Reviving the love for books

By Sara Danial
Tue, 06, 24

This week You! takes a look at how two incredible Pakistani women are harnessing the power of technology to work towards encouraging the habit of reading and make books more available and accessible…

Reviving the love for books

In an era where children are constantly surrounded by technology, developing a love for reading can be challenging but is more important than ever. Reading habits in children are crucial for their cognitive, emotional, and social development. Engaging with books enhances vocabulary, improves concentration, and stimulates imagination. Reading fosters empathy by allowing children to experience different perspectives and emotions, aiding their emotional intelligence. Additionally, it supports academic success across subjects, as strong reading skills are fundamental to understanding and processing information effectively.

However, the omnipresence of technology in children’s lives often leads to decreased attention spans and a preference for quick, digital entertainment over the immersive experience of reading. This shift poses a threat to the development of deep reading skills and critical thinking. Despite these challenges, technology can be a powerful ally in promoting reading habits. E-books, audiobooks, and interactive storytelling apps can make reading more accessible and engaging for tech-savvy youngsters. These tools can introduce children to a wide range of genres and authors, fostering a love for literature that might translate into a lifelong reading habit.

Leveraging technology to encourage reading requires a balanced approach. Parents and educators can utilise educational apps that gamify reading, making it a fun and rewarding activity. Virtual book clubs and online reading challenges can create a sense of community and excitement around reading. Additionally, integrating screen time with reading time - such as having a child read an e-book on a tablet or listen to an audiobook during car rides - can seamlessly incorporate reading into their daily routines. By thoughtfully integrating technology with traditional reading practices, it is possible to revive and sustain the reading habit among children, ensuring they reap the numerous benefits that reading provides.

Let’s dive into how two incredible Pakistani women are harnessing the power of technology to work towards encouraging the habit of reading and make books more available and accessible.

Make Pakistan read again

The benefits of reading span so many various areas of one’s life that Kamila, owner of My Bookshelf, wanted to share the joy she felt. “My Bookshelf is not just a business but a mission to cultivate a robust reading culture in Pakistan, bridging the gap between readers and the world of books that had seemed so distant,” she explained. Kamila began her library with her own book collection, which luckily was upwards of 2000 books. “We would have friends or family send us books from overseas or would carry books back with us when we travelled overseas. As you can imagine, the amount we have paid in extra baggage was exorbitant. After doing this for years, the idea struck us that many avid readers would probably be facing the same issue,” she shared. Once she launched and saw the demand in the market and the instant response she got, she developed her motto ‘Make Pakistan Read Again.’

Reviving the love for books

Social media is rife with celebrity and political content. Authors are unfortunately the unsung heroes and heroines who rarely, if ever, get time in the spotlight. “We aspire to change this narrative. Thinking of an interesting idea and then nurturing that into a full-blown book is nothing short of a miracle and that is something which should be celebrated. The ‘Tea with My Bookshelf’ podcast showcases change makers who are pushing the envelope with their work,” she elucidated.

Their video podcast is not limited to authors: they have had nutritionists, artists, chefs, activists, and other aspirational figures speak with them about their journeys and the struggles of operating in the current social and business climate. This initiative not only elevates the visibility of authors but also contributes significantly to the literary landscape in Pakistan by bringing diverse voices and stories to the forefront, fostering a richer cultural dialogue.

The challenge of extricating adults and children from the abyss of screen time and having them read is an ongoing one. There is no substitute for the instant gratification that technology provides and that is something which the current and coming generations will struggle with unless there is a massive paradigm shift. “Ironically, the content on our social media feed has helped numerous people start their reading journeys. We upload regular reading-related content, book reviews, trending bookish memes, and such, which keeps our members engaged and encourages them to read. I mean, who can resist a 5-star read, right? We also regularly host book club sessions and have built the most wonderful reading community,” she exclaimed. The book discussions are vibrant and intellectually stimulating and provide a safe space for members to opine on different topics, including politics, culture, and gender issues. This multifaceted approach not only promotes the habit of reading but also nurtures a supportive community where intellectual growth and cultural exchange are celebrated.

Authors are the most valuable resource to bring this change. They are the torchbearers of the nation and a direct reflection of the intellectual and mental health of society. “Especially when it comes to women authors, we have to support them in any way we can. Whether it’s through publishing and promoting their books or through purchasing, reading, and writing reviews of their work, it is our collective responsibility to ensure that these voices are heard and amplified. It is our sincere quest to help the Pakistani literary industry flourish and thrive. It does seem pointless sometimes when we witness long-standing bookshops shutting down or the level of technology addiction, but one has to continue to hope,” she pleaded.

