Intern Journal: Continuing the work

Over the past six weeks, all of us interns have come to rely on our translators to literally be our second voice in the classroom. But from lesson planning to TYO sponsored trips in the West Bank, time has flown by and we all realized that we had not had an opportunity to spend much time with our translators outside of the TYO Center.

For me, one of the most important things I wanted to gain from this experience was a better understanding of what it is to be a young person in Nablus so I was very excited when the interns and translators arranged a time to meet to have some food on Rafidia Street.

Under Sunday’s pink-tinged Nabulsi sky we all enjoyed lemon-mints, an amazing view, and good company. Our conversations often revolved around lighter subjects like debating the merits of John Cena, Troy, the Pittsburgh Steelers, iPhone applications, and 50 Cent; I will probably never understand some of the translators’ enthusiasm for the Oprah Winfrey Show.

Although we could all laugh and joke with each other, we were all cognizant of the very different lives we have all experienced. At the same time, we didn’t forget the larger commonalities that bond us as young people. All of us are of the same generation and have passions and dreams that drive us whether that be our work, families or Ernest Hemingway’s prose. But above all, we have our shared experiences at TYO. I felt incredibly hopeful and reinvigorated by the commitment I saw from many of our translators to continue the important work we have all started together long after the interns have left this beautiful place.

Blooming in Palestine

My mom always says to bloom where you’re planted. It’s a cryptic life instruction; I think it’s somewhat akin to the superficially obvious unattributed quote, “Wherever you go, there you are.” Nearly a year ago, I left my friends and family in Los Angeles to pursue some sort of ambiguous higher calling. I never expected to wind up in Palestine. It’s amazing where a random email through your graduate school listserv can lead.

I suppose we all wind up in unexpected places. These sometimes-serendipitous-sometimes-scary digressions frequently compose more of our lifetimes than the stuff we planned. And while it’s always experience, living impulsively is not always easy. I’ve recently been hit, as I think many TYO interns are at some point, with a wave of homesickness. Perhaps this was spurred on by blackberry season in Wooster, Ohio, the small midwestern town where I was born and raised. My mom’s blackberry pies are otherworldly.

But something funny happened last weekend. Some of the interns went to Ramallah to sample exotic new flavors of iced coffee and explore another area of our new home in the West Bank. Upon our return to Nablus later in the evening, I flopped down in my room and listened to the confused rooster outside my window who starts to crow at 11pm. I walked out to the balcony to take in the Nabulsi breeze and fantasize about the kunafa I’d eat in excess the following day. It was good to be home.

In that moment, I realized that unbeknownst to me, I had taken mom’s advice. I liked it here. Actually, I loved it here. I realized that Palestine had gotten into my blood, and perhaps it would be a little harder to leave than I originally anticipated. I still miss my family and friends – mom’s blackberry pie, my dad’s high pitched giggle when he plays with the dog, the dimples in my nephew’s cheeks when he does something his mother JUST told him not to do – but there are just as may things about Nablus that I’m going to miss when I’m gone.

So, whether it’s the kunafa, little Rida’s subconscious habit of pushing his glasses up during a soccer game, the “secret hi-five” we have with the neighborhood girls, or the friendships I’ve made with the other interns, I’m going to spend the last three weeks here taking in every single moment of it. Well, maybe not the kunafa part – I’ll stick to every other day with that.

Intern Journal: This Class is Our Class

My volunteers are my extra set of eyes, ears and hands. They step in when I need materials passed out and when I need help rearranging my classroom for a new activity. They step in when a child needs a hole punched for a mask and when they need a string tied for a kite. Most importantly, they step in when a student has a problem that I can’t immediately address. After all, I am just one person with anywhere from 10-18 students. And without my volunteers, I couldn’t teach my classes.

This past Monday, right after Field Day in Balata and Community English class, my volunteers, translator and I met in my classroom to discuss our Arts & Crafts class. Throughout the session I have continuously stressed that this class is ours and I always welcome and encourage suggestions. But on Monday, I wanted to remind them just how important they really are to this class.

For the next 45 minutes we discussed what we’ve learned about our class and our kids thus far. What works in class and what doesn’t, what needs to stay and what should we change, but also how to improve. The amount of feedback I got from them was amazing. Together we agreed, using the hand clapping technique we tried to implement at the start of the session, doesn’t get the children’s attention like we had hoped. But making simple yet functional projects is a great way to keep the kids engaged. I appreciated the craft project suggestions from them too. Everything from flowers made of plastic bags, to face paint, to a mural! I have already implemented an idea: adding background music to class while they work on their project. The kids really enjoyed it too!

I want my volunteers to be on board for every craft project or silly game I attempt with my kids. I want them to be as enthusiastic about lessons as I am. And so that things runs smoothly, it is so important that they are included in the decision-making process and can take some ownership of the class. I know that my volunteers walked away from the meeting on Monday feeling much better about the remainder of the session. Weekly, I will keep reminding them that  this class is our class.

- Tala

Tala is a summer intern at TYO Nablus.

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.

Mabrouk Aya!

