Now that the first two weeks of the summer session have ended, it’s time to breathe. We had two weeks of intensive preparation for what we would face as summer teachers here at TYO, but nothing could prepare me for what I faced. Nothing could prepare Kelsey when a young boy brought a knife to her class. Nothing could prepare me for having to defer kids from my class because they were too old and there was only so much chaos I could handle in a classroom with two volunteers. Nothing could have prepared us.
But more surprising than the chaos piercing your ears while kids play with the parachute on the bottom floor or while I watch Maggie surrounded by screaming children running and playing games around during every session of her Summer Camp class was the love that has pierced us interns.
It is the look of calm love as Maggie smiles when children scream around her. It is the way Kelsey walks her six to eight-year-olds in a single line, holding their hands, to the buses after a three-hour class, slowing down to match their slower pace. It is the way Adam tries to childproof everything in the building to protect the children, from putting foam around sharp corners and sandpaper on the marble stairs to slow the children down as they run up and down the stairs. It is the way Doris seems to notice every time one of her 15 or more students seems remotely bored, tired or sad and how she always addresses it immediately with concern.
We have fallen in love with the smiles of these children, and it’s entirely thanks to the people that have helped keep this beautiful organization running whether it is by coming to work or volunteer at TYO, mentioning it to a friend, donating to the website, or even sending a link to family members of the blog. So, thank you.
Filed under: Reflection | Tagged: Adam, doris, early childhood, early childhood education, free play, intern, interns, internship program, kelsey, Maggie, Margaret, nablus, play, Reflection, Shahla, summer 2009, summer camp activities, TYO, TYO staff | Leave a comment »
This past Thursday I made a visit with my Palestinian TYO counterpart, Iman, to the sports club in al-Askar refugee camp. Because 12 to 14-year-old boys need significant room to play, and because the afternoon sun in July and August here in Nablus is oppressive, TYO decided to seek out a covered sports area for my soccer class. The indoor field at the al-Askar club resembles a warehouse – dim yellow light seeping through the tin roof panels, an eerie echo, and a tarmac surface. But given the suffocation of the neighborhoods in which most of the children reside, I imagined the space would overwhelm them with a sense of liberation.
The manager of the club, Hussein, insisted we drink tea with mint. Following patient greetings and some talk of weather, we toured the remainder of the facility. Like most everything in the camps, the structure has grown awkwardly and opportunistically over a 50-year period. It burrows down and juts out. It hugs the small stores that make their home in its bottom floor.
We descended into a cramped space in which paperback Arabic children’s books were stacked and stuffed haphazardly on cardboard boxes for lack of shelves. Through a metal door was a room so central to the building’s interior that natural light fought to penetrate its few slender breaches. A troop of young women, dressed in resplendent colors, danced in unison to traditional Palestinian dabka music. Each swing of a saber, each dip to the ground, each spin and each twirl, said the manager, has a special significance and corresponds to a lyric. I promised Hussein I would bring the rest of the TYO interns to see the girls perform.
On Monday afternoon, I returned to the center with 18 boys from our target areas. Hussein brought five boys from al-Askar camp, including his son. The boys were thrilled at the idea of soccer in mid-afternoon without being subject to the sun.Unsurprisingly, that time of day is generally reserved for napping and waiting in the shade. The soccer they know occurs for a few minutes at school or in the evenings when they climb over a wall to access a small paved court. Often these evening games are interrupted by aggressive and apathetic teenagers.
We formed four teams for a rotation. While half of the boys played on the field, the other half cheered from the elevated bleachers, eagerly hopping along the guard rail. The sound resonated above and filled the expanse with a thick roar. The dabka girls peeked bashfully through interior windows and then scurried away.
Space is a thing of privilege. For children who often see walls, but rarely see past them, a few hours of sustained release is a gift that TYO is delighted to provide.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tagged: Adam, Al Askar, early childhood, early childhood education, early childhood education impact, free play, interns, internship program, nablus, outdoor education, park, play, soccer, summer 2009, TYO, TYO impact | Leave a comment »
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.
