In the midst of today’s battles over morality and the pursuit of all that is attractive in our society, efforts are being made to remind young people of the ethical principles of religion and its fundamental moral underpinning.
“There has been a feeling that the books read in school sometimes do not tackle the intellectual and other needs of the current generations of young people, and so we have lighted on the idea of karakeeb (junk) as a way of finding simple answers to the kind of innocent, yet also highly sophisticated, questions that young people ask. These questions may be existential and on controversial subjects, and they may impact upon young people’s attitudes to life and to each other,” said Nancy Al-Darwish, the 38-year-old founder of the Karakeeb Initiative, when asked about its objectives.
Karakeeb is a group of volunteers that puts on educational activities for children as part of a registered NGO. It works on multiple programmes, notably for children and teenagers. “Most of Karakeeb’s employees are students, but we also depend on volunteers. It has been 10 years since we started, and we are still dreaming big,” Al-Darwish added.
In fact, the initiative has many volunteers, coming from all walks of life and with a variety of political persuasions and diverse degrees of conservative views. Their common characteristic is their belief that teaching and learning ethics among young people is now more important than ever.
Karakeeb awareness sessions started with children from community homes and orphanages. In some cases, such children may lack moral and religious awareness because of the poor conditions they have suffered in their lives, and this may lead them to become disgruntled at the wider society and to question moral values. The initiative helps such young people morally to recentre their lives, and it has continued its mission in regular institutions and not just in special schools.
Most recently, Karakeeb has also targeted parents and customised awareness programmes to teach them how to deal with their children’s questions and teenagers’ attitudes. “We deal and have dealt with children and teenagers from varying social and educational backgrounds. Our programmes are tailored for children of at least eight years of age,” Al-Darwish said.
“The start was by telling stories of the Prophets in workshops for children at the ElSawy Cultural Wheel in Zamalek. We got to know the children’s needs from those, and from there we decided to have our own place and NGO,” she added. “First, we chose the topics that we wanted to tackle with our target segments, and then we picked the ones having the most impact on ethics and religious misconceptions. Then we started a research phase to develop our content.”
“We then revised the content with authenticated scholars and parental experts. We used the outcomes of this research and content development in numerous children’s workshops and made any needed alterations. Finally, we developed educational products and games that can benefit a wide range of our target segments.”
Because Al-Darwish seeks quality at each step and considers the children themselves to be the finest sort of capital, she works on ensuring the validity of the information addressed to them by the Karakeeb team. This contains main mentor and supervisor sheikh Mohamed Awad Al-Mangoush, an Al-Azhar scholar who supports various aspects of the work, including revising the content and the credibility of the information and training the team on both the spiritual and scientific levels.
Amr Al-Werdani also supports and trains the team along with other respected scholars. There is also educational content reviser Hagar Osama, researcher and language reviewer Yasmeen Al-Nezami, and pioneer volunteers Abdel-Rahman Selim, Aya Al-Fawal and Mai Fathi.
“I started to volunteer for Karakeeb a year ago. I liked the social responsibility part the most. Unfortunately, some parents still do not invest in their children religiously or ethically, and of course this situation can be even worse for children who do not have parents, who are our responsibility,” said Mai Fathi, a 32-year-old volunteer.
“Even so, the lack of awareness of the importance of supporting this kind of education can still hinder potential sponsorship. Sponsors prefer consumable donations. At the same time, we are afraid of being forced to follow specific orientations as a condition of sponsorship, and so my main task in Karakeeb is media promotion and fundraising from those who believe in what we are doing with no conflict of interest,” she said.
Over her journey with Karakeeb, Al-Darwish has had a lot of achievements to be proud of, and she shared some of these with Al-Ahram Weekly.
“The top achievement of Karakeeb has got to be the children that were learning with us from the start and are now working with us as employees. We are also very happy with our educational products, which we have worked on so hard to bring to light. We have produced an educational series of books and audio books under the name of “If Your Son Asked” that represents the output of our work with children, teenagers and parents. Three editions have been put out covering the age range of seven to 12 years old,” she said.
“The book series tackles children’s existential questions and misconceptions. The last series was directed at the parents of teenagers, suggesting ways in which they can answer questions about religion, sexuality, life and death, and many other topics that puzzle teenagers nowadays,” Al-Darwish said.
“Our spiritual children’s stories are available in four parts under the name of “Salah in the Seven Worlds” that take kids on a journey around all the worlds before the creation of Adam to his eternal existence in heaven. The children get to understand more about their physical and spiritual aspects and learn about life and how to deal with it. The stories are fully illustrated, and they use simple Arabic to make them an easy read for kids.”
“We also have a new service called “Ask,” which is an online platform where children, parents and teachers can send in their questions anonymously and have us answer them. It gives children a safe and authentic place to ask and learn,” Al-Darwish concluded.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 29 August, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly