An estimated 50 million children in the Arab world woke up this Monday to an early Christmas gift–a new Christian television station with 24-hour program designed just for them.
SAT-7 KIDS is the third channel offered by SAT-7, a Christian satellite network made by and for people living in the Middle East, and the first and only channel dedicated to locally made Christian programming targeted to Arabic children.
The station covers the entire Arab world, 22 countries and five time zones. More than 100 million children under age 15 live in that area, and half have access to satellite TV.
“I had tears in my eyes when the KIDS channel came on the air,” said Rita El Mounayer, director of Arabic programming for SAT-7. “I cried because of God’s blessings. I was so happy to see the SAT-7 KIDS channel finally on the air. It’s amazing to see it, and amazing that God uses imperfect vessels like us to bring about things like this.”
Since its first broadcast May 31, 1996, SAT-7 has considered children a vital part of audience. But until now SAT-7 aired both children’s and adult programming, meaning that young people might tune out or switch channels. For the first time children in countries from North Africa to the Persian Gulf will be able to watch SAT-7 children’s programs at times that are convenient for them.
In many homes children are forced to watch television to keep them home and safe from violence in war-torn countries. Televisions are often considered a necessity and purchased before a refrigerator or bed, because they offer not only entertainment but a bridge to the outside world.
Andrea El-Mounayer, manager of children’s program for SAT-7, grew up during the Lebanese civil war. She and her sister would sit around their TV while war raged outside. ”
The new station will not only counter violence by providing a safe place for kids, but also offers an alternative to other media messages that denigrate Christianity or glorify martyrdom for kids. Children’s channels are a growing trend in the Arab world. At least six networks, including Al Jazeera, have channels targeting kids.
“You see people in the Arab world using media to shape the hearts and minds of children from an early age,” said Rita El Mounayer. “You see a lot of programs interrupted for the call of prayers, Koranic verses, or also for messages of hate and violence–especially on certain television stations in the Middle East, [though] not all of them.”
SAT-7 KIDS will carry a different message.
“On SAT-7 KIDS, viewers will see wonderful programming for children which will include messages about love, forgiveness and turning the other cheek,” said SAT-7 CEO Terence Ascott. “We will be broadcasting cartoons, dramas, Bible stores, game shows and many kinds of programs that will attract children and help them learn about God’s love for them and how they can walk with the Lord.”
The channel will also feature science discovery, dance lessons, children’s talents and programs from several countries in the region. During December SAT-7 KIDS will broadcast numerous Christmas-themed cartoons as well as “The Jesus Film for Children.”
Ascott said he expects entire families to be affected as parents sit down with children drawn to positive broadcast messages.
“I truly believe that if you want to change the face of Arab society, you have to start with a child,” said Rita El Mounayer. “And one day I believe that a child who has grown up with SAT-7 KIDS, and had their life influenced by the channel, will become the leader of a nation.”
The new station has been in the works for a year and a half. Last year, celebrating its 10th anniversary, SAT-7 launched a second channel, alongside its original Arabic station, in the Farsi language used by 40 million people mostly in Iran and Afghanistan, which broadcasts 20 hours a day. SAT-7 also broadcasts programs in Turkish.
“We are extremely grateful to our faithful supporters who share our vision of a growing Church in the Middle East and North Africa,” said Debbie Brink, senior vice president of development for SAT-7 U.S.A. “Isolated Christians are being encouraged. Thousands are hearing the truth of the Gospel for the first time. Much is being accomplished! Thank you for all your prayers and support.”
“This is a dream we have been working on for many years,” said Andrea El-Mounayer.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.
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Bob Allen was the managing editor at EthicsDaily.com from 2003-2009, writing more than 1,500 news stories during his tenure. He is currently the news editor at Baptist News Global.