Reem Alfranji

Reem Alfranji

Amman, Jordan

A mom of two children with intellectual disability who inspired me to become Founder and Co-creator/producer @TeamHeroCartoon

About me

With Queen Rania AlAbduallah in March 2018,  after the launch of with my husband and sons, Aboud and Amro.

Photo Credit: Queen Rania Blog

In 2009, I knew that my both sons are having a developmental disability. We were living in Gaza Strip in Palestine… Since then, they both were rejected from schools and preschools due to their disability. Due to the discrimination and the lack of specialized programs in Gaza, I had to move with them to Amman - Jordan in 2011 so they can get the specialized programs that they need… At that time, they were 6 and 4 years old with no education at all, no skills and totally dependent on me. 

After being in a specialized center where they started to get specialized educational programs, life started to change, they started learning and acquiring new skills… I also started having the guidance from the specialists in special education and rehabilitation on how I can deal with my son's uniqueness, improve their skills and deal with daily challenges after the center. I started educating myself on this new journey.

Now, after 10 years, I could see how education could impact my sons lives, and how they acquired new skills and became more independent. My sons are now 15 and 13, they can communicate, read and write (even if it’s not 100% clear), they have social skills, computer skills, internet skills and we are preparing them for the vocational phase. We are building on their abilities and skills to have a meaningful and productive life in a few years from now.

In 2011, I started working with an NGO founded by other parents like me, and we worked in 3 main programs: Scholarships program, Parents Support Program and Supported Employment program. My 4 years of working with this NGO gave me the insights on the continuous challenges we face as parents of children with intellectual disability in helping our children grow and improve their abilities.

In 2014, I co-created and produced an edutainment animated cartoon called “Team Hero” which features characters of children with disabilities in a positive way through social adventures. One of the donors was UNICEF-Jordan and Season 1 of the show was broadcasted on MBC3, one of the biggest childrens’ channels in the MENA region reaching millions of children. We also worked with UNICEF on implementing a number of awareness sessions in the community and worked with them on producing a children’s book called “How to be a Hero” in which the superpowers are the Values like: Kindness, acceptance, respect, supporting others, compassion… The book included a guide book for facilitators who work with UNICEF community centers to conduct the session in an inclusive context in Jordan. Team Hero is being used as a tool of non-formal education on disability issues. 

After Team Hero, I wanted to make an impact on a higher level in a more sustainable way, especially that still I had that challenge of finding the resources that would empower me even more and would help me understand my sons as they grow, searching the internet and referring to several resources was a bit confusing and needed long time… I found that the more my sons grow, the more I need guidance but the less I find resources… unfortunately, I didn't find a reliable resource in Arabic. I also started to think how I can improve the lives of the families around me in a more constructive and sustainable way… Here, when I came to a realization that one of golden keys is to “Educate parents how they can educate their children”. Once parents are educated on how to deal with this new journey on all different levels: early detection and intervention, education and employment… magic can happen to these children and they can learn much better in a sustainable way. 

That’s why In 2017, my husband and I launched, as an online resource on intellectual and developmental disabilities in Arabic, to help parents across the MENA region improve the lives and abilities for their loved ones with intellectual disability and provide an immediate guideline and continuous support throughout different life milestones. Learn more from here.

One of the biggest challenges we face when we know about the disability of our child is that we focus on their disability and their diagnoses, forgetting that they need to learn and get educated from an early phase. Some parents feel lost due to the lack of guidance, others feel helpless due to the financial burden and expensive specialized programs, leaving the child behind, growing up without education.

I was able to have the vision for after getting a diploma in social entrepreneurship from the Swedish Institute in Stockholm in September 2017, and it was possible after winning a prize of 3000 USDs from one of the competitions here in Amman, which enabled us to launch the website with 140 videos, articles and start building a bigger network.

In 2018, we launched a crowdfunding campaign, which helped us increase the content, improve the website and develop the Tele-coaching services after the many messages we started to receive from parents in Jordan and in the region asking for advice on what they can do with their own child. In 2019, we got a grant prize from Expo2020 Dubai as part of their Expo Live which helped us improve our technology and develop a mobile App.

We are so happy that hundreds of thousands of parents from across the MENA region are benefiting from and we are helping them become influential and feel loved and supported along with their children.

Our plan is to enrich the platform with educational resources in Arabic to help parents and educators in educating children with intellectual disabilities and help them acquire new skills.

