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 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:



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!


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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SOW Journal: What I’ll remember from Nablus

Yesterday, while visiting Adam’s soccer class in al-Askar camp, a little boy threw a rock at me. It hit me hard in the shoulder. I turned around expecting to see a mischievous young boy laughing at his own aggressive, little joke. But the boy was not smiling. With a haunting intensity, he snarled a string of vicious words at me. I do not speak Arabic, but I did understand one word:


I have spent almost a month here in Nablus, and this was the first time anything even remotely hateful has happened to any of us from Students of the World. Yes, every day at TYO we see saddening evidence of conflict in all its forms: in problematic home life, dismal living situations in the camps, and the regional conflict. But the children, the staff, the people here in Nablus have been so warm, so welcoming, so inspiring. Smiles and kind words have filled every moment of my stay here. The unwavering dedication to the preservation of childhood in TYO’s offices, the respectful exchanges in the streets, and the children wanting to play in the expanses of TYO’s halls—these will be my cherished memories of Nablus.

The rock hit me yesterday. Today, little Farida hugged me and called me her friend. Today, Suhad, TYO’s psychosocial specialist, held a focus group with five kids who, once shy and silent, talked energetically about their dreams. Today, the rowdy boys in Kelsey’s art class held up their artwork while smiling broadly, proud that they had created something.

And yet my shoulder still hurts as I type this. So does my ankle from the moment that I turned to skulk away from that boy. It reminds me that the fabric of Nablus is still tenuous despite the strength I see every day in the children at TYO and the staff that welcomes them into the classrooms. And it reminds me how important TYO is to Nabulsi youth, and what is at stake in this small city.

-Jack Moore

Next step in cooperation with Cherie Blair Foundation

Following Mrs. Cherie Blair’s visit last week (May 3), TYO has moved to the next step of cooperation, submitting a proposal for a joint project with the Cherie Blair Foundation in honor of Mother’s Day yesterday. We suggested an eight-month pilot project that would train members of TYO’s community (university volunteers and mothers of our participants) in life skills and design and marketing techniques. The outcome of the project would be to produce modern items reflecting traditional Palestinian embroidery skills for international sale. The larger goal would be to empower women as creative and productive community members, promoting financial security for themselves and their families.

CBF staff are reviewing the proposal so that we can continue our discussion about working together in the coming days. In the meantime, we wanted to share the following information about CBF’s work:

The mission of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women is to provide the business skills and tools that will enable women across the world to realise their potential and achieve economic independence and success.

Women with economic security and independence have greater control over their own and their children’s lives. Economic empowerment also gives women an influential voice in tackling injustice and discrimination in their own communities and in wider society.

“I am passionate about championing the cause of women. Whenever I can, I do so through my professional life as a human rights lawyer.
And I also have used my higher personal profile over the last few years to take the message out to any audience which will listen to me.
So I have spoken to audiences about the importance of women’s rights here across Europe and North America but also in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. And wherever I have been, I always tried to grab the chance to meet with women to discuss the challenges they face in their own societies.
I have always found these meetings fascinating and frequently inspiring. When you hear first-hand, for example, of the role women are playing in healing the scars of Rwanda, you leave humbled by their courage but also determined to do what you can to help.
What has also struck me is the widespread desire of women in the developing world for advice and support from those of us who live in the more developed countries. They feel such help would not only have a real practical benefit – whether with advice on how best to tackle discrimination or, for example, expand their businesses – but would also play a major role in boosting morale in their fight to improve their lives.
I have also been encouraged by the fact that, whenever I have mentioned this to women in countries like our own, there has been a real enthusiasm to provide this help and support.
That is the reason I have set up the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women. Its aim is to help women across the world to realize their potential by promoting and supporting their economic independence and empowerment. In particular, it seeks to promote women’s role and leadership in the global economy by enhancing the growth of women-owned small and medium enterprises in the developing world.
Women with economic security and independence have much greater control over the lives of themselves and their children. It also, importantly, gives women a more influential voice in their communities and wider society to tackle injustice and discrimination.” – Cherie Blair

About the Foundation
Given the prevalence of informal self employment in many African and Asian economies, the expansion of successful micro enterprises into employment-generating small and medium enterprises (SMEs) is of great importance for economic growth. As women are the primary participants in micro finance programmes, the growth and further expansion of these women-owned enterprises is essential.

