Aunt Wedad: Egyptian puppet promotes mental health

Al-Khala Wedad was envisioned as a cartoon before Sawy hit on the idea of turning it into a puppet.

Bold creation. Al-Khala Wedad with the puppet’s creator Esraa el-Sawy. (Courtesy of Esraa el-Sawy)

2017/06/11 Issue: 110 Page: 23

The Arab Weekly
Marwa al-A’sar

Cairo - Egyptian puppeteer Esraa el-Sawy said she is look­ing to launch a psychi­atric revolution in Egypt through the power of puppetry. Or, at least through the power of one specific puppet, Al- Khala Wedad — Aunt Wedad.

Al-Khala Wedad is a marionette that looks like a kindly old woman. The puppet is the star of a modest YouTube channel called Hakawy al-Khala Wedad (The Tales of Aunt Wedad) through which Sawy, 28, promotes mental health by telling stories about everyday problems and issues.

“The idea came to me about one year ago when I worked as a human development trainer. I did not real­ly like my job and I prayed to God to help me find a new idea and he an­swered my prayers and inspired me with Al-Khala Wedad,” Sawy said.

Al-Khala Wedad, bespectacled and wearing a conservative but fashionable hijab, was envisioned as a cartoon before Sawy hit on the idea of turning the idea into a pup­pet.

“Afterward, I got to know an art­ist named Youhana Habashy, who produces puppets. I gave him the design of Al-Khala Wedad that I made to look like me but older and he made me the puppet in no time,” she said.

The Al-Khala Wedad puppet looks like the archetype of a wise Egyptian auntie and that is pre­cisely the image Sawy would like to promote. In a country where men­tal health can be viewed by some as a taboo subject, Al-Khala Wedad represents a bold creation.

“I am trying to offer my view­ers counselling and psychotherapy through Al-Khala Wedad,” Sawy said. “Listening to a puppet is much more comfortable for some people than listening to a therapist.”

“I am currently studying a grad­uate preliminary year in mental health at an Egyptian university and I am planning for Al-Khala Wedad to be the subject of the the­sis of my master’s degree” she said.

Al-Khala Wedad’s YouTube chan­nel has had moderate success, with videos averaging a few hundred hits but the puppet has found more mainstream success on Egyptian television, including interviews on national and privately owned chan­nels to discuss mental health.

Al-Khala Wedad also makes ap­pearances at workshops in training and cultural centres in the Egyptian province of Sohag where Sawy lives with her husband. “I participate in workshops through which Al-Khala Wedad appears for 15 minutes then I myself continue the rest of the session, Sawy said.

“The workshops are quite suc­cessful. The audience’s turnout is usually high and there is typically very positive response to the pup­pet,” Khaled Ismail, head of the state-run Sohag cultural centre said.

Sawy’s project is the first in the Arab world to bring puppetry and therapy together.

“I secured patent rights on the puppets and on my show last year from the Egyptian Ministry of Culture to protect my intellectual property,” Sawy said.

Even though Sawy uses a pup­pet to deliver her points, she said that the idea was not just to address children but adults, as well. “Adults need to be psychologically sound for their children to be stable,” Sawy said.

“When I address children, I do so through Al-Khala Wedad’s grand­daughter, a puppet named Kokky,” she added.

In the shows, Al-Khala Wedad of­fers tips on how to lead a fruitful life and how to deal with common problems, whether it is dealing with teenagers or extremism.

“I derive the subjects of my shows from real life stories and experiences and the psychologi­cal problems people usually suffer from,” Sawy said.

“Thank you for your videos. I benefited a lot from your show,” one viewer said in a comment on an episode of Hakawy al-Khala Wedad.

Sawy said she hopes her YouTube show can turn into a TV programme to reach the largest number of peo­ple, especially those who do not use the internet.

“As long as you truly believe in your idea, God will open the doors of success for you that you have never imagined,” she said.

Marwa al-A’sar is a Cairo-based journalist.

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