Stories can shape our history and direct our destiny, from the bedtime tales told to young children to the tales depicted in ancient cave paintings at Lascaux in France.
Stories are all around you, often reported as news on television, the radio, and in newspapers. They are frequently used as teaching tools in classrooms. Songs can convey stories, as can photographs. You are telling a story when you describe something that has happened to you. A recent tale may come to mind. Try your best to remember where you heard it.
Originally, stories were passed down orally, which means they were heard and then repeated by others. Even if people started writing the stories down later, we still enjoy hearing them spoken aloud today.
It was with such things in mind that the podcast Qesas li-atfal al-naharda, or “stories for kids today,” has been launched to share stories for children in Egyptian Arabic that share modern life lessons. The podcasts have three main goals: to encourage children to consume Arabic media, to inspire an active imagination instead of more screen time, and to equip kids with helpful lessons and skills.
Danny Arafa, 25, was one of the three founders of the series. “The three of us have backgrounds in children’s literature, and we were aware of the gap in the market for a podcast like this that tackled both the need for Arabic media and a more accessible form of content than printed books,” he said.
Nadine Geneidi, 31, was another founder, and she had already set up Bookly Ever After, a kids’ storytelling and entertainment activity.
“Our initiative aims at providing audio stories such that mothers and children can have quality time listening together and discussing stories and topics on their way to sports training, school, and bedtime and so. They are designed to be especially helpful to working mothers,”
“One family vacation, I met a child who was diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). He was very active and not attentive. I spent almost an hour and a half telling him stories, and all his family were surprised at how attentive and interested he was listening and repeating after me and asking questions about the stories,” she added.
“When I saw how this child was sitting calmly enjoying the stories and the excitement in his eyes, I came up with the idea of helping his mother and other mothers with podcasts of similar stories.”
“Nadine shared a story on Instagram asking what people thought about starting a kid’s podcast. That’s how she connected with me and Esraa, the other co-founder. The three of us worked on it together,” Arafa said.
“I wanted to provide an alternative to English bedtime stories in an attractive way. Creating other options in an audio format can open the way for more production in the future and function as a library that creates the opportunity for new narrative content,” said co-founder of the podcasts Esraa Saleh, 35, herself also the founder of the Super Abla Company for Educational Services.
“I have more than 12 years of experience in storytelling, and I used to do it on stage for adults. Yet, I never thought about storytelling for kids, which is why I was so excited by this initiative. My adventurous spirit awoke, and I felt the need to do something new and challenging,” she added.
While the initiative connects the three co-founders, they each have different backgrounds and careers. Arafa has a background in media and marketing. He has written and illustrated several children’s books, is a social media influencer, and works in marketing for a tech startup.
Saleh has over 16 years of experience in the educational field. She is fond of languages, and her love of Arabic has caused her to get into teaching the language by linking it to culture, history, and geography.
“Being a lover of the Arabic language, I realised at an early age that Arabic is a wonderful language that has become static and needs development. It doesn’t have the kind of material that English has for teaching it to children. My long journey in working with the language led me to Super Abla, my platform to develop and teach Arabic to kids,” she said.
Geneidi trained as a pharmacist but shifted her career to working with kids. The fact that she is also the mother of two children helped. She founded Bookly Ever After, a company producing stories for children, four years ago, after working in education for five years.
The three cofounders have received no external support for their project. “Arafa and Saleh approached me first, and we complement one another. Arafa is an amazing storyteller, creative technical manager, and producer. Saleh is amazing at telling stories and teaching Arabic to children, and I do the storytelling classes. Working on this project together has been a real help to our respective families,” Geneidi said.
Like for any project in its early stages, there have been some challenges. “We’ve seen overwhelming enthusiasm for our podcasts, and we are working on scaling up our production capacity. This is a challenge at the moment,” she added.
Ten stories have been broadcast on several channels like Anghami, Spotify, YouTube, Google Podcasts, and Apple Podcasts. Each has its own moral and entertaining tone. They are about personal uniqueness, family quality time, politeness, the importance of healthy food, teamwork, and other great ideas.
“We started at the end of August and now have over a thousand followers on podcast platforms and almost 10,000 lessons,” Geneidi said. “We have reached the point where a lot of people are listening to our podcasts from Egypt and all over the world, among them Egyptians living abroad and so on. We are aiming to grow and to have more stories and more guests who tell more stories in Arabic. The idea is to spread this audio podcast concept.”
Plans for other events are also down the line. “We have plans to have the storytelling happening live, so that where people can meet me, Geneidi, and Saleh. Maybe we can tell stories to children in different schools and nurseries across the country. Our next step is to keep coming up with amazing stories and also to introduce new guests for diversity and variety,” Arafa said.
“We hope to expand the podcasts into a community and a space for all kinds of people to share their stories and inspire one another to grow and develop.”
Stories have power, he added, noting that they can be used to impart morals or the principles that the story’s author believes people ought to uphold. History can be taught by stories. They can amuse us. They can inspire us to consider ideas in ways we never would have done previously. People’s connections to one another are mostly based on the stories they tell.
A lot of parents have been sharing their gratitude with the three storytellers. “All the comments are positive. It makes us feel happy and satisfied that it has all paid off. People have started to send us constructive criticism so we can avoid any mistakes and enhance our performance. It is beautiful to find people supporting us with such enthusiasm,” Saleh said.
“We have also received comments from the children themselves, and this is what makes things even more special. Fathers and mothers have told us how our stories have become part of their kids’ bedtime routine,” she concluded.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 7 December, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly