Lamis Akouch is an alumna of TFL’s 10th cohort of Fellows (2018–2020).
Lamis is currently working on an app she created called Sanabel (“seed” in Arabic). She describes it as a “channel for children to learn in a fun and safe environment.” Sanabel’s aim is to boost the emotional intelligence of children and teach them life skills through interactive storytelling.
Lamis explains that emotional intelligence encompasses a range of soft skills including leadership, communication skills, and anger management, and emphasizes that they are highly valuable in both professional and personal contexts. And yet, “these skills are not taught in school,” she says. This is one of the reasons the app is called Sanabel. What happens to us during our formative years will stick with us for the rest of our lives – that’s why it’s so important to teach the right lessons early on. The lessons Sanabel delivers are meant to function as a seed that will positively influence the future personality and behavior of the children using the app.
When I ask her how the idea for this project came to her, Lamis tells me about her background. She holds masters’ degrees in both educational technology and educational psychology. Throughout her Fellowship with TFL, Lamis kept asking herself how she could combine these three passions – education, technology, and psychology. This app is her answer to that question.
Her team includes experts in all three fields. They work together to select and create stories and puppet shows that are psychologically healthy for children and will teach them important life lessons. For example, they wrote a story (and created a puppet show) designed to teach kids about anger management. The story gives kids strategies for dealing with their anger such as “I need to take a deep breath,” “I need to think: ‘What was the issue that made me angry?’” “I need to describe the issue and tell you what made me angry.”
Throughout the stories and puppet shows, kids using the app are prompted to answer questions about what’s happening on screen. These questions help them understand the lesson the story is conveying and help the Sanabel team evaluate whether the lesson is being conveyed.
The app and the stories it features are in “Fus’ha” (formal Arabic). One reason for this is to teach children how to use “proper Arabic”; another is to make the app accessible to Arabic-speaking children anywhere.
It seems Sanabel is working. When they surveyed the parents of the children using the beta version of the app, the Sanabel team found that 62% of them believed the app was having a positive influence on the mindset and behavior of their children.
The journey to where Lamis is now has not been easy. Sanabel is a self-funded, ad-free app, and Lamis has turned part of her house into a studio to create content. Despite previous failures to start this kind of project, Lamis did not give up, and now children throughout the world are using her app.
When asked what she wants to say to current and prospective fellows, Lamis tells the story of how she came to take on the TFL Fellowship. When she was offered a spot as a Fellow she also had another job offer to teach at an elite Lebanese private school. It was a decision between the easy and more remunerative path and following her dreams and passions. “Looking back,” Lamis says, “TFL was definitely the right decision.” She cites the personal and professional development she received from TFL, the relationships she formed throughout her fellowship, the openness of the organization to listen to its people and try new things, and the feeling that the work she did was helping people.
“People are dying,” Lamis concludes, “and their dreams and their ambitions are dying with them. I need to give all my potential and all my abilities and all my capabilities before I die. I want to die empty. I need to die empty: this is what I want to tell them.”
You can find Sanabel on Google Play (available for Android devices). If you wish to support Sanabel through cash or donations of equipment, or if you are interested in joining the Sanabel team, please contact Lamis at Lamis.firstname.lastname@example.org.