Teacher notes for Soraya the Storyteller

Activities for Soraya, the storyteller.


1 Find a map of Afghanistan

eg at URL: www.nationalgeographic.com/landincrisis/ethnic.html


Find Kabul, and trace Soraya's journey to Peshawar in Pakistan.

On a world map, show how she may have reached Indonesia and show the boat trip to Australia. How might she have reached Woomera?


2 Find a favourite story from Mullah Nasruddin in the collection at



Can you make up a short funny story or a joke like these set in Australia?


3 See some puzzles at www.public.asu.edu/~apnilsen/afghanistan4kids/

These can be copied for children's use. Eg joining dots in Dari, a crossword in Dari etc.


4 How is the possum like Soraya? Why does Soraya say she is a willy wagtail now?

Is there another special reason why she is a willy wagtail? One that she doesn't know about until the end?


5 Make a kite and fly it. Have fun.

See article by Clarke, Daniel, 'Go fly a kite it's a learning thrill.' The Advertiser, Jan 27, 2004, p36.


6 Make Soraya's recipes and eat them.

More Recipes at

URL: www.afghan-world.com


7 Who was Sheherezade? How did she stay alive? Read a children's version of an Arabian Nights story eg Aladdin.


8 How did the stories in Soraya, the storyteller help Soraya? Who else did they help?


9 We all have a story. Write a story about your family. Can you put some things from folk tales in it like Soraya did?


10 You have a magic carpet or a flying horse. Write a story about what you do.


11 What is prejudice? Discuss ways to stop it.

See www.adl.org/prejudice/default.asp for 101 ways to combat prejudice


12 Games what games did Soraya and Rafeeq play in Afghanistan? Ask in your class about games from different countries. Play them.


More activities under 'Refugees'.


Related fiction

Ellis, Deborah, Parvana. NSW: Allen & Unwin, 2002. (& Parvana's Journey, 2003)

Gleitzman, Morris, Boy Overboard. Sydney: Pan Macmillan, 2002.

Hawke, Rosanne, Borderland. South Melbourne: Lothian Books, 2003.

Zephaniah, Benjamin,            Refugee Boy. London: Bloomsbury, 2001.


Author's response:

How Soraya came about

I was first inspired to write Soraya when I heard about innocent children kept in detention centres in Australia. At first I didn't believe it, or take much notice I thought there was a mistake. When I realised it was true and the people detained were not hardened criminals but people just asking for help, I felt compelled to write their story.

I have always been interested in Afghanistan. We met Afghan people in Pakistan when we lived there and we have Afghan friends here. I have found Afghan people to be loyal, strong, caring, intelligent, hard working, hospitable and family-orientated people. I was appalled to think of such people behind razor wire when they are already cut up about the loss not only of their country, but their family members, and whole way of life.

I don't see myself as an activist. I just saw a heartfelt need and wanted to write a story to show how children are suffering here in Australia. I wanted people to understand. I believe the key to understanding another person's situation is in being a friend. Once you are closer to someone you can't condemn, you just try to understand. When you begin to understand, your heart grows and you learn to accept and say welcome


Writing Soraya

To write Soraya, I met with an Afghan family who came by boat; they kindly befriended me and later helped check my manuscript for Dari mistakes. I visited the Adelaide Refugee Centre, read true accounts of refugees' escapes from their homelands, spoke to Tom Mann who taught in the Woomera Detention Centre, and read the stories that children wrote for the competition run by Australians Against Racism. These stories are now the book, 'Dark Dreams', edited by Eva Sallis. They made me cry.

I searched the web too for information about Post Traumatic Shock Syndrome and ways to combat prejudice.


About the stories

Afghanistan is a land of storytelling it seemed right to have Afghan folk tales in the book. It was hard to find enough of them. I found some in the Children's Literature Collection of the State Library of SA. I even wrote to Richard Adams in the UK, for after reading some of his books I thought he might know of some. I found the Mullah Nasruddin stories on the web. The Rustum and Sohrab series is another group of Afghan stories but they didn't fit Soraya's situation. Many Afghans I spoke to in SA couldn't remember folktales. But Benafsha Parwani did, and she related to me the story of the Beast and the Three Daughters which she says has not been written down before her grandfather told it to her in Afghanistan.

I was inspired by the way Sheherezade from the Arabian Nights stayed alive through storytelling. This gave me the idea that Soraya is a storyteller too and the stories would help keep her spirit alive. 'The Ebony Horse' fitted Soraya's dreams and is a story that could have been told in Afghanistan, especially since it is one of the stories from the Arabian Nights that was set in Persia.


Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Soraya and her family are suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Often children suffering this withdraw, are anxious, or feel more fear, and have either an increased sense of danger as Soraya did or become more reckless as Rafeeq did. Children can regress in their behaviour as Kamilah did, freeze when threatened, have nightmares, and get depressed or angry. Their self esteem often suffers too. Sometimes children make up magical explanations for their suffering.


See more about how children react to trauma and how to help them at the

National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder at

URL: www.ncptsd.org