Jordanian real-life heroes create world's first ever animated cartoon on special needs children

Published August 30th, 2016 - 09:01 GMT
The main character from Team Hero Cartoon. (Facebook)
The main character from Team Hero Cartoon. (Facebook)

I met three real-life heros this week: Reem AlFranji, Khalid Abu Sharif and Mutaz Jarrar, or as I like to call them Super Mamactivist, Super Inspiranimator and Super Enthusiasticator.

In a nutshell, this creative trio oozes with passion and determination for helping the world’s disabled community.

After three and a half years of blood, sweat and tears, they launched the Arab world’s first ever animated cartoon series featuring disabled children as leading characters in an inclusive community, in hopes of educating kids and their parents on children with disabilities, and most importantly, showing that, they too, are heroes.

As I sat with them to talk about their remarkable project, the room was charged with an electrifying feeling of positive energy.

 

Team Hero: Inception

I loved the story behind Team Hero Cartoon’s creation; the idea was born from a bad-situation-made-good.

A humble Reem told me that her two young sons, Abood and Amr - whom I had the pleasure of meeting at the interview - were the inspiration behind the cartoon. After being diagnosed with Global Development Delay* (GDD) in Gaza (2009), Reem packed up their bags and moved to Jordan (2011), where she would find the necessary support for someone with their condition.

As any doting mother would, Reem joined a parent support group through an NGO and dedicated her time to raising awareness and promoting tolerance for disabled children in her community.

Through a stroke of good luck, Reem met Mutaz while working on an animation project. After a fruitful discussion, they were as excited as a kid in a candy store to discover that no content promoting the integration of disabled children into society yet exists, and that’s when they had their lightbulb moment.

Heroes come to life

Reem and Mutaz joined forces with Khalid - who needs to be on a TEDx stage by the way - who helped them turn their idea into a reality. They complement each other so well, you can’t help but think that they’re a professional match made in heaven.

Khalid described his team as a “tripod that would fall apart without one of them.” Reem concurred, adding that “each one of us adds their own values and touches to the team and cartoon, as well.”

But who’s who in this triumphant trio? Reem is the scriptwriter, Khalid co-writes the scripts, as well as working on animating the characters, and Mutaz handles the business development aspect of the project.

 

Making cartoons great again

It took one promo to convince me that this is the kind of cartoon our kids need to be watching.

Team Hero is more than just a cartoon; it is a series of life lessons that today’s world is in dire need of. Reem, Khalid and Mutaz are normalizing disabilities and editing our warped view of them. While, unfortunately, a huge majority only see the weaknesses in people with special needs, this carefully-written cartoon highlights their strengths, as well as bringing to light that even those without disabilities have their own flaws. No one is perfect, but together we can build a better society.

“Those are the kind of morals I want my children to have, those are the kind of morals I want all children to have.”

- Khalid Abu Sharif

While the main theme of Team Hero might be international children with disabilities, it isn’t the writers’ main or sole focus. Khalid says that they’ve seized this cartoon as an opportunity to inspire children and educate them by tackling key social issues like the environment, racism and bullying, while teaching our little ones that “they can be heroes no matter what they are.” This also explains why each character’s positive quality is introduced first, before stating their disability second.

Khalid is currently working on a new character: a girl who combats gender stereotypes and who he says “I can’t wait to meet.” This “Hero” will be a skilled engineer who was born without an arm, so she decides to build a bionic limb to help her paint and do more cool things with it.

I jokingly (except, I was being serious) suggested that Reem, Khalid and Mutaz write themselves in as characters… they laughed, but I’m hoping I’ll see them in action in season 2.

Season one consists of 13, ten-minute episodes (available in Arabic and English versions); it’s currently in production and will be completed in December 2016, before looking for suitable TV channels to air the series. The team is hoping that it gets picked up by international broadcasters, and so am I.

You talking to me?

When a large majority of parents aren’t educated enough on the etiquette of dealing with special needs children, how do we expect our kids to know any better?

This interview brought to light many of the problems adults encounter when dealing with this issue. Would you believe it if I told you that a number of parents have asked Reem in the past, “what language are your kids speaking,” while their kids were able to interact with Amr and Abood without a problem?

Parents and older people are sometimes the problem because they come from a shame culture or have grown up with certain misconceptions about disabled people. They must overcome those barriers, which is why Team Hero was written and conceptualized in a way that would appeal and get through to people of all ages and backgrounds.

 

Sponsor them

“This is a global issue and we feel our content will find a home anywhere it goes.”

- Khalid Abu Sharif

Making an animated cartoon series costs A LOT more than making a TV series. It’s a long, challenging and costly process, which explains why the first season of Team Hero is technically a half season - normally it would be 26 episodes. Believe it or not, it takes double Team Hero’s season one’s budget to make just ONE episode of The Simpson!

Thankfully though, the community response to this project has been immense.

Season 1 was funded by a number of very generous and passionate local Jordanian organizations and volunteers. Reem, Khalid and Mutaz would like to extend their sincerest thanks to everyone who made the Team Hero Cartoon happen. Their sponsors included the Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation, UNICEF Jordan, Jordan Bromine Company, Curl Stone Entertainment and Sync Media, in addition to all the talented volunteers who voiced Team Hero’s characters.

Now the cartoon’s creators need you to help them continue with their goodwill mission.

If you are, or know someone who is, interested in funding the second season of Team Hero Cartoon, please get in touch with Mutaz Jarrar on bd@teamherocartoon.com.

Did you know…

- Working on this project isn’t Reem, Khalid or Mutaz’s full-time job. Their intense passion and dedication to this project has made them create all the time needed for it, in addition to their primary jobs.

- Focus groups of disabled and non-disabled children and their parents have watched Team Hero’s episodes for feedback and the opportunity to pitch in their own ideas. (P.S. they loved the episodes).

- “Punky” is the only other cartoon out there with a leading disabled character.

You can follow Team Hero Cartoon on Facebook here.

 

By Arwad Khalifeh

 

*According to Contact a Family, “a child may be described as having global developmental delay (GDD) if they have not reached two or more milestones in all areas of development.”


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