Award-winning children’s book author and illustrator, Nadine Kaadan

We are thrilled to welcome award-winning children’s book author and illustrator, Nadine Kaadan. Born in Syria and based out of London, her books have been published in several languages, reaching a worldwide audience of children. We caught up with Nadine in London last fall and we know you’re going to find her as refreshing and inspiring as we do.

Nadine champions empowered and inclusive representation in kids’ books so that every child can see themselves in a story. Her work, as she describes it, was very dreamy and inspired by the ancient architecture of Damascus and its rich storytelling culture. But when the conflict in Syria erupted, it was reflected in her illustrations, and even the colour palette she used.

She wrote her book ‘Tomorrow’, which captured the attention of news outlets like CNN and the BBC, to help Syrian children process the reality of civil war and work through post-conflict trauma. Her book ‘Jasmine Sneeze’ shows children the beauty of Syria before the conflict.

She has been featured in Marie Claire Arabia, nominated for a Kate Greenaway Medal, and is the 2019 winner of the Arab British Centre Award for Culture. Nadine was also selected as one of The BBC’s 100 ‘most influential and inspiring’ Women of 2020 and was featured in their BCC 100 Women Masterclass.

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Follow Nadine on Instagram at @nadine_kaadan and purchase her children's books on her website.

 Nadine Kaadan

You can also read the interview below:

Chelsea Brown: Today, I'm thrilled to welcome award-winning children's book author, and illustrator, Nadine Kaadan, born in Syria and based out of London, her books have been published in several languages, reaching a worldwide audience of children. I caught up with Nadine in London last fall, and I know you're going to find her as refreshing and inspiring as I do.

Nadine Kaadan: So I've always been fascinated by the old city of Damascus. Since I was a child, I've always loved playing in the fountains and smelling the jasmine and look at the arches and this magnificent architecture that the city has is so unique to Damascus.

Chelsea: Nadine champions, empowered and inclusive representation in kids' books so that every child can see them selves in a story.

Nadine: Every time I visit refugee camps, I am empowered by these children. I learn from these children. I don't come to help them. They help me mostly. They teach us about resilience, about life, about keeping a smile, about how you make the best out of a very difficult situation. Yeah, it's impossible to live in Damascus not to become a storyteller because there's so much to say. And there's so much stories to be inspired by.

Chelsea: Her work, as she describes it, was very dreamy and inspired by the ancient architecture of Damascus and its rich storytelling culture.

Nadine: We have in Syria, history of amazing warrior women and queens and feminism us in the Arab world, we're not only passionate about it, but we fight for it. And we lived for it as well.

Chelsea: But when the conflict in Syria erupted, it was reflected in her illustrations and even the colour palette she used. She wrote her book, “Tomorrow”, which captured the attention of news outlets like CNN and the BBC, to help Syrian children process the reality of civil war and work through post conflict trauma. Her book, “Jasmines Sneeze" shows children the beauty of Syria before the conflict.

Nadine: What does it do to us on an identity level? We're much older than a war and the heritage and the culture and the art there is much older than a war and we'll stop and we'll come back or we just have to not let us define us. And remember that we're more than that.

Chelsea: She has been nominated for a Kate Greenaway Medal, featured in Marie Claire and is the 2019 winner of the Arab British Center Award for Culture. Nadine was also selected as one of the BBC's 100 Influential Inspiring Women of 2020 and was featured in their BBC 100 Women Masterclass. I'm so excited to welcome Nadine. I've been to Jordan many times.

Nadine: Have you?

Chelsea: Yes. So your story really resonates with a lot of the projects that we're working on. And I've been to Zaatari camp.

Nadine: Okay. Oh wonderful!

Chelsea: So your story as a Syrian woman who is influencing children to identify is amazing. And I think it's just incredible what you're doing.

Nadine: Thank you. Thank you so much.

Chelsea: What is it like being one of the 100 women, most influential women according to the BBC?

