Goodbye for now

The activity in my arts and crafts class was simple; to write and/or draw a picture about your favorite memory from these past two and half months. As I saw my students writing about the time we made paper lamps for Ramadan, new friends, water balloons, and pool day, I couldn’t help but reflect on how important this experience has been to me and how I just can’t seem to shake the perpetual pit I’ve had in my stomach about leaving so soon.

Nearly three months ago I said goodbye to my family and boarded a plane with a certain amount of excitement and trepidation for a new and often misunderstood place, a new adventure. Although I had never been to the Middle East, I immediately feel in love with the resilient and vibrant spirit of the Nabulsi people. From the first week onwards, life has moved at an extraordinarily fast pace with little time to process.

But in this short time I have seen my students take leaps and bounds in developing their confidence and personality. One student, Aya, came into class the first two weeks and sat down with her head on the table. She was silent, upset, and refused to participate in many of the activities. Eight weeks later, I am bound to find Aya attached at the hips of a new group of girlfriends from a different neighborhood, coming to class early to practice her numbers in English with me, and standing in front of her peers to present her art projects with a shy but steady smile. What is even more encouraging is that Aya’s story does not stand by itself but is representative of TYO’s impact on the children who participate in its programs. Throughout these 8 weeks, I have heard similar stories repeated time and time again from my other interns; it’s one song I will never get sick of listening to.

My students and the intern program has challenged me to grown in new ways both personally and professionally. The lessons learned, stories I have had the privilege to hear, and experiences I have shared with my fellow interns will stay with me wherever I go.

Until I’m back in Nablus…ma’a salama.


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 Team: A Day in the Life of a TYO Volunteer

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I woke up feeling a little nervous, like the first day of school when you don’t know anyone yet. I walked down to the main floor of the Nablus Center to see many kids sitting along four tables, wide-eyed and restless. Who do I talk to when I can’t say more than ten words? I walk up to a small boy in an orange Holland jersey fumbling with his backpack, “Marhaba, Shooo issmek?” I say, still unsure if I’m pronouncing it correctly. He stares at me with a worried look and I back away embarrassed. Ala, a Core Child teacher at TYO who teaches IT skills, and my only friend who speaks English, points me in the direction of one of the classrooms. I can’t tell who’s more nervous at this point, the kids or myself.

I feel like the new kid again. I shyly introduce myself and take the open seat next to the kid in the Holland jersey. The teacher continues talking in Arabic as a few kids continue to stare in my direction. When your ability to communicate is taken away, you have to rely solely on universal gestures. The fellow volunteers start to hand out blank paper. Are those really butterflies in my stomach? I feel as if I am five again and have to hold the urge to grab the crayons first. It’s only been five minutes and I’m already uncontrollably smiling.

It’s no wonder TYO has so many volunteers. They have over 100 for the summer session, mainly from An Najah University, and overwhelmingly female. They actually started out with only 12 volunteers, all males, but with the increase in numbers each year, more and more women started to participate. After snack time, we prepare for our morning field trip to the Nablus Fire Department. I don’t remember the last time I visited a fire station, probably when I was about this age. After settling who travels on what bus (the kids must be separated by where they’re coming from, Askar, Balata, Khallet al Amood) we make our way down to the Nablus Fire Department.

It would seem that fire stations are impressive everywhere. The firemen greeted us in their typical outfits. There were then some demonstrations. Even though I couldn’t understand, Ala was quick to translate whenever there was a funny moment, such as when one kid, when prompted by the firemen if he had any questions, asked about a monster that attacked his foot last night. I enjoyed the children’s Q&A very much, but I had a question of my own so I conversed with one of the volunteers at the fire station. He told me that it was a long process to become a firemen and that he has volunteered for about seven years!

