The literacy objective
Kalimat Foundation serves the rights of children who live in very difficult circumstances to read and develop capabilities in literacy. The objective being to support equitable development in education and society. Action largely resides in two domains: Arabic speaking children who have been forcibly displaced from their homelands, and children who are visually disabled.
Four initiatives have correspondingly represented the vanguard of the foundation and its work. An outset programme for book donations and Eid with them, both at Emirati Jordanian Camp in northern Jordan, were one-off endeavours in 2017 for the resident Syrians fleeing civil unrest. Pledge a Library delivers books to youngsters separated from their motherlands, whose subject matter helps to maintain cultural connections, support literacy and ease social integration. Ara, on the other hand, sets out to fulfil the objectives defined in the 2013 Marrakesh Treaty, contributing to the accession of the United Arab Emirates, through advocating and putting into action, the production and distribution of accessible content.
The road to empowerment
Founding team formed. Operations begin with a mandate to protect the rights of vulnerable and visually disabled children, in their ability to access books and develop reading skills.
30,000 accessible book formats published constituting print braille, large print and audio, pre-empting the Ara initiative.
1,000 books donated to the Emirati Jordanian refugee camp on an outset programme prior to the Pledge a Library initiative launch.
Ara initiative launched with the goal of distributing and producing books, for visually impaired and blind children.
Pledge a Library initiative launched at Sharjah International Book Fair 2017, with the aim of delivering books in Arabic, to Middle Eastern refugee and asylum-seeking groups around the world.
2,000 books distributed to children in refugee and asylum-seeking communities in Sweden.
400 braille, large print and audio books distributed to visually disabled children in Jordan and the United Arab Emirates.
Surveying beings on populations of visually impaired and blind children in the Middle East, North and East Africa.
WIPO-led Accessible Books Consortium and Kalimat Foundation agree on collaboration for the production of born accessible books in Arabic, adapted for visually disabled children.
3,500 books distributed to children in refugee and asylum-seeking communities in Armenia, Brazil, France, Germany, Hong Kong and Tunisia.
1,450 braille, large print and audio books distributed to visually disabled children in Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.
10 MENA publishing houses trained on born accessible production for the visually disabled.
6,100 books distributed to children in refugee and asylum-seeking communities in Italy, Jordan, Lebanon, Russia and Greece.
1,580 braille, large print and audio books distributed to visually disabled children in Kuwait, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates.
Ara shortlisted for the ABC 2020 international Excellence Awards, under the initiative category.
100 accessible EPUB3 books produced in Arabic, allowing for advanced benefit in reading on digital platforms for the visually impaired and blind.
500 books distributed to children in refugee and asylum-seeking communities in the United Kingdom, Kenya and Somalia.
1,366 braille, large print and audio books distributed to visually disabled children in Palestine and the United Arab Emirates.
Partnership agreement signed with Book Aid International for Africa, in support of the Pledge a Library Initiative.
Memorandum of Understanding signed with the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, to help identify and recommend recipients who match the foundation’s distribution objectives.
The UAE Ministry of Economy approves Kalimat Foundation as the first Emirati non-profit organisation licensed to publish titles in accessible formats, in accordance with the statutes and aims defined in the WIPO-led Marrakesh VIP Treaty.
Memorandum of Understanding signed with Sharjah Public Libraries and House of Wisdom to support Ara – Phase 2.
Memorandum of Understanding signed with the Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (ALECSO), to help identify and recommend recipients who match the foundation’s distribution objectives.
Ara shortlisted for a second time at the ABC 2022 international Excellence Awards, under the initiative category.
Outset programme and Eid with them
On these individual projects, in May and September 2017, Kalimat Foundation teams visited Mrajeeb Al Fhood, also known as Emirati Jordanian refugee camp. The purpose behind the first intervention was to deliver 1,000 books. As for the subsequent visit, the objective was to celebrate the Islamic Eid Al adha festival with the children separated from homes and families, and deliver further gifts.