Nadine: Um, crazy. Was it like, uh, when I, when I received the email, I wasn't sure whether I'm really chosen or is it like final nomination? I was just like, keep questioning that because I couldn't just believe it. And when I looked at the list, I was even more shocked because you have Santa Marine, and the prime minister of Sweden and Sarah Gilbert, the creator of the COVID vaccine and all of these amazing women. And I was so honoured and, and, and shocked. And when I talked to the BBC women team, I told them, I mean, how, not only an incredible honour for me to be there on the list, but it also gives importance to stories and diversity in stories and the importance of children's books. Because a lot of these days children's books are not taken seriously and people do forget that stories make us who we are. And we grow up with these children's books that we read and, and I truly believe the end of racism starts on the bookshelves. So if we don't put importance of children's books on the front, people will not take them seriously. And then a lot of children will feel left out, uh, left behind. And when they chose me, I just told them really thank you because it gives seriousness to this topic. And it's just like, you, uh, was really honoured.

Chelsea: You're like, is this a prank? Yeah.

Nadine: When I read the email, I was like, no, no, no, no. That, and I told them, will I be chosen later? Is this like a nomination? I was like, no, no, no, you're chosen. That's it? So it was, yeah, it was amazing.

Chelsea: Nadine, did you always know that you wanted to be a writer?

Nadine: Absolutely.

Chelsea: Yeah, and an author.

Nadine: Yeah. I think I did my first story when I was 10 at school and I photo copied it in a machine, white, black, and white. And I made it into a proper story and I distributed in the school and I didn't even forget to write all the details, publication, written by, illustrated by as if like it's a real book. And I just knew that that's what I wanted to do since the age of 10. When you grow up, you find different ways, different people telling you to do different things. But I was just like, we really focus on art. I loved illustrating books and I loved drawing all the time. I did find arts with knowing in my mind that I will be doing children's books. So yeah, it was crazy journey because in the beginning, I didn't know where to start, we didn't have any children books publicly and publishing houses in Syria. Maybe we had only two. So it was really tough to know where to start and how to publish a book. But then it worked, my first published book was with the Jordanian publisher.

Chelsea: Oh my gosh. Wow.

Nadine: Yeah. So, wow! You were in Jordan and, and I loved Jordan because it was the first time I was ever published. And it was a crazy story because I didn't know what to start. I just had just graduated and I had this great job as an art director at an advertising company, but I knew that this is not what I wanted. And I sat on Google and I put “Arabic children's books” and the first thing that comes up is a publishing house called Cell Publishing House. And I was like, okay, I'll contact them. I said, hello, would you want to see my portfolio? And they just emailed me back, yeah, send us your work. And yeah, this is how it started.

Chelsea: That's incredible. You had almost a different career path, that's really inspiring.

Nadine: When I first graduated, I was an art director had just came back from London. I did a portfolio course. I had this job at a big advertising company and had I not get my first published book, I would stay there, but I knew that this is not what I wanted. So when I signed the contracts, then I decided to quit and to just focus on children's books and yeah, it's been what, 15 years never stopped since then.

Chelsea: That’s incredible because you know, a lot of the time women and people will have this voice in the back of their head saying, “you wanna actually do this, you don't wanna,” you have this passion project or this other calling and sometimes lack of confidence or being afraid to switch careers can get in our way. So what was that like for you going through that journey? Did you have self-doubt?

Nadine: A lot. It was very hard because I was just thinking, what should I just leave a very good job with a good salary and sit at home? And okay, I signed the contracts. But will I ever get another book or would I ever get another book? But I remember I had a chat with close friends and she was telling me, do you think you'll be able to pursue your career doing this full-time job? And I was like, no, it's impossible. It's nine to six. And it's like, do it because life is short and I've remembered the obsession of will I be published again after my first book and I was, and we still have it. We still have it. I even talk to really well known authors here in the UK. And we always have this anxiety when your book is published, is it gonna get too good? Is it gonna sell? Are people gonna like it? Are children gonna enjoy it? And am I gonna be published again? It's a stressful journey.

Chelsea: What was your first book?

