When it comes to dedication for promoting peace and interfaith harmony through art, the name of Fauzia Aziz Minallah may come on top of the list. She is a multi-dimensional lady who is pursuing the cause with utmost commitment. Fauzia is not only a peace activist but has also proved her mettle as an artist, author and illustrator, nature lover , political cartoonist and environmentalist. She considers art as one of the strongest pillars of peace. Her style separates her from her contemporary artists and her paintings carry natural beauty and love for nature. Minallah believes that art and culture of a region can be saved if people in power were to identify themselves with it. She is the lady who saved the ancient art of ‘chitarkari’ or slate engraving – an art which has been used to decorate tombs for centuries. As an environmentalist, she struggled against all odds to save banyan trees in Islamabad. To promote art education among the children belonging to lower class, she established an institution Funkor Child Art Centre in Islamabad in 2001, which is a non profit organisation. Besides her commitment to the organisation, she also writes and illustrates children’s books, one of them titled “Amai’s wish". When it comes to her awards for which she has won and nominated for, the list is very long. She has won various awards nationally and internationally including ‘2010 Ron Kovic Peace Award’ for her short film ‘Let Them Bloom.’ This film was based on an inspirational message of peace, dignity, reconciliation and forgiveness. In 2003, she won National Book Foundation Award for promotion of children’s literature. She was leading the team of ‘Sadako’s Prayer Project’, a book written and illustrated by Fauzia Minallah that won of Hiroshima Citizen’s Award in 2007. The book has also been translated in Dari for Afghan children and Japanese as well. The Funkor Child Art Centre was short listed for the Bremen Peace award 2009. The award is given to projects and organisations which are exemplary in their work for peace, justice and integrity of creation. She has also won an award as political cartoonist. In an exclusively interview with Sunday Plus tries discover more about Fauzia Minallah efforts for humanity, peace and art. Followings are some excerpts from her interview:

Q: You spent your childhood in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) and there is an increase in terrorism. How do you view it?

A: I have actually documented some of my views on this subject in my book 'Chitarkari and Banyans - The Pursuit of Identity'. It is about my childhood memories as I had spent lot of time in the cities like Peshawar, Quetta, Lahore, Gilgit and Islamabad. There are many things which have changed. Some are positive but mostly are bad because of the radicalisation of our society and the loss of the green environment due to increase in traffic and expansions of these cities.

Q: will you share anything of those memories?

A: I remember when I was in Peshawar I used to go for painting classes along with my mother at the Abasin Arts Council in the 70's. There used to be a bustling musicians bazaar in Dabgari. But with the increase in conservatism especially after the MMA government's rule in Musharraf era, Peshawar had lost these cultural treasures. Lately, there have been some efforts to revive art and culture in Peshawar but activities in 5 star hotels have very limited effect and do not have an impact if it is not shared with the ordinary citizens. Similarly, every city has changed.

I was born in Quetta and studied there. Recently, I went there on Children's Literature Festival at St Joseph's Convent School. I have worked with thousands of children but I have never seen such eager and enthusiastic children as I saw and met there. They were eager to paint the mural with me. They painted a beautiful mural 'Amai's Wish - Peace in Balochistan'. The city is under siege. I could not stop crying after listening to the folk songs by the children in Balochi and Pashto. ‘What will be the future of these children? Are we going to repeat history?’ These were the question going through my mind.

Q: You teach art to children and use it to promote interfaith harmony . How do you see the recent incident of involving a Christian girl in a blasphemy case?

A: I wrote about Rimsha because I have worked with the Christian children in Mehrabadi where the incident took place. My projects with Christian community especially in the most under privileged class are to show them respect for their religion. Every Christmas we organise events for Christian children where the field coordinator of Funkor, Ahmad Faraz a Muslim, dresses up as a Santa Claus and distributes gifts among children and Rimsha's younger brother and sister were also in that workshop. So I felt very sad that it was one of the children I knew. But in Rimsha's case even the most ardent supporters of Blasphemy Laws were embarrassed because there was absolutely no justification for punishing a little girl who never went to school and was mentally challenged. The court found Rimsha innocent and the cleric is behind bars. Rarely do accused get justice in Pakistan. The vigilante mob controls the situation. Despite many positives in Rimsha's case many of the 300 hundred Christian families have left Mehrabadi. They do not feel safe where there was already a campaign by the cleric to oust them.

