Ramadan in Nablus

I got back to Nablus yesterday afternoon, on the 8th day of Ramadan. The quiet streets were familiar from last year, as were the whistles and firecrackers that began as dark fell. One particularly loud ‘pop’ caught my attention, so I glanced out our living room window, which has a beautiful, broad view of Nablus. My eyes fixed on a small set of sequentially flashing red and white lights in a window across the valley.

In the past 20 months in Nablus, I’ve gotten quite accustomed to a high level of military presence, security measures, and surveillance. As I stared at these lights, thoughts raced through my head about what they might indicate and who might be monitoring them.

After my mind raced to Jerusalem and back, it allowed my eyes to keep wandering. As full darkness came to the city, I saw dozens of other similar lights in windows and on buildings all around the valley, and realized that they were the festive lights of Ramadan.

Ramadan lights in Nablus

One could draw many lessons from this little game my mind played on me, including one of patience and not rushing to conclusions. But most importantly, Ramadan Mubarak!
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Inbal from Askar featured in Hopeful Voices

TYO is thrilled to be part of a great new initiative: Hopeful Voices, a brand new teaching aide featuring stories about 10 children from around the world, from Haiti to India to the US to right here in Nablus! The publication is a project of My Class Cares, an American 501c3 tax-exempt organization that works “to inspire youth to care deeply for the well-being of people throughout the world”. The stories have been compiled as a teaching guide: each one provides a window into the people, culture, challenges and opportunities of one country. My Class Cares staff have done a wonderful job of enriching each story with background information on the country, as well as reflection questions and research prompts.

Through TYO’s involvement in the project, Inbal, a 10-year-old girl from Askar camp in Nablus, was chosen to share her Hopeful Voice with the world! Download the publication (totally free, just requires an email address), and reach her story! In the meantime, here are some highlights from Inbal’s story:

My name is lnbal. I am in fourth grade. I live in Askar refugee camp. We live in a very narrow alley. My grandparents live in the house next to us. In you go up on the steps on one side is my uncle’s house and on the other another uncle. If you go up more steps there is my grandfather’s room and if you go up on the top there are two sheep. On the other side is mint, sage, water tanks and the satellite dish.

Inside our house, there is a room for visitors. There are shelves and glasses and books. Then we enter our bedroom and there is a closet. There are four beds in this room for me, Nibal, Manar, and my mother. From this room there is a balcony and my mom uses it to dry the clothes. On the other side there is a kitchen and a bathroom. We have a very small kitchen and we cannot eat in it. We eat in the bedroom. We have a very small bathroom.  There is a boiler for heating the water, sink and a toilet.

My favorite day was when I enrolled in TYO.  I feel that everyone loves me here and that I respect everyone and they respect me back… I like it when my teachers ask us to share something about our lives in the classroom. I learned how to use the computer and how to draw. I learned that stealing something from others is not appropriate.  The person who loses something will feel sad, frustrated and angry. TYO is encouraging me to be stronger.

We hope you will enjoy these Hopeful Voices from around the world, and support the wonderful work of My Classroom Cares in the US and around the world. If you have children, or work with children, share the publication with them. We’d be happy to pass your messages on to Inbal!

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TYO Volunteers Enjoy a Day in Tulkarm

TYO Volunteer Trip

On Saturday, 8 August about 40 people, including several TYO volunteers, some of their siblings and two TYO Staff members went on a trip to Tulkarm.  It was an exciting trip for the many as they have never been to the city before. While in Tulkarm, the group enjoyed a visit to Alwaha Park where they swam and sang in the sun.

Last Day Celebration!

Mother and Daughter Look at Art

On Wednesday, 12 August 2009 Tomorrow’s Youth Organization celebrated United Nations’ International Youth Day on the last day of our eight-week summer session. Over 500 community members came to the TYO Center in Nablus to view their children’s artwork and enjoy a series of performances and exhibitions, including dabka and athletic performances, an experiment by TYO’s “Mad Scientists” and a performance by a group of clowns from Askar refugee camp.  The Center was filled not only with the exuberant colors of childhood art but also the laughter and shouts of children and families enjoying their time together.

A special thanks to the TYO volunteers who put forth an extraordinary effort in preparing and carring out the event. Congrats to the volunteers on their 100% participation in this event.

Please check out our flickr account for more pictures of this event. Video footage will also be posted on our youtube channel in the coming days.

Mothers receive seeds to plantHousesClownBoy Laughing

An Unexpected Finale to a Night Out

A few days ago, the American and local staffs and the American interns left the grounds of TYO for a nighttime meal overlooking beautiful hills. While we knew there would be fun-filled, transliterated conversations (especially for the interns like me who don’t speak Arabic) taking place, the bonding that came to be at the end of the evening was a fabulous surprise to everyone.

