Let’s Ask Ahmed!

My translator Ahmed has been an invaluable resource in my Arts and Crafts classes and sports days at TYO. He has also become a good friend and someone I truly respect. I couldn’t have asked for a better teammate at TYO! Below is an interview I did with Ahmed so that I could share more about him with the world beyond Nablus!

Me: Ahmad can you tell me about your studies at An Najah University?

Ahmed: Right now I am studying English literature. I love English and am interested in learning more. Right now I’m studying Shakespeare. We also study American lit and semantics etc. in my program. I will graduate next semester.

Me: Why did you want to study English?

Ahmed: I was going to be an engineer but didn’t have the grades for it. I also considered working in IT, but then I switched to English Literature.

Me: How long have you been fluent in English?

Ahmed: I was always speaking with foreigners who taught English at my schools as a child and then expanded on my knowledge in university.

Me: Why did you apply to be a translator for TYO?

Ahmed: I took a Western Civilization course and there was a quote I remember hearing in class that said “public service always leads to salvation” so I changed my course in life to do that. I really like working with children as well. For example when you tell the children there will be a swimming day you can even smell the happiness in the room!

Me: What do you like most about volunteering here?

Ahmed: Meeting new people from other countries and other Palestinians. I enjoy being exposed to new cultures and getting along with foreigners.

Me: Could you tell me about one of your favourite moments in Arts and Crafts class this session?

Ahmed: When the kids poured water on you (me) on water day. It was very funny!

Me: How do you feel about the summer program at TYO coming to a close?

Ahmed: I feel sad because I like it very much and the interns are leaving. I don’t want it to end.

Me: Would you like to continue working with TYO in the future?

Ahmed: If there are opportunities, I really like working here. After vacation, I’d like to return in the fall.

Me: What is your dream job?

Ahmed: Professor of English Literature.

Me: In Palestine?

Ahmed: Of course!

Me: What advice would you give to future translators and volunteers with TYO?

Ahmed: Be flexible with the children and be flexible with the teacher. Work on understanding things through context and not just the words. Pay attention to what’s going on between the teacher and students so that you can convey the student’s feelings to the teacher.

Me: Thank you Ahmed for taking the time to share a little bit about yourself and your experience here at TYO. It’s been a privilege to work with you and I hope that we have a chance to do it again someday in the future!

Ahmed: It’s my privilege to work with you.

- Megan is a TYO summer program intern

The End of an Era

Today, our beloved Intern Coordinator, Chelsey, is sadly leaving us for the world beyond Nablus. Chelsey, who has nurtured us from intern infancy over the last eight weeks, who has introduced us to the wonderful people of Nablus, who has gracefully handled our hundreds of daily questions, has helped guide seven different rounds of interns through their first experiences of life in the West Bank, all with a huge smile on her face.

For the interns, we will take away wonderful memories of Old City walks, long talks on the balcony, and bonding over our love for iced coffee, to name just a few. For the many staff members she has worked with over her three years here, she has been a trusted colleague and a friend.

Whether it’s seeing her snapping away behind a camera – barely containing her obvious love for the children – or hearing her infectious laugh echoing through the hallways, we will miss her presence around the center. Chelsey, we wish you luck on your next adventure!

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.

Launching Women Entrepreneurs in Lebanon

Lebanese women geared up for business last week, marking the start of the Women Entrepreneurs in Lebanon business training program. TYO, in partnership with the Rene Moawad Foundation welcomed 37 participants to the Business Incubation Association of Tripoli (BIAT) for tailored Business Plan training sessions July 4-7, 2011. The women, from all different parts of North Lebanon and a variety of religious and socio-economic backgrounds, joined together in a rousing welcome session and embarked on a 4-day training session aimed to assist them in developing their creative and innovative business ideas into formal business plans.

Project participants hard at work during the 4-day intensive training at the Business Incubation Association of Tripoli (BIAT)

The ladies spent their first day at the well-equipped BIAT facility in Tripoli, getting to know each other and learning about basic business principles to take their own ideas further. As the training carried on over the four days, under the guidance of the amazingly talented trainers, the women had the chance to not only learn about business, but also about themselves, as they also participated in activities aimed at encouraging their self esteem, self confidence, and communication skills.  We were lucky enough to have Andrea Smith, our Deputy Director, in town for the training and her presence was warmly felt as we wrapped up with a certificate ceremony that left the women feeling empowered and connected through their shared experience… and had us feeling awfully proud as we look forward to the next steps!

To view more photos from the training and graduation ceremony, visit the photo album on Facebook.

Project Partners (left to right): Fawaz Hamidi, BIAT Director; Andrea Smith, TYO Deputy Director; Josette Moawad, RMF Coordinator; and Nadine Okla, TYO Project Manager

TYO Interns: Where are they now?

From Nablus to Annapolis

TYO are interns are truly an amazing group who after spending time with TYO go on to do amazing things. We’d like to congratulate 2010 TYO Internship alum, Jack McAuliffe, on his matriculation into the United States Navel Academy in Annapolis, Md. We’re thinking of you and wishing you luck, Jack, during your plebe summer!

Former TYO Intern, Jack McAuliffe, with his parents Terry and Dorothy in Annapolis on his first day of plebe summer at the US Navel Academy in Annapolis

New Triple Exposure workshop – Notes from Nablus – Balata

Portraits of kids, by kids: presenting the faces and voices of Nabulsi youth to the world.

Aya - we are all one family

The best way to let the children of Nablus try out digital photography is to take the cameras to them. So June saw the start of our new Triple Exposure workshop – Notes from Nablus. Our first location was Balata UNRWA refugee camp.

