Children’s news show inspires with positive role models
“Let the children come to me!” This was Jesus’ command and, with 100 million under 16-year-olds living in the Middle East and North Africa, from day one SAT-7 has been equally committed to sharing God’s love with them as it has with adults.
As Sannabel (“Ears of Wheat”) was a 15-minute children’s segment in the channel’s first Arabic broadcast on 31 May 1996. Twenty years later, a spin-off programme, As Sannabel News (or AS News) is the network’s longest running show.
“Ears of wheat” is an affectionate Arabic term for children because, like the crop, the next generation are shooting up and represent the hopes of their families. As Sannabel News is a news show with a difference: its reporters are all children or young people. The stories it tells all focus on the good things children are doing and on their physical and spiritual wellbeing.
AS News itself started life in the summer of 2006. The aim was to provide news and support to children who were facing frightening times in Lebanon. During that year, more than a thousand Lebanese lost their lives in a brief but intense conflict between Hezbollah and Israel.
AS News’ producer-director Roy Abu Khalil remembers how the first report featured child refugees coming from the south of Lebanon.
The dangers of venturing out when an air raid could happen at any time meant that “we didn’t have a child presenter at that time because parents wouldn’t allow the kids to go out,” he said. Rather than find an adult presenter, Roy found a more innovative solution: “We had a puppet as a replacement for the young reporter!”
Today everyday life is peaceful in most of Lebanon and in Egypt – the two countries where most of the reports are filmed. But the show also receives reports from Syria and has told the stories of children who have escaped warfare in both Syria and Iraq.
“We had very touching testimonies from Iraqi and Syrian refugees who moved from their countries to Lebanon and who encountered Christ in miraculous ways,” Roy says.
“Voice of the children”
Even when covering experiences of war and difficulty, AS News seeks to be an encourager and to be “the voice of the children of the region”.
An important way it does this is by showing the many ways Christian children in the Middle East are involved in various positive and creative activities. It reports regularly from churches and schools and at dedicated children’s conferences and festivals. It features talent shows, concerts, dramatic performances, charity and community activities, as well as national events like Mother’s Day and Children’s Day.
Some new additions to the show for 2016 are two information segments: a spiritual one features topics such as ‘who is Jesus?’ and ‘how do we pray?’; the other looks at issues of health and wellbeing. “We are covering general subjects about health, how to study, how to be safe on the Internet, how to carry your bag safely to school, and the bigger topic of children’s rights,” Roy says. “It’s produced lots of grateful feedback”. Another new slot looks at pictures sent in by AS News viewers.
AS News is a weekly programme repeated three times so SAT-7 KIDS viewers have a good chance of catching it whatever their normal routine.
As AS News viewers watch the positive role models of other young people and soak up the show’s good advice, Roy’s hope is that they too will grow to become strong and healthy “ears” and wise influencers for the future.
Watch AS News clip of boy who fled from Islamic State
Nouh, a young boy from Iraq, shared on a SAT-7 children’s show how he came to faith in Christ after his family were forced to flee from Islamic State militants. Watch clip and read story.