The Hills: Rawabi

Until yesterday, my keys to the TYO Center floated precariously loose in my purse. Luckily, our trip to Rawabi yielded not only a nice new keychain bearing the municipality’s insignia, but also some fantastic views and the encompassing warmth of promise and hope.

Rawabi is the first planned Palestinian city and an absolutely enormous undertaking for the Palestinian people. Set in the rolling landscape between Nablus, Jerusalem and Ramallah, Rawabi is literally translated to “hills” in English. The city is initially intended to provide affordable housing to 25,000 Palestinian families, with an eventual aim of 40,000 permanent residents.

I was lucky enough to sit with Nisreen, the Executive Director of the Rawabi Foundation, as we settled into a spot on the city’s highest point for beautiful views and a-maz-ing tapas and juice. Nisreen had mentioned a plan to build a cultural center, museum, and outdoor amphitheater in a central location in the hopes of creating a cultural hub in the West Bank. Indeed, creating a sense of cultural pride can frequently boost a city’s identity beyond just an incidental collection of commercial and residential buildings. From years of jumping back and forth from northern Ohio to Los Angeles, I can attest to the importance of a Greek theater or Pro Football Hall of Fame to a city’s unique character. Even the – eccentric, we’ll call them – street artists on the Venice beach boardwalk create a sense of cultural pride.

Nisreen and her team are spot-on with this one. As we gazed onto the hill that would eventually pulse with Palestinian music, art, and history, the TYO team had a moment of collective awe at the possibilities literally sprawled out before our eyes. Part of our goal here at TYO is to encourage kids to nurture their creative instinct – to appreciate their potential for self expression. Sitting on that hill with the dedicated team of the Rawabi Foundation, I couldn’t help picturing Leen curating an art exhibit, or Nirmin adjusting the lighting scheme for a visiting string quartet. Maybe Ayman will coach a youth soccer team in the Rawabi public park.

Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself. But it’s nice to imagine that the same kids who walk through our classroom doors every day will soon have a major cultural outlet only 25 kilometers away. And in the meantime, check out Alex’s chalkboard-wall hybrid, Tala’s floor, or Samin’s sing-alongs for a sample of the kids’ creative efforts.

-Amy

Amy is a summer intern at TYO Nablus.

TYO co-hosts panel at New America Foundation: October 20

The New America Foundation, in cooperation with Tomorrow’s Youth Organization and the Palestine Note,

cordially invites you and your colleagues to an afternoon policy forum on the Middle East:

BEYOND PLATITUDES: WOMEN’S ECONOMIC EMPOWERMENT IN THE MIDDLE EAST

WHAT’S REAL? WHAT’S NOT? WHAT CAN BE DONE

FIDA ADELY Clovis & Hala Salaam Maksoud Chair in Arab Studies Center for Conteporary Arab Studies, School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University

NADEREH CHAMLOU Senior Advisor to the Chief Economist, Middle East and North Africa Region, World Bank

DOA’A TAHA-BRAHIMI Consultant and Vice President, Grey Matter International, Ltd.

NELL DERICK DEBEVOISE Director, Tomorrow’s Youth Organization

AMJAD ATALLAH Director, Middle East Task Force, New America Foundation

moderator STEVE CLEMONS Director, American Strategy Program, New America Foundation and Publisher, The Washington Note and Editor at Large, Talking Points Memo


WEDNESDAY, 20 OCTOBER 2010 5:00 pm – 6:30 pm (followed by refreshments)

New America Foundation 1899 L Street NW, 4th Floor Washington, DC

For those not in Washington, we WILL STREAM THIS EVENT LIVE at The Washington Note, The Palestine Note, and on the New America Foundation website and make it available for later viewing.

President Clinton endorses TYO’s women’s entrepreneurialism initiative

CGI sealFollowing our fabulous experience at CGI 2009 in New York last month, we were happy to hear from the CGI folks again today! They have made available an official seal of approval for all Commitment Makers in good standing (at left). They’ll also send a certificate signed by President Clinton that we will proudly display in the entrance of our Nablus Center, next to our other commitment certificate from CGI 2007!

In the meantime, we can confidently say that our commitment is in very good standing – we’re interviewing for Project Managers on Wednesday for the women’s economic empowerment initiative that we’ve developed in cooperation with the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women. The Small Enterprise Center of Ramallah is the local technical partner, and has generously agreed to help out from the very first stages of project development and recruitment.

Another great development on this front this week was learning of the Entrepreneurial Finance Lab within Harvard’s Center for International Development from Henriette Kolb, Director of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women. The team at Harvard is studying ways to remedy the under-utilized economic potential of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in developing countries. This group at Harvard, as well as Mrs. Blair and her Foundation, see SMEs as an essential ingredient for fighting poverty, in different ways from microfinance initiaitives or global expansion of Fortune 500 companies. Harvard’s site provides a comprehensive and lucid description of the issue, as well as innovative and compelling solutions that they are developing, including using psychometric tests to evaluate loan applications!

Come visit us in Nablus to see the CGI certificates in person, and more importantly, check out this exciting new project to promote women as innovative and potent economic engines in their community!

