Intern Journal: Cooking, Nablus style

Most people in Nablus are not working at 7 AM on a Friday morning. But Reem, our local cook at TYO, was hard at work preparing a feast for a wedding! I joined Reem as “research” for my nutrition class for mothers this summer in hopes of getting a feel for local cooking techniques and cuisine. (The fact that I am also a serious food lover of course had nothing to do with this interest at all.)

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!


SOW Journal: TYO Rocks!

Check out Student of the World Ilona’s blog entry about TYO that can also be found at

Annie and I decide to walk up the never-ending flight of stairs that surround Khallet Al Mood, the neighborhood where TYO is located. We take the stairs closest to the compound. They seem to go for ever…1,2,3…90,91,92…200…To think that men and women climb these stairs daily. There are houses on either side. Well, I guess I would call them grey structures, tall, haunting, unfinished, and barren. It is mid-afternoon. It is hot. No one is out. The stairs are deserted. We finally make it to the top where the stairs abruptly end and a vast forest takes over. From up here everything looks tiny. I hear an ambulance. I see small groups of kids scattered, playing in the street. Each time a car speeds past I freeze, afraid that this time a kid might actually get hit. I look around. I am besieged by trash. At one moment I even jump thinking the plastic bag ruffling in the wind is a person materializing from the forest. A cloud rolls by overhead. Everything turns dark. From gray, everything goes black. The trash’s smell is overwhelming. A man is chanting inside his home. For a moment I feel scared. The cloud passes. I look down at TYO. While everything else seems small, distant, and fragile, TYO appears big and secure. It stands tall, white, and beautiful amidst the grey backdrop. The sound of children playing drifts upward with the wind. We slowly make our way back down to TYO. Immediately upon entering the TYO compound we bump into a class playing tag. They are giggling. They make goofy faces at each other. We walk inside the building. Dorris approaches me. “We are playing with the parachute again, do you want to join?” Yes! From a small blue bag emerges a massive multicolor sheet. Forty kids start running towards it. The main hall is suddenly transformed into a colorful mess. We each grab a side of the parachute. We are designated a number. I am number thirty-three. On 1,2,3…we all lift the parachute, holding it high above our heads. Hassan, a volunteer, yells two and seventeen. Kids from opposite ends of the parachute run at one another. There is something beautiful about the chaos. I feel like a kid again. I want my number to be called. I too get excited each time we lift the parachute. The walls, the floor, the ceiling all melt into blue, yellow, red, green…Everyone is laughing. Everyone is having fun. Everyone is being silly. Even if we ignored the great classes offered here, the mere ability to play gives these children something so crucial to their mental and physical well-being…It gives them back their childhood. Playing with color helps these children imagine a world outside the confines of their respective refugee camps.

Intern Journal: Making it through the door

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. Ala

Amazing Student-taken Photos from Doris’ Class!

Here are some of the highlights from Doris’ Explorers class. The kids were given cameras to take pictures with after a photography lessons. See more TYO photos as

PHOTOS: First Day!

Ahmad and childDSC05076DSC05093DSC05099DSC05102DSC05109DSC05124DSC05132

SOW Journal: Reflection on the First Day

The first day at Tomorrow’s Youth Organization (TYO) was a great success. The Summer 2009 Session marks the beginning of a Holistic Integrated Approach to early childhood education within TYO’s program for early childhood development. Since the end of April, the Core Program teachers have worked with educators and trainers from MaDad to develop a program that encourages children to create their own environments, curriculum and goals. This child centered approach pushes the child to tell his own story at an age when he may not have an outlet for his voice. The program provides an opportunity for children to become protagonists in their own biographies, education and future. Additionally, the new approach in theory and practice here at TYO integrates families in conversations with the children to better understand, narrate, and expand their personal biographies and opportunities.

Children at TYO educate themselves about subjects they choose and tell their own stories—a form of self-guided therapy. In a setting where psychosocial problems are the norm, their energy and resiliency is outstandingly evident.

On the first day, the Core Program teachers and students focused on actively appreciating their new space.  In order to teach the students about respecting themselves and their environment, the teachers began their classes with a cleaning activity allowing the children to take part in preparing the class for the day’s first activity.  Likewise, at the end of the day the children cleaned their space as well.  This practice of respect and responsibility for one’s environment instills in the children a sense of the classroom rules without lecturing or disciplining—it becomes second nature. I observed Ahmad’s class as he, his volunteers and the participants cleaned, decorated and learned about the space they will use for the rest of the summer.

With in the influx of several American interns, TYO is able to offer lessons in photography, creative writing and creative visual arts to children and youth.  The participants in these classes learn therapeutic skills that will allow them to tell their stories long after their instructors leave. Indeed, these skills are instrumental to TYO’s sustainable long-term goals of bringing their approach into the home.

The children warmed up to the staff and interns quickly. They began journaling their experiences in Kelsey’s Summer Camp. In Doris’ “Nabulsi Explorers” class, students had the opportunity to tell their own stories by learning basics in photography and how to critique each others’ work. Shahla’s “Mad Scientist” class allowed students to draw subjects they wished to learn about in class. When a few students commented that they had never drawn before. All I could think was: What kind of future can a child who has never drawn before imagine? This is the true importance of TYO’s work providing children with the skills to represent themselves through documentation, visual and narrative arts.


Danny is a member of the New York University chapter of Students of the World, a volunteer film crew, spending one month with TYO in Nablus documenting the first weeks of the TYO summer program.

First Day of the Summer 2009 Session!

On Sunday, June 14, 2009 Tomorrow’s Youth Organization began its Summer 2009 Session in Nablus.  Approximately 180 children are registered for the Morning and Afternoon Core Programs.  An additional, 170 youth and 40 women are enrolled in classes taught by the five International Interns.  As part of an intensive four-month training program lead by MaDad, the Core Program teachers spent the last several weeks focusing on revamping their programs to focus on the Holistic Integrated Approach to early childhood education.  Similarly, the teachers and interns have transformed TYO’s classrooms and shared spaces into enriching, safe and familiar spaces.  The first day of the session was met with excitement and enthusiasm.  The Core Program participants, the majority of whom attended TYO in the spring, were awed by the changes.  The teachers were motivated by their energy and eagerness.  Additionally, under the leadership of Imad Mansour, the Volunteer Program is off to a great start.  Fifty-one service-minded students from An Najah University will join the TYO team as volunteers. It was a fantastic beginning to an important summer for all!

TYO is grateful to the National Beverage Company who generously donated juice boxes to keep the children happy and hydrated during the first day!

Ahmad, Health Teacher
The children weren’t as anxious as they were last session.  Today was a first day unlike any other.  As the children entered our Center, they ran excitedly to their previous classrooms  They didn’t know we had made changed so we had to help them get to the right class, but they were so eager. They asked so many questions.  I was so satisfied with my first day. It was incredible to bring the children into our redesigned space and feel their excitement and hear them express their happiness.

Please click to read more about the team’s thoughts on the first day! Continue reading