• Obada Kassoumah holding a copy of a Captain Tsubasa manga that he translated. (Supplied)
SBS speaks to Obada Kassoumah, who translates 'Captain Tsubasa' into Arabic to help refugee children realise "they’re allowed to have dreams".
By
Chloe Sargeant

11 May 2017 - 11:29 AM  UPDATED 1 Dec 2017 - 12:30 PM

You may not have heard of Tsubasa Oozora, but children all over Japan certainly have - and now, plenty of Syrian children have too. 

Tsubasa is a fictional 11-year-old student who loves football, and dreams of winning the FIFA World Cup for Japan. He's the main character of Captain Tsubasa, a manga and anime series that is exceedingly popular in Japan.

Now, a Syrian student living in Japan has been working on translating the books into Arabic, so refugee children can read the hopeful tale in their own language.

Between university, 26-year-old Obada Kassoumah works as the translator of the Japanese comics, and copies of his handiwork are now being donated to aid agencies and distributed to refugee children across Europe and the Middle East. 

As conflict in Syria worsened, Kassoumah moved to Tokyo in 2012 on a scholarship exchange program - he had been studying Japanese at Damascus University in the Syrian capital.

His scholarship ended a year later, and he enrolled as a regular student at Tokyo University of Foreign Studies (TUFS). It was around this time that he managed to gain part-time employment, working for Kinokuniya translating Captain Tsubasa into Arabic.

When he began the role, the company's decision to translate the popular manga to Arabic was purely a sensical business decision. Kassoumah tells SBS that the anime was quite popular in some countries in the Middle East, so it made sense for the manga to be translated.

"I used to watch [the Captain Tsubasa anime] when I was a kid. It gave me the idea of having a dream and working hard to make my dream come true. Because it had a big impact on me, I think that it might have the same big impact on kids now too. When you don’t have food, you’re starving to death, people don’t have the time to think of dreams. I thought be translating this book, it might give them hope. It might give them the idea that they’re allowed to have dreams."

"When you don’t have food, you’re starving to death, people don’t have the time to think of dreams. I thought be translating this book, it might give them hope. It might give them the idea that they’re allowed to have dreams."

Eventually, the publishers were approached by Professor Manasori Naito from Doshisha University in Kyoto. 

Professor Naito, a Middle East specialist who lived in Damascus in the 1980s, had been looking for ways to help those who were affected by the ongoing conflict. He suggested to the publisher that they could donate the manga books to displaced refugee children across the world, and the original copyright holders of Captain Tsubasa - Shueisha publishers, were immediately onboard to fund the donations. 

UNICEF and international NGOs such as WEFA assisted with the operation, and now the manga comics are distributed to young Syrian children in refugee camps and homes.

Comics: The ultimate transformative tool? 

Professor Naito told the BBC that the books could potentially act as "a tool of soft power" against radicalisation of Syrian children. "It is very far from the reality they know," he said, "but for kids it is very important to be able to escape from reality for a while. And these books can also give them some hope for their own future."

Just one of the locations that the Captain Tsubasa manga has been delivered to is a refugee home in Berlin. WEFA handed the comics out to 60 refugee children, and a spokesperson told the BBC that the reaction they received was "something quite unique".

"It was really something quite unique and we got a completely different reaction from normal," said spokesperson Ismet Misirlioglu. "What the children usually get are of course clothes and food and so they were really surprised when we suddenly had Japanese manga books - in their own language. You really could tell that from their eyes!"

Kassoumah tells SBS that he’s got his final year of university to go, and is currently working on translating Volume 7 of the 37 volumes that make up the enormous Captain Tsubasa anthology.

He says that after finishing university, he wants to stay in Japan and work to help change misconceptions of Syrian people.

"I consider myself lucky that I could get out of Syria [and study in Japan]. It gave me the potential to work harder, and change the way people think about Syrians. Everyone thinks of you as part of the refugee crisis, or you’re trouble, a terrorist. It gave me the potential to show that not all Syrians are like that. 

"I hope what I’m doing helps change the foreign policies of some countries, and show them that Syrians can be part of the society."

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