It seems as if volunteering is a natural option for those at the University because they are able to get professional skills they wouldn’t otherwise have access. Similar to the United States, where internships are the norm before getting a real job, volunteering has become increasingly common in the West Bank. Professor Jawad Fatayer, of An Najah University, stresses that this desire is more than just professional. It is also personal. Volunteers feel a sense of community through their work, that they are making an impact. That is probably why so many of the volunteers stay. Most of the volunteers we interviewed had been with TYO since the beginning. It is great to see how comfortable they are with the kids.

After waiting for a bit, our bus arrives. I thank the firemen for their time and prepare for a relaxing and reflective ride back. I am starting to feel less like the new kid and more like a new friend. When we get back, Alaa, Haitham, and Jawad, the Core Child teachers, even invite me to sit with them for lunch. I am touched. I have been used to the familiar territory of the sixth floor; however, it is nice to be around the volunteers whose faces I frequently see, but I’ve never had the opportunity of working side-by-side with. They tell me that all of the volunteers stay throughout the day despite having a break between the morning and afternoon programming. I notice them hanging out in front of the center, or talking in the computer class.

It is a warm feeling coming back to TYO and I understand a little bit better what it means to be a volunteer. It is not just a role, but a mindset. You can tell that it must not always be so easy to work with the kids but the volunteers genuinely enjoy their work. They continue to come and be a part of TYO and the bond is obvious. I become slightly jealous that I don’t have a place like this back home, and a little guilty that I maybe haven’t searched for it as much as these students have. I walk upstairs feeling that sense of accomplishment and fulfillment that Dr. Jawad described. For a little while, it is easy to feel hope and love, to feel an impact, to feel a connection.

- Sarah

Sarah is the journalist for the SOW National Team.

4th of July: A Day of Service

In honor of the 4th of July, TYO staff, interns and volunteers headed to the neighborhood park for an afternoon of community service.  Serving our community in Nablus is just one of the ways that we at TYO pay tribute to this day of independence – honoring community, equality, human rights and opportunity for all.

On this 235th anniversary of American independence, we are reminded of the centuries old, rich and unique history of Palestine.  It is a history that reflects the extraordinary resilience of its people and the sense of community and family that we experience firsthand every day.

Today we take a moment to honor those around the world who continue to strive for freedom and human rights. We are committed by our common aspirations for a better world for tomorrow’s youth.

-Humaira
Humaira is the TYO Nablus Center Director.

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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A Small Sense of Permanency

Each Thursday, we finish our regularly scheduled classes with a camp-wide Sports Day; a fun-filled afternoon of soccer, blob tag, games, laughter, sunny weather, relay races, and just overall exuberance. It’s great to see as my kids begin to leave behind their shyness and self-consciousness in favor of giddiness and a bit of a competitive spirit. This past week, one of my students even proceeded (with a great amount of animation and hand gestures) to break down the steps and rules of a certain game for me and many of her classmates.

When I think about my first day of class, when sixteen 8-10 year olds filed into my Arts and Crafts class and quietly took their seats with looks of mild apprehension, the contrast to our Thursday Sports Days is even more striking. That first class, I had expected chaos; I hadn’t prepared for the quiet.

After our initial icebreaker, I asked my students to think about how our class resembles a box of crayons. I didn’t get much of a response but I still hope I was able to get across my message about uniqueness and coming together to create something bigger and more beautiful than ourselves. We drew self-portraits and did our best to draw other things and people all the students love as well.

Across the board, there was one theme that was nearly ubiquitous in all my students’ drawings: a house. Whether it was shaped like a pyramid, filled with trees and flowers, or was slightly indecipherable, the idea of a physical home was prominently displayed and in some cases even overtook the other aspects of their portraits. In this moment, my appreciation for TYO’s work reached a whole new level. For many of my students, nothing in their lives has a sense of permanency, even their homes; everything is fluid. On our intern tour of the Old City, Chelsey, our internship coordinator, had stopped a few too many times to point out a building that had once stood at our very footsteps.

