SOW Team Journal: Ahlan wa Sahlan, Ahlan Beek

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We have been welcomed at TYO for three weeks now and are starting to feel the warm fuzzy feeling of home that so many of our interviewees have described.  It’s not the delicious food, or the cozy surroundings, but the many people we have met that have opened their hearts to our presence, welcoming us without question.

I can speak for all of us when I say that we are truly amazed by the extreme generosity, patience, and kindness of everyone here.  Whether it was the grocer who carefully helped us bag and carry our items, making sure to call our driver when we had accidentally left a few bags, or the man on the street that bought our team fruit cocktails as we were filming his family, or the tailor who fixed our pants and gave us an extra pair free of charge, the list goes on.

Not to mention the patience of the volunteers, interns, and staff members we have interviewed that have shared their thoughts, their passions, their hopes, openly and honestly.  I think Luai, a volunteer at TYO, said it best of why he has continued to come back to TYO each year, “These people are my family, we learn to trust each other, to love each other, no matter what their background.”

As a documentary team, I had thought that it was a careful boundary to bring cameras and ask so much of strangers, especially across language and cultural barriers. I had thought it might be invasive if we didn’t ask permission. I had thought I would at least be questioned of my presence, but maybe this is a quality instilled by my “stranger danger” upbringing.  It seems as if everyone we’ve met has given us the trust and care that every human desires. It is incredibly refreshing.

TYO has created this wonderful community of love and openness that I only hope to see duplicated everywhere. Everyday I am amazed at how intertwined TYO is within the community.  We have already met so many people affected by the work being done, all priding the power of trust and active involvement in creating a healthy community.  It is beautiful to see an organization built for and by community members. I look forward to the many more people we’ll meet and the sights we’ll see. Thank you to all who have welcomed us! We are honored.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, concerned citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.”

-Margaret Mead

Words by Sarah Osman, Photographs by Andrea Patino

Intern Journal: In Search of Desert

As a person from the West arriving in the Middle East, there were a few preconceptions, some a priori “truths” that whether through ignorance or lack of exposure managed to hitch a ride in my suitcases as I anticipated what I was about to see. Thankfully, honest reading, research, conversation, and general open-mindedness undercut the possibility of me marching around here with sunglasses tinted by predictive cultural, social, or political biases (such a fashion/affliction seems to plague many of us “Amurrricans”). Instead, I was determined to let my experiences here inform whatever judgments I might later arrive at, and that mindset has been liberating and wonderfully beneficial. However, somehow in this process, I forgot to address my misguided and mythologized sense of Palestine’s geography, topography, and climate.

In short, though acknowledging the Mediterranean’s obvious proximity, I still came here expecting to see a land primarily of desert, a landscape that somehow reconciled visions of Aladdin, Lawrence of Arabia and nightly newscasts with Brian Williams, with a bit of those Biblical rolling hills thrown in just for variety. Stupid, I know, but some childhood imagery refuses to go down without a fight.

Living in wintry Nablus and traveling around the West Bank the past three weeks, much to my foolish surprise I came across beautiful, hilly countryside, chilly winds, and the city’s occasional flirtations with rain and hail. Though unexpected and pleasant, I must also admit, I was a bit disappointed not to see more of that romanticized Arabian panorama.

And then, Chelsey took us four interns on a hike to Wadi al Qelt this past Saturday. Stepping off our bus and crossing the highway, within five minutes we came to the majestic canyons, dunes, hills, and the crumbling valleys groaning with old age that I had hoped to see out here. We explored for hours, hiking virgin trails at times, free to roam along what was effectively an untouched, unpopulated preserve. It was a beautiful day, a great day, and I hope my photos below can do the place some justice.

Until next time

Stay fly

- Colin

Colin is an intern at TYO Nablus.

Intern Journal: Taking it all in

After a thankfully thorough week of orientation and training, we have completed our first two days of classes. As the days go by, I’m increasingly getting a feel for the rhythm of my week, the TYO centre, and a taste of life in Nablus. The working week begins on Sundays, and our days are punctuated by the now familiar call to prayer echoing out across the valley which holds this ancient city.