Pledge a Library
Pledge a Library delivers book collections to forcibly displaced children from the Middle East, recently settled in countries in the same region, in Europe, South America, or further afield. It also provides books to those living amongst disadvantaged communities in places such as Kenya or the Somaliland region. The compact libraries holding the collections each contain 100 Arabic language titles.
To date 14,600 books have been committed and distributed in 22 countries. We also understand that more than 100,000 boys and girls have been able to find access to these. Wherever the demand for Kalimat Foundation libraries presents itself, recipients are evaluated on the youngster populations that can benefit, reading capabilities, and the potential gain from the foundation’s contribution. Pledge a Library in this regard, donates to refugee camps, community centres, schools and universities, institutes, public libraries, hospitals and NGOs.
Pledge a Library has set foot in four continents and 21 countries, where more than 105,000 children have access been able to readto books donated by the foundation.
On average, with Pledge a Library donations to libraries, schools, community centres and hospitals around the world; we understand that there are about seven children with access to every one book delivered.
Pledge a Library book distribution timeline
Ara means ‘I see’ in Arabic and the Ara programme serves blind and visually impaired children, as well as those with other print disabilities, by supporting the production of accessible Arabic content to help literacy and learning. Its purpose reflects objectives in the 2013 Marrakesh Treaty, on the wider availability of books in accessible formats.
Ara exists to develop capabilities in literacy, by providing reading and listening material in print braille, large print, audio and accessible EPUB3. On average each child receives 10 accessible books from the foundation. The education of regional publishers in born accessible technologies and workflows further comes under the programme’s umbrella, resulting from a cooperative agreement with the Accessible Books Consortium (ABC), a partnership headed by the World Intellectual Property Organization and incorporating the likes of the World Blind Union, libraries for the blind, global standards authorities and publishing bodies.
Such a step has meant that Kalimat Foundation is the first organisation in the Middle East to facilitate training and technical workshops to publishers, to produce books in accessible EPUB3 formats in Arabic. Advantages respectively allow for read aloud functionality and compatibility with text-to-speech programmes, interactive text, bookmarks, tables of content, simple navigation and usage on a variety of electronic devices, marking significant progress in literacy support.
A survey of blind and visually disabled youngster communities conducted across 20 countries in 2018 and 2019, commissioned by Kalimat Foundation, evidenced a need for children’s stories, as well as books on history, the sciences, the arts and foreign languages, juxtaposed against a considerable regional shortfall inaccessible Arabic literary content.
In parallel, following the production of 30,000 accessible books under the same remit, all have now been distributed or set in transit, locally, regionally and internationally. Ara adds to its objectives, the development of greater awareness for visually disabled children across the Middle East, North and East Africa, to advance their social integration. In this regard, Kalimat Foundation has set baselines and benchmarks and produced case studies to aid policy making, in local, regional and international frameworks, to better serve blind and visually impaired youth.
It is for these reasons that Kalimat Foundation and Ara have twice been shortlisted in the ABC Excellence Awards for Accessible Publishing under the initiatives category, in 2020 and again in 2022. Significantly, in September 2022, Kalimat Foundation became the first non-profit organisation in the Emirates to be awarded an accessible publishing license by the Ministry of Economy. In the following month, we gained authorised entity access to the ABC Global Book Service, allowing for the sharing and publication of digital titles with other organisations on the platform.
Today Kalimat Foundation has 113 digital accessible titles to its name, all of which are in e-book format, targetting Arabic speakers of school-going age, between three and 17 years. With our new found strengths and wider global reach, we expect to gain momentum serving the print disabled – and the disadvantaged – aiding well deserved aspirations in literacy, education and the deliverance of bright days to come.
With the significant void in reading resources for the blind and visually impaired in the region, Ara’s drive to literacy means that on average, every one child receives approximately 10 audio, large print and print braille books.
In the survey of 223 organisations that care for blind youngsters in the Middle East, North and East Africa, there were on average seven children to every one teacher. In a number of cases the teachers were also blind or visually impaired.
Visual disability youngster proportions as reported by 61 out of 223 organisations.