But what happened on the September 21? It was celebrated internationally as the Day of Peace and in Pakistan, instead of showing love for our beloved Prophet (SAWW) it was a day of bloodshed and anarchy. While I cried for the Muslims who lost their lives that day I was shocked to learn about the destruction of the Church in Mardan. We visited this church in 2009 to help the internally Displaced Christians. On the International Day of Peace it was burnt down. The church is in ashes and the Muslims were killed by Muslims that day. All our efforts of 'Interfaith Harmony' are destroyed in seconds.

Q: How far the Western countries are responsible in this regard?

A: The world has turned into a global village where information shared within seconds. What the Western countries don’t understand is that 'freedom of speech' has to come with responsibility. There has to be a distinction between 'freedom of speech' and 'hate speech'. Hate speech should be banned, condemned and rejected in all forms. The internet has shrunk the world while an extremist in the Western countries uses the first amendment to incite violence through 'hate' and mala fide intent to gain cheap publicity. Resultantly, what happens in the Muslim world is that it emboldens the extremist who uses the blasphemy to achieve their goals. We have seen right before our eyes what happened on the 21'st and that had nothing at all to do with the love of our beloved Prophet but a show of power the extremists extort out of using religion. These incidents have serious repercussions for the minorities in the Muslim countries even the space shrinks for the moderate Muslims who do not use violence to achieve their goals. The Western countries have to review their stance on freedom of speech and check their own extremists and war mongers. It helps no one expect the religious extremists in Muslim countries. If holocaust denial is almost a crime so should be the insult of a Prophet (SAWW) revered by millions of people.

Q: Funkor Child Art Centre is doing remarkable work. Why do you not try to spread it to other cities and towns by yourself or by establishing linkage with other institutions or organisations?

A: So far Funkor has worked within very limited budget. I am happy that that so far I have done my work for Funkor on totally pro bono basis. We have no big donors. Most of our support comes from, fund raising through art projects especially the one with Little Art Gallery in Munich and iEARN Austria where I took an exhibition of 'Multi coloured Scarves of Peace' painted by Pakistani children and then Austrian school children painted Peace scarves in Vienna. The exhibition was right after the ban on scarves in France which is discrimination and it will marginalise the Muslim community further. The aim of the exhibition was that it is very important in Peace building that children should not be judged by what they wear and making stereotypes of people de- humanises them. Funkor is also sustained through the sale of my artwork www.fauziaminallah.com. Sometimes, prize money such as from Ron Kovic Peace Prize also helps as well as some private donors like friends and family. Otherwise I would not have been able to sustain Funkor's work and pay my employees. We have collaborated with an American based organisation Artmile Mural Project AMMP and worked on a number of art projects, they displayed a Peace Mural at a concert of Hope in New York. Through Children's Literature Festival and the Karachi Literature festival I have been able to work with children in Lahore Karachi and Quetta and hopefully next in Peshawar. Sometimes other organisations invite us to organise art or book reading activities for children.

Despite the lack of funding I must say we have been able to reach out too thousands of children throughout Pakistan from remote Swat Kohistan and Kalash.

Q: You also work as an author and illustrator of children’s books. Why do you think there is so little children literature in Pakistan as compared to other countries? What should be done in this regard?

A: The lack of literature for children is a very big problem in Pakistan, even if there is literature than the content is lacking in quality. Oxford University Press has some wonderful books I wish that they become part of the curriculum for the Government schools too. There are very few books for children that enlighten their minds and teach them to be good citizen. One of my books 'Sadako's Prayer' is published by the Asian Network of Trust in Hiroshima, in Japanese, English, Dari, Urdu, Pashto, Torwali. It is the winner of Hiroshima citizen's Award for Peace Education and was distributed free of cost among nearly 10,000 children in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Japan. Another peace book " 'Titli and the music of Hope' written and illustrated by me is published by the National Book Trust of India under the International Centre for Literacy and Culture's Peace Book Project in South Asia. So in a world where every Pakistani it seems is perceived as a terrorist, I am glad that some children in India, Afghanistan or Japan would know a Pakistani for promoting Peace.