Nadine: The first book I've written and illustrated is called “Answer Me, Leila”. It's a story dedicated for children with special needs, tt's about deaf princess. So that was my first book, the first one I wrote before that I had illustrated for other people and won an Anna Lindh Award for children special needs, which was amazing because it was my first book. But then here, when I came to the UK, I didn't think I would be published in English because it's not my first language, not my second language. It's my third language. So I never studied in English.

Chelsea: Yeah, I'm impressed. You also speak French. I was like this woman just incredible.

Nadine: It's at school. We learned Arabic and the second language was French. So that was my education. I was never educated in English. And then I came here to the UK, finding myself, reading about hopes and AOR and all of these political theory that are really difficult. I really struggled. So when I came here, I didn't even dream that I will be published here. I would attend lots of lectures and, and conferences about children's books, industry in the UK. And I'd hear people saying who've been trying to get published for 10 years with no hope and all of that native English speakers, all of that people who know the industry, who has contact, where I just came from Syria with a suitcase really, and a few paints and brushes and watercolours.

But luckily I was speaking on the London book fair about my book, my Arabic book. It was a panel discussion about translation translating. And they were trying to get our books from different languages translated. And my publisher Alice from Lantana Publishing, she approached me and she said, why won't you submit to us? And I was like me? Oh my God, okay. I said, yeah, yeah, of course. And I came back home doubting that, can I write a story in English, which is not my first language. I could write an Arabic. Can I write an English? What will happen when you switch the language? And I took the shot, I kept trying and trying. And, and I remember what I did with The Jasmine Sneeze, I wrote paragraphs in Arabic. And then I translated them into English and that didn't sound good. And then I wrote it, rewrote it again in English. And I submitted it knowing it's impossible. She's not gonna take it. And she did. That was my first book published in the UK.

Chelsea: Wow, The Jasmine Sneeze, I've heard about this story. Anyone listening, you'll have to go learn all about it. It's so cute with the cat and the Jasmine, as someone who loves Jordan, I can smell Jasmine in the summer so I thought that was such a cute you topic for a book. Why children's books, let's get into that a little bit. And do you think that you still have to keep the essence, the childlike essence to be able to illustrate an author, these books?

Nadine: It’s very good question. That brings us back to the first topic that we talked about to the importance of children's books and what does it do and the importance of everyone, bring them to the front and treat them seriously. We all know what stories do to us. I mean, stories shape our identities, make us who we are. Books take us to all the places that we want. And, interesting enough, I read the other day, even children who read for pleasure, they have better mental health, their emotional wellbeing is much more developed because you relate to these character. You find a way to come out of the difficulties through these characters. They even better at math. So that's according to The Book Trust. So The Book Trust has published this article, why reading for pleasure is important.

And I had no idea that even children who read for pleasure, just pick a book to read and they enjoy it when not talking to learn about topic, which just like reading for pleasure. They do better at math, they have better mental health, better what wellbeing. So that's the importance of books in general. We know what do they do to us as adults, imagine what do they do to children? But also I think stories is the best way to introduce topics that are sensitive, that are difficult, that in reality, when you wanna talk about it, how can a child relate to that? How can I relate to that? But when they see a character going through this difficult situation and this hardship and how they come out of it, and you see yourself through these characters, you relate, you learn about the world, you learn about hardship.

I found any difficult topic that it's so sensitive and hard to introduce to children, just find a book about it and do it. And finally, my favourite part about why books are important. They're not only providing a mirror, so seeing yourself and relating to these characters and learning how to come out of difficult situation, but they also provide the window to the world. And this is when empathy, true empathy starts. When you have, in your bookshelves, characters from all over the world. When you have characters of colour, when you have Asian characters, when you have characters celebrating all kinds of holidays, you relate to these characters, you love them, you find yourself in them. And then the next thing that happens is true empathy is building and then the world is a better word this way. This is how we really learn about diversity. This is how we really truly understand the world around us. And it's, and I found the equation is really simple. We are scared of the things that we don't know. I think it's really easy. And the more, or we read stories, fun stories, just fun stories about characters, about cultures around us, the more that we're not scared next time we see someone from a different culture or a different background or a different ethnicity. In fact, it will excite us because, oh, I read this story and I love this character. And my son, one of his favourite books is a Nigerian girl celebrating the yam festival. When we were in the park and he was playing with this girl and he asked her where she's from and she said she's originally from Nigeria. He was like, oh, just like this story. And he was so happy and I was like, that's what's books do.