I taught my first class with fellow intern Leila – fitness for the mums. The women are so friendly and inquisitive, seeming to enjoy Leila’s lively kickboxing introduction and counting down the beat in flawless Arabic, but were soon distracted by the dramatic and deafening hailstorm outside that seemed to come out of nowhere. I hope to have them all doing Sun Salutations by the end of the course…

After lunch, the kids for the afternoon classes began to arrive in dribs and drabs from their respective areas, allowing me the chance to personally meet each child that was entering my basic photography class for Triple Exposure.

After a little warming up I explained (with the invaluable assistance of my local translator, Waleed),   to the students how to use the basic functions of the DSLR cameras, and had them take each others’ portraits, before setting about on the scavenger hunt game in teams. The team to find and photograph the most objects off the list given at the start, wins.
They ran around the TYO centre with their volunteers in tow, taking turns to capture the random objects listed – some harder than others!
The kids really enjoyed the competition, and two latecomers said they wanted more time to take photos, but I suggested they make sure to come to the rest of the classes and try harder to be on time!

Working at TYO is like juggling. With all these balls in the air and only two hands to catch with, you’ve got to be ready to switch things up if things don’t quite go to plan. Intern Coordinator Chelsey had been sure  to forewarn us that flexibility is key here. With bad weather hampering attendance for my first basic photography class – I ended up with as many local volunteers as children, when they should have been outnumbered by at least three to one! But my volunteers were patient, helpful and very happy to get involved.

This first week for me has been about taking it all in. It’s my first time in the Middle East. On the one hand I’m absorbing like a sponge all the new information, people and environment, whilst simultaneously trying to be creative, productive and give classes. It’s a stimulating process but also quite tiring. Needless to say, after bouncing so many ideas around and off each other, we’re all getting early nights to be organised and full of energy for our kids the next day.

- Mathilda

Mathilda is an intern at TYO Nablus.

Former FWEN Participant Haneen Successfully Launches Business

Haneen’s business was not one of the 10 business plans that was selected to move onto the Second Phase of the FWEN program. However, she has nonetheless successfully pursued her business through her own resources and is thus supported by the FWEN program. Her profile is below.

Name: Haneen
Age: 22 years old
Location: Borqa village, outside of Nablus
Business Plan: Pastry Shop

How did you decide to participate in FWEN? What have you gained from the program?

Haneen had a two-year degree in educational science and was a volunteer at TYO when she heard about the FWEN program from another volunteer. She wanted to become more independent and had always done baking as a hobby, so Fatima (the FWEN Program Coordinator) encouraged her to pursue this as a business.

Before participating in the FWEN program, Haneen had this idea in mind but had little initiative to move forward into action. After receiving training, she not only had the skills and knowledge necessary to create a business, but she had the strength and confidence to make it happen. She says she has become more insistent on achieving her goals and becoming successful. At first, her husband did not want her to participate in the FWEN trainings, but now that he has seen that she is taking it seriously and will soon have her own successful business, he has become supportive of her work.

What is your business plan?

Currently, Haneen makes pastries in her home and sells them around her village, but in order to create a formal business she will expand to have her own store and better cooking equipment. She will hire two employees to assist her. In addition to selling from her store, she has an agreement with the Borqa Secondary School to sell her products to students at the school.

What are your next steps? What help would you like to receive?

Haneen needs funding to get her business off the ground. As soon as she is able, she will rent a store in her village and buy the equipment she needs to expand her business.

What are your dreams for the future, and how will your business help you to achieve them?

Looking to the future, Haneen has modest goals that she will soon be able to achieve: to become a small businesswoman and to have two locations in which she will sell her products (at her store and inside the school). She says she will be happier if she is an independent woman, especially in terms of having her own income.



