Jamil & Jamila ~ The Interview

by Virginia Katsimpiri

Answers by Elsbeth de Jager | www.elsbethdejager.nl & Esther van der Ham | Droomvallei Uitgeverij http://www.prachtboeken.nl/

Reviewed by Ellen Singer

1. How did the whole project/story begin? Who was the inspirer?

Elsbeth: The inspirer: that would be me. I had already been translating about the Syrian War and the refugees. Once I talked to the person who had assigned the translations and he told me that there were absolutely no books for the children at the camps. He asked me if I would write one (at the time I had already written several children’s books). I said I would be interested and asked if it was okay to involve Esther in this project.

Esther: Oscar is the president of an organisation that helps refugee kids. He asked Elsbeth to write a book for them to overcome their traumas. Elsbeth asked me to help and to make the drawings. She knew I wrote children books as well and I have a publishing house, that could be helpful.

2. What was the first idea and how was it realised?

Elsbeth: Esther and I received a large quantity of pictures and inside information on the camps as well as the names ‘Jamil’ and ‘Jamila’. These are the most common names of Syrian refugee children. Esther started drawing and I started writing. Every single drawing and every single text was sent to the refugee organisation, to know as soon as possible whether it was okay, if it was similar to the reality at the camps.

Esther: We had to write a book about the normal life in the camps to help the children with their traumas and to help them remember things that they had forgotten: for example, colors and counting. Oscar provided the information and we created the book.

3. What do you want to achieve by this project and its translation into different languages?

Elsbeth: First of all, help the children in the refugee camps. Secondly, raise awareness and understanding of their life.

Esther: We want the world to know about Jamil & Jamila and their situation. We wrote the book in Dutch, a language that most people do not understand. That’s why I am very happy with all the translators!!

4. Why Jamil & Jamila? I mean as a story; you live in a country far away from the war, geographically at least, you have been less influenced than Greece, for example. What made you sensitive to the topic? I mean more than any standard human, after all, you created Jamil & Jamila.

Elsbeth: As I said above, I was involved because of my translation work. I was shocked by the things I ‘learned’ while translating.

There has been war for such a long time by now that people may not want to be involved any longer, they are — so to speak — “sick of that war again …”

Esther: I have kids myself. I want them to have a nice life. But I wish it not only for them. I wish it for all kids. That’s why I work on the Jamil&Jamila project with my whole heart.


Helping people with creativity | In this talk Esther inspires with her lovely and hands-on projects for refugee children: children books and art work.

5. What is your goal, regarding the book, how far do you want it to “go”?

Elsbeth: By now we have three volumes and 11 languages. That is enough I think. Now we have to spread the books abroad. For that goal we are busy writing a Wikipedia page and searching for selling points in countries’ abroad.

Esther: As far as possible :)

6. Some more practical information, how many volumes will it be, how many books have already been printed and/or distributed, what is the price, where can people buy it?

Elsbeth: Esther, as publisher, knows all about this.

Esther: As many books as possible. The price for the paperbacks is € 10. You can buy the books in various languages online.


Productcategorieën Other languages — Droomvallei Uitgeverij


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The Netherlands]

7. Would you like to tell us a few words about you & your background and about Droomvallei Uitgeverij as well?

Elsbeth: I am a German/Dutch translator and teacher. I am teaching ‘Dutch as a foreign language’ at a refugee school and when there is time left, I write books. I have two children and a grandson and I am happily married J. Furthermore, I love to read, to sing and spend time at the beach on the North Sea.

Esther: I am a civil engineer and I studied technical management at the university. I am also a coach for children. I like writing and painting. As a publishing house I focus on books that are important for the development of the readers.

8. Tell us a bit about Jamil and Jamila, your inspiration and what you think about it?

Elsbeth : I love Jamil and Jamila, during the writing process they became real kids for me. I wish I could help all Jamils and Jamilas who are suffering due to the war.

Esther: The first inspiration came from Oscar. Later we made two trips to the Syrian border where we spoke with a lot of children and parents. We used their stories for book 2. For book 3 I made a trip to the Balkans, travelling with refugees to the camps. That book is about the journey Jamil and Jamila make, away from war.

9. What were your intention(s) when you first started writing the book?

Elsbeth: 1. To help the Syrian kids — 2. To show European children how different life can be …

Esther: To let the world know about Jamil & Jamila.

10. Now, regarding the translation, why did you choose to translate the book in the first place?

Elsbeth: Because I am a translator and love to translate. Also, they needed my German translation in order to translate it into (Syrian) Arabic.

Esther: (See above, to spread the information, to provide as much help as possible.)

11. In how many languages has it already been translated?

Elsbeth: German, English, French, Polish, Spanish, Italian, Swedish Greek, Turkish, Arabic and Czech.

Esther: Into 12 languages, but we are working on more languages!

12. What is your goal regarding the translations of the book, in how many (and which) languages would like the books to be translated?

Elsbeth: There are countries who have to deal with lots of refugees (Greece, for example). That is difficult. I think it is a good thing that people can read in their own language about the reasons there are so many refugees, especially kids. If you want to educate people, start with kids …!

13. What information am I missing that you would like to share with us?

Elsbeth: We have been at the Turkish/Syrian border as well at the Lebanon/Syrian border and gave the books to refugees ourselves. I was deeply touched by what I have seen/whom I met over there.

14. What is your message in general and of the book in particular that you would like to share with Greek people, with people all over the world?

Elsbeth: STOP THE WAR. SAVE ALL CHILDREN. DO NOT CLOSE YOUR EYES. Even when people and children can be saved, they are already deeply wounded inside ….

Esther: We want to give the refugee children hope that someone thinks about them!

15. Have you presented the project/book in a conference/audience, etc? Would you like to give us some details?

Elsbeth: Esther gave some presentations, we have been on the radio and in many newspapers as well.

Esther: Yes, in schools, presentations. At the Dutch Embassy in Lebanon. I gave a TED-talk about it (see above). On the radio, in newspapers (also in Lebanon!)

16. Would you like to share with us any links, pages, social media, etc. regarding Jamil & Jamila?

Elsbeth & Esther:





17. And now? What’s next? Is there anything you would like to share regarding your plans?

Elsbeth: We are trying to sell as many books as possible because an Arabic book is provided for free to a child in a refugee camp for each and every book sold in Europe.

Trying to help the children in other ways when possible.

Esther: When we have sold enough books we are going to Lebanon again to deliver the Arabic copies!

18. Is there any other information that would be of interest to people who work with multiple languages (translators, interpreters, linguists, language teachers etc.) and you would like to share?

Elsbeth: Please, please, please spread the project and let others know how important this is!

Thank you so much!


Jamil & Jamila Soft Copy Cover, Greek version