Chelsea: Yeah, that’s really, really special. Yay. Nadine, I'd love to talk about your childhood in Syria. So something, when I was preparing for this discussion with you today, something that really kept reoccurring to me was someone who had grown up in Syria, this beautiful place, that's your home. And then the conflict turned war happened, what was that like growing up in this world that you thought was your own, and then everything changed. I think I read that you left to come to London thinking you go back.

Nadine: Yeah. After one year.

Chelsea: And you're still here now.

Nadine: Yeah. 10 years later. 10 years later.

Chelsea: And you were, what in your, your twenties when this happened? So old enough to understand what's going on and witness the pain.

Nadine: Yeah. I think the hardest part of leaving, I mean, many people just travel around the world and live in other countries and that's fine. The hardest part is that everyone else left and there's no home anymore. Your friends are scattered everywhere, everyone is scattered. Even if you get the chance to go back now, because it is possible to go back, it doesn't feel like home because everyone left, everyone's all over the place. So the idea of losing home is really, really hard. I still believe that we go back and we're trying to keep the identity alive and we're trying to visit as much as possible. But the war, what does it do to a place and to people and to your identity? And I really think no one should ever experience war because it's so, so difficult on all levels.

When we grew up in Syria, it was very safe space. It is funny because Syria, I found it even safer than London, because if you forget, sometimes your wallet on the street, people will come and remind you to take it. So I remember the safety, the sense of safety. And when that changed, suddenly because of the war, was such a shock for us. We didn't even wanna call it a war because we just were not convinced. In my book “Tomorrow” there isn't a word calling it a war, I said it's a conflict, it's a crisis because we were just all convinced it's gonna finish, few months gonna finish. This is not happening to us. We were in denial. But, even when we came here, I was like, yeah, yeah, yeah, we'll come back, this is gonna finish. We just refused to believe that gonna linger that much.

And it's gonna cause that much destruction. What does it do to us on an identity level coming from now, everything linked to Syria is war, where for us, Syria is fountains and jasmine and so much beauty, culture and heritage. So suddenly the identity shift was scary for us. And that's why I did “The Jasmine Sneeze”. Because I wanted to remind myself and children that this is temporary and that Syria has the oldest cities in the world, Aleppo and Damascus. We're much older than a war and the heritage and the culture and the art. There is much older than a war and it will stop and we'll come back, but we just have to not let us define us, not let us make us who we are, the war and remember that we are more than that.

Chelsea: For everyone listening, who might not fully understand, you know, the conflict and the wars, can you paint the picture for everyone for what it was like growing up in Syria?

Nadine: I mean, growing up in Syria was really a normal childhood. I don't find it different than just a normal childhood here. So for example, now I have a toddler who's three years old that I take him to swimming classes. And I remember doing that when I was at child. So we had our swimming classes, our tennis classes and after school classes and art classes and playing in the parks. On the weekend, just meeting families and climbing trees. So it's just really, a really normal childhood, the touch of living in an old city like Damascus. So, for us, it’s interesting because here everyone, all the kids sleep at seven where, in Syria, it's okay if you stay up late that night, because this is when the summer nights are, wow, it's so nice. And breezy after the hot sun comes down and then you smell the jasmine and then you play in these court yard and you go see these fountains.

So I've always been fascinated by the old city of Damascus, since I was a child, I've always loved playing in the fountains and smelling the jasmine and looking at the arches and this magnificent architecture that the city has. And so unique to Damascus. It's something they've always been fascinated by and always ask question about what is this, what was that? What is this building? And, and you find these beautiful houses that are like 5,000 years old, that really ancient ancient houses, each house has a story. And each fountain has a story and each place inspires you in a different way. And I think it's impossible to live in Damascus and not to become a storyteller, because there's so much to say there's so much stories to be inspired by.

