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 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.

Celebrating 4th of July in Salfit

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On the morning of Tuesday, July 5th, the high-pitched voices of 50 third graders could be heard humming “This land is your land, this land is my land, from California, to the New York Islands…” Had Boy Scouts invaded the TYO Center? Had a Midwest homeroom class been transported to the TYO Center? Neither! A Palestinian classroom had magically transformed into a celebration, all with the help of some games, a little paint, and delicious burgers. Many smiles ensued.

Normally, on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, the interns pile into Munir’s car for the windy trek over to Salfit, a nearby Palestinian village, for some extracurricular English classes at their local American Corners library. American Corners is a worldwide program run through the U.S. State Department. In Palestine, its sites aim to share American history and culture while also encouraging intercultural dialogue through literacy. So in that spirit, we celebrated the 4th of July with our Salfit students. Armed with flag coloring sheets, patriotic paint colors, and Independence-themed Bingo, we led various lessons on the most important values we share with our Palestinian brethren. Concepts like “family,” “nation,”  and “pride” are ideas that translate well in any language, and our students were excited to share with us their own holidays, traditions, and pride in their country. Through this special celebration, TYO hopefully imparted some of the best values we all honor on Independence Day. And, of course, what would the 4th of July be without hot dogs, hamburgers and ice cream?

Happy (belated) Independence Day from all of us at TYO!

- Alex

Alex is a summer intern at TYO Nablus.

Painting complete in Nablus Basic School

The Triple Exposure mural class were busy painting during June and have brightened up a hallway in UNRWA Nablus Basic School. The students worked together in class to come up with ideas of how to protect the environment, and images that they could create to represent these. They personified the environment as the sun and the water droplet, and showed that if we leave taps running we are wasting a precious resource, and if we pollute the skies we ultimately damage ourselves. The earth represents the one planet we all share.

After painting their designs onto hardwood, the art work was then installed in the school. On Thursday, mural teacher Rimah took the students to view their painting, and both the students and the school were delighted with the finished piece.

The mural class and their painting

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

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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The Best Medicine

It’s no secret – we work hard here at TYO. We spend our days oscillating between grownups and kids. We play freeze tag with 8-year-olds and then head inside to submit our weekly attendance spreadsheets and progress reports. We plan for hours, sometimes days, for an in-class activity and emerge from the office with pink crepe paper accidentally glued to our eyebrows. It’s a curious life in which we have to think like children and plan like adults. It can be overwhelming, which is where the kids serendipitously come in.

In the wise words of Buddy the Elf – I just like smiling; smiling’s my favorite. And nothing inspires more smiles than our sometimes sweet, sometimes infuriating, sometimes hilarious, always awesome kids. Cate recently had an interesting run-in with a water balloon. Samin banters with her kids about John Cena – American pro-wrestler and local kid idol. She’s even learned his signature motion, a stern look and rapid wave of the hand over the face – quite the intimidation technique from the always jovial Samin. And while communicating through the language barrier is always a challenge, we’ve found that a silly  joke or some good-natured teasing translates quite nicely.

I discovered the ‘humor bridge’ during a particularly toasty Sports Day outside with the kids. I was still a little anxious – it was only our second week on the job – and my mind was flooded with deadlines, logistics, and dozens of new names to memorize. As I stood in front of the kids, asking them to line up for the busses (“Sufoo! Sufoo!”) our adorable little bespectacled Nirmin ran up to me with a purple flower in her outstretched hand.

I was touched. I thanked her for the gift and, looking helplessly at my notebook in one hand and water in the other, placed the flower behind my ear. The other kids noticed my reaction, and soon I was an alarmed island in a sea of purple flowers clenched in cute little 8-year-old hands. I panicked – I couldn’t hold all of them in my hands but I certainly didn’t want to drop them. In a flash of ingenuity (or insanity) I began placing them at various locations on my head.

Very soon, I looked like an Amy-tree. Purple flowers sprouted from the back of my head, spilled over the corners of my ears and dipped precariously over my forehead. It was spontaneous. It was absurd. It was, apparently, hilarious.

I got a smile from even the most stoic of kids. A few of the adults regarded me with a sort of detached pity, but eventually cracked a smile. Some of the volunteers whom I hadn’t yet met giggled and lined up to take pictures. The anxiety melted away. I remembered why laughing – even if it’s at myself – is my absolute favorite pastime.

So I guess we don’t always have to choose between acting like adults or playing like kids. Sometimes we’re just a big group of humans, laughing at a girl who may or may not have bugs in her hair.


On the Farm With Fawaz

Every Sunday and Tuesday evening, I have Arabic lessons with an amazing teacher named Fawaz. I’m an absolute beginner at Arabic so class with him is always challenging, but he is incredibly patient and kind. When he mentioned a few weeks ago that he wanted to bring his Tuesday Arabic students to his farm on the outskirts of Nablus, I was really excited to spend some time talking with him and some of the other interns outside of our professional setting.

Fawaz picked us up after work last Tuesday and drove us out to his farm after stopping at a convenience store and calling out from the car window for the store clerk to bring a bottle of 7Up to him. (I can’t get over the fact that this is seen as totally normal in Palestine and, if I did this back home in the United States, I’d be laughed at for not just walking into the store.)

