When Hala Mansour had difficulty finding new bedtime stories to tell her two children, she had an idea that has been developed into a successful endeavour targeting mothers and children.
Hawadeet.net, a website established by Mansour almost two years ago, offers tales from the four corners of the world in the form of videos, narrated in Arabic in a simple and friendly way.
“It takes time and effort for mothers of young children to find a new story to tell every day. That is why I came up with the idea of sharing the stories and tales I have collected with other (mothers),” Mansour said.
Children can listen to the tales whenever and wherever they wish.
“The idea of my project is to use the story as a means of enriching children’s imagination with human heritage,” Mansour said. “It is an attempt to attract them to different worlds in which expression is made through drawing, writing and story-telling.”
Folk stories and legends of peoples of the world are presented in the form of tales in Egyptian colloquial dialect, with the target audience of children aged 4-12.
The website includes fairy tales and stories from the Americas, Africa, Europe, Asia and the Arab world. It is a collection of narratives from around the world distributed among five clickable icons on the site, Mansour said.
“Each tale reflects the characteristics and traditions of the area to which it belongs. For example, Arab stories are mostly set in the desert while in European tales you find snow and ice,” she added.
“This is a project that our Arab culture lacks. It does not just offer tales in an attractive way. Rather, behind it you can find a critical eye in rewriting the tales,” award-winning novelist Sahar el-Mougy said of Hawadeet.net.
Even though well-known tales are also found on the website, some are narrated differently after being edited.
“We really need a critical mind that analyses and gives itself the right to intervene in the texts and edit them to offer children magnificent art that frees their imagination and resists stereotypes and clichés,” said Mougy, who volunteered to narrate a number of tales.
“Editing stories was essential as some, for example, contained violence or other negative aspects. So, we changed parts of the stories or their endings,” Mansour said. “Several people volunteered to help. Some edited stories while others narrated the tales in their voices.”
The pictures on the videos drawn by children are presented in each story in the form of slides.
“When you narrate a story to a child and he draws it on paper, that’s what I call an attempt to stimulate a child’s imagination and create something valuable,” Mansour said.
With Hawadeet.net, children can narrate the stories themselves or have people they choose tell the stories and record them on the website.
“I thought of allowing children, their parents, grandparents or anyone they like to narrate the tales in their voices and keep them on the website. I wish my late grandmother could record me a story that I could keep on the website forever,” Mansour said.
Mansour’s 10-year-old daughter, Laila, said she enjoyed drawing characters for the tales more than playing with her iPad. Her 7-year old sister, Zeina, started working with their mother on the website one-and-a-half years ago. Zeina said she did lots of drawings, especially of her favourite character, a mermaid.
“It is really hard nowadays to keep children away from playing with electronic devices and watching television but our project aimed to divert their interest and I believe that we have succeeded,” Mansour said.
Mansour said she plans to have workshops for children to draw tales and record them in their voices and possibly narrate them at public events.
“It will be really amazing if we train them to confront an audience and tell the stories themselves,” she said.
Marwa al-A’sar is a Cairo-based journalist.