs10.
Moderator Jamil kept the session alive with her continuous words of encouragement. “Telling stories in slum areas or where a tragedy has taken place is the most effective way to go about with this,” she said. “These things appear small, but they change lives.” She gave examples of coordinators and directors at CLF who had gone to areas hit by a tragedy and held storytelling sessions with the community.
One of the attendees, Tehmina Arshad, shared that the school where she works is host to a huge library. “The school also donates books a few times every year. We can provide these books to schools that do not have enough.” Jamil asked her to coordinate with them on this so they could write to the school directly.
Students from Bahria University attending the session volunteered to help in the initiative and promised to put in a few hours every day to get the mobile libraries functional across the city.
According to Mitha, the OUP mobile library was a nationwide initiative. “We very keen in launching it all over Pakistan. In fact, we have already taken our mobile libraries to some parts of the country.”
The session revealed another positive system in place which wasn’t known to many in the audience. “The National Book Foundation is a federal entity. It offers 50 per cent discount on its book sale in return for a membership of Rs150 a year,” said Jamil. “We have such initiatives but our people do not know about them. How do we expect people to take advantage from such things if nobody knows?”
With heartfelt promises, the session came to a close with the hope that a movement has already started.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 23rd, 2014.