When we arrived at the farm, we sat and drank our 7Up, ate cookies and chatted about our experience in Palestine so far. I really enjoyed hearing more about his family and his travels abroad. Fawaz was in America in the 1980s and talked about the hit songs that were playing in the discos at the time and we all laughed when he sang a line from “Celebration” by Kool and the Gang! He then took us for a walk around the farm where he grows vegetables and some fruits and he taught us the names for all of them (and I was concentrating so hard on not stepping on vegetables that I already forgot most of the names).

One of my favourite parts of the evening was the drive we took to one of the highest points in Nablus where we had a fantastic view of the city and a gorgeous pink sunset. The views in Nablus never cease to amaze me. I often sit on the balcony staring at the lights of the city and think about how lucky I am to live here and have the opportunity to meet wonderful people, like Fawaz.

After four weeks in Nablus I already know I will miss this place terribly when I leave. I look forward to the rest of my time here. I am eager to spend more time getting to know Palestine and its people.

- Megan

Megan is a summer intern at TYO Nablus.

Intern Journal: The Happy Moments in Between

Living and working in Nablus is filled with its daily challenges and sometimes even a little bit of contained chaos. During Sunday’s meeting, all of the interns were able to reflect on the little moments that gave us joy in the past week. These are the moments that sustain and drive us to do our best.

For me, there were several moments to choose from this week that were both hilarious and enlightening. On Tuesday, my students learned about and made paper fans using popsicle sticks, tape, construction paper, and watercolors. Half and hour into the class, I noticed something odd sitting on one of the tables. It was small, round and yellow…a water balloon? I looked down to see Eiz, probably the tinniest students in my class, meticulously painting with the concentration of Picasso. I came to find out that Eiz had smuggled his water balloon into class and had kept it under his shirt for most of our activity. While it’s unclear what his intentions were, I’m pretty sure they were somewhat innocent. Still, he didn’t get his precious contraband back until after the day was over.

More of these joyous moments happened during class presentations. Prior to having class presentations, I assumed that only a small number of students would volunteer to present their work. Even in an American classroom, 8-10 year old students can be incredibly shy and reserved. And when you add the highly traumatic nature of growing up as a refugee, I was pleasantly surprised that nearly half of my students’ hands shot up when I asked them to come to the front of the classroom. One of my favorite presentations was made by Ibrahim who presented his painting in Arabic and then again in English, just to practice.

Another one of my favorite presentations was made by Ayman, who told the class that his fan was a picture of boys and girls playing nicely together. Considering the fact that, on a good day, I have to fight to get my male and female students to sit at the same table, this felt like a small victory for gender parity.

Finally, there’s Leen, a girl with confidence and wisdom to spare. The oldest child in her family, I found her several times this week helping her fellow students to sound out new words,encouraging shy students to present their work in front of the class, and gently explaining steps in our art projects with the patience and maturity.

The week’s happy moments culminated in Thursday’s sports day. Whether it was the incessant cheering each time the ball was hit during our volleyball game or our insane game of “Snakes in Grass”, I absorbed enough joy for all of the interns combined.

- Cate

Cate is a summer intern at TYO Nablus.

Learning Arabic…Again

Two evenings a week, after all the children have scattered from the TYO building, my Arabic classmates and I set aside an hour for some learning of our own. Our professor, Fawaz, who teaches at An-Najah University by day, patiently guides us through our butchered Palestinian dialect lessons, teaching us useful words and phrases we can use in our classrooms.

Mark, Tala, and I make up the “Advanced” class (where “Advanced” should be interpreted liberally), but each of us come with different Arabic backgrounds. While Mark has spent a lot of time conversing on the Syrian street and Tala seems to have a special relationship with food names and Lebanese colloquialisms, I bring in my meager knowledge of the Egyptian dialect. Having studied fusha (formal Arabic) for a few years and the Egyptian dialect, I figured I could handle myself in Nablus on a basic conversational level. This feeling of confidence lasted all of two days until I was shot down by our resident taxi driver-turned-professor, Munir. I soon discovered that not only do my aizas have to become badees (the Egyptian and Palestinian colloquial phrases for “I want”), but that I would also be mocked on the street for my “guh” sounds, which here become the more dignified “juh.” I had to adapt quickly.

So, as my struggle with Arabic continues, I have attempted to implement my new phrases in class since my kids are easy test subjects and always willing to teach me a lesson in Arabic. I teach them and they teach me. Disguising my actual intent of getting them to read more during story time, I’ve taken to sitting down with them and attempting (and failing) to read as they correct my pronunciation. I guess seeing me struggle is good motivation to prove their reading talents to the flailing American. But it’s worth making a fool out of myself to see them get excited about reading to me.

Back in Arabic class, I continue to trip over words, mispronounce my “juhs,” but mostly enjoy learning the best way I can communicate with my kids. A little Arabic goes a long way here, so I get great satisfaction from surprising my volunteers with a new phrase or seeing the kids get excited because I can write their names.

On a final note, in typical Palestinian hospitality, last week Fawaz brought our class out to his farm.  We learned the names for many fruits and vegetables (Tala, of course, excelled in this) and spent a wonderful afternoon sipping mint tea while gazing at the view. Going above and beyond, Fawaz then drove us around the hills of outer Nablus where we snapped some amazing pictures and got a sense of what a truly beautiful area we live in. Always good to gain some perspective.

Until next time…masalema.


Alex is a summer intern at TYO Nablus.


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