This year, for the 44th edition of the Children’s Literature Festival, the organisers have collaborated with the Walled City of Lahore Authority (WCLA) to create a venue in Old Lahore. The idea is “to strengthen the cultural strands.”
The opening ceremony of the three-day festival, which begins December 8, shall take place in Haveli Asif Jah. The theme of the festival is “Celebrating Peace, Heritage and 70 Years of Pakistan — Opening the Gates of the Walled City, Lahore.” The programme includes lots of literary and art activities for children.
Shahi Guzargah Route, leading from Delhi Gate to Wazir Khan Mosque, has been chosen as the venue, with Shahi Hamam, the courtyard of Sabeelwali Gali, Government Girls High School, and Masjid Wazir Khan Pandaal (amphitheatre) as the designated spaces for various sessions on literature and performing arts.
This particular edition of CLF is unique not only because of the choice of venue but also because of the involvement of the community of the Walled City itself. The visitors are expected to experience the goodwill and enthusiasm of the inhabitants of the area and also meet the budding talents that the project has discovered in its drive to provide a platform for creative expression to children from diverse backgrounds. It’s a non-ticketed event.
CLF began as a social movement, in 2011, by visionary leaders in response to their dismal findings about a decreasing interest in reading and lack of opportunities for creative expression and critical thinking outside the academic boundaries amongst schoolchildren in Pakistan. Till date, 43 festivals have been held in different parts of the country, reaching over 1 million children and teachers across Pakistan including remote geographies.
Highlighting the importance of holding the festival inside the Walled City, renowned historian and writer Ismat Riaz says, “It’s a significant part of connectivity to Pakistan’s historical past. Children must be made aware of the history around them as part of their cultural and national upbringing. We are fortunate to have an asset like the Walled City which reflects a bygone era and the way people lived with comfort and ease in a city with narrow lanes and multi-story houses with balconies jutting out.”
The latest edition of CLF, she adds, “shall be a great opportunity for school children to be exposed to their historical city. Often, such opportunities are unavailable to a huge number of our children. Seeing historical places and making comparisons with modern structures surrounding them is part of a critical thinking process. Interacting with the people living in the Walled City and its teeming bazaars shall help them develop empathy.”
Zainab Altaf, Project Coordinator, CLF, says, “The Children’s Literature Festival has always been associated with a strong heritage strand. The Walled City is full of stories; turn a ‘galli’ (stone) and you find an incredible story. Sadly, not many people know sufficiently about this treasure. The festival should open doors for them.”
At the CLF, the children shall have the opportunity to tell stories through music and puppetry, puppet-making workshops, interactive theatre in Urdu and Punjabi, dramatic performances based on stories for children, calligraphy sessions, fresco painting activities, clay work workshops, STEM activities and sessions, children’s books launches, digital story writing, art of illustration and book making, animation workshops and story-telling.
The CLF has also arranged music concerts by Ali Hamza, Rakae Jamil, Khalid Anum, Laal Band and different performances by children from different schools. As Baela Raza Jamil, Founder/Director-CLF, puts it: “Our goal is to engage school children from the Walled City and all over Lahore in expressing their creativity in a fun and interactive environment.”
The Children’s Library Complex is mobilising its partner schools and supporting several activities at the festival. The organisers say they have focused on the digital strand. “Science and literature are very closely interlinked as both promote creativity and critical thinking. We have, thus, invited Shaheer Niazi, an emerging young physicist, and her sister to the festival,” reveals Altaf.
The organisers are expecting both the teachers and students of different schools to gain insights and ideas for learning interactions inside the classroom. Hearing stories of people of the past will lead to creativity and flights of imagination lacking in children not exposed to historical structures and real life scenarios. They believe that the CLF will be a game changer for children of all ages to be able to access the environment of the Walled City and learn exponentially outside the classroom.