I found that the evening began typically, with people waiting around the table, conversing about their jobs, complaining about the glacial nature of the wait staff, and taking turns watching Kais, psycho-social therapist Suhad’s adorable son, kick an inner tube around the pool while his older brother swam. After a few hours of eating and socializing, it was time for us all to pile into the brand-spanking new TYO bus and head home.


I don’t know if it was the general jovial mood that comes after eating a delicious meal in great company, the intoxicating rhythm of Palestinian pop, or the neon blue floor lights of our new bus but, as we headed out of Matah Zaman, the unflinchingly strong Palestinian spirit took over.

We clapped. We cheered. Some of us even sang and danced to the beat of the amazing music. And as we headed through the Israeli-manned checkpoints, we didn’t lower our voices, but raised them.

And what remained in my mind long after the drive was over was that spirit. That resilience, that perseverance, that beauty in the people I have found during my time here in Palestine, that ability to enjoy life despite the daily trials of a military occupation. It is that which I will miss dearly from Nablus.


Individualized Early Childhood Education

On Monday, I continued a physics project with my kids aged 9-11 in science class to build floatable, cardboard boats displaying an understanding of buoyancy and Archimedes’ Principle. The kids were in the middle of making their boats when some of the groups began running out of duct tape, so I temporarily halted construction and decided to play musical chairs in the empty room next door. Ten minutes later, we returned to our science class to find that three of the boats had been destroyed, punctured with holes.

Mohammad stood next to them with a pair of scissors in his hand. He stormed out of the classroom, yelling that I should have let him steal tape from the other groups.

On Tuesday, the kids took their finished boats to the park and floated them. Afterwards, they played on the swings and slides of the playground. I left for a few moments to help my volunteer clean up the area where the kids ate ice cream.

I came back to find that Mohammad had tried to attack another child, screaming that it was his turn to go on the swings. I found out from intern Adam that Mohammad had just been on the swings, not allowing other children to share. Mohammad stormed off.

On Wednesday, the girls in my class joined Doris’ class on a trip to the pool, leaving me with just my five boys and three volunteers. It gave me the opportunity that I had been waiting for all summer. The opportunity to sit down with Mohammad and patiently address his quick jumps to anger, encourage him to analyze the situation instead of make assumptions and to simply hear about him and how he was feeling all the while trying to help him understand that it was not acceptable to steal from other children, to physically or verbally abuse anyone, or to shirk personal responsibility.

And he listened. He spoke to me, explaining how he felt when he was angry, how he didn’t know how else to respond. We talked through it, slowly looking at other options. Sure, he didn’t transform into a calm, slow-to-anger person in two hours, but he began to see that there were alternatives.

I grew up in the public education system of California and it is still shocks me how my teachers were able to teach me anything with twenty to thirty children wriggling around impatiently. Cut that class in half, and the teacher’s ability to do his or her job increases. Cut that class in half, and the child has a chance to be heard. Cut that class in half, and you have education reform.

Cut that class in half, and you have the opportunity to sit down with Mohammad and show him the alternatives to anger. That’s what I learned from Mohammad, and it’s something I believe is absolutely necessary to improve early childhood education. Personalized education, personal development. A voice in the midst of chaos.

TYO Celebrates Refugee Children’s Achievements on UN International Youth Day

Please join us in celebrating UN International Youth Day and the last day of our summer session on 12 August 2009 from 1:00 – 4:00 PM at the Zafer al-Masri Foundation Building in Khallet al-Amood, Nablus.  The text of our press release follows. You can also download the press release in English and عربي PDFs on our homepage.

August 6, 2009


(NABLUS, West Bank) Tomorrow’s Youth Organization (TYO) celebrates United Nations’ International Youth Day on Wednesday, 12 August 2009 in conjunction with the last day of its eight-week summer session. A series of performances and exhibitions, including dabka and athletic performances, an experiment by TYO’s “Mad Scientists” and an art exhibition highlighting the work and interests of young people will take center stage at the Zafer al-Masri Foundation Building in Khallet al-Amood, Nablus from 1:00 to 4:00 pm.  Over 300 participants from the summer program will participate, along with their families.  Journalists and the public are invited to attend.

International Youth Day is of particular significance in Nablus where over 50 percent of the population is under 25 years old.  This year’s theme, “Sustainability: Our Challenge, Our Future,” resonates with TYO’s community-based approach to early childhood education in which children, youth, university students and parents are engaged to work for positive social change.  Sustainability requires that the rising generation have the necessary leadership, communication, and problem solving skills for productive lives as parents, professionals and citizens.

“The people of Nablus are stubbornly hopeful. Their children have grown up amidst the worst years this city has known; yet, as parents, they remain optimistic. The kids and youth who participate in TYO programs personify this hope,” said international director Nell Derick Debevoise.  “The life skills, like creativity and openness, that they learn within TYO’s safe, child-centered environment, coupled with resilience and positive thinking, will enable them to lead their families in improving their community.”

