By Johara Al Mogbel
A researcher, writer, and an educator with a message is how Wafa Altajel describes herself.
A veteran of the field, Altajel spent 21 years developing her passion for children’s education, first taking her college degree in kindergarten education and then continuing in Educational Psychology for her higher degrees. Seeking to develop herself and others more, she founded the Tarbawion Publishers and chaired as editor-in-chief of a teacher’s periodical for 10 years. But her journey didn’t stop there. She managed to produce a number of children’s books and educational guides as well as three translated publications. Mightily inspired, we decided to sit down and benefit from all the experience Altajel has accumulated.
How do you get inspired while writing a children’s book?
Every story I write takes its due time of research. For example, Abnaa’ Alqamar (Children of the Moon) is an informative picture book that teaches children the historical definition behind the names of the Hijri months. I consulted specialists in the Arabic language as well as went back to the official dictionaries to choose the simplest explanations. For Saadoon and Maymoon, it’s a story that speaks about the tragedy of loss and the tendency for children to use rage as an outlet, so I looked into
using a non-human character as a foil to present it in a lighthearted manner.
Bareed Almouallim is the only concept of its kind in Saudi Arabia. How did you come up with the concept? What motivated you while building the magazine?
While working as a trainer at King Saud University and my work with the students in the field when they took their training, I had firsthand experience with the difficulties a teacher faces, especially in private schools. The teacher is required to be a writer, an artist, crafter and educator, and very few of them have the energy to expound all the effort it requires. So I thought of making something teachers can use as a reference for their lessons and help them plan and execute them creatively, and the magazine was born. From there, it kept developing over 75 issues.
What are the difficulties you face running an educational summer camp? And what is the nicest experience you’ve had with it?
My role in the camp is to design the program, train the employees, and supervise the execution. The difficulties are mostly centered on finding employees that are aware of the importance of their roles and believe in it. Afakir Li Akoon (I Think to Be) is a program that aims to improve the thought process of the children and to develop their set of personal and leadership skills so that they gain more confidence and ability. The nicest experience I had involves practical application and behavioral change. We had held an experiment that involved the pillars of Islam, and talked about the importance of prayer and how it’s the foundation that holds up the religion, and then we discovered later that one of our camp goers had started teaching her little brother to pray, and we were happy that the experiment had such a profound effect.
Do you have any advice for mothers?
Don’t be miserly with your time with your children. Take the time to try to understand them and their needs, as your home is a place for nurturing, not merely a pit stop where they find food and clothes. And put effort into being a role model they can follow to obtain the values you want to see in them.
What are your aspirations for the future?
I’m currently working on designing a fun Arabic curriculum for children that can be used to build proper foundation in the language. Allah willing, I am hoping it will help generate a generation that can think for itself, instead of blindly follow.
What’s the one thing you would change in your business if you had the chance to do it again?
After trial and error, I discovered that I am an educator and a writer, not a merchant or a manager, so if I could go back in time, I would stick to being the editor-in-chief of Bareed Almouallim and co-partner with a businessman or woman to take care of the commercial difficulties that I had to learn from scratch unwillingly.
Where do you get the most support in your personal and professional life?
My parents, may Allah bless them with long life, are my biggest supporters and encouragers. Their prayers and support has lasted through every stage of my life. My husband and children as well, as they’ve born my full schedule and supported it all throughout.