TYO Gala: President Clinton praises TYO as a promising solution

Last week, Tomorrow’s Youth Organization came out in Washington, DC with a series of events including our first ever Gala on October 21, 2010. We celebrated our successes from the last three years in Nablus and announced exciting expansion plans as we honored our valued supporters including President Bill Clinton, former UK First Lady Cherie Blair and music legend Quincy Jones. We are grateful that event co-chairs, Ambassador Yousef al Otaiba, Samia Farouki and Terry McAuliffe also played a huge role in the week’s proceedings.

The TYO Gala reflected our distinctive mix of engagement, passion, innovation and high-quality including a performance by the Dupont Park Children’s Choir of Washington, DC who sang the song that Quincy Jones has donated to TYO, Tomorrow, after a moving introduction from Mr. Jones himself. The event highlighted the urgent need for innovative programming for children and women in the West Bank and the broader Middle East. Another inspiring theme of the week and the Gala presentation was the extraordinary potential of Middle Eastern women as a lever for social change.

The success of our Gala was due in part to the presence of our distinguished honorees: President Bill Clinton, Cherie Blair and Quincy Jones. Their remarks stirred the 400+ guests, who were also inspired by the promise they saw in our participants through stunning large-scale audiovisual presentations throughout the evening (like this short video), as well as past and present TYO team members in attendance at the Gala.

Former President Clinton praised TYO’s work as a promising solution for the formidable challenges we face in the Middle East. He said that TYO “empower[s] women… increases[s] educational opportunities and frankly involve[s] more social empowerment without which you can’t have a balanced society.”

TYO was also thrilled to honor Cherie Blair, founder of TYO ally Cherie Blair Foundation for Women (CBFW) with whom we have enjoyed enormous success through our collaboration Fostering Women Entrepreneurs in Nablus. Mrs. Blair acknowledged the power of our cooperation: “Together we’re enabling women to develop and build on their business talents, and thus, to help themselves, their families, and wider society…” And, she urged the audience to support our efforts, “every dollar you spend on [our work] is returned a thousand fold…Come to the Middle East and see the potential is there.”

Gala emcee and co-chair, Terry McAuliffe, echoed President Clinton and Mrs. Blair’s remarks: “If we truly want peace in the Middle East, it is about helping people have a better future. We have got to give these children an education. We have got to help women better themselves.”

We shared, we listened, we celebrated; but most of all, we raised awareness about the open hearts and tremendous possibility of children and women in the Middle East. It was incredible! A huge thanks to those of you who attended, had some role in the Gala, or are part of the TYO community in another way. And ahlan wa sahlan – come get involved – to those of you who aren’t yet.

TYO humbly thanks its generous sponsors that supported this event, including the PalTel Group Foundation, Mohamed S. Farsi Foundation, Abercrombie & Kent, FedEx, Dewey and LeBoeuf, William Haughey, Raj Fernando, Christophe Jungels-Winkler, A. Huda and Samia Farouki, Terry and Dorothy McAuliffe and Capital Corporation.

Introductions: New Interns!

Spring 2010 Interns Kara (left) and Mary (right)

TYO is pleased to introduce the latest members of its Nablus team. Welcome, Kara and Mary! They will be interning with TYO for the Spring 2010 Session along with Bieta, who has been with us since October 2009. In addition to teaching classes for women and youth, Kara, Mary and Bieta will take part in the Kalimatna Initiative this spring. Please check this blog frequently for their updates on their progress and reflections on their experiences in Nablus. For now, here is a bit about Mary and Kara straight from the source!

I have two life goals: to publish my own children’s books and to be multilingual. I am excited for the ways that working at TYO will contribute to those goals and other positive work I do in the future! As for the basics, I grew up in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, but I’m not Amish. I graduated from American University in D.C. in May, and since then I’ve been a wandering/wondering anthropologist. Most recently I spent ten days with some of the world’s most interesting journalists at a media training in Yucatan, Mexico. I also spent time last fall leading youth art workshops in Guatemala. I look forward to developing my skills at promoting critical thinking through art with my class at TYO! I like yoga and bicycling. I also enjoy cooking and share meals with friends. And finally, I love to learn what I have in common with new people from different places.