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Inter-sectoral approach to Early Childhood Development

I was glad to be in the US last week, in preparation for the Clinton Global Initiative, on the occasion of a panel on inter-sectoral approaches to early childhood development, coordinated by the Wolfensohn Center for Development at Brookings and Save the Children.

The Obama administration’s newly appointed focal points on early childhood education (Jacqueline Jones in the Department of Education, and Joan Lombardi in the Department of Health and Human Services) provided hopeful perspectives on the early developments of these new efforts to integrate the government’s policies and programs for young children. They also underlined a recurrent theme of the discussion: the need to develop a coherent and holistic message for advocacy of political and financial support for early childhood. We need to leverage the strong scientific evidence that has been gathered in the fields of health, education and economics about the potent value of early childhood interventions.

Lombardi pointed out that from her experience, early childhood initiatives were mainly missing public financing and coordination between health, education and other sectors that touch the lives of young children. The discussion suggested that at least in the US, with the important factor of high-level support from President Obama and Secretaries Duncan and Sebellius, efforts are being made to remedy these common challenges. While of course the newly appointed representatives’ work will focus on domestic issues for the time-being, Lombardi did mention the Office of Global Health in HHS, which she suggested could be a starting point for related initiatives that extend beyond US borders.

Jean-Louis Sarbib, formerly Vice President of the Human Development Network at the World Bank, and now a non-resident Senior Fellow at the Wolfensohn Center, reviewed what he saw as the highlights of Lombardi’s and Jones’s presentations. First, he emphasized the value of the high-level support in any effective early childhood policy, which they confirmed feeling from the President and both Secretaries. He felt particularly strongly about President Obama’s choice to invest in early learning as part of the recent stimulus, emphasizing this sector as investment in our future health and economic development, rather than consumption. Finally, Sarbib suggested that we need to talk about early childhood as the period from conception to 8 years, rather than starting at birth.

The first question from the audience highlighted the fact that the discussion had focused largely on domestic arena, perhaps reflecting the reality that these inter-sectoral efforts are new to the US, and have not yet extended to our international policies. Peter Laugharn, executive director of the Firelight Foundation, asked whether this priority on early childhood, and specifically an inter-sectoral approach, would be reflected in the US’s international development assistance. While there was no information provided about specific efforts being made to promote the issue within international policy, the panelists’ eager support for the issue inspires hope. Further, Lombardi mentioned several times her fondness for and commitment to international work, which is evidenced by her extensive and enduring in that realm before accepting this position with HHS.

In sum, the event provided a very satisfying first discussion on the topic. The enthusiastic participation of about 40 professionals from all sides of the early childhood field (health and education; domestic and international; funders and practitioners), as well as the panelists’ eloquent and action-focused interventions, lead me to believe that we will manage to raise the profile of early childhood as a valuable priority for international development aid.

Our experience through TYO in Nablus provides incontrovertible evidence that not only do early childhood programs have profound and lasting impact on children, but also that they provide access to entire families, and thereby communities. What better public diplomacy instrument could the State Department be looking for?
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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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Kunafa Festival

All of Nablus and the West Bank had been abuzz with excitement for weeks prior to the event: the preparation and unveiling of the world’s largest kunafa! Kunafa is a deliciously sweet cheese-based dessert, popular all over the Arab world but an acknowledged specialty of Nablus. The TYO staff and interns can’t get enough of it, and with our sweet teeth leading the way, Saturday morning Shahla and I joined the thousands of visitors from the cities and villages of the West Bank and even Israel to pay witness to this overgrown dessert. Since we could not get close enough to snap a photo, I’ll let the numbers speak for themselves:

170 bakers
10 pastry shops
75 meters long
2 meters wide
700 kilograms of flour
700 kilograms of cheese
300 kilograms of sugar
300 kilograms of paste
35 kilograms of pistachios
6 tins of cooking fat

While the city square is normally home to shoppers and families visiting the clothing shops, falafel stands, pastry shops, and my favorite: The Fruit Market of Sweet Satisfaction, it was thrilling to be among an expectantly waiting crowd of many times the usual size!

Kunafa1Kunafa2Kunafa3

The day was particularly joyful for local Nabulsi vendors, who I’m sure relished the business that poured in from all the visiting kunafa fans! Shown here is one of the ever-quirky date juice vendors, complete with his costume and juice contraption.

The day was particularly joyful for local Nabulsi vendors, who I’m sure relished the business that poured in from all the visiting kunafa fans! Shown here is one of the ever-quirky date juice vendors, complete with his costume and juice contraption.

Walking around, fellow intern Shahla and I had the pleasure of encountering two TYO families: girls and their mothers from Margaret’s dance and aerobics classes. They were so enthusiastic, both to see us and for this momentous day for Nablus. It was a day of great pride for Nabulsis and Palestinians, and the international press paid attention! BBC News reported on the event, further adding to the positive international news coverage that Nablus has received in the past week.

Be it a new movie theater, a giant kunafa, or consecutive games of “Thumbs Up Seven Up” in my sports and games class, Nabulsis have shown themselves to be more than ready to find joy in opportunities for lighthearted fun.
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