Lina Abu Samha, a Jordanian writer, is the founder of Miryana’s World, named after her six-year-old daughter, who was born with cerebral palsy / spastic dipeliga that makes her depend on a walker and crutches/cane to be able to move around. Her mission to write children’s books that features a disabled protagonist was triggered one day when reading a bedtime story to Miryana and her twin brother, Miryana expressed her wish to read about children like her, after her twin stated that he has so many characters unlike her.
Realising the negative impact such a statement on Miryana will have and the likelihood of feeling isolated Abu Samha set out in search of children books that features disabled characters, sadly she failed to find any Arabic books to read to her daughter to reflect her own experience. She explains that she “couldn’t find any in my local library at Irbid – Jordan so I felt that there is a void and disappointed as to why my own girl is not represented as other kids in books”. After rigorous research she eventually found a series of stories by a Jordanian writer about children with disabilities, she was shocked by the way the book described those conditions, Abu Samha states that although “ the writer tried to write about this topics and I don’t want to criticise negatively but it was not reflective of disabled children’s reality and I wanted to show my girl as she is and how much we love her and proud of her and how she is living with her brothers and interaction with them.” Therefore She decided to publish her own children’s book instead “I took the action to write and here I discovered my passion in life and I started a new era in my life… it made me realise how my own girl with disability just changed me to be a better person”.
Abu Samha’s fir book is Called Let’s Fly Home, it is based on three siblings and tells the story of two brothers who support and help their disabled sister. She recalls that she just started with a piece of paper and a pen, “I looked around me saw my own kids how they are playing with each other. I saw how smart is Miryana, how active is Jafar and how funny is Mustafa. It was them who inspired me, I watched them carefully and tried to see things with there own little eyes”. She goes on to add that “they accept each other and help one another and over all they care about each other “ For Lina, this is not just reality but a tool for schools and other institutions to talk about dealing with disability and promote inclusion and rebranding for children with disabilities. Naturally the first thing children are drawn into are illustrations therefore Abu Samha knew its vital that she finds the right illustrator to join her on this ‘journey’ she recalls how she “found Wafaa Salameh who volunteered to help me with this. It was an amazing experience and I learned a lot from it”.
Due to the fact that the target readers are children and the topic is disability Abu Samha had to be very conscientious with both the style of writing and language, she explains that she was careful in describing “disabilities for them as it is in real life how they can deal with each other. We had specialist people reviewing it afterwards.”
In October 2017 ‘Let’s fly home’ was published, and although Abu Samha believes there is a market for books with disabled characters she is also quick to point out that publishers and writers should not “market books as a book about disabilities… but just market it as any other book in the book market where any child can read it and discover something new.”
Abu Samha book series is more than just a bed time story or a step towards an inclusive world; in particular Arabic literature for children its also a way to support families who have disabled children similar to Miryana’s condition. Abu Samha and her husband are a middle class family and although Jordan has good medical facilities, the cost of treatment is quite expensive plus the fact there are not many medical professionals who are specialised in Cerebral Palsy and so to fund Miryana’s operation in the USA and the follow up treatment in Egypt Abu Samha used the profit from her book sales. And set out to provide the same opportunity for other children, so far ‘Let’s Fly Home’ sales have helped five children receive the required medical treatment.
Books are a powerful tool as Abu Samha has proved and not just in enlightening people but in providing hope and assistance for a brighter and a more empowering tomorrow.
This article was first published on Nasher News.