Ready, set, go!

TYO’s $25k in 25 days campaign starts today!

From now until September 25, we’re inviting you to adopt, join, and mobilize the 250 km/156 miles of Usama Malik’s race through the Sahara Desert. With your support, we can ensure that this race makes a huge difference in the lives of the children, youth, women, and parents that TYO serves.

We’ve only got 25 days to do this, so head over to Crowdrise right now to help us raise $25k in 25 days!

TYO’s Community Impact

Why is Usama Malik running 250 km/156 miles through the Sahara Desert?  To ensure the continued profound and positive impact of TYO on the communities it serves.  The stories of just one entrepreneur and one volunteer reveal the broad ripple effect of TYO’s programs on individuals, their families, and the community at large.

Nehaya, Restaurant Owner

Nehaya explains her restaurant to Ambassador Verveer and TYO Nablus Center Director Humaira Wakili

Take one of our FWEN program participants, Nehaya, as an example.  As a student at An-Najah University, she noticed that the students living far from their families craved home-cooked meals.  She came up with a solution–establish a restaurant to offer traditional Palestinian “comfort food,” rather than unhealthy  fast food.  The restaurant could offer take-out for students and catering for large parties and events.

Nehaya enrolled in the FWEN program, where she developed the business and leadership skills necessary to start her restaurant.  Her work with FWEN prepared her for the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women project, a five-week Women’s Entrepreneurship Leadership certificate program at the American University in Cairo.

On March 26, 2011, Nehaya opened her restaurant and hired her mother and aunt as cooks.  With her restaurant, Nehaya is bringing home-cooked meals to the students of An-Najah, business opportunities to the women in her family, and inspiration to women entrepreneurs throughout Nablus.

Nehad, Volunteer and Fall Core Child Program Teacher

Nehad with a Core Child Program student

Nehad’s story provides another great example of TYO’s impact on the lives of our program participants.  She has been a volunteer with the Core Child Program for a year.  Every day that TYO is in session, Nehad leaves her village, Koforqadon, at 7 am to make the hour-long commute to our Nablus center.

Her work with the students in the Core Child Program has brought children like Ghizal out of their shells.  Moreover, Nehad reports that she herself has grown in confidence as a teacher and as an individual throughout her year with TYO.  Because of her dedication to her students and eagerness to learn, Nehad has grown into a talented early childhood teacher while volunteering at TYO.  TYO is excited to be bringing Nehad back to the Core Child Program as a teacher for the fall session.

All of TYO’s Core Child Program teachers, like Nehad, started working with TYO as volunteers.  The Youth Service Learning program includes both trainings and opportunities to cultivate hands-on teaching and mentoring experience.  As volunteers, TYO’s current core teachers cultivated a valuable set of teaching skills.  Now, TYO’s students reap the benefits of having strong, confident, talented teachers.

Help sustain and expand TYO’s community impact by getting involved in the Racing the Planet for TYO campaign!  From September 1-25, people across the globe will ADOPT, JOIN, and MOBILIZE the miles of Usama’s race.  Right now, start planning how you’ll help us raise $25k in 25 days!

Flower Habibis

colorful sea scenes

The second week of our Ramadan arts course revolved around the theme of nature – from the sea, to the land, to the sky. We asked the kids, ages 4 and 5, to demonstrate how plants grow. And they showed us step by step – digging the hole, planting the seed, adding water and the rays of the sun, sprouting and slowly growing till we all were trees swaying in the breeze, arms aloft.

planting flowers

We then put these ideas into action, planting flowers along the entrance of the TYO center. The children loved digging about and watering the plants, seeing their efforts leave something beautiful to brighten up the way into TYO for everyone that comes here.

The houses and multi-story apartments in this neighbourhood (Khallet al-Amood) are built close together, rising vertically up the hillside, with unforgiving steps replacing streets between the densely populated homes. Thanks both to the geography and to urban planning, they rarely have gardens, so a flower-planting activity is a great opportunity for the kids to get their hands dirty, learn a little more about nature and see how we can brighten up even inner city environments.

The next day we moved onto painting. After some butterfly themed stories and games with core teachers Jawad and Haitham, the children painted half a butterfly, folding it in half to print the same colourful pattern on the opposite wing. Each symmetrical creation was unique, bringing joy to the kids as they saw through each step to make their own butterflies and take them home to show all the family.

butterflies / flutter byes

SOW National Team: Islam’s Interview

The Core Child Program is just one of the many programs that the Students of the World team is highlighting with the media that we create for TYO. For our story, we interviewed various people who have contributed to the success of the program.  However, in order to create a video that fully incorporates all of the parts of the program; we also had to look at the beneficiaries of the program, who are of course, the kids! Our team has followed the success story of one particular child, Islam.

I first heard about Islam during an interview the SOW team had with Suhad Jabi, the Psychosocial Program Manager for TYO. Listening to Suhad tell Islam’s story was mesmerizing. Islam is 8 years old and lives in Askar Refugee camp.  Growing up in a refugee camp can be extremely challenging. All of the houses are very close together, it is very crowded, and there is not a lