The journey of creating Rocky Books as co-founders and with our illustrator Arpita has been fun and fulfilling, even before making our micro books public. Also, the feedback from our communities has been overwhelmingly positive, and we’ve had really lovely volunteers helping with translations. My favourite scene from one of our stories is in Book 3: Mummy Gets Angry which is about a little football-obsessed boy who deals with anger and shouting at home. Sheena created a calming exercise using his love for football – the “Paper Ball Dribble”! When I saw it, I thought it was such a cool way to connect with children, and even adults.– Nida, Co-Founder, Rocky Books
What does Rocky Books do?
Rocky Books makes mental health resources tailored to specific needs of the child’s situation. We write a story illustrating a traumatic scenario, for example Mummy and Daddy shouting loudly, and then recommend a coping exercise for the child to copy and do themselves in similar future situations. A lot of families and children go through common, and uncommon, problems all over the world that unfortunately are still taboo to talk about. They may also not know how to deal with these situations, either for themselves or for their children. With Rocky Books, we want these families to not feel alone, and to equip them with some skills to begin the healing process.
Tell us a bit about your team. How are the mental health resources for children created and who translates them?
Sheena: We are Sheena Vassiliades, a forensic psychologist and Family Therapist based in London,UK and Nida Sheriff, writer, content specialist, social entrepreneur & film professional based in Bangalore, India. We actually went to school together in Dubai and have been friends ever since. Nida writes the stories and I look at them and recommend or create a relevant coping exercise for the reader/child. Nida takes inspiration for stories from her experience working in the domestic violence resource space, and I from her real-life working experience. As a team, we’re well versed in both the social-emotional and therapy side of the issues, as well as the needs of the individuals that require resources, and how creating accessible resources works in the digital world.
For our pilot of 4 Rocky Books, we brought on a brilliant young kids lit illustrator, Arpita Sawant, who lives in Mumbai. We couldn’t have asked for a better illustrator in Arpita – she understood the project, and its sensitive nature, from day one. It’s been so much fun working together, and we really believe that the process of making Rocky Books is as just as important as the final output.
We’ve roped in volunteers to translate our first 4 pilot books – many of them our own friends and family plus people who have volunteered from Twitter. People have been so generous with their time and labour for this project, and it’s been so pleasurable and fun working with translators around the world. So far we’ve got Hindi, Kannada, Telugu, Tamil, French, Spanish, Czech, Mandarin, Cantonese, Urdu and more in the works.
What is the origin story behind Rocky Books?
Nida: A few years ago, I was working on a refugee crisis project that was focused on building digital tools to help displaced refugees. I realised that all of the tools were being created for adults, and that it was the same for other global crises like domestic violence or natural disasters. I had also worked as the manager of Chayn India at the time, a domestic violence resource portal, where all of the resources were made for the adult (women) survivors of abuse. Children were often being left out. Maybe this was because people often think of children as resilient or that we assume they don’t know what is going on around them. It’s actually the opposite, as children are very sensitive to their surroundings, and often don’t know how to deal with things on their own. Later, I ran a pilot called SnapCounsellors with 2 other partners, which was essentially an anonymous discrete micro-counselling service on Snapchat. We shared resources for kids and teens and offered byte-sized counseling, redirecting them to long-term solutions in their country. SnapCounsellors blew up overnight, and a service that was supposed to be for Indian youth, turned into a global service.
This was when I really realised how much kids needed mental health support. Rocky Books centers the child – always. We felt this was missing in a lot of easily accessible resources where they are an afterthought.
I knew Sheena was working as a psychologist and therapist in London and we had worked on a mental health resource together, so I knew she would understand the project I wanted to do. Whilst completing her Masters in Forensic Psychology, Sheena had worked in a high category adult male prison in the UK delivering 1-1 drug counselling and group therapy. She had also worked with youth carrying out early intervention and prevention therapy (drug & crime related). Her skills constantly developing, she had moved onto delivering family therapy to whole families as a unit, rather than focusing on adults/youth individually.
The nature of her work made Sheena very attuned to the social-emotional needs of children and adults. We already had a natural rapport and really wanted to do something exciting in the world of mental health. She was immediately on board, and we got to talking and developing what would eventually become Rocky Books. I believe we work as an effective team with our biggest strength being our individual skill sets and experience.
Why has the issue of domestic violence assumed greater importance during the pandemic? How does it affect children?