Chelsea: Can you share with us about the misconceptions about Syria and you know, what do you want people to know about Syria?

Nadine: Yeah. Oh, thank you. I found this very important topic and it's a very, very interesting question. As someone who've always been passionate and frustrated and angry about women's rights and the women's situation in general and fighting for better situation for us. What frustrates me the most is the stereotypes that comes when you come from a certain country. There is this new term of I've learned that recently at Goldsmith, which is called white feminism, which means it's the feminism or women's rights are only focused or made by the west and white women and then always looked at women from ethnic minorities or diverse backgrounds, looked at in a charitable look, a pitty look that these women didn't reach what we reached and that’s frustrating and tiring because every time I say from Syria, they immediately assume certain stereotypes about you.

They immediately assume that you're the traditional person who stays at home and cooks and your husband is the provider. And you know, this main family, which for me, it's empowering by itself when that's the woman's choice. of course. I mean every woman's choice is if she choose her life, then that's empowering by itself. But just like assuming things about you is just tiring. And assuming that only feminism is white concept and women's right. And gender equality is a Western concept. As for us in the Arab world, we’re not only passionate about it, but we fight for it and we lived for it as well. We have, in Syria, history of amazing warrior women and Queens and feminism. So don't take it away from us and don't make it such a Western or white focus concept. My mom always worked and she's a professor at university. She's a French professor. My grandma's a journalist. So a lot of women around me are independent so it surprised me where the stereotypes comes from. Of course, I mean, we have a lot of problem in Syria. We need to solve about women's situations, but making the stereotypes is very harming and we really need to expand what feminism is when we think of this topic.

Chelsea: Absolutely. Everyone like turn that up, that needs to be heard on loud. Where do you think the misconceptions come from?

Nadine: A lot of the media, I think a lot of the media is focused on that, even literature. So when I was once at the conference, the panel discussion probably at the London Book Fair and they were talking about translating literature from different languages. And one of the translators, she's a translator from Arabic to English, one of the question that came to me is like why the literature is translated from the Arab word from Arabic to English is mostly about this oppressed woman. Who's always probably being abused by her husband and always these stories about these non-empowered women. It's true, it is a reality in the Arab word. It is so sad and it is beyond the number is massive, which is really sad. But when you only, and that's what they keeps saying that if you only portray one image, it will become reality.

People think that that's the only situation and that's the case books, even children's books. They're only focused on traditional type woman from the Arab word, films, culture in general. But in fact, that's not the case and, we are diverse. We have all kind of different kind of women. And I would love to see more stories about empowered women in the Arab word, published, more films and more literature, more showing to everyone that it’s much more diverse than what you're showing now at the moment.

And I ask her why I remember I asked this to this translator, why do you think that's the case? She totally agreed with me. And she said, it's probably because it's easier for us to say, look how better we came around. Yeah, we came around this and we improve, but we have a lot of our problem to fix. But when you look at how the situation you think, oh, but lucky me I'm in a better situation, but yeah. I hope there will be more diversity and more equality when it comes to the situation in the Arab world.

Chelsea: Absolutely. Let's talk about Amal.

Nadine: Yeah. I'm so excited.

Chelsea: Congratulations.

Nadine: Thank you. So to tell you more about Amal.  Amal it's really brilliant, fantastic project done by the Good Chance theater. So they created this fictional character of a little girl called Amal who is a nine year old girl. And she is walking all the way from Syria to the UK on a refugee journey to find her mother like so many children, refugees. So many children, unaccompanied walking to find a better place or to find their parents because they get separated at some point. And when they created this character, they made this huge four meter puppet and this puppet, I think she needs four or five puppeteers to walk her. It’s actually physically walking from Turkey all the way to UK, visiting 50 cities around the world. So it's a brilliant project. And the main idea of this project they would ask.

