Mr. Zahi Khoury Tours TYO Center

On Thursday, June 23, 2011, Zahi Khoury and his wife, Amal visited the TYO Center. Mr. Khoury, Founder and CEO of the National Beverage Company and Chairman of Partners for a New Beginning Palestine, toured the Center and visited our weekly Thursday Sports Day.

Over a working lunch catered by Nehaya, a Fostering Women’s Entrepreneurs (FWEN) participant, Mr. Khoury discussed TYO’s programming and activities with several program managers. Several FWEN program participants presented their business plans and first steps to Mr. Khoury and received personalized feedback.

TYO is a proud member of Partners for a New Beginning. We were ecstatic to host Mr. Khoury and his wife and look forward to future shared efforts in Palestine.


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

New Triple Exposure workshop – Notes from Nablus – Balata

Portraits of kids, by kids: presenting the faces and voices of Nabulsi youth to the world.

Aya - we are all one family

The best way to let the children of Nablus try out digital photography is to take the cameras to them. So June saw the start of our new Triple Exposure workshop – Notes from Nablus. Our first location was Balata UNRWA refugee camp.

After some Q&A on portraits and basic tips on composition we went over how to use the DSLR cameras – as it was the first time for the nine to eleven year olds, we kept it simple by talking about how to use the viewfinder, zoom, flash and how to hold the camera. Everyone made colourful name cards and took each others’ portraits to practice taking shots.

On day two we started by discussing what Nablus means to us. The children talked about what they love about Nablus, and what they would change if they could. They then brainstormed in groups and presented what they’re most proud of about their city/country, and how they would improve it if they were in charge. The levels of political and historical consciousness were impressive despite the young age of the participants.

Finally, we asked the children to each choose a short message to send out to the world from Balata/Nablus/Palestine. After writing the messages on each others’ hands, they took each others’ portraits once again and came up with this series of wonderful portraits which give voice to the children of Balata.

Please see the Notes from Nablus gallery for more photos.

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 for more information our arts projects.

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Stanford research reveals Creativity Gap among Palestinian children

Stanford Graduate School of Education doctoral student, Elizabeth Buckner, is working with Stanford Professor Paul Kim on research about creativity among Palestinian school children and ways that mobile technology could be used to cultivate it. She visited the West Bank in Spring 2010 to do research with children at TYO and several other NGOs and schools.

This research has led to the fascinating article, Combating the Creativity Gap [NB: this paper is a work in progress and should not be cited without the authors’ permission]. The article presents fascinating evidence that some Palestinian students are getting access to the type of learning-through-play and student-centered educational experiences necessary to facilitate twenty-first century skills like problem solving and creativity. However, these opportunities seem to be limited very strictly to children of wealthy families attending private schools.

Authors Buckner and Kim propose mobile technologies that seem to effectively measure and indeed foster complex thinking and in turn, creativity. TYO’s child-centered learning programs are also clearly in line with the “inquiry-based methods are a more effective pedagogical approach for getting children to become active agents of their own learning” that the authors condone. This fall, Professor Kim will deliver workshops on ways to apply mobile technology in education in cooperation with Birzeit University’s Information Technology Center for Excellence.

Having seen the incredible creative potential of the Palestinian people, we say ahlan wa sahlan, Paul and Elizabeth – help us close this dangerous creativity gap as soon as possible to ensure that ALL members of the next generation are empowered to reach their full potential.

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.


Honoring World Refugee Day at Balata Camp

Today we mark World Refugee Day. For TYO staff, volunteers, and interns it was especially poignant as we spent the afternoon at Balata Refugee Camp – the largest camp in the West Bank. With over 30,000 residents on 1 kilometer of land, Balata is a microcosm of the plight of Palestinian refugees across the region.  With limited access to water, sewage, health, and educational services, camps are a haven for disease, poverty, and unemployment.

Children are the most vulnerable victims. Without access to quality early childhood education and the space and freedom to play as every child should have,  psychosocial problems such as post traumatic stress disorder and aggression are on the rise.  It is for this reason that the dedicated team of TYO staff, volunteers, and interns work hard each and every day to bring a little hope to each member of our refugee community.

Today was no different. After filling the bus up with staff, teachers, volunteers and interns, we took the five minute drive down to Balata, following the gentle, rolling hills that lead away from Nablus city center. After setting up shop at a local community center, soon came a jolt of brightness, of energy, of hope, of life. What a day! Young boys and girls made their way in waves, cautious and curious at the same time. We welcomed them, shared some introductory games and songs, and fed off their effervescent presence. We split the group, some engaging in thrilling relay races and sports games, others having the chance to embrace their artistic side: for the latter, we asked that they design a peace letter, illustrating and decorating a card of self-expression, showing who they are to the world, showing the peace they hope for to the world.

I hope these photos can do it some justice. Thanks to Andrea of S.O.W. for the great work!

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