ISLAMABAD - The year 2013 ended on a very high note for the Children's Literature Festival (CLF), which held functions in different parts of the country.

The first school based children's literature festivals were implemented in two government boys secondary schools in Kabal and Kanju, Swat, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

They became pioneers in testing this particular format of CLF that is school based and daylong. CLF is a social movement to promote reading for critical thinking and unlocking the power of reading. For Swat, this is no small achievement to host a festival for reading in an area that has been at the centre of conflict, displacement, extremist disruptions at family and societal level. The valley famous as a seat for ancient civilisation, culture, aesthetics and learning was the perfect setting for hosting such an event- an inspiration for its children, youth, educators and families.

After holding seven extremely successful children's literature festivals all across Pakistan, attended by over 130,000 children and receiving an overwhelming response in each festival, Idara-e-Taleem-O-Aagahi (ITA), Oxford University Press (OUP) and Open Society Foundation (OSF) extended collaboration with the Social Welfare Academics and Training (SWAAT) for Pakistan to promote this caravan of books, reading and imagination as a winning template and a brand in itself in the beautiful valley of Swat. The Department of Education, Swat Administration and ITA have set up a Steering Committee for Swat CLF to implement the program successfully and safely.

The two school based CLFs on December 19 and 21st 2013 were sponsored by SWAAT for Pakistan in collaboration with CLF and ITA teams. SWAAT is supporting 10 schools (5 boys and 5 girls) in promoting school improvement for critical thinking and mobilizing local communities for learning. The schools have been regenerated through libraries, IT labs, additional teachers, training to encourage enquiry based learning, heritage studies and supplementary coaching for improved learning outcomes and enrichment programs in leadership and active citizenship.

School based CLFs are a response to an overwhelming demand across Pakistan to host CLFs, as a format that are more economical, effective, indigenously crafted and embedded to ensure change in the culture of classrooms and schools when such a happening takes place indeed within them. The Swat school based CLFs tested 7 strands for the day long festival viz., Story Telling , Dramatic Reading , Digital Stories (on computers); Bol Kay Lab Azad Hain (Speak for your lips are free) as expressions in prose and poetry;  Active Youth Citizenship by Active Youth Organizations (AYO) , Art & Mural Painting and an activity around psycho social support by PRCS (Pakistan Red Crescent Society). Reading with expression was conducted in Pashto by local story-tellers, Farooq Ali Shah and Mohammad Naeem. Art and Mural paintings were organized on the theme of 'Swat kay rang, bacho kay sung' by Hunar Kada Swat, dramatic reading was conducted by Swat Public School and digital stories were conducted by university students and ITA facilitators. 

"It was an outstanding and great event; everyone was not only happy but also very proud to be associated with this unique happening in Swat. Thanks to CLF for bring smiles to the children of Swat" were the closing remarks of the headmaster of the Government Boys School in Kabal as the host for the first ever School based Children's Literature Festival in a  government boys school. 

It was heartwarming to see that in spite of the freezing weather of Swat, dozens of children gathered early morning in the school to not only unlock the power of reading but to also unlock their minds and hearts. 

"Making the impossible possible is what we experienced through  CLFs in Swat, we saw children and teachers reviving learning creativity and happiness through books and multi-sensory expression, supported by amazing local resource persons and artists- regenerating indigenous resources  ." said Baela Raza Jamil, the founder of CLF.

If 2013 was so successful, 2014 will be a year of great milestones for CLF. - Swat's pioneering footprint will trigger many more CLFs for 100s of schools across Pakistan. A local group in Gwadar Balochistan and the Sanjan Nagar School in Lahore are poised to host two CLFs in January followed by a provincial one in Karachi in February 2014.  It is like a good virus that are needed in plentiful supply in our country.    

The organisers are hopeful that many such events which encourage children to ask questions, to think critically, to imagine, wonder and to read and write beyond textbooks and tests will be held in every school of Swat so that many young authors and artists are discovered; this will indeed be the turning of the soil for Pakistan and its future generations.