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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A Conversation over Tea

“She returns from school in hurry, puts her bag aside, asks for a small snack and runs out the door and saying, ‘I am TYO!’”

Sundos’ father said, explaining his daughter’s behavior since enjoying Tomorrow’s Youth Organization. Sundos’ mom added that they used to spoil Sundos. She described the way Sundos used to cry about everything, isolate herself from her peers and never display interest or enthusiasm.

“After my older daughter’s death in a car accident, my husband and I became very protective. We were scared to let our kids go anywhere alone—even to school,” her mother explained.

“When TYO first opened across the street from where we live, we did not believe that such a huge, fancy building would be available to the children of our neighborhood,” said Sundos’ mom.

Having the Center in Khallet al-Amood helps not just Sundos but her entire family to recover from the loss of a child. As Sundos becomes more engaged and motivated through her time at TYO her parents have learned to trust her. “I am not worried anymore about my daughter crossing the street alone, or going out with her friends,” said Sundos’ mom. “I can now watch my daughter grow up without being overprotective, so thank you for giving me hope to a become a better mother.”

This conversation took place between TYO Sports teacher Haitham and Sundos’s parents, who all live in the Khallet al-Amood neighborhood.  The piece was adapted to English from an original story written by Haitham, in Arabic, about the importance of his work.

2009 Fall Internship Program Launched!

TYO published its 2009 Fall Internship Program this week. We are recruiting highly qualified and motivated interns with experience in international travel and teaching to work at our flagship center in Nablus (West Bank, Palestine) this summer (late September – mid December).

Interns will cooperate with TYO staff before their arrival in Nablus to develop a variety of activities for children, youth, and adults from the Nablus community. These may include: afterschool workshops for sport/drama/journalism or other activities for children and youth, evening English classes, and weekend recreational activities. Upon arrival, interns will work full-time leading the programs they developed, supporting other interns and TYO staff, and evaluating the impact of their programs throughout the fall.

Read more about the program and download the application (PDF) today – it’s due by August 12, 2009

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.


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The Wall and Efficacy

Last Saturday, I met with a few friends in the Old City for brunch.  Hopped up on Arabic coffee and delicious salads, we shared our respective lives.  They were interning at a research NGO in Haifa for the summer and I have lived in Nablus now for over a year.  The conversation slipped in and out of lessons past, stories told, politics and love both revisited, and work—typical brunch talk for a group of women in their mid to late twenties.  Mostly, the conversation revolved around how the latter influences the former in a constant juggling act of our personal and professional lives.

About an hour into brunch, one of my friends threw her hands up in the air, anticipating the weight of her statement, and said, “I just want to take a survey of every NGO/nonprofit worker in Israel and Palestine. I bet you none of them would describe their work as effective.” Silence lingered for a few minutes after her statement. We sipped our coffee. It was true–everyone has thought this. We file press releases hoping someone will cover our announcement. We write proposals reaching out for someone to hear our call to action. We provide children with safe spaces to assuage their trauma. We envision a better world for the people of this region and all those who engage with it. At the same time, we watch homes demolished in East Jerusalem, television programming with questionably racist commercials and children board buses that will take them back to unsafe homes. We work amidst a protracted conflict with diligence, yet all too often waning optimism. We come up against a solid wall.

The next day, my friends came by the TYO Center. I greeted them at the door and offered them a tour of our facilities.  We observed two of the morning program classes: 4- and 5- year old children engrossed in the imagination stations that make up the corners of their holistic classrooms.  In one corner, a falafel stand with one child pretending to make falafel and two others playing the salivating customers; in another corner, three children were meticulously building Lego structures, carefully placing each piece where they envision it in their minds. We opened the adjacent door, peering into the TYO computer lab—a group of twenty women were engaged in a computer literacy course.  Later on in our tour we found another group of twenty women upstairs partaking in an aerobics class. We climbed the stairs to find a second floor of activity as children busied themselves in the art, science and sports classes provided by some of our summer interns.

We had coffee on the top floor, chatted a bit more and said our goodbyes.  On our walk down to the exit, we saw that two of the interns had combined their classes to play with the parachute in the atrium.  Laughter, shouts and the rustling of a parachute echoed through the big hall.

Recently, we have had a lot of visitors in Nablus. Thus, it was no surprise when later that day one of the interns asked me to speak to two of her visiting friends.  I answered their questions on the beginnings of the organization, the current program and our hopes for the future.  I clarified information about the situation in Nablus itself. Once again silence lingered over the conversation. I assured them that this city, region, life are far too much to take in over the course of one day.  Let it marinate.  One of her friends placed the palms of her hands over her temples and pushed them along her face the way I often do when I am overwhelmed or stressed. Why do you do it? How do you do it? How can you live here?  The questions came out of her as though they were a force of nature beyond her control.

“I do it…because it is effective.”

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Intern Kelsey’s Art Class Sings!

Check out this new video on TYO’s Youtube page singing a Nablusi song while making paper mâché!

Lovely art class joins for a picture
The boys!

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