So you have this amazing character, you have this amazing puppet Amal. How would you welcome a child refugee when it comes to your city? How do you welcome a child and unaccompanied, no parents, no family to your city. And it's so beautiful to see the celebration that been happening throughout all her work. So she's been in Turkey, in Italy, she met the Pope when she was in Italy. She visited so many beautiful European cities and every city, there is a big celebration. There is a big party. There is a big public event and she's about to arrive to the UK next week.

Chelsea: Yes, that's what I saw. I'm sad. I'm only learning about her, you know, and the journey.

Nadine: So she's coming to the UK and my part of the whole project is welcoming her in Oxford.

So how would do we welcome a mile in Oxford? So it was a very interesting way to think about it. And how do we throw a big party celebration to tell her welcome, and also show how empowered she is, how resilient she is walking all the way to find her mother and the listeners might know that Oxford is the city of Alice in Wonderland. So Louis Carol wrote Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass in Oxford, and we didn't think of a better way to welcome Amal as by another puppet who's also four-meter who's Alice, Alice in Wonderland and that's why we created the event. So they meet together and my part is writing the story, creating the event for big procession, 100 performances of storytelling, music, and dances. And they're gonna walk together, the two puppets all around Oxford.

She's gonna show her around. Amal has a big bag of memories that was spilled all over the city and Alice will help her find her memories and put them back in the bag because that's what makes her stronger, the memories of back home and her identity. So they walk around, find the memories and the memories are represented in amazing performances memories from back home memories of a lullaby song. Then you find an amazing performance of people singing a lullaby, and then you walk a little bit more and then you find people, kids playing football, and she was the best football player back home. And then she would, the two puppets would play football until the end of procession that will end at Christchurch Meadow. The whole city will be there dancing and welcoming Amal.

Chelsea: I wish I would be here. I would love to go but I've already shared it with some friends and I think it's incredibly inspiring. What do you think Amal in your stories do for other displaced children?

Nadine: I mean, it's the idea of Amal by itself is to celebrate this character as an empowered character, to inspire others, to show the resilience. What frustrates me the most is a lot of the stories about refugees in general, the refugee character is not empowered, is waiting for other to help has no agency. Pretty much has the white saviour narrative, which is really sad because for the past 10 years, I've been traveling around the world, visiting refugee camps in Jordan, or even in Europe or in Lebanon and every time I visit refugee camps, I am empowered by these children. I learn from these children. I don't come to help them, they help me mostly. They help me about, they teach us about resilience, about life, about keeping a smile about how you make the best out of a very difficult situation.

And that's what I love about Amal, it’s story of empowerment. We're showing that this character not as a weak character waiting for others to help her, but she's empowered. We're celebrating her culture. She's even helping Alice in certain situation. Alice didn't know how to play football, Amal helps her. So it's an equal relationships. It's a story of friendship and what does it to the displaced children, it will tell them that this is who you are. You come from beautiful places, you have your strong identity, your culture and your heritage. And once you come to a society, you're gonna enrich that society with the diversity of the society, with your culture, with the food, with the language, with everything you bring. So actually any society is lucky to have people coming and bring their culture to that community and make the community much richer and much more colourful than it is. And that's what I want to tell children, refugees. Yes, you come from a destroyed place. Yes, you had a very, very difficult situation, but you inspire everyone with your resilience and you have so much to give.

Chelsea: That's so beautiful. As a woman navigating this space, what advice would you have for women who might want to take a leap of faith and change careers, or reach for the stars, the stars that they think that are unreachable for anyone having self doubt?

Nadine:I think it's, it's a very, very interesting question. And now that I'm pregnant and I have my son, it teaches me what feminism is or what gender equality is. It's really about what the women wants. And it's really about being passionate about you want and following what you want and not letting society pressure you one way or the other. Don't let the society pressure you, I was pressured myself. I remember when I gave birth, I just immediately big book contract, and I immediately came back to work. I felt it was wrong, I needed longer maternity leave. I needed to stay home with my child. So just knowing what you're passionate about and not letting stereotypes makes you feel that this is not what a successful woman should look like. You decide you define what successful women and successful woman is not necessarily only a CEO. It's you being passionate about what you do and being true to yourself and shout out for other women that's for me. Yeah. The most important is shout out to other women and the only advice I would say.