Evidence shows that the enterprise gender gap widens for established business owners (enterprises existing beyond 42 months), suggesting that women face specific barriers to establishing and expanding vibrant businesses. Although no single barrier explains the gap, studies find that women entrepreneurs are less likely to have knowledge and experience in financial management and are less likely to have and utilize business networks – two critical areas for successful business.

While micro finance programmes often provide a basic level of training in financing, women looking to grow their businesses will require a much higher skill level in finance and management. The market currently lacks training and networking programmes to support women in this expansion and micro finance providers have expressed great interest in linking their most successful clients (approximately 1-3%) to a more advanced business development programmes. The CBFW will do just that, partnering with micro finance organizations and business service providers to develop a new programme to support women entrepreneurs grow into and thrive at the SME level.

Mrs. Cherie Blair visits TYO Nablus

TYO was honored to receive Mrs. Cherie Blair in Nablus on Sunday, 3 May 2009 along with Henriette Kolb, a colleague from the recently founded Cherie Blair Foundation. The visit was Mrs. Blair’s first stop on a 3-day trip to the West Bank. Her time in Nablus included a luncheon with a range of accomplished artisans and businesswomen from Nablus, a tour of the TYO Center, and focus group discussions with TYO volunteers and mothers of TYO participants. The day’s activities were designed to identify needs in Nablus that could be addressed through cooperation between TYO and the Cherie Blair Foundation.

The discussions revealed a great deal about the challenges to doing business in Nablus, as well as the aspirations of the members of each group. Several volunteers presented Mrs. Blair with examples of their handicrafts while explaining how the economic situation in Nablus prevents them from creating viable business ventures here. “There is an appreciation for embroidered handicrafts in our culture, but they cost too much to make and most local women cannot afford to purchase them for their homes,” said Economics major Rawand, 23, from Khallet al-Amood neighborhood in Nablus. “The purchasing power must come from the outside. However, we struggle with how to package and sell our crafts to a foreign market.” Mrs. Blair engaged in a rapid-fire brainstorming session about ways that the volunteers could apply their very advanced handiwork skills to products that would be sought after internationally. The volunteers responded in kind with great enthusiasm about the opportunity to benefit from such guidance.

Other young women spoke of the importance of practical experiences and personal development. “Before volunteering at TYO, I did not have any hope in the future. Here, I found that I have worth. TYO showed me that in order to use my degree and my skills, I must first appreciate myself,” said Aya, 21, from Beit Furik village near Nablus. “Volunteering at TYO showed me that I need more exposure to children in order to better implement my degree.” Aya is currently studying Sociology at An Najah University and hopes to become a social worker for child prisoners in Palestine.

Athare, 22, a Management Information Systems major from Nablus city echoed her peers’ sentiments. “Soon after I started volunteering at TYO, I came to understand the importance of personal development and diverse experiences. If I don’t have practical experiences, I won’t get a job. Opportunities in Nablus are extremely limited and even opportunities abroad, which culturally are seen as only for men, have significantly decreased due to the financial crisis. Now, the majority of the people who graduated in my field last semester are unemployed.”

While the young women were not shy to share the somber economic realities in Nablus with Mrs. Blair, no one present displayed the slightest hint of discouragement. They affirmed the importance of the opportunities that TYO has presented them with to gain practical experience, and the potential of a business incubator or other training program as proposed by the Cherie Blair Foundation. The volunteers emphasized their eagerness to engage their skills to improve their family’s well-being and stability, and that of the community at large.

TYO staff are already hard at work on developing a proposal about ways to operationalize the day’s discussions into a collaborative project between TYO and the Cherie Blair Foundation. We are very grateful for Mrs. Blair’s dedication to the cause of women’s economic empowerment around the world, and her commitment to and interest in the West Bank and Nablus in particular.


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