The challenges of learning are immense in Pakistan where about 50% children in grade 5 cannot manage grade 2 level competencies (ASER; LEAPs); this repeated and stuck narrative has to change through open platforms that provide alternative possibilities where children /adolescents are enabled to share creative modes of learning and expression. These do not have to be about their formal performance in tests and examinations but what they gather from within, their imagination, life’s experiences, vocabulary, expression and dare to share with wider audiences about who they really are. These children are helping us change narratives from despair to hope very positively in our society. They reached out to the Children’s Literature Festival (CLF), a social movement under Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi (ITA), through social media seeking space for sharing their work at the CLF Lahore 2019. Who are these courageous young leaders? Let us meet them as they made a very huge impact through their shared writings at the Children’s Literature Festival Lahore on 22-23 January 2019. These young authors are our messengers of hope for learning- their voices deserve to be heard in a culture where often children are silenced for their aspirations and expression.

Wania Sakib (aged 13) flew all the way from Karachi with her mother recently taking a day off her school to launch her book “ Adventures of Edward the Elf”, at the Lahore Children’s Literature Festival 2019 held at the Children Library Complex on January 22-23. She was inspired by Harry Potter and other series that she regularly reads. She read out sections from her book of seven chapters sharing her key characters, the moments of suspense, magicand resolution. Wania said her inspiration is her love of books that she carries within since she was very young. Her mother shared that she read to her every night when she was very young and that habit remains with Wania till now; she cannot sleep until she has read something beyond her textbooks. Wania said she loves to write and whenever an idea comes she quickly puts it on a piece of paper so that she does not forget.

As I moderated that session and called out for other potential child writers, Joshua, a young student in the audience in grade 4, shared that he too loves to read other books and write but there is no one who encourages him nor listen to his ideas. He promised to write a short book for the next year’s Children’s Literature Festival where he too can share his work with many people, he said with dimples and a twinkle in his happy eyes!

Our other young author was Moiz Sohail. He is 16 years old and a student of O levels GCSE, who has compiled his first publication titled “Life & Other Short Stories”. He started writing stories for the collection when he was 10 years old inspired by what he had witnessed in life or picked up from the media. Moiz has been an avid reader of diverse books, including fantasy works of JRR Tolkien and Patrick Ness, sci-fi literature by Orson Card and Andy Weir, comic books of Sir Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams and the poetry of Frost and Coleridge. Moiz read from his sensitive story “Eye for An Eye” about a childless couple’s tragedy when they loose their child. Much like Wania he too has a history of reading since childhood, love of fiction including comics and comedies. His mother shared the stage in Bhit Shah Library at the Lahore CLF sharing almost identical habits as Wania and the role of parents as pillars of encouragement to Moiz. Born in 2002, he lived across UK and Pakistan – and as Dr Sussie Casson of Sheffield UK aptly writes in her preface for his book.

Moiz’s early life experience of living in different cultures (Pakistan and England) has clearly equipped him with a great sensitivity and story-telling ability…I hope that he will continue to write and entertain us, as readers, as he does in the stories in the current collection. I hope that you will enjoy reading them as much as I did. Dr. Susie Casson Sheffield, UK”

There were students of four schoolssitting in the audience – who were inspired to see students like themselves becoming independent thinkers and writers- they found these young authors to be courageous to have written stories not knowing if they will ever reach the public but they continued writing. They received a signed copy of Wania’s book to take back to their school; that act of generosity they shall never forget! 

One thing is for sure, imagination and reading habits need to be nurtured; very often it is parents who do that, discovering the potential of their children as happened in the case of Wania and Moiz; they were both lucky to have had educated parents. What if the parents are not literate formally? What if they cannot afford to buy books? What if there are not sufficient hours in the day for children to imagine, read and write too busy in other household chores? These are real questions for the children of Pakistan who have unfulfilled dreams. This is where the institutions and movements like the Children’s Literature Festival (CLF) step in to help nurture such children. CLF is seeking to host – young authors’ residencies regularly. May be the Children Library Complex will partner with CLF to host such nurturing residencies so that we can have Wania and Moiz multiplied 100 times in our cities and rural areas. Insha Allah the CLF as a social movement will dare to deliver on this promise, but it can only do so with all its partners; from CLF’s active socially alive members, the government, authors and illustrator ambassadors of CLF and sponsors from industry, publishing houses, diaspora, embassies and development partners. 

We firmly believe in the powerful writings of Wania and Moiz and many more like them who need to have their voices heard and their books published in Pakistan – yes they are changing the narrative of our country; let us believe in them and follow their learning rainbows on our bright blue skies!

The writer is founder of Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi (ITA) and the Children’s Literature Festival and can be reached at baela.jamil@itacec.org.