BBC Extra: Jehan Helou (2nd H)

Monday 10 February 2014

BBC Extra in One Week – (second hour)

November 23rd 2012

These are extracts from a two hours ‘BBC Extra’ interview, conducted in London November 23rd 2012 with Jehan Helou President of PBBY

Abdel Samad Bin Joudeh: Welcome to BBC Extra in One Week.


Let us move on to the subject of the Palestinian Section of the International Board of Books for Young People. Since we are talking about children and street children, there is a project for Children in Crisis, what is this project and who is supporting it?
Jehan Helou: We at the Palestinian IBBY, have many activities such as cultural lectures, seminars etc. The Children in Crisis project which started in 2007, was a one year project then came the horrific war of 2008-2009 and so the project had to be continued. The main support came from IBBY and donations from writers and some institutions some who had won prizes such as Katherine Paterson from the United States, Deborah Ellis from Canada, Fatima Sharafeddine, and Dar Kalimat in Sharjah and Ann Carter who wrote about Palestine and donated part of her book royalties to us. Also lately, Jessica Powers who wrote about children living in war zones, donated part of the copyrights to the children of Palestine. IBBY is not a donor institution but it gives priority to these matters; for example, they collected a lot of money for Haiti and now Gaza. We are also happy that Sharjah established a fund to support children living in crisis in our region, and also in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran. It is worth noting that IBBY - US Section are twinning with the Palestinian Section and they pay our annual membership which is more than a thousand dollars. This shows the other side of the US, a side away from the official authorities. Were it not for the support of authors and the peace lovers in the world, we wouldn’t have been able to have this project; the grant of IBBY/ Sharjah is essential especially now that it is holding a regional conference to encourage reading in the region.


Abdel Samad: Since we are talking about guidance, should children books always talk about the good and the evil and give advice?

Jehan: Of course not. Children don’t like their school books because they are direct, instructive and full of advice. There are no means for interactive and participatory teaching. Children like to think and conclude on their own and not have direct advice. This is why children books were almost non-existent or very weak before fifty years, they were rote, boring and full of moral advices.

Abdel Samad: Some put down a criteria for choosing children books; they must be easy but not insulting to their intelligence, they should raise the curiosity and imagination of the child.

Jehan: We say, even when we distribute the books, that they are quality books. A quality book boosts their imagination, is not instructive, direct or boring. It must also enhance their critical thinking, which is very important. I think it was Socrates who said ‘“I cannot teach anybody anything, I can only make them think.” The most important thing we miss in the Arab world is the lack of critical thinking among the youth, and not have fanatic attitudes far from objectivity and facts.


Fairouz song “Ba’dana” was played

Abdel Samad: “Ba’dana” is a song for Fairouz. What does it represent to you?

Jehan: The homeland, parting, human beings. It is a lovely song even if we are away from our country, or our village or our land, the land remains and also the memories.

Let us welcome the first caller live on air, Abdallah Omar. Welcome Abdallah

Abdallah: Yes. The first question - it is a known fact that Palestine has a very low illiteracy rate in comparison with the other Arab countries. Why is that? And second what are the necessary and appropriate means to decrease illiteracy in the countries with higher rates?

Abdel Samad: Thank you very much Abdullah Omar. The secret behind this is awareness or combating illiteracy in the Palestinian land?

Jehan: The secret is the belief of the Palestinians that education is the most important weapon they have in facing all the challenges: the uprooting and the occupation. The priority of the Palestinian families is educating their children. At the same time there is the incentive. Palestinians suffered greatly, thus they believe that education will give them a chance in life. There is illiteracy but the percentage is very low in comparison, and we hope that the Arab nation will realize that reading is the most important weapon against illiteracy. We made a study on the subject. It is possible sometimes for the child to go to school and quit while in the elementary classes etc…. and become illiterate. But if he resorts to reading he will not become illiterate. Reading can be for fun and for education.

Abdel Samad: Yes. I thank you Jehan Helou, President of the Palestinian Section of the International Board of Books for Young People and the previous Director of Tamer Institute for Community Education. With this we end this hour of BBC Extra in One

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