Chelsea: I love that I especially love what you said about don't feel pressure one way or the other, because sometimes it's like, oh, I kind of wanna be at home with my kids, but you feel pressure, maybe that people will judge you.

Nadine: Exactly and I was scared that I wouldn't get the contract, but then I realized if I truly believe in gender equality and feminism, then we shouldn't be scared because we give birth, not getting contract. We actually should fight. This is when you should fight. And you should say, I'm on maternity leave and you have to wait for me for as long as I need it to. And that's your right as a woman, it's not going back to work early. It makes me really sad because a lot of books on gender equality and empowering females saying all this women who have how amazing that she came back after two weeks of giving birth or is that what she wanted, if that what she wanted, then it's fine. But is that what she wanted? Women should feel the freedom of staying at home and not feel pressure that they would lose their job if they don't come back early industry should change. No, not women should change the industry should say, we gonna give you the safe space for you to be ready to come back. And they were around and when I gave birth, I was too scared. I was like, what if they give it to someone else?

Chelsea: And when are you due? This is your second.

Nadine: I'm due in February. Really, my plan is not to come back until I'm like 100% ready and hoping for industries, the more we shout out about this topic, the more industry will change. And I'm hearing, I've been hearing so many amazing stories of women fighting for their rights and starting by the employer not giving them flexible hours and then getting low cases and suing those companies. We need to shout out for each other. Women need to feel that they have flexibility within their work so they can come back and also not feel pressure. You come back at your own time. If you don't, if you wanna come back early, that's fine. If you don't come, if you wanna come back late, that's fine too. It's your pressure. It's your decision? It's funny because some women said they felt pressure not to come back and some women felt they felt pressure to come back. So there is always this, what the society expect us to do, but it should be really what makes you happy. And that's what makes you the most empowered and successful in my mind.

Chelsea: I really admire that. I want to ask you a couple questions about how people can support this narrative. So by shouting out to women, by being an advocate for women, but how can people directly get involved with the work you are doing with Amal and with any of the projects that you're doing within the displaced community to empower this narrative?

Nadine: Well, as a start, to involve Amal, if you're checking her journey, do come to any of her events, because it's really gonna be a fun public event. Everyone should be an advocate, telling the community that whenever you have displaced or refugees, they should be treated with dignity, with empowerment. And with celebration, we should look at the influence that they're gonna leave in this community rather than charitable pity look, which that's what's happening at the moment. There are so many amazing NGOs they can be involved with, and they can also, let's just be friends with, try to go to the local center, local community center and see if you can meet refugees and just be friends, because that's what creates a healthy community. For me, it's just friendship and learning from them and taking from them as much as giving them as much as helping, because the main narrative is try to help try to donate, which is so important, but also see what they can give you because they can give you a lot.

And the relationship can be more empowered and balanced in that way. Check out books. Children's books from diverse backgrounds. Don't just pick the one on the bookshelf, because the children's books on the bookshelves are usually unfortunately the most commercial ones. So not the sensitive topics, not the difficult topic. And if you have children do read to them about war, for example, my book Tomorrow about the war in Syria and parents might ask themselves, why would I want to expose my children to such a sad, difficult topic? Why would I wanna do that, because children are not excluded from what's going on. They have heard of Syria, they have heard of refugees. I guarantee you and reading a story about that will create the empathy will help them relate, but also them, themselves, your children might go through difficult situation. And when they read the story, they gonna come out of it, learning how to deal with the tough situation. So, make sure your bookshelf is diverse and read stories about all the topics around the world.

Chelsea: Like the student who wasn't allowed to go outside because it was raining. I think you mentioned that in your interview.

Nadine: Yeah, it was, it was crazy because that was the first time I read Tomorrow. And in the UK and I, myself was doubting. I was like, it's a story about war and I made this in Syria. I only learned through experience the importance of it and reading it to children. So the story is about this boy who can't go outside and play because there is war and it's not safe. But when I read it the first time in the school, in the UK, the girl came to me and she said, well, your story happened to you. And I said, really how well? She said it was raining outside and we couldn't go and play. And we stuck at home and I felt so sad, just like the boy in the story.