After some Q&A on portraits and basic tips on composition we went over how to use the DSLR cameras – as it was the first time for the nine to eleven year olds, we kept it simple by talking about how to use the viewfinder, zoom, flash and how to hold the camera. Everyone made colourful name cards and took each others’ portraits to practice taking shots.

On day two we started by discussing what Nablus means to us. The children talked about what they love about Nablus, and what they would change if they could. They then brainstormed in groups and presented what they’re most proud of about their city/country, and how they would improve it if they were in charge. The levels of political and historical consciousness were impressive despite the young age of the participants.

Finally, we asked the children to each choose a short message to send out to the world from Balata/Nablus/Palestine. After writing the messages on each others’ hands, they took each others’ portraits once again and came up with this series of wonderful portraits which give voice to the children of Balata.

Please see the Notes from Nablus gallery for more photos.

Triple Exposure mural complete in Balata Girls’ School

This month, TYO mural teacher Rimah visited Balata girls’ school in the UNRWA refugee camp, Nablus. Over multiple visits she worked with two groups of girls, ages ten to twelve, to complete two murals either side of the sinks in the school.

The ice breakers and games on the first day really helped pull the groups together and let Rimah know what the girls are interested in. The final game centred on each person saying their name plus the meaning and their favourite subject at school, this brought forth a deluge of information about their interests, families, and dreams. The girls really loved having someone to listen to them.

To get the students started, she let them draw anything they want. And then to get them thinking about the theme, they drew something that symbolizes water and the importance of it to life. After coming up with designs, they drew these onto the walls together before starting painting.

Water shortage is a major issue in Palestine, one complicated further by desertification, climate change, and limited access to resources. The two murals were strategically placed by the sinks to remind the girls to be careful with this precious resource: no water, no life.

One of the two groups had been chosen specifically by the school director due to a history behavioural difficulties such as bad language and fighting in school. As hoped, they responded so well to the mural painting process and added incentive of doing another mural in the future. The teachers said were delighted at the transformation and how cooperative the girls were. They really came together to pool their talents and work as a team. This just goes to show that a little extra attention and creativity can work wonders for any child.

Each group had its own personality – while one was more aggressive, the other was quite shy, so Rimah decided to assign tasks and roles to play to their strengths and work on their weaknesses. For example, giving the girls individual responsibilities like keeping extra students away from the work in progress, or individual areas to paint and colours to mix, especially for the shyer students. The relative privacy of the areas given allowed them the space and time to come out of their shells naturally.

These are not simply paintings on walls, they are a way for kids here to develop their creative and collaborative skills, and make a lasting contribution to their community they can be proud of.

Please see tripleexposure.net for more information our arts projects.

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Stanford research reveals Creativity Gap among Palestinian children

Stanford Graduate School of Education doctoral student, Elizabeth Buckner, is working with Stanford Professor Paul Kim on research about creativity among Palestinian school children and ways that mobile technology could be used to cultivate it. She visited the West Bank in Spring 2010 to do research with children at TYO and several other NGOs and schools.

This research has led to the fascinating article, Combating the Creativity Gap [NB: this paper is a work in progress and should not be cited without the authors' permission]. The article presents fascinating evidence that some Palestinian students are getting access to the type of learning-through-play and student-centered educational experiences necessary to facilitate twenty-first century skills like problem solving and creativity. However, these opportunities seem to be limited very strictly to children of wealthy families attending private schools.

Authors Buckner and Kim propose mobile technologies that seem to effectively measure and indeed foster complex thinking and in turn, creativity. TYO’s child-centered learning programs are also clearly in line with the “inquiry-based methods are a more effective pedagogical approach for getting children to become active agents of their own learning” that the authors condone. This fall, Professor Kim will deliver workshops on ways to apply mobile technology in education in cooperation with Birzeit University’s Information Technology Center for Excellence.

Having seen the incredible creative potential of the Palestinian people, we say ahlan wa sahlan, Paul and Elizabeth – help us close this dangerous creativity gap as soon as possible to ensure that ALL members of the next generation are empowered to reach their full potential.

Honoring World Refugee Day at Balata Camp

Today we mark World Refugee Day. For TYO staff, volunteers, and interns it was especially poignant as we spent the afternoon at Balata Refugee Camp – the largest camp in the West Bank. With over 30,000 residents on 1 kilometer of land, Balata is a microcosm of the plight of Palestinian refugees across the region.  With limited access to water, sewage, health, and educational services, camps are a haven for disease, poverty, and unemployment.

Children are the most vulnerable victims. Without access to quality early childhood education and the space and freedom to play as every child should have,  psychosocial problems such as post traumatic stress disorder and aggression are on the rise.  It is for this reason that the dedicated team of TYO staff, volunteers, and interns work hard each and every day to bring a little hope to each member of our refugee community.

Today was no different. After filling the bus up with staff, teachers, volunteers and interns, we took the five minute drive down to Balata, following the gentle, rolling hills that lead away from Nablus city center. After setting up shop at a local community center, soon came a jolt of brightness, of energy, of hope, of life. What a day! Young boys and girls made their way in waves, cautious and curious at the same time. We welcomed them, shared some introductory games and songs, and fed off their effervescent presence. We split the group, some engaging in thrilling relay races and sports games, others having the chance to embrace their artistic side: for the latter, we asked that they design a peace letter, illustrating and decorating a card of self-expression, showing who they are to the world, showing the peace they hope for to the world.

I hope these photos can do it some justice. Thanks to Andrea of S.O.W. for the great work!

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Photo of the Day: Resting Pre-Marathon

This afternoon, TYO held a mini-marathon with obstacles and, of course, prizes for the children! Here is a picture of some children resting before the run.


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