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