-Kara

Originally from New York City, I became interested in Arabic, the Middle East, and Palestine during my freshman year at Brown University.  After my first Arabic class sophomore year, I took a year off from college to study the language intensively in Morocco and Egypt.  The summer of that year, I volunteered as an English teacher in Nahr al Bared refugee camp in northern Lebanon.  At Brown, I majored in Middle East Studies and Development Studies.  In 2007, I spent a year interning at Human Rights Watch and Human Rights First before heading to Jordan for the next fifteen months on a Fulbright grant. I would like to continue researching the Middle East as an anthropology graduate student, so I’ve applied to PhD programs for Fall 2010.  I love studying Arabic, cooking, exercising, gardening, and dance parties.  Kunafa is just about my favorite thing, so I look forward to eating a lot of it in Nablus.

-Mary

Thanks for joining our team in Nablus!

TYO recently extended its International Internship into a yearlong program with fall, spring, and summer options. If you are interested in interning with us in Nablus, please sign up here for updates and new applications as they become available. Thanks!

Intern journal: When the students become teachers…

Teaching is a humbling experience, but humility need not mean feeling defeat – rather, it is awareness that my role as a teacher and even my lesson plans provide only the foundation for all the growth and excitement that can take place in a classroom. Indeed, the moments I most treasure from working with my kids this summer are the ones in which my role as a teacher is minimal – the moments in which I feel a surge of pride to see them reach out to help, teach, and support each other. In my Explorers class, we were presenting the photos that each “Explorer” had taken with his or her take-home camera: introducing family members, explaining neighborhood hangouts, and displaying the beauty in their surroundings that they had wanted to capture on film – a view of Nablus in the evening from the top of a Khallet al-Amood hill, a close-up of a display of car engines waiting to be sold, flowers and plants from around their homes. As Halima, from Askar camp, shakes her head repeatedly when it is her turn to go up and show her photos, Ibrahim, from Balata camp, sees that she is nervous and offers to stand with her as she speaks to the class. Drawing confidence from his presence, Halima walks up to the front of the room and allows the class to get to know her better, through her eyes, through her words.

A striking example of the power of peer-to-peer inspiration and support has occurred twice with my Model United Nations class. On many levels, it is impossible to solely convey through words the organized chaos that is a group of high school students getting dressed up and debating, writing, and voting to address the challenges faced by the countries they represent and the world at large. Early in the summer program, therefore, the class went on a trip to Ramallah to watch the Model UN club at the Friends School go through a four-hour simulation of what MUN geeks affectionately refer to as “ECOSOC,” the Economic and Social Council of the UN. The students were enraptured to see Palestinian students their age, who have had far greater educational opportunities and thus can debate the merits of immigration policies like pros, engage in the simulation and fully enjoying themselves while doing it. “How can we be like them?” they asked me, and I told them we had plenty of time to practice in class! I’ve built up a relationship with the students from Ramallah, after having advised them on the planning of a “Model UN summer camp” for students new to the club (and I was even invited to be the keynote speaker at the opening ceremonies of the camp!) A week ago, three of these students were kind enough to visit and give a guest lesson to TYO’s Model UN students on the UN, Model UN, and how to learn to represent your assigned country with confidence and intelligence.

The effect of this lesson on my TYO students was tangible. Brimming with excitement after the lesson, they repeated the same desire: “We want to be like them!” and recommended we increase the amount of times per week that the class meets. To have high school students, in many ways just like themselves, tell of their experiences as Model UN delegates to conferences around the Middle East, meeting and befriending students from around the world, galvanized my students to spend their summer training to be mini-diplomats in a way I could never do on my own, no matter how stimulating a lecture I give or how creative a “world affairs” game I concoct.

For these reasons and beyond, interning at TYO is to be so much more than a teacher. To have my students – at TYO and from Ramallah – build on each other’s strengths, learn from each other’s experiences, and inspire each other to attain what they wouldn’t have previously conceived to be possible is something I am thrilled to enable.

TYO's Model United Nations class attends a Model UN simulation in Ramallah!

TYO's Model United Nations class attends a Model UN simulation in Ramallah!

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