Gaza has a multitude of problems facing the population—malnutrition, unemployment, and a limited supply of books. To stimulate children’s imagination and expand their horizons, Asma’a Abu Teilkh, a Palestinian entrepreneur, started a digital story project—Ana Arabi—to make storybooks more accessible to children.
Stories are memory aids, instruction manuals, and moral compasses. And storyteller Asma’a is the curator of information interpreting, analyzing, and synthesizing the characters and events to make sense of the Arab world since she started Ana Arabi as a website in 2013.
“Initially, contracting with a publishing house was a challenge as that was incompatible with our initial vision,” she says. Ana Arabi has since established collaborations with international publishing houses and now has a vast collection of stories, many in audio formats.
Ana Arabi’s stories resonate with the Gazans. For example, Flowers Under the Storm is about life under occupation and war and is close to Asma’a’s heart. “These stories encourage readers to think about their future, the Arabic language, their rights, and duties,” she says. “We’ve produced many high-quality children’s stories.”
Content creation is an emerging sector in Gaza. Digital extensions, or the new, multi-formatted way of telling stories, are finding audiences in the region.
“We try to make the content interesting and enjoyable—many of our stories talk about the Palestinian cause, which is not covered in other literature,” adds Asma’a.
BROAD APPEAL OF STORIES
She believes stories are in an exciting period of flux as Ana Arabi develops new stories to bring audiences together to traverse plots. Readers need to be tuned in to read them and participate in the unfolding narratives. For example, The World Of The Deep integrates humans with anthropomorphic rocks. It’s about a group of children who come to live in an abandoned house and bump into talking rocks, where each has its story to tell. Another book, Saving The Future, is an adventure of two children who go back in time to save Seif El-Din Qutuz from death. The Novel of Difference revolves around a dark-skinned child trying to adapt to the world of light-skinned children around him.
This eclectic collection of stories appeals to a broad audience, which Asma’a believes will support the cultural development of Arab children.
In the nine years since Ana Arabi was launched, Asma’a and her team have achieved many milestones. Besides producing several new storybooks, the platform has collaborated with many institutions to create high-quality children’s stories.
The tools used to tell tales are evolving, becoming more participatory and engaging—Ana Arabi now organizes youth camps and theater.
But like any business in Gaza, the startup was affected by cross-border conflict. “The war brought challenging times—our work had to stop, and we were unable to develop new stories, which depleted our budget,” she says.
“This bottleneck also prevented us from printing our books. We work with high-quality books that are very expensive, and the cost of printing an illustrated book is about $40,000 for 300 copies, which we couldn’t afford,” she adds.
Ana Arabi happens to be a one-of-its-kind platform in Gaza and the adjoining market. While most existing platforms only offer audible books, Ana Arabi’s stories come with illustrations. The team produces audiobooks with animated drawings and subtitles.
Audio has always been about making stories more accessible, and this approach pushes that even further. It has earned the startup many awards.
GENERATING JOB OPPORTUNITIES
Many lessons have been learned along the way, and the project progressed; a new branch called Abjadiya, or Alphabet in Arabic, was launched for academic content.
Asma’a’s sister Somaya helped set up the program’s foundation, market the content, and hire a team of writers and marketers.
“We work to enrich Arabic content in the business world. We cater to markets including the Gulf, European countries, and Canada,” Somaya says.
From medical and accounting to hospitality, Abjadiya has developed Arabic and English websites for companies, helped them with branding, and provided Arabic proofreading services.
Being digital means people working on the project, such as editors, animators, designers, and content writers, can work from anywhere. This way, besides its primary purpose of making storybooks accessible, the startup is now generating job opportunities in a region where creative jobs are scarce.
“This team of girls broke the stereotype, created a project that is so vital to the region, and provided job opportunities to many people. This is a great achievement for them,” says Raed Abu Daghim, business development consultant and mentor at Ana Arabi.
We have been telling stories for as long as we’ve been human. And when done well, storytelling can do wonders for a business, as it has been for Ana Arabi—generating profit, winning the affection of audiences, and positively impacting society.
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