TYO provides not only a permanent physical space for kids to be kids but a larger community that is strong and pervasive. It’s an honor to be a part of this “house.”

- Cate

Cate is a summer intern at TYO Nablus.

TYO Summer Interns visit Rawabi

On Saturday, June 10, 2011 the TYO summer interns visited Rawabi – the first planned city in Palestine. Rawabi is situated 9 kilometers north of Ramallah and 25 kilometers south of our hometown, Nablus.

Standing on the breathtaking hills of the future development complex that will provide 40,000 Palestinians affordable housing in the next few years was inspiring! The city will encompass a central commercial area with banks, retail shops, medical offices, schools, community playgrounds, walking trails, a hospital, a hotel, a movie theater and other arts venues. For those of us that have the privilege of living in the West Bank, we know the endless obstacles that come with such an ambitious endeavor. That’s why seeing Rawabi’s commitment to ensure the environmental sustainability and preservation of the natural features of the site in light of all the other challenges was encouraging. Rawabi’s vision is to serve as a prototype of the first Palestinian green city and ultimately to guarantee a higher quality of life for present and future generations.

- Humaira

Humaira is the Nablus Center Director for Tomorrow’s Youth Organization.

Triple Exposure Mural Completed at El Ein Girls School

For the first of this summer’s murals, Mural teacher Rimah went to the UNRWA girls’ school in El Ein refugee camp in Nablus. Working with seventeen girls from the school, she brainstormed ideas for the scene. Together, they came up with an idyllic park landscape, based on the ideas of the environment and childhood play, to paint across two walls of the playground.

Rimah taught the girls, ages 12-14, how to mix colours to make new ones, which they especially enjoyed, and to use stencils to put flowers into the scene. The volunteers, fellow fine art graduates Alaa and Inaam, were really helpful, and assisted passersby — sometimes as young as 5 or 6 years old — who wanted to join in. The team worked hard to complete the mural in only two days!

The students love the mural and can take pride in their collective efforts which everyone can enjoy – it’s the first and only one in the school. Needless to say, they have asked to do more!

This summer, Rimah and her team of volunteers will complete ten murals in different schools and locations around Nablus.

Intern Journal: Percussive Plastic Plates…TYO style

I’ve just sent my music students bounding home with their newly fashioned “music shakers”…I fully expect to incur the wrath of their parents sometime in the next two days.  Call them what you will—maracas, plastic plate tambourines, or handheld shakers—whatever the nomenclature, Monday’s class activity yielded twelve beautifully decorated agents of NOISE.  Plastic plates (strangely, paper plates are quite the rarity here in Nablus), popcorn kernels, a stapler, scissors, and some colorful construction paper and streamers are all it took to generate an entire symphonic section of percussive instruments.  As we constructed and festooned our instruments we jammed out to an eclectic, world music mix, which featured everything from Fairouz and Nancy Ajram to the Beatles and the Gypsy Kings.  Although Nancy Ajram was the crowd favorite—the girls knew every single word of “Ana Yalli Bahebbak” by heart— “Octopus’s Garden” inspired some enthusiastic head nods in time to the beat as well as a brief explanation of the timelessness of the British sixties pop sensation.

Amazingly, there was only one maracas fiasco this afternoon: two improperly fastened plates, one overzealous shake, and the resulting shower of corn kernels sent us all into hysterics and laughter to the point of tears.   During the last ten minutes of class, and post-kernel cleanup, students used their latest creations to play the two bar rhythm written on the whiteboard.  Yes, that’s right, my students can now read and clap to (or shake a tambourine to) rhythm.  We’ve covered all the basics: quarter, half, and whole notes and rests; treble and bass clefs, measures and 4/4 time.  Needless to say I’m so proud of the youth’s music literacy progress over these past few weeks, but they are especially deserving of praise today given that there was a hiatus from class all of last week.

Hoping my students will afford their parents a few moments of peace,

Leila

Leila is an intern at TYO Nablus.

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