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New Partnership: Introducing Dar Al-Saffar! Bringing Heritage to Life for the Next Generation!

For many Iraqi parents today, there is a nostalgia and fondness for the past. There is a sense that there was an educational focus on the past, and that history was an essential part of a child's education in Iraq. Since 2003, the education system has suffered immensely from political interference as well as a disregard for modernisation - history and citizenship largely disregarded in favour of religious education. Meet Fawaz Al Saffar, a man on a mission to revive interest in the past amongst youth through Iraqi stories that promote heritage, culture, and values. "It is a pleasure to teach what we learned before."

Fawaz is the founder of Dar al-Saffar Publishing, a publishing house in Iraq that produces magazines, books, and games, that take their inspiration from the past. Working with a team of Iraqi storytellers, himself included, alongside illustrators and graphic designers, Dar Al-Saffar is creating a community of creatives proving that Iraqi children's books, and the role of heritage, have a role to play in today's society. Co-ordinating events around the country, Fawaz is on a mission to make education fun, engaging, and colourful.

"There are 17 million 8-14 year olds in Iraq. That is a huge percentage of our country, and the opportunities for these kids is getting less and less. If you go to places such as Hit, Nasiriyah, Samawah - there are no opportunities for developing a child's education. We decided to set up own organisation to tackle this, as we believe that remote places need it. The challenge is getting support for such initiatives. Currently children are exposed to social media which can have a harmful impact on ethics, values, and culture." Fawaz coordinates regular film showings for children where not only can they watch a film, they can discuss its meanings and values too: "With us they can learn - we want to promote critical thinking at an early age as the school curriculum does not provide that. We need the youth to think

and not just consume."

Fawaz reflected on an exchange he had at an international fair where he asked one of the visitors a question. " Where is the Ziggurat of Ur?" The child replied, "I know, its in Egypt!" Their friend replied, "No, it's in Tunis!" One of the most iconic monuments of Mesopotamian heritage is no longer being associated with the country, and ancient civilizations are increasingly associated with North Africa. "This is a perfect example of the collapse of culture since 2003, and is the reason Dar Al Saffar must continue its mission."

Dar Al-Saffar's product lines include a children's magazine where the main characters explore the history of Iraq through time travel, games, and informative articles. Asdikaee's bright colours and engaging material is reminiscent of defunct children's magazines of the 80s and 90s that promoted heritage. Other products include a series of books that explain promote knowledge, understanding, and ethics as well as promoting global perspectives through the introduction of different cultures. Fawaz has built a group of Iraqi illustrators and storytellers to tell their own story, rather than it be done by people from outside.

Dar Al-Saffar also has recreated the legendary 'Game of Ur,' something here at Creative Iraq we are very happy to see. "The origin of all board games started right here!" The excavations by Sir Leonard Woolley uncovered these incredible pieces that are now on display at the Iraqi Museum in Baghdad, British Musuem in London, and the Penn Musuem, Philadelphia. "We are the first company to produce this game in its homeland for 1000s of years, and now it's being played by Iraqi people and foreigners once more. We even took one to Dr Finkel at the British Musuem who translated the rules from Babylonian into English." The recreation and commercialisation of these pieces of history, in attractive packaging, whilst having it manufactured in Iraq is the perfect example of how to use the past as a source of inspiration. With similar products being sold online, the fact it is made in Iraq, makes it unique. For anyone wanting to buy one inside Iraq, head over to The Station's Made in Iraq, and for those outside, Creative Iraq will be shipping them to the world very soon.

"We want to produce everything in Iraq, we are proud of that. That said, the lack of quality materials, and expensive equipment means that we can't compete with either Turkey or Iran. Our creative team is Iraqi, and our Game of Ur is manufactured using the equipment at 'Makers' (a tech hub in Baghdad) but for printing and packaging, we just don't have the capacity in Iraq so I have to look to Turkey." Access to high quality products is affecting the Creative sector in Iraq and limiting growth - strengthening access to those supplies, and building infrastructure would enable a local value chain to prosper, in turn ensuring that prices remain low enough to build a market.

Interest on the Baghdad market has been mixed. "I have had sales points at various locations in the past. With The Station, sales are particularly reliable and I trust them so I get paid after they have been sold. I've tried that with other stores and it has been a nightmare and actually lost money because they've never returned it. Many shop owners are not willing to buy up front because they don't understand a heritage based product." If you enter a toy shop in Baghdad today, you will find so many plastic products from China, Iran, or Turkey that have no educational benefit. Fake copies of global favourites such as Lego highlight attitudes towards intellectual copyright protection and quality - it all comes down to price. "I have a lot of interest from old Iraqi families who still value our heritage and culture like we collectively used to."

One of the biggest sellers from Dar Al-Saffar's product line is the game of Ur. "About 60% of those purchasing it are from international customers, particularly from the Iraqi diaspora living abroad. The problem is that accessing those international markets is a logistical nightmare. E-payment services are difficult which doesn't translate into a positive customer experience, and shipping costs are high for small orders. Our new partnership with Creative Iraq will help ease that problem and enable us to sell internationally." Creative Iraq will also sell digital copies of Dar Al Saffar's products allowing instant access to that material for less than the price of an iced coffee.

Fawaz told us that he had financial support from a private bank in the form of a low interest loan - "they promised to purchase thousands of copies of our Asdikaee magazine that could be distributed to people in need but these turned out to be empty promises." The private sector does seem to be increasing its role in corporate social responsibility but unfortunately this is not being pushed towards the creative sector.

Its not just the Iraqi private sector that has given fake promises. The international community in Iraq also often praises the creativity of people like Fawaz, offer to discussion collaboration, but nothing materials. At Creative Iraq, we have heard this countless times in the cultural and creative sector - how can trust be built between local communities and international entities when hollow words for the sake of PR and soundbites? Instead, discussions should be held with the creative community on their needs in honest and open environments. "We've applied for financial support from one international agency about a year ago, and they opened up a discussion but still there is nothing concrete. It's difficult to plan when the process takes so long. If it does happen, I will be able to recruit people which in turn will strengthen the value of culture as a source of livelihoods and encourage more people to appreciate that value." Creative enterprises often have a heavy sense of social responsibility, and support should be made for them to conduct social activities on behalf of the internationals, rather than exclusively international projects.

Fawaz is the kind of person whose passion shines through; his commitment to heritage is inspiring, and his values of passing down knowledge in a complex time in Iraqi history is commendable - check out his video below to find out more about the Game of Ur project that he has. Despite challenges, his team continues to shine a light on Iraqi heritage after decades of unprecedented attacks. Creative Iraq will continue to support opportunities for Dar Al-Saffar to sell products to new markets - no matter if they are museums, bookshops, Arabic language courses. If you have ideas on how to support them, get in touch, if you want to check out the products visit here, or share the word. If you're in Iraq you can purchase from The Station branches. Let's get these stories out there and support Dar Al-Saffar, a treasure of Iraqi culture.

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