And that's what it told me, children find ways to relate to your stories. This is how they learn about difficult circumstances. Even like recently I've received enormous amount of emails from parents telling me that the book helped them with the lockdown. Who would knew that 10 years after writing and illustrating the book, a lockdown will come and children can go to school just like in the story ,the boy couldn't go to school, he couldn't see his friend, he was stuck at home because outside is not safe. And that's exactly what happened to the vast majority of children outside was not safe because of the virus. So we're all prone to these vulnerabilities. So at the end of the story, the mom tells them, we don't know when we're gonna leave, but we can imagine a beautiful park and painted on the wall. And a parent tweeted at a photo of their son drawing a park on the wall and he said that because of the lockdown, they couldn't go to the park and that inspired them by the story. We all prone to vulnerabilities and difficult situations. So don't be shy away from these stories.

Chelsea: Even adults like to read the kids’ books, I think.

Nadine: I truly believe picture books are as important for children as much as for adults.

Chelsea: To wrap up, you have tried traveled extensively. Can you tell us and share some of your favourite spots for anyone who might be traveling to where you've been? I think were you in Sweden?

Nadine: Oh, difficult question.

Chelsea: Even here in London, you know, what are some of your favourite types of food, favourite cities? For people who can't travel right now, we have to live vicariously through you.

Nadine: It's a very difficult question because I love traveling. I loved Cape Town and South Africa. It's one of the most beautiful places and the nature and everything, everything about this country, I'm just in love. I remember when I saw the Table Mountain, it was just such a moment. I was like, oh my God, this is so beautiful. And you learn from the history. Nelson Mandela is one of my biggest heroes. So you also learn from the history and you learn what has been done there, but just the nature and the people are so lovely. So I love, I love South Africa. What else? Favourite food. It's really classic, but I just love Italian food. So good. In addition to Syrian, especially that now my mom in town and she's cooking us all this traditional Syrian food, which I miss so much, but Italian are so amazing. So when we go to Italy, we just like eat all the time.

Chelsea: That's so nice. I actually went to a Syrian restaurant in Jordan. One of my first restaurants was a Syrian restaurant. That was, it was amazing.

Nadine: Remember, what was your favourite dish?

Chelsea: I don't remember from that specific restaurant, but the fresh herbs, like all just for me, that's what stands out, the sumac. I don't know if that's specifically Syrian, but I love sumac. I love the lemon and the fresh spices. Herbs for me, that’s what I always say. When someone says, what kind, what do you love about the cuisine?

Nadine: That’s exactly the same with me. That's what I love the most is the amount of different, fresh herbs you put in one dish and different spices you put in one dish and the flavour from such a simple dish. And it's important also to note that we have an amazing rich vegan cuisine that is so flavourful because of the different, fresh herbs that we put in one in one dish.

Chelsea: So true. I mean, even the inventive ways to do different dishes, like even hummus. Yeah. You know, I've noticed just so many different ways it can be done with the, the chilies and the oils and sumac. It's incredible.

Nadine: Yeah, whatever we're eating here, I do apologize, but that's not the real hummus like Syria.

Chelsea: I've had the best hummus in Jordan. I'm like, this is so good. Nadine, thank you so much. It was so good to meet you in person and hear your story and have the opportunity to have this discussion.

Nadine: I'm so honoured. I was invited when you send me the email and I, and I read all of about this wonderful woman that you interviewed. And I was like, I'm so lucky to be invited and to be interviewed among these amazing women. So thank you so much for inviting me. Thank you.

Chelsea: Thank you! Thank you for joining me for this conversation with Nadine, her ability to connect with children and adults across cultures is so inspiring. Follow her on and visit her at her website at Join us next time when we'll meet Karlyn Percil, a Certified Emotional Intelligence and Neuro-Life Coach, CEO of KDPM Consulting Group and Founder of the SisterTalk Leadership Academy. If you enjoyed listening to this podcast, please hit subscribe, share with your friends and visit us at

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