DUBAI: They say necessity is the mother of invention, and for French-Hungarian entrepreneur Hanna Lenda, her endeavor to design educational and playful games in Arabic was sparked by the arrival of her firstborn son, Adam. Lenda and her Tunisian husband — who live in Nantes, France — prioritized instilling a love of their mother tongues in their children.
“When Adam was born, I started to buy children’s books and games in English, Hungarian, French and Arabic — this was nearly 10 years ago,” Lenda explained to Arab News. “And I said to myself, ‘Why does all the Arabic stuff not look as cool as the other languages?’ Arabic is just as beautiful; it’s a language of poetry. This beautiful language doesn’t deserve to look outdated.”
So, in 2016, Lenda — who has a master’s degree in product design — established Daradam (meaning ‘Adam’s home’), a publishing house for educational resources offering young minds a fresh take on the basics of the Arabic language and numerical system, as well as promoting Arabic culture — including the region’s architectural heritage — through visually engaging products.
Lenda interviewed a number of Arabic teachers, whose feedback was helpful to her design process. According to Lenda, they all expressed a concern that teachers of other languages had more resources, and that the limited options available to Arabic teachers were “not that fun.”
So Lenda began crafting board and card games that are simple, educational and enjoyable. “My desire was to create a product that, when the child sees it, he has the desire to touch and play with it,” she said. In her view, it was crucial that the games have simple rules, otherwise families and teachers would likely refrain from using them.
One of her major criticisms of existing Arabic games is their “irrelevance.” Many were likely translated from English to Arabic decades ago. “Art is so beautiful in the Arab world,” said Lenda, who has visited Lebanon, Tunisia, and the UAE in recent years. “You can get inspiration from all the art there and create something that reflects the Arab world’s heritage. You don’t need to use a design coming from the other side of the world and translate it to Arabic.”
For Daradam’s memory game “Arabicity,” for instance, Lenda invited the Tunisian artist Noha Habaieb to illustrate 12 iconic architectural settings from the Arab world, which are presented on a set of 24 wooden cards. Through Habaieb’s colorful and charming illustrations, the user is transported to the ruins of Petra in Jordan, the blue-washed roads of Morocco’s Chefchaouen and Beirut’s grand Sursock Museum, opened in 1961.
One of Daradam’s bestsellers is “Arabicubes,” in which each wooden block shows letters from the Arabic alphabet. Each side of a block presents all written forms of a specific letter, creating simple words and phrases when joined.
“Vokalimat” is a board game designed to enrich children’s Arabic vocabulary, including feminine and masculine adjectives, while “Chkobba” — an upgraded attempt to teach children how to count — is inspired by a traditional Tunisian card game; each card is decorated with a mosaic and its parts are colored in according to the number on the card.
“Arabicouples” came about through Lenda’s conversations with Arabic teachers who expressed a desire for resources that featured all 22 countries of the Arab league. Players must match pairs of cards containing illustrations of men and women wearing the traditional clothes of each country. Lenda’s research included scouring museum photographs for costume ideas.
Daradam’s products are now distributed in stores across the Middle East and Europe — engaging children from a refugee camp in Greece to areas of the Egyptian countryside. And they have turned out to be useful to curious adults and some non-Arabic speakers as well.
“In Lebanon, the family of an old lady who lost her capacity to talk bought her the ‘Arabicubes’ blocks. So, she communicates with them through the blocks,” Lenda said, adding that a French saleswoman once told her that a client bought the same product just because of its “beautiful design.”
It is clear that, for Lenda, Daradam is much more than an entrepreneurial venture.
“We live in Europe, and before the coronavirus the media was speaking about terrorism, and my kids only heard negative stuff about (the Arab) world. It’s so bad,” she said. “We need to show this beautiful heritage to the kids. I want to show them the beauty and positive things of the region.”