Filed under: Reflection | Tagged: Adam, Al Askar, childhood, economic development, Farida, Jack, Nablusi youth, SOW, students of the world, Suhad, Tomorrow's Youth Organization, TYO, TYO impact | 2 Comments »
Thanks to our very talented Students of the World photographer, Annie, who has captured some of the very happiest moments of the first 5 days of Summer 2009 at TYO on film.
A few favorites are included below, but you can check them all out on her blog!
Filed under: Photo of the Day | Tagged: children portraits, international volunteers, nablus, Nablus photos, photography, students of the world, summer 2009, summer camp activities, TYO, TYO photos | Leave a comment »
Sameeha, the local computer teacher at TYO and my personal translator for the morning, and I set off for Reem’s cooking shop around 10 a.m. for our epicurean expedition. The dish of the day was Ouzi, a rice-based dish with chicken, lamb, peas, peanuts, and a variety of spices (including cardamom, ginger, clove, laurel leaf, and cinnamon). For three hours, Reem explained how she prepared the broth for the rice to be cooked in, the way the chicken was cooked, and the different spices that went into the dish. As she was single-handedly cooking for 150 people, this was quite a stressful process. By observing and participating in the process, I was able to make note of how food is prepared, how much oil is used, what products are and are not in season, how expensive certain ingredients are, and the general timing of preparing a rice and meat dish. The final product was a beautiful display of ten massive platters containing layers of rice, meats, peas, and spices.
All in all, the expedition proved to be a huge success! Not only was I able to learn a thing or two about a popular local dish, but I was also able to spend a morning with two incredibly kind and welcoming Nabulsi women. I hope someone else in Nablus gets married soon!
This Sunday, on the first day of class, ten-year-old Ala from El-Ein camp walked into my classroom by herself, her hands tightly gripping a shiny green bag. In front of her were twenty children running and screaming with cups of acetic acid and vinegar in their hands. The hectic scene added a poignant aptness to the child-friendly title of my science course, “Mad Scientists.” She approached hesitantly. Terrified? Sure. But she made it in the door.
We began with games to break the ice in a room of strangers while learning each other’s name. She didn’t give in that easily; withdrawn, she wouldn’t say a word. During the games, the kids stopped throwing the inflatable soccer ball to her because she would never catch it. When they sat in groups of four, she was the oddball out – the fifth in a group of four. But she made it in the door.
I noticed her eyeing the crayons while the other kids were mixing cornstarch and water to make goo, so I gave her paper and crayons to draw with even though she didn’t touch them for another ten minutes. I asked her why she wasn’t drawing, and she spoke her first words to my translator.
“I don’t know how to,” she said. She was one of two kids that day ranging from nine to 11 that told me they didn’t know how to draw. So, we learned together. I held her hand in mine and had her grip the pencils with the same fervor with which she gripped her green bag. She drew lines on the paper and on the desks, slowly leaving her worries about what was right and wrong, what the other kids thought, and even what I thought behind her. She drew flowers, animals, and even clouds – all things she wanted to learn about in her science class. She drew the goo and even other examples of liquids, solids, and gases.
She blew me away. Prior to the arrival of the kids this week, I took part in an intense orientation program, but Ala was my true introduction to Nablus. Here was this incredibly observant child that drew at the same level as her peers even though she had no idea how to hold a crayon. This beautiful girl with a green bag and a black-and-white polka dot headband that she kept losing left her refugee camp for possibly the first time in her life and entered a classroom filled with strangers. She is far braver than I could ever be, and it is a beautiful to watch her from across the room and share a smile or wink with her. I wonder where she goes home to, what her family is like, and where her sister is that was enrolled in my class but never made it through the door. But there’s time for that, space for her to open up if she wants to, and I sincerely hope that she does. I hope her classmates and her family find the same inspiration in her that I found when she walked into my door.
As she was walking out of my door that day, she slipped a piece of paper in my hand.
“Ala,” she wrote.
And it was then that I knew her name. It was then that I was introduced to the future of Nablus. And it blew me away.