Q: You have helped in the restoration of Chitarkari. What was the inspiration to do so? How do you see the future of this craft?

A: After finishing my art studies from Pratt Institute in New York, I wanted to do something that is very close to my roots. I found that in the cemeteries of my parents’ hometown in Sirikot Hazara, KPK. I curated a show of the dwindling craft of chitarkari-slate engravings that the craftsmen were slowly giving up as people started preferring other materials, such as marble. These shows were taken to Karachi Lahore, and Islamabad. My own inspiration to work on slate, clay and other materials emanated from working with craftsmen. Now the villagers feel pride in the chitarkari as a very important part of their heritage and identity. After my (late) mother Bilquis Minallah and I promoted it at different forums the craft is revived and it is still to be found in the village. As long as the villagers feel pride in their heritage it will survive.

Q: You won 2010 Ron Kovic Peace Award for the short film ‘Let Them Bloom’. Are there any such more projects in pipeline?

A: Ron Kovic Peace Prize is given by this wonderful organisation My Hero project in America. The mission of My Hero is to use media and technology to celebrate the best of humanity and to empower people of all ages to realise their own potential to effect positive change in the world.

Funkor's project Amai the Bird of Light is a finalist at the Global Junior Challenge in Rome this month (October). I am working on my latest work which is working on Adobe photoshop as well as Acrylics on canvas.

Q: As a painter and artist what sets you apart from your contemporaries? How do you see the burgeoning art scene in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi and how do you see the scene in Peshawar and Quetta?

A: The art scene in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi are quite vibrant but in Peshawar and Quetta have greatly suffered. In Peshawar, it is due to the radicalism and in Quetta due to the bad security situation. Although some of my favourite artists like Akram Dost and Jamil Baloch belong to Quetta.

Q: You have always said that trees are part of our heritage and have been running the campaign to protect old trees. How far you have been successful and what more in your view should be done?

A: My documentation through photographs of Islamabad's natural and cultural heritage in my book 'Glimpses into Islamabad's Soul' was instrumental in creating awareness about Islamabad's cultural and natural heritage which culminated in the protection of old and historical trees of Islamabad by the Capital Development Authority. The Capital Development Authority have started the 'Preservation of Monumental Trees' in Islamabad but unfortunately after protecting 6 monumental trees the list of over 200 trees are still to materialise.

With so much turmoil in the country environment concerns are not important and so much money is to be made by mega projects that under the guise of 'development' those in power have no concern for the environment and go for mega projects. Even in cases where the SC or High Courts have given orders in favour of environmentalist the concerned departments and business interests have in contempt of court continued with the destruction. So protection of the environment is a herculean task in a country where human life has no value.

Q: What was the purpose of your recent visit to India and how far it was successful?

A: Funkor Child Art Centre was invited to "Peace readings on writings of Pablo Neruda, Saadat Hassan Manto and Indus Valley and Harrapan Civilization” under the travelling literature festival initiated under UNESCO's donate-e-book initiative. To develop Peace across borders among the young adults, Nivesh in partnership with the National Museum Institute organised sessions of interactive Peace readings for school students in the age group of 15 to 17 years as part of our travelling literature festival. Two girls from Swat Kohistan were chosen as well as students from Lahore but they could not make it due to visa problems. Fourteen students from Khaldunia High who were able to participate in the workshop started a mural "Indus Heritage" under my guidance. The mural depicts river Indus, the famous dancing girl' from Mohenjo-daro holding a peace sign with colours of India and Pakistan's Flags. This mural was finished by Indian students in Delhi.

The Indian students painted an ancient city of the Indus Valley Civilisation with the river Indus flowing through the canvas. Throughout the workshop students participated in several enriching sessions. The most popular was the 'drumming' circle'. Pakistani students read Pablo Neruda’s poems and performed Saadat Hasan Manto's play 'Aakhri Salute' which is such an important play. They also danced to the folk music of Pakistan.

The borders between India and Pakistan have become so high and so wide that we have to work for Peace. I am glad that the visa restrictions have been eased but for us the whole process of applying for visas was a long painful process. One only wishes it is easier for the next generation.