The word "Habaybna" in Arabic means "Our loved ones" and we believe children with all abilities are our loved ones. We believe that “All Abilities Matter” and no child should be left behind no matter what their abilities are.

Why do you want to be a part of the HundrED Community?

If you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together.

Innovation starts with individuals but multiplies with communities. Being with a community that shares same values and purpose, futuristic and curiouse is one of the best ways to stay creative and maximize our impact. Communities like HundrED, are considered as an ecosystem for innovators, they keep us inspired, curious and help us to improve more so we can improve our communities in multiple ways.

Such communities can be an amazing opportunity for meaningful and impactful partnerships between different areas and sectors. They also help us look far away than our own horizones.

How can education support students to flourish?

Education and the learning process are instrumental in shaping a child's personality and mindset. Beyond degrees and helping a child read and write or being independent, education is key to make use of it for their own advantages and to utilize the knowledge for their growth. It facilitates the cultivation of a healthy thought process and groom their cognitive abilities.

In the present competitive world, education is a basic necessity for human beings after food, clothes and shelter.

It is not about learning life, but education itself is life, especially for students with developmental or intellectual disabilities. Education is the key to find great characters and potential hidden in every child and empowers students with any abilities.

What role does innovation play in education change?

Innovation in education means doing what’s best for all students. Teachers, lessons, and curriculum have to be flexible and creative to include all abilities. Ordinary education means transferring the knowledge and information to students, but innovation in education means we have to get our students to think, analyse, ask questions and make decisions. Innovation encourages children’s curiosity and helps them find ways to what they face.

Innovation means change, it gives students more than the skills they need to pass tests and exams and helps us to create new interactive tools that aims way further than now and the present.

If we are looking for a way to solve worlds biggest problems we need disruptive ways of education. The more we have innovative education methods, the more we connect students with their world, help them innovate solutions and engage in their societies effectivly from an early age.

Three HundrED innovations you love. (and Why?)

1. Roots of Empathy from Canada

I loved it because it reinforces many other important values among children from a young age and helps them build compassionate societies when they grow up. In so many times, Empathy sparks responsibility among children so they can have a better future for all.

As Dalai Lama once said: "The planet does not need more ‘successful people’. The planet desperately needs more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers and lovers of all kinds. It needs people to live well in their places. It needs people with moral courage willing to join the struggle to make the world habitable and humane”

2. (Don’t) Guess my race

I believe to more children learn about diversity and inclusion, the more they become tolerant to anyone who is different, whether becuase of a race, origin, religon or disability. As a person working to promote diversity, I can know the value of having such an amazing program that brings children together and helps them celebrate their differences so everyone feels included.

3. BRAC Humanitarian Play: 

I loved this innovation for many reasons, one of them is because it brings the power of play into some of the hard areas. While most entities focus on aids, emergency projects and providing essential support, some other needs for children are forgotten like play, and children not only live hardships, but also don’t have enough opportunities to flourish, be more creative or play!

Play is not a luxurious aspect in life, it’s essential for children to develop regardless of their status or location.

Three innovations you would love for HundrED to know about. (and Why?)

1. Sherketna - an initiative by Aljude for Scientific research in Jordan. 

Sherketna in Arabic means “our company”, and in this project, Aljude targets students in governmental schools in 9th-11th grades aiming to plant the seeds of entrepreneurship among them under the supervision of their teachers.

In each school, a group of students need to come up with an entrepreneurial idea they are passionate about, along with one of their school teachers, they start planning and budgeting to make it real. Aljude then invests 300 USD in each project, so this group implements the idea and out of the revenue, %70 has to be used in improving their school and the other %30 to be distributed among the team or re-invested in the project.

In 2019, Aljude implemented the project with 52 governmental school, engaged 104 teachers and 780 students. 47 schools could make 23,106 USD in revenue, while 1 had losses and 4 broke even. Read more here.

I love this innovation because it teaches students how to fish rather than giving them the fish.

2. Little Volunteer: a program that creates age-appropriate volunteering opportunities for children between 3 - 12 years old, to connect with their community and learn about social and environmental issues.

I love this innovation because it helps raising more responsible children who are compassionate and have empathy to others around them.

3. Ustad mobile, a mobile app that brings educational libraries offline so people in remote areas can get a chance in education. The mobile App will be used soon in refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon. I love it because it contributes to inclusive education and helps those without connectivity to learn.