Make-A-Wish helps Des Plaines girl create, record mystery podcast at WBEZ

While a lot of kids ask Make-A-Wish for a trip to Disneyland, no one had ever asked the group to help create a podcast — until, that is, a 5-year-old girl from Des Plaines came along.

The kindergartner’s five-minute ‘mystery’ podcast — which by Friday night already had nearly 3,000 plays on SoundCloud — begins with her sweet, juvenile voice:

“My name is Azka Sharief and I am doing a podcast on a story I wrote. The name is …” then Azka pauses for suspense and her voice lowers to a hush: “The Stealer of the Diamond.”

Azka recorded the podcast earlier this week at WBEZ-FM (91.5), after working on the script last weekend with Sun-Times editor Rummana Hussain. It tells the tale of a robber named Tessa who stole “diamonds, purses, wallets, money from the bank” and even “candy from babies.” (Azka inserted a sound byte of a baby crying into the podcast.)

The “robber” — Azka had trouble saying “thief” — is eventually caught by a detective named Anna, and her assistant Jason, who solve Tessa’s crimes by following a set of muddy footprints. Tessa admits what she did was wrong, and tells Detective Anna and Jason, “You win, I lose,” ultimately learning her lesson.

“And that is how the story ends,” Azka chimes as the podcast wraps up.

Azka, who attends Adlai E. Stevenson Elementary School in Des Plaines, has a metabolic condition. She was referred to Make-A-Wish Illinois through her medical team at Lurie Children’s Hospital a few months ago. Make-A-Wish Illinois grants about 700 wishes a year; spokeswoman Jessica Miller figures three-fourths involve travel.

Children usually want a shopping spree or chance to meet their favorite sports team. Miller believes Azka was the first child who asked Make-A-Wish to create a podcast. Azka recorded hers at WBEZ, the local National Public Radio affiliate, on Wednesday.

Azka Sharief recording her podcast at WBEZ

Azka Sharief drew a crowd when she recorded her podcast at WBEZ. | Make-A-Wish photo

Azka’s inspiration for “Stealer of the Diamonds” likely developed from a story her 11-year-old sister, Afifa Sharief, read to her about a jewel thief. Afifa is an editor on her school’s TV show. Together, the pair created podcasts using an iPad app. Azka then decided to use her wish to make a “real” podcast.

“I am really proud. I enjoyed [Azka’s] hard work and dedication,” said Afifa, who also helped Azka create base characters and an outline for the story. “She does whatever she wants and works for it. Maybe my sister will encourage other kids to start doing something they love.”

Their mother, Fatima Sharief, said Azka took a special interest in crime and mystery after watching an episode of “Arthur,” the children’s PBS show.

“My mystery podcast is so much excitement, because you don’t know how the podcast will end and people will say ‘I can listen to this forever ever,’” Azka said.

The second part of Azka’s wish is to get feedback from listeners via email (AzkasWish@gmail.com). Messages already are pouring in; most are local, Fatima Sharief said, but praise also has come Canada and Rhode Island.

“We really had the time of our lives at WBEZ, and they put Azka in the limelight, which she really enjoyed,” her mother said. “If we had some sort of Disney package or something, it would not have been the same experience, I know for sure.”

Azka’s podcast also was featured WGN-TV. She’s told her mother: “I want to be a famous person.”

WBEZ told the family Azka could continue her podcast, using their studio, whenever she is ready to record again. She doesn’t have her next story written yet, though.

“Nope,” she said.

“I’ll just figure it out in my mind … It only takes me, like, five minutes,” she added, as her mother laughed.

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