‘Tales’ Car’ roams Egypt’s countryside to offer children free books

Sunday 21/05/2017
Unique initiative. Children pose with books that they received from the Tales’ Car. (Courtesy of Haytham Abderabo)

Cairo - Reading books and maga­zines has been a normal activity for children eve­rywhere but sometimes it is a luxury, particularly in Egypt’s deprived and remote areas where child labour is common.
Haytham Abderabo, an Egyptian novelist and English teacher, has been trying to provide needy chil­dren with books, playing the role of Santa Claus mainly in Ash Sharqia Province in northern Egypt.
Using his car, which children call Arabiyet el-Hawadeet — the Tales’ Car — Abderabo roamed the vil­lages of Ash Sharqia to disseminate knowledge to the children in the countryside.
In about three years, the Tales’ Car has visited more than 60 vil­lages and other areas, distributing more than 30,000 books for free in Ash Sharqia and other provinces.
The project depends on dona­tions of books and magazines from individuals and enterprises
The project began by mere coin­cidence.
“I was once waiting for my father in the car while surfing a children’s magazine I bought for my daughter when a child approached me asking about what I was holding. I was as­tonished to find a child in primary four who does not know about mag­azines,” Abderabo said.
“I told her that was a magazine that entailed picture stories and tales. She was so excited to hear the word ‘tales.’ I gave it to her but she said she can’t read on her own so I told her to find somebody older to read it with her. It was surprising that a child her age could not read on her own,” he added.
“Several other children ap­proached the car asking for maga­zines but I didn’t have anymore.”
Since that encounter, Abderabo collected children’s books and magazines until he had about 900. He then decided to distribute them during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
“When I wrote a post on Face­book saying that I would distribute books during Ramadan, I faced sar­castic comments such as I should give away food instead,” he said.
Abderabo, however, did not give up.
“I’m known to the people in my village as a teacher,” he said. “So I started knocking on their doors ask­ing about their children. I gave each child I met a book and promised to give him or her another if [he or she] reads it.”
News spread from village to vil­lage about a teacher named Hay­tham who carries books and maga­zines for children in his car.
“People started to stop me on the way asking me for books for their children,” he recalled.
Some of Abderabo’s former stu­dents who had graduated from uni­versity volunteered to help him in the project. One started document­ing the project, while another cre­ated a page on Facebook for the pro­ject and a friend of his joined them as a storyteller.
Children have been excited about the project.
“The Tales’ Car is a great initia­tive. I learned immense knowledge and information through reading the books Mr Haytham provided that I had never known about be­fore,” said Rawan Hisham, 11.
Storytelling workshops were add­ed to the activities that Abderabo and his group offered.
“The components of the work­shops are so simple. We find a place to sit like an area full of grass and give children a piece of our hearts,” Abderabo said.
“We choose a story that fits the environment where children live, then we encourage them to add to it. We ask them to add characters and change the course of events and the ending,” he said.
“Storytelling derived surprises like children who can write stories.”
Abderabo’s team faced an un­pleasant surprise when they visited an Upper Egyptian village.
“We were surprised to know when we held a storytelling workshop for 300 children there that only two of them continued their education till secondary school. All the others dropped out in primary five or six to work and support their families,” Abderabo sadly said.
“This world is full of ugliness and we are trying to beautify it as much as we can,” he added.
Abderabo said he hoped his pro­ject will make a difference in chil­dren’s lives.
“Culture is a process of transfer­ring knowledge into a behaviour. When a child reads about love, beauty and peace, that will be his or her behaviour and [he or she], in turn, will reject violence and terror­ism and learn about accepting the other,” he said.
“Reading, books and culture represent the first line of defence against whatever is ugly in this world.”