Kimo is a lion with down syndrome, Zizi is a zebracorn with cerebral palsy, Lala is a lemur who wears prosthetics, Semsem is a monkey with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism, and Mimi is a parrot with visual impairment. These five are the main characters in ‘Pack Pals’, an English book helping children understand and learn about their friends with different abilities.
‘Pack Pals’ was born through a collaboration between Social Inclusion Company (SIC), Once Upon a Time Storytellers, and Danny Arafa. The book includes fiction stories, personal interviews, short comics, and games.
Social Inclusion Company (SIC) is a social enterprise startup committed to creating an inclusive and accessible community by raising awareness on different disabilities and correcting myths about them, Once Upon a Time Storytellers offers storytelling services for toddlers and children, and Danny Arafa is a children’s author and illustrator.
“We wanted to do something different and with an impact, not just a regular story. We felt a need to teach children a value through characters drawn from scratch,” says Maha Ghaleb, Founder of SIC.
The idea started with Packarnival, an inclusive and accessible children’s event where children packed Ramadan meal boxes in a carnival-like atmosphere. Held in 2021, the event was organized by SIC and Once Upon a Time Storytellers.
After the success of Packarnival, the event organizers wanted to expand the idea to be a small part of children’s lives rather than a once-in-a-year event.
“Through ‘Pack Pals’, we want to normalize the idea of inclusion, to normalize that children with disabilities have the right to be included in schools with other children and not to be segregated in special schools unless their conditions require that,” Ghaleb tells Egyptian Streets. “There are a lot of students who suffer and who can financially afford being enrolled in international schools, but they’re just not accepted. It shouldn’t be something exceptional.”
Published in July, as part of Disability Pride Month, the magazine retains light, pastel colors and easy-to-read fonts for children who are uncomfortable with bright colors; it also features a QR code on most pages to enable kids to listen to the stories should they prefer hearing material over reading ones.
A purposeful and meaningful project as Arafa describes it, ‘Pack Pals’ took almost one year of work.
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“I tried to draw inspiration from real life, people that I actually knew who experienced these different abilities. We wanted the characters to be balanced: between being who are interesting and attractive, in of themselves as characters, not just one dimensional, and interesting by disability. We also wanted the characters to be complete as themselves, with that different ability being part of their character,” says Arafa. “They needed to be friendly, approachable, and interesting to children.”
‘Pack Pals’ is currently available on Reading Matters, a platform specialized in children’s books, for EGP 250 (USD 13).
“When I started to work at SIC, I noticed that some people consider disabilities to always be associated with people who are less privileged and NGOs. Whereas this is not the truth,” explains Ghaleb. “We had two challenges: to explain what disabilities are, and to show that it’s not only people who lack access to adequate financial income and education who have disabilities. We had to change the perception so that children in international schools, who are more confident reading in English, understand that they can have friends with disabilities.”
With plans of expansion to bookstores on ground for ‘Pack Pals’, Ghaleb highlights that the team also plans on releasing an Arabic copy of the magazine if the current copy is successful in the market.
“It’s not just a book; we want to transform it into something really big,” Ghaleb enthuses.
In the next academic year, Ghaleb aims to visit inclusive schools to host storytelling sessions to talk about the characters and their disabilities.
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