SOW National Team: Islam’s Interview

The Core Child Program is just one of the many programs that the Students of the World team is highlighting with the media that we create for TYO. For our story, we interviewed various people who have contributed to the success of the program.  However, in order to create a video that fully incorporates all of the parts of the program; we also had to look at the beneficiaries of the program, who are of course, the kids! Our team has followed the success story of one particular child, Islam.

I first heard about Islam during an interview the SOW team had with Suhad Jabi, the Psychosocial Program Manager for TYO. Listening to Suhad tell Islam’s story was mesmerizing. Islam is 8 years old and lives in Askar Refugee camp.  Growing up in a refugee camp can be extremely challenging. All of the houses are very close together, it is very crowded, and there is not a lot of space available. As a result, the children often have no place to play except for inside of the narrow corridors. Needless to say, the kids of refugee camps have to grow up quick.

When Islam first began TYO, he refused to cooperate in any of the programs. If they tried to get him to participate, he would just run away to a different room.  After this behavior went on for a short time, the TYO staff, including Suhad, decided it was time to talk to Islam’s parents and see what his home life was like.  It turns out that Islam’s parents were very frustrated with Islam because he was constantly getting into trouble and causing problems within the community.  Together Suhad, the TYO Core Child teachers, and Islam’s parents all decided to work together to provide consistent positive re-enforcement for Islam.

After just weeks at TYO with the implementation of this new tactic Islam began to cooperate more in class. His parents said there was a noticeable difference in his behavior at home. In fact, Islam had struggled a lot with bed-wetting, but within a few weeks of being at TYO, he stopped.  Islam continued to attend a few more sessions at TYO, and his parents and teachers now say he has become a completely different person.

Our cab went as far as it could into the camp. We didn’t know our way so the taxi driver rolled down the window and asked one of the 15 or so children surrounding the car to tell us where Islam’s house was located. Two little boys on bikes said they would show us the way. Within minutes of winding through the narrow passages of Old Askar camp, we reached the doorway where Islam and his family were waiting outside for us.

We were welcomed in with open arms. His mother quickly introduced her twin 3 year olds, 5 year old daughter, 18 year old son, and of course Islam (her two other children were not home.)  I quickly said hello and tried to show how grateful I was to be there, despite the fact that I cannot speak Arabic at all.

We all sat down and began to talk. Islam was shy at first. Eventually Islam told us about his dream to become a pilot. He said the most exciting part about becoming a pilot is that when you fly the plane super high, then you are able to open the window of the plane and scoop snow in from the clouds. He discussed all of this while drawing his dream plane. I couldn’t help but cry. I tried so hard to hold back my tears, which were from pure joy for such a beautiful person with such pure and happy hopes. But also they were tears because his dream is so out of reach. But it is not hopeless. Perhaps before TYO when Islam was just another lost kid who spent most of his time getting yelled at and sent away. But Islam isn’t the trouble-maker anymore. He is just Islam: a boy who wants to fly. TYO let Islam just be Islam and find himself and his hopes so that he did not have to negatively reach out for attention

It may be a long road before Islam can start the engine to that plane. But there is hope. And sometimes that’s all you need to plant the seed.

The Interns Experience a Wedding…Nablus Style

Two hundred pairs of eyes turned to us the moment we entered the huge hall, occupied by the bridal party and about every woman in downtown Nablus. The bride and groom continued their dancing uninterrupted as we glued ourselves to the back wall and tried to blend in unsuccessfully. The foreigners had arrived.

Let me backtrack a bit. Last week, during one of our aerobics sessions, one of the mothers in our class graciously invited us to her daughter’s upcoming wedding. I was taken aback, not only by this woman’s openness but also that she was even old enough to be a mother-in-law. The other female interns and I accepted with great excitement as we had been hearing wedding parties in the streets for weeks and had wanted to experience a Nabulsi party. Finally! We had managed to make it into the inner circle!

Back to the wedding hall. As we edged along the wall trying not to tip over flower stands, wooden altars, and ginormous cakes, the fellow interns and I tried to look the least conspicuous as possible – a tall order when we were the only unveiled women in the room. Up on the stage, the bride and groom were happily slow dancing as a fog machine and bubble maker created mystical clouds around them. It was fairytale-like, which is, I guess, the underlying theme of most weddings. Except here, the dancing was reserved solely for the bride and groom, while the rest of room buzzed with the general feeling of happiness that comes with all weddings.

A noticeable change in the demeanor of the other women came when the mother-of-the-bride greeted us warmly and thanked us for coming. Perhaps this was the official signal that we were indeed invited guests and not over-curious gatecrashers, as we were then invited to sit down. We introduced ourselves to the women around us, at which point two very adorable babies were handed to us for some inexplicable reason. We were simultaneously overwhelmed by cuteness and flattered by the mothers’ trust.

It was at this point that the party really started to pick up, as the men from the adjacent room began to pour in and the flashing neon lights went especially crazy. I found this part particularly interesting, as the flurry of activity (which was later explained to me as presentations of gifts of money) seemed to center around the groom on stage as the bride posed for pictures off to the side. At most wedding in the US the bride is the center of attention; thus, this tradition struck me as particularly interesting.

Just before we left, we all managed to get our hands on a sliver of cake. Only minutes beforehand, this cake had been sliced by the groom with a massive sword, not a sight you see at any old wedding and one of the many reasons why I hope to attend another Nabulsi wedding in the future. Insha’allah.

- Alex

Alex is an intern at TYO Nablus.

It’s Not Elementary, But Preschool.

A very interesting article in this month’s Time Magazine reveals findings of a groundbreaking 25 year study on early childhood education in Chicago. The results?

To cut crime, raise education and income levels, and reduce addiction rates among the poor, no program offers more bang for the buck than preschool….That means having qualified teachers and providing a structured but nurturing environment. In addition to the quality of the program itself, another reason the Chicago preschools may have had such a large impact is that they helped parents feel that they were part of a community and kept them involved with their children’s school.

Whether Nablus or Chicago, access to quality early childhood education can have enormous impact on children, parents and communities.  We encourage governments and donors to recognize the importance of funding early childhood education programs. Because if results are what we want, preschool wins.
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