Nazih Girgis, a story-teller, author and publisher, thrives to raise awareness to children on important issues like perserving the environment, road safety, water resources conservation, traffic laws, health and the effects of obesity.
Music was always his main inspiration behind writing for children, so Girgis built a creative musical system that brought together music, literature and poetry, in which the flute was represented by a cat, the drums by fishermen and the violin by a donkey, along with other musical instruments and their depictions. This then led to developing an interactive educational and entertainment program called “Children’s Integrated Cultural and Awareness Program” in both Arabic and English.
Girgis, who studied music history and music appreciation, is the founder and chairman of US-Mid-East Music and Fine Arts Council that was developed in 1998. He is also currently the director of Self-Employed and the president of Edu-Stories Publishing L.L.C.
The author’s books were written and published in Arabic, English, Spanish and Aprikans, and had a great impact on children with disabilties and those living in poverty. He then transformed several of his pieces into ballet shows that participated in international festivals in Syria and Johannesburg, and released them as cassette tapes and CDs.
He is widely applauded by the media both in the Arab World and the United States, where he has conducted more than 1,200 workshops and reading sessions. In Egypt, he received top prizes in major children’s literature competitions like the Suzan Mubarak Prize for Children’s Literature in 2001 for his books “Peter and the Wolf”, “Carnivals of Animals” and “Queen Waters”. He also received a note of recognition from President Obama and his wife on his book “The Dolphin Park”.
Girgis also teamed up with multi-national corporations, such as Shell Egypt, InterContinental Hotels and Resorts, (USAID), (DANIDA) and the Egyptian Ministry of Education, as well as many other NGOs and educational institutes.
We talked with Nazih Girgis to find out more about his programs, workshops and future projects.
How did you come up with the idea of relating storytelling and music to educate children?
I believe that music is an educational tool and a successful method of communication that has the ability to be understood internationally, and can be used as a medium to uplift people and help unite different populations.
Actually, I used to conduct workshops for street children, where I immediately began to witness a change in their behavior: before the workshops, they used to be unsocial and uncooperative, however, afterwards, they became more sympathetic and interactive.
I received an appreciation letter from one of the children in Sayeda who used to attend my workshops, and the letter was the best certificate I have ever received, as it shows how deep of an impact music, and my workshops, can have.
What do you believe is your role in the development of children living in poverty who are deprived of their right to receive a proper education?
I conducted several workshops for children with disabilities and children living in Upper Egypt and in villages. I remember after the end of one of the workshops, a child with a disability tried to kiss my hands but it looked as if he was biting me, so the supervisor yelled at him, after which I informed him that the child is trying to express his happiness and gratitude, and that he should be more understanding to the situation.
During another workshop that took place in a school village that some governmental bodies attended, there was food and beverages being served to the officials, which I rejected for the sake of avoiding making the children feel upset and deprived of such things.
How did you manage to grab children’s attention from different parts of the world?
My translation into Arabic of the fairytale “Peter and the Wolf”, originally Sergei Prokofiev’s masterpiece, introduces music appreciation and education, with an introduction by the late Oleg Prokofiev. The book is now a part of the collection of The Prokofiev Museum at Columbia University, The Russian State Archive of Literature and Art and The Prokofiev Museum in Moscow.
I also presented this piece for the first time at the music hall of the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in Washington in 1990, and then with the Cairo Symphony Orchestra at the American University’s Ewart Hall under the direction of Maestro Mustafa Nagy.
“Carnival of Animals”, a narration for Camille Saint-Saens’ masterpiece, aimed at educating children on the environment, in which I used imagination to support the theme, where different animals in the zoo all played a part in being eco-friendly. Throughout the play, all the musical instruments combine in harmony to give the child the opportunity to fully enjoy and learn.
The story is not only humerous and joyful, but there are some lessons introduced subtly, which is easily absorbed by children. The first lesson taught to them was that if they want something to be done, they should start with themselves, and the significance of teamwork is also reflected throughout. Recycling and sound pollution are also brought to light through musical instruments.
“Queen Waters”, a poem in which water is portrayed as a queen that has four daughters: Rivers, Oceans, Wells and Rain, was presented during the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in 2002, as well as at the Ministry of Irrigation in Egypt.
In all my stories, I usually provide important messages, like in “The Dolphin Park”, which discusses the negative impact of eating unhealthy junk food and soft drinks.
I also cover the topic of traffic in “STOP and Learn from Dr. Wise, the Elephant”. The book helps children to understand the importance of maintaining safety on the road and the risk of speeding and using phones while driving. The story focuses on how we, as diverse humans, should live in one united community. The book was translated into English, Spanish and Aprikans, and I attended a Safety Summit in Africa where I was asked to send copies of the book to them.
Why do you not utilize your storytelling techniques by presenting a TV program for children?
I do not mind spending my whole life for the sake of children, but I do not like showing up on TV programs, unless the program deals directly with them.
If you were the Minster of Education, what is the first action you would take?
Build more schools to make the capacity of a classroom a maximum of 30 students, as well as make sure that every school includes music and art education. I would also cancel religious classes that I believe should be taken privately, as well as cancelling all examinations for the elementary levels.
Did you think about presenting your stories in the form of cartoons, to be presented on Egyptian TV?
Actually, I have already started producing my stories in the form of animations and I am not keen to make money as much as I am keen to provide children with the correct learning atmosphere.
What are your future plans?
I am currently analyzing several projects, but as my passion lies with Syrian children who I really admire and sympathize with, my next step would include planning workshops for them and sending books to them in cooperation with UNICEF.