Just Add Water

At the end of June, the staff, interns, volunteers, and kids of TYO held what we’ve lovingly referred to as “Water Day.” The kids played about thirty minutes of soccer before volunteers began to emerge from the shadows of the Center, carrying mysterious baskets, bags, and buckets overflowing with the water balloons we’d spent hours preparing. I could practically hear the “Rocky” theme song as I watched, preparing for an epic afternoon. Nothing breaths life into a childhood memory quite like a water balloon or two.

Intern Cate and I got our kids settled in a large circle for a game of “Drip, Drip, Drop” – like Duck, Duck, Goose only instead of yelling “Goose!” the kid dumps a full cup of water on his/her target’s head (also, we decided to throw water balloons in lieu of tagging.) Cate and I jovially agreed to play, and mere moments after settling onto the concrete I had a water cascading down my forehead as I sputtered a laugh and tried to maintain control of my cotton-candy pink balloon.

The kids had a blast, and we learned a few interesting tidbits as well. Little Izz, for example, is only slightly slower than the speed of sound. The kids, who we worried might stick with their friends, turned out to be equal-opportunity soakers. Kids soaked teachers, teachers soaked volunteers, water balloons both missed and connected with their targets as everybody tried to figure out the best way to launch a balloon with a mixture of velocity and precision.

It was a ton of fun. Toward the end of the day, as we started to settle the kids and get them ready for the bus, I leaned down to pick up a small balloon that hadn’t popped. Before I could get back up, a tidal wave connected, Rose Bowl style, with the back of my neck. I turned to see our adorable Lin frozen in place with a now-empty bucket, grinning. As I stared at her in mock shock and teasing anger, I was hit with that profound realization that you’re in the middle of a memory that will last for years beyond its expiration.

So although I was still picking water balloon pieces out of my hair hours later, Water Day was a hit. My favorite moments here at TYO are those that transcend age and culture – the moments that emphasize our commonalities rather than our differences. And everyone, as it turns out, enjoys a good water balloon fight.

-Amy

Amy is a summer intern at TYO Nablus.

Friends in high places

Once upon a time there were seven TYO summer interns living on a hill in Nablus, Palestine…….

I have had a chance to get to know more and more about my fellow interns due to living on-site together. Nearly two months since we started working and living together, I thought I’d share what I have learned about their personalities thus far.

Tala is the kind of person you need around after a long day. She is a human jukebox who can burst into song for no reason and with no provocation. I can’t tell you how many times she has started singing a song that I haven’t heard in more than a decade, or even know at all. Tala herself is like a song that I can’t get out of my head. In a good way.

Alex is obviously very passionate about politics and the Middle East. She is one of my go to people when we are out and someone is speaking to me in Arabic and I’m confused. I can definitely count on her to help me out. I’m sure that Alex will continue to do great work in the Middle East and I look forward to hearing about her future adventures.

Cate is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met but she is no push over! She is incredibly honest and sincere in all of her words and actions. I love seeing Cate with her Arts and Crafts Class students because it’s obvious that they love her so much and that they make her happy to be teaching them. Nothing cheers me up more than one of Cate’s stories about the cute things her students did that day.

Samin is just hilarious. I love love love her sense of humour and often fall into laughing fits that ends with coughing and crying, I can’t eat around her, but it’s so worth it. Samin also tells it like it is and I really appreciate her honesty. She also talks in a baby voice when looking at photos of her nieces and nephews on her computer. It’s priceless.

Amy is my rock on tough days. She just listens when I need her too and doesn’t brush off my concerns even when they are a little bit silly. Amy is a fan of the “funny cat video” genre of film that can be found on YouTube. I get a kick out of seeing her giggle at her computer because I know that’s what she is watching.

I have been lucky to spend the last two months living and working with this group of extraordinary, hilarious and talented people. I will be sad to say goodbye to everyone when our internship ends but we are already talking about having our 10-year TYO Intern Reunion in the new city if Rawabi!

- Megan

Megan is a summer intern at TYO Nablus.

