On January 1, a group of activists gathered at Munir Mengal Chowk Sariab Road in Quetta. They set up tables, fixed banners and set the stage for their first activity of 2020 – a book fair. A small collection of books was put on the tables for sale. The book fair opened at 10 AM, and ended when the sun was setting.
A coalition of three groups – Nishist Online, Parav Adabi Katcheri and Youth Creative and Supportive Foundation (YCSF) – organized this fair to celebrate the new year in Balochistan. This was an unprecedented step as usually guns, instead of books, were used to celebrate the turn of the year. Organizers of the fair wanted to promote book reading as a habit and also start the year with a message of peace.
People from various walks of life visited the fair. Some just browsed, others also bought books. Scenes from the fair were shown live via social media. Politicians, members of civil society and media personalities attended the fair and appreciated the organisers for their creative and thought-provoking way to start the year.
Sariab Road, where the book fair was held, is the most populated, yet greatly underdeveloped area of Quetta. It was known for bombings and lawlessness in the past. Even today, most settlements along the road paint a very bleak picture of congested traffic, broken pavements, and haphazard development. This is why the choice of Sariab Road for this book fair was even more interesting.
Saeed Noor, chairman of Parav Adabi Katcheri, was the lead organizer of the fair. He said the primary aim of the fair was to promote reading among children, especially books other than textbooks assigned in school. “We want people to develop a trend of reading books on culture, philosophy, history and critical thinking,” he said. “I believe we were successful in conveying our message.”
He said he had chosen Sariab Road for this event because young people in this particular area were affected by drug abuse. He said he hoped to divert attention from the consumption of drugs to reading books that would open the mind.
This was the first book fair held by the group but not the last. Noor said they were planning more fairs on February 21 (International Mother Languages Day) and March 2 (Baloch Culture Day).
Meanwhile, a new campaign is unfolding in Awaran district, one of the poorest districts of Pakistan. Marred by decades of neglect and insurgency in the last 15 years, Awaran has the lowest Human Development Index (HDI) score of 0.173 in the Pakistan National Human Development Report (2017). It is here in this district that a group of people are campaigning for improvement in the education system.
They have named their campaign Balochistan Education System (BES). It relies on a network of volunteers in Awaran who collect data about closed schools in the district. So far they have discovered 192 closed schools in the district, out of the 380 sanctioned schools.
This was the reason Awaran was ranked 137 out of 141 in the Alif Ailaan District Education ranking in 2017. Awaran has a population of 121,680 as per the 2017 census and due to the closed schools, more than 12,000 children have been denied the right to education, BES claims.
Shabbir Rakhshani, 34, a resident of the district is leading BES. He said he was motivated for this campaign because he could not acquire proper education due to closed schools in Awaran. “I do not want the next generation to suffer due to lack of schooling opportunities the way my generation suffered,” he told The Friday Times.
The campaign by Shabbir Rakhshani and his colleagues has put huge pressure on district officials of the Education Department. They have reopened some schools as a result of the pressure generated by the campaign.
However, they maintain that all is well in Awaran and have termed BES’s claims as propaganda.
Still, the group led by Rakhshani is determined in their cause. They are starting the year by holding the Awaran Education and Literature Festival on January 20 and January 21. This festival will be held in Government Degree College Awaran and it will be the first one in the history of this impoverished district.
Rakhshani believes that this festival will promote the trend of education and literature in this town. “This could be a stepping stone for development of this district which is still in the Stone Age,” he said.
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