Due to lockdowns and uncertainty across the globe, many families are involuntarily cooped up at home together, resulting in increased stress, and unfortunately, cases of domestic violence. Parents are working from home. Instead of spending a huge chunk of their day at school, kids are forced to learn from home too.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, UN Women has reported a huge increase in calls to domestic violence hotlines in many countries, as well as an increase in reports of domestic violence. The UN is calling this the “Shadow Pandemic.” While global resources have pivoted to fighting the COVID-19 battle on all fronts, including resources previously allocated to women’s health and safety, many organisations, like UN Women, have also placed their focus on helping women victims of domestic violence. Unfortunately, a huge section of the world population have been left out in these efforts – children.
Evidence based research within the field of psychiatry suggests that witnessing intra/inter familial abuse can have the same long-term impact as experiencing abuse firsthand. While it is incredibly important to support women victims during this time, we can’t forget the effects the increased rates of domestic violence are having on the children involved. Kids growing up in abusive households can show symptoms of PTSD, anxiety, and depression well into adulthood. Early experiences can affect future relationships and more often than not repeat itself by modeling the same harmful behaviour into future families. If domestic violence is occuring in 1 in 3 households globally, that’s a huge percentage of the future generation growing up with mental health issues, sadly often under reported and overlooked.
What are the challenges facing your project?
Our biggest challenge I would say is definitely funding. To put it simply, we just need money in order to keep making Rocky Books. We need to pay illustrators, graphic designers, translators, and hopefully soon, ourselves. People don’t realise it but creating resources takes a lot of labour, and we believe that labour should be compensated. Our next challenge would be deciding what direction to work in. There are so many issues faced by children and teens these days – young people are under immense pressure right now more than ever. At the moment we’re working on domestic violence but in the future we’d love to work on school-related issues and refugee issues. We’re limited because of the small size of our team, but hopefully when we expand we’ll be able to scale up and address more.
How do you make resources available to children affected by traumatic events?
We have a many-pronged approach to accessibility. Making Rocky Books in different languages freely available on social media (Instagram) is one. Millions of people use social media all over the world, and having what is usually a niche social-emotional resource available with no paywall or barriers to access will hopefully normalise these topics and make kids and families feel less alone.
Right now our focus is making Rocky Books as free and easily accessible resources that will be able to help children and families who don’t have access to traditional therapy channels. Our ethos for now is (a) getting high-quality mental health resources to everyone who needs them, (b) making children and families feel less alone in their struggles,and (c) encouraging families to work together to heal. We will direct those seeking help to long-term resources, or the organisations and institutions who use Rocky Books can provide further help as needed.
What is your vision for Rocky Books in the next five years?
Five years is a lifetime in the world of social entrepreneurship. We would definitely like to be creating social-emotional resources for children and teens, but on a grander, more global scale. Building an international team and network of trauma-informed writers, therapists and illustrators would be our first step towards this goal. We want to be involved in working closely with crisis-driven organisations to create resources, and in using data to forecast the needs of trauma-affected children worldwide. We will be partnering with on-the-ground organisations who directly work with affected kids, as well as schools, institutions, hospitals, and more. Rocky Books can be used by the affected families on their own, but they can also be a powerful training tool for teachers, carers, babysitters, aid workers, charities, and medical professionals. We also want organisations working on specific causes, for example the refugee crisis in Afghanistan, to commission resources from us that we can tailor specifically to their needs
Nida Sheriff, Director of Operations and Stories & Co-Founder, Rocky Books
Nida is a writer, producer, consultant & social entrepreneur based in Bangalore, India. She has worked in film production as a producer and assistant director for independent films as well as agencies. Previously Nida was Manager at Chayn India and co-founder of award-winning counseling service SnapCounsellors. She writes about film, Feminism and mental health, and is passionate about creating solutions for the people who need it the most. Nida has lived in Dubai, London and Bangalore, and is a dog mum to rescued Indian Spitz, Rocky.
Sheena Vassiliades, Director of Psychology/Advisor & Co-Founder, Rocky Books
Sheena is our Psychology Advisor based in London, UK. Sheena has experience as a Functional Family Therapist, Cognitive Behavioural Therapist, Substance Misuse Specialist, Youth and Gangs Worker, and Sexual Health Advisor. Sheena is also mum to a very cuddly little boy, Zack. Recently having a child of her own has further helped Sheena understand how malleable the human mind can be and how very important it is for us to receive support from our earliest days. To sum it all up, this is what Sheena does – gently guide her fellow beings over multiple hurdles on our paths of survival. And she loves what she does!
Arpita Sawant, Illustrator
Arpita is an independent visual artist, designer and dreamer based out of Mumbai, India. Her design practice involves documenting all that is imaginative, heartfelt, human. As a visual story-teller; the only thing she likes more than reading about eccentric characters and experiences, is drawing them. Arpita has also recently had a children’s story book released! https://www.arpitasawant.net/