Highlights of the Week

As an intern at Tomorrow’s Youth Organization, I have the wonderful opportunity to directly experience TYO’s multi-generational approach to community-building by leading an aerobics class for women of various ages and a dance class for pre-adolescent girls.  While working to help the women in my aerobics class improve their level of physical fitness and knowledge of wellness issues, I have discovered that several of the workouts popular in the United States are also enthusiastically received by Palestinian women, including Tae Bo and yoga.  As for my dance class, I focus the first half of each lesson on ballet.  In just six class sessions, the girls have learned first through fifth position, port de bras, plié, relevé, tendu, and rond de jambe. I spend the second half of class teaching hip hop, in which several of my students have demonstrated a real talent.  So far, the girls have learned how to chain together nearly 15 steps to create a hip hop dance routine.

Outside of class, I seized several opportunities to become better acquainted with my translators and volunteers this weekend.  My aerobics class translator, Hanin, had previously extended an invitation to me to visit her home, and I gladly accepted her kind offer on Thursday evening, when I joined her family for dinner.  She and her husband picked me up from TYO and drove me to their house, where I met her children and a few relatives.  Hanin had prepared a delicious dinner of foul, pita bread, kibbeh, fried tomatoes, a tahini-based dish, eggplant, and fettoosh, which we topped off with home-made ice cream cake.  Hanin and I then moved out to the balcony to chat over coffee and fresh fruit.  We sat in the stillness of the evening, breathing in the chilliness of the night air and enjoying each other’s company.  Hanin’s daughter Nana and son Munir, both of whom are close to me in age, soon joined us, and we gradually began to open up to each other.  Perhaps inspired by my revelation that it was the first time I had tasted fresh guava, and despite my protest since she had already lavished enough generosity upon me, Hanin stuffed an ice-cream container full of fresh fruit for me to take home.  Finally, her family and I packed into their car for a driving tour of Rafidia, a fun going-out district full of boutiques, restaurants, and ice cream shops where many of Nablus’s Christian residents live.

I found myself coming back to Rafidia the next evening with Adrienne, Ashwini, and Samee to meet our Kalimatna Initiative partners Hasan and Haya, accompanied by her sister Hala, for “fruit cocktails” (milkshakes made with fruit juice, ice cream, and nuts and topped mixed fruits on top) at Fekhfekhina, a fruit juice and ice cream shop.  I ran into our third Kalimatna Initiative partner, Khamis, on Saturday in the municipal park outside the Suwarna Exhibition featuring photographs taken by Nabulsi children participating in TYO’s Triple Exposure program.  There were also several other TYO volunteers helping out at the exhibit, including my dance class volunteers Ruba and Jumana.

After seeing the Suwarna exhibit, I walked with Ruba and Jumana to Rafidia to meet with more of our class volunteers—Somoud, Iman, and my translator, Farah—for snacks at a restaurant with a great view overlooking the mountains and hills of the city.  I was glad to have the chance to spend an afternoon with my volunteers outside of the classroom to learn about what subjects they were studying at the university, how many brothers and sisters they had, and their past volunteer experiences at TYO.  In turn, they took the opportunity to learn about my interest in Arab and Palestinian culture, my passion for working with children and youth, my impressions of Nablus, and a bit about my life in the United States.

- Julie

Julie is an intern at TYO and a participant in the Kalimatna Initiative.

Individualized Early Childhood Education

On Monday, I continued a physics project with my kids aged 9-11 in science class to build floatable, cardboard boats displaying an understanding of buoyancy and Archimedes’ Principle. The kids were in the middle of making their boats when some of the groups began running out of duct tape, so I temporarily halted construction and decided to play musical chairs in the empty room next door. Ten minutes later, we returned to our science class to find that three of the boats had been destroyed, punctured with holes.

Mohammad stood next to them with a pair of scissors in his hand. He stormed out of the classroom, yelling that I should have let him steal tape from the other groups.

On Tuesday, the kids took their finished boats to the park and floated them. Afterwards, they played on the swings and slides of the playground. I left for a few moments to help my volunteer clean up the area where the kids ate ice cream.

I came back to find that Mohammad had tried to attack another child, screaming that it was his turn to go on the swings. I found out from intern Adam that Mohammad had just been on the swings, not allowing other children to share. Mohammad stormed off.