TYO is proud to congratulate FWEN program participant, Aya, on her successful completion of the Business Women’s Forum – Palestine‘s month long internship and training program. Aya and her fellow interns were presented certificates of completion at a ceremony this morning in Ramallah hosted by BWF staff and attended by honored guests, including: US Consul General, Daniel Rubinstein, other State Department representatives, and Palestinian Minister of Women’s Affairs, H.E. Rabhiya Diab.

Aya at the BWF Internship ceremony after receiving her graduation certificate

For the past year, Aya has been refining her business–Solidarity Farm–the first female-owned and organic sheep farm in Palestine. She is passionate and a truly inspiring entrepreneur who will certainly put to use the many skills honed through the BWF internship and the FWEN program. Mabrouk Aya!

The Fostering Women Entrepreneurs in Nablus (FWEN) program is a collaboration between Tomorrow’s Youth Organization (TYO) and the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, with support from the Small Enterprise Center in Ramallah.

Volunteer Spotlight: Nehad Omer

My name is Nehad Omer, and I have been a Core Program morning volunteer for a year.

After I graduated with a sociology degree from An Najah University, I searched for various job openings and volunteer positions. I came across TYO, but was wary about applying because I assumed it would be very difficult to work with children from severely disadvantaged homes. Thankfully, I swallowed my fear and applied.

Since then, I have worked as a volunteer for a variety of classes, ranging from sports to concentration techniques. It was initially very difficult to break out of my own shell, but I soon realized that it was necessary. I could not be helpful if I was shyer than the children! In the past year, I have seen both myself and the children come a long way.

For example, Ghizal, a Core Program child, spent weeks running out of TYO because she was shy and did not feel comfortable around so many other active (and sometimes loud) children. Over time, however, I have learned how to make her comfortable. When she becomes overwhelmed, it calms her anxieties to draw or color by herself. Instead of running outside of the building, she now comes to me and asks if she can spend a few minutes drawing alone. I have noticed her become happier, less afraid, and engage more with the other children in just the past few days. I am excited to see how much she will break out of her shell by the end of this session and am grateful that I am part of why she is happier.

Girls like Ghizal are why I make the one-hour commute from Koforqadon village to Nablus every morning at 7 am. My parents and nine siblings have always encouraged me to go out and volunteer (perhaps because I am the middle child), and have commented on my increased self-confidence since I started with TYO last year.

- Nehad

Personal story as told to Shahla

Triple Exposure murals complete in Askar boys’ school

Triple Exposure mural teacher Rimah and her volunteers went to visit the boys’ school in Askar UNRWA refugee camp, Nablus. Over two visits she worked with fifteen boys, ages 10-11 on two murals in the hallways of the school. Whilst representing the themes of nature and school, these murals have a more kaleidoscopic feel to them, with unexpected colours inside the branches and leaves of the tree, really bringing an extra splash of colour to the walls of Askar.

Like many schools in the West Bank, the school doesn’t have an art teacher or art department, and these were the first murals ever in the school. Even the teachers were interested in how the different colours were mixed and applied. The director of the school liked the mural so much he has asked Rimah to come back and do one more any time.

After they had finished the murals, the boys wanted to go home and show their parents they had been working with paint, and thoroughly enjoyed drawing moustaches on each other. The boys showed so much talent and dedication, seeing the project through to completion with admirable focus. If they had an art teacher or more opportunities to practice, the kids could really work on their art skills and creative thinking, on top of making these vibrant and lasting contributions to their community.

To date, Triple Exposure has complete fifteen murals around Nablus. For more details, please see the Triple Exposure blog.

Intern Journal: A Day Off in Nablus

The interns have made an amazing discovery, one that in my opinion rivals the adventures of the great explorers of the fifteenth and sixteen centuries. We have found it, our holy grail….ice coffee in Nablus.

To say that we interns have a bit of an addiction is an understatement. The first thing we did upon landing in Ben Gurion airport was to find the nearest coffee shop and sip slowly on the delightful elixir before driving into the West Bank. After a busy week of lesson planning, meetings, and reports, we look forward to having a day or two to unwind before the madness starts again. On Saturday afternoon, Amy, Tala, Samin, Megan, and I ventured into the Old City and soon found ourselves in the relaxed yet bizarre atmosphere that is the Cinema City cafe which provides us with all of the comforts of home right here in Nablus.

Checkered with flaming red and black designs, Cinema City is the perfect place to sample blended frappe beverages, coffees, and desserts aptly named after film’s leading ladies including “The Angelina, The Megan, and The Zeta-Jones.” Or Tala’s favorite treat, “Magic Corn” which is basically just sweetened corn. When our waiter brought over the tray of blended coffees, some of us had difficulty restraining our joy, others had problems breathing.

Sitting at our table under the “Thanks for Coming Y’all” sign, I momentarily forgot where we were. Was I actually in the States at my local mall? Had I somehow sleep-walked my way across the green line? Nope, I was still in Nablus – al-humdulillah! – but in a place meant to provide an escape for its customers from the realities of life happening outside its walls. A place where women go out with their friends for ice coffee and you can still catch Scream 4 playing in all its ridiculous goriness.

- Cate

Cate is a summer intern at TYO Nablus.

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