The Summer 2009 Session, which began on June 14, has been an incredible success. Over 100 4- to 8-year-olds from the most marginalized areas of Nablus participate in a holistic, psychosocial program including sports, computer and health lessons. About 200 other Nablus residents (from 6 years to adult) enjoy classes led by five American interns, including science, creative arts, fitness and dance. Approximately 45 service-minded university students volunteer in TYO’s classrooms as role models.

Since beginning operations in March 2008, TYO has established itself as an innovative and effective American organization poised to make a significant difference in the quality of life for marginalized children in Nablus, and soon other locations in the West Bank and Middle East.

For more information about the celebration, please contact Chelsey Berlin at +970/2 (0)598207978 or chelsey@tomorrowsyouth.org.

A summer birthday wish

I was born on August 7. Growing up, my birthday always fell smack in the middle of family vacations, sleep-away camp, and back-to-school doctor visits: there were never cupcakes in class to celebrate My Big Day. I’ve overcome this childhood struggle, and am now grateful for the chance to mark the rapid passing of years in vacation spots around the world!

But this summer, I do want a school-style party for my birthday. Or pretty close: my birthday wish is for a kid-friendly shebang on August 12 at TYO Nablus. We will be celebrating the UN’s International Youth Day, which happens to fall on the last day of TYO’s summer programs.

I’m asking friends to contribute what they can toward the party, and topping up each gift to a total of $30 (in honor of next year’s truly Big Day!). Our donations (tax deductible for US citizens, of course) will support transportation for our refugee families to get to the TYO Center, party snacks, give-aways for the kids, and an appreciation lunch for the local and international youth volunteers who help with the event!

Check out our TYO wish and help us make it a wonderful day!

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To Tweet or not to Tweet? Tweeple we love (and you should too!)

Children at ComputersEarly childhood education initiatives and policies have gained impressive momentum over the last year. Scientific and educational researchers along with the Obama administration deserve much credit for imbuing the importance of early childhood experiences and education into mainstream media.  This blog has already published several posts to that effect including research on the importance of play, the need for early childhood education in the face of poverty and stress and the opportunity to merge early childhood education initiatives with new approaches to international development.

With such thrilling happenings taking place in DC and worldwide, TYO uses the Internet (most recently Twitter) to keep in touch and up-to-date. We listen and participate to learn more about ECE policies, valuable classroom lessons, encouraging stories and moving programs and activities around the world.  This constant exchange of information and ideas allows us to do our jobs better, to seek out positive resolutions to situations that stump us and to ask for feedback on how we are doing.  It is an exciting time for educators; it is an exciting time for parents; it is a critical time for children and students.  The global classroom is upon us and everyday through the help of our peers we are working our way not to the head of the class but to a seat at the Harkness table of learning.

Here are four Tweeple we have particularly enjoyed this summer:

@UrbanEducation This user tweets to educate advocates and educators devoted to urban youth and teaching in urban school districts. If you are interested in hip-hop and jazz suggestions for the Monday workday, ideas on how to ease students’ transitions from their neighborhood to the classroom environment, articles on teaching urban youth and the downright enthusiastic and inspirational voice of an educator who has been there and done that, follow this user! Urban Education can also be found at this blog.

@NAEYC The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) is the world’s largest organization working for the benefit of all young children.  NAEYC focuses particularly on ensuring quality education for all children from birth through age 8. NAEYC is incredibly conversational—tweeting daily questions to its followers, offering links with beneficial resources for early childhood professionals, and highlighting new and informative tweeple on the scene.  Find more resources on their blog.

@FSSimon The ultimate 2.0 advocate from the National Association of Child Resource & Referral Agencies (NACCRRA), Fran uses Twitter, Facebook and blogs on the Child Care Aware Parent Network blog to circulate resources, participate in conversations, and mobilize and empower parents and professionals around key educational issues. Reply to her and you will always get a response!

@TeachStrategies and @cateheroman Formally, Teaching Strategies offers curriculum assessment, professional development, and family connection resources to programs serving children from birth to age 6. On Twitter, @TeachStrategies offers all of the above and exceptionally comprehensive updates on early learning inroads from Oregon to Florida. Vice President of Curriculum and Assessment Cate Heroman’s tweets passion-infused tips on how to help your child or student become a successful learner.

Thank you all for your efforts!


Last Days of Classes & UN International Youth Day

August 12 is the last day of TYO’s 2009 Summer Program. It also happens to be the UN’s International Youth Day.

We want to end our awesome summer with a bang, showing off all that our kids have learned and accomplished over the last 2 months.

By supporting the event, you’ll help us provide fun and games, healthy (and delicious – we swear!) snacks, and take-home treats for 400 4-18 year olds in Nablus. We’ve already got dried fruit snacks, a dabka dance group, and clowns, but with just $2.50 per child we can really thrill these kids!

Donate here.

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