On Wednesday, the girls in my class joined Doris’ class on a trip to the pool, leaving me with just my five boys and three volunteers. It gave me the opportunity that I had been waiting for all summer. The opportunity to sit down with Mohammad and patiently address his quick jumps to anger, encourage him to analyze the situation instead of make assumptions and to simply hear about him and how he was feeling all the while trying to help him understand that it was not acceptable to steal from other children, to physically or verbally abuse anyone, or to shirk personal responsibility.

And he listened. He spoke to me, explaining how he felt when he was angry, how he didn’t know how else to respond. We talked through it, slowly looking at other options. Sure, he didn’t transform into a calm, slow-to-anger person in two hours, but he began to see that there were alternatives.

I grew up in the public education system of California and it is still shocks me how my teachers were able to teach me anything with twenty to thirty children wriggling around impatiently. Cut that class in half, and the teacher’s ability to do his or her job increases. Cut that class in half, and the child has a chance to be heard. Cut that class in half, and you have education reform.

Cut that class in half, and you have the opportunity to sit down with Mohammad and show him the alternatives to anger. That’s what I learned from Mohammad, and it’s something I believe is absolutely necessary to improve early childhood education. Personalized education, personal development. A voice in the midst of chaos.
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Intern Journal: Small Steps, Positive Change

After reading Chelsey’s blog entry yesterday, I wondered about my own effectiveness but was given an early morning example of the effectiveness of TYO’s unique approach to education.

As usual, I had a few early arrivals for my 10:30 a.m. sports class and I realized that my classroom equipment was not in proper order. Knowing the boys would be coming soon, I asked one of the early boys, ten-year-old Mo’min, and his eleven-year-old big brother to help organize the tangled jump ropes, hula hoops, balls and cones. I started the task with them and then I realized that I had forgotten to go over some logistical details with an administrator downstairs. Leaving them alone for only five minutes, I came back to find that they had continued with the work and had put all of the items in their respective places, tucking everything neatly into the corner.

It might be considered a small behavioral change, but it is something I never would have imagined two months ago when my rambunctious boys ran in to a neat room and grabbed any and every toy they could while screaming on the first day of classes. But, after developing a set of classroom rules with the students’ input and critiquing their behavior during supervised play, they have begun to realize the value of structure. They spend less time quarreling over minute details and more time enjoying their activities.

Even more important than that is the increased group cohesiveness. At the beginning of the summer, the boys often limited their interactions to their brothers and cousins, never really bothering to play with the other boys. Splitting up these small social units proved difficult and would often lead to complaints, but it is now a simpler process to divide the boys into groups and teams, an indication that they are less reliant on comfortable relationships, and more willing to accept others.

It is easy to become overwhelmed by the problems these boys face when they leave TYO and head to their homes. However, we have to accept that there are no miracles and that we have to hope that the changes we impress upon them will pervade their everyday lives in a positive manner. And this is something that I have seen, something that has proven effective.

-Adam

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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!

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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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Thank you, Al-Arz Ice Cream Factory!

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As some of you may know, some items are just hard to come by in Nablus. We spent weeks looking for small, colorful pipe cleaners for crafts and, just as we were losing hope, our wonderful outreach specialist, Futoon, managed to find them!

For my science class, I was on the lookout for popsicle sticks. So many of my kids are interested in structural engineering and architecture that it made sense to start building bridges, houses, and anything else they wanted with popsicle sticks! You would not believe just how difficult it was to find popsicle sticks in Nablus. It may be my faulty Arabic, constant motioning to ice cream and saying the number “1000 please,” or my dissatisfaction with using tongue depressors as popsicle sticks from the local pharmacy, but I refused to give up on finding popsicle sticks.

Again, trusty and creative Futoon came to me with a bag of 1,000 popsicle sticks donated from the generous Al-Arz Ice Cream Factory. For that, my class and I thank you, Al-Arz Factory! The kids have been using the popsicle sticks with lots of enthusiasm to learn some basic physics and develop patience with falling towers.

Thanks for your kind donation! It is the simple gifts here at TYO that make big differences.
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