Reviving the love for books

Globally, there has been a resurgence of physical books, which means that as long as there are readers, there will be writers. And as long as there are writers, the voices will be heard. This hopeful perspective drives Kamila to continue her work, believing in the power of literature to transform societies and sustain cultures.

My Bookshelf stands as a testament to the enduring power of books and the profound impact that a dedicated reading culture can have on a community. By making books more accessible, celebrating the work of authors, and fostering a vibrant reading community, they aim to not only encourage the habit of reading but also to enrich the cultural fabric of Pakistan. Through their efforts, one hopes to recognise the value of literature an d to join them in making Pakistan read again.

Communal storytelling

Storytelling is not just a source of entertainment but a crucial element for emotional well-being and foundational literacy. In Pakistan, a staggering 75 per cent of 10-year-olds cannot read a single sentence in their native languages, including Urdu and Sindhi, despite being enrolled in schools. This statistic underscores a significant gap in the educational framework that the venture, aims to address. The idea emerged from a deep-seated desire to infuse joy into children’s lives through communal storytelling sessions. Its inception was rooted in a simple, yet profound observation: many children in Pakistan, particularly those from underprivileged backgrounds, grow up without the enriching experience of storytelling.

Reviving the love for books

The founder, Nusser Syed, driven by the belief that literate and caring adults have the potential to foster education, decided to create a scalable model that connects these adults with children in underserved communities. The vision was to ‘uberise’ the concept of reading aloud, making it a widespread and accessible practice. The idea was born from personal experience; for a year, she carried a book and read to children in various communities whenever possible. This impromptu pilot project revealed a universal truth: children, irrespective of their background, are captivated by stories. Even teenagers known for being rowdy were transformed into attentive listeners when a storybook was brought out, highlighting the transformative power of storytelling.

The mission is to provide children with enjoyable reading experiences, thereby sparking their interest in reading independently. The platform ensures that children have access to engaging and stimulating stories, planting the seeds of a reading culture one story at a time.

“In a society where traditional forms of entertainment often overshadow reading, has employed several innovative strategies to engage young readers. We understand that children are naturally drawn to stories, so it leverages this innate curiosity. GoReaders, the name given to their story readers, are trained to adopt a friendly, non-authoritarian approach. They use various techniques to hook children’s interest, arouse their curiosity, and immerse them in the narrative,” she asserted.

One of the standout initiatives is the ‘Kahaani Sawaari’ bike, which navigates through narrow alleyways and communities, playing an iconic song to announce the arrival of a storytelling session. “Children follow the bike in a pied piper-like fashion until it stops and sets up the event. These story festivals are regularly held in areas like Lyari and Shah Faisal Town, creating vibrant reading communities,” she shared.

Reviving the love for books

The impact has been significant. The programme has reached over 30,000 children, with each child typically listening to eight different stories. This amounts to a total of 72,242 unique story experiences. In Lyari, where the programme has been active for over two years, the influence has led to the establishment of local educational centres, or anjumans, near the storytelling sites. These centres extend the educational engagement initiated by the story sessions, offering further lessons and tuitions. “To ensure continuity, leaves behind hanging libraries with community members after each reading series, enabling children to borrow books and read independently. The popularity of the Kahaani Sawaari sessions is evident, with community GoReaders conducting three sessions each afternoon to accommodate the approximately 70 children who gather around,” she stated.

The stories shared not only entertain but also focus on developing character qualities that research suggests are essential for children’s success. Adult readers often learn about these traits alongside the children, creating a shared educational experience.

As a female entrepreneur advocating for literacy, Nusser believes that women-led businesses play a crucial role in shaping educational initiatives and promoting a culture of reading in Pakistan. “Women, often the primary caregivers, naturally integrate storytelling into child-rearing, fostering a lifelong love for reading. This maternal instinct makes women particularly drawn to literacy-promoting projects,” she asserted. However, she emphasises that men’s involvement is equally vital. Promoting literacy requires a collective effort from all community members, including men, at every level - donors, organisations, development programmes, and families. At, men and women work together towards the common goal of nurturing a love for reading among all children in Pakistan. The initiative underscores the adage that it takes a community to raise a child, aiming for a future where every child loves to read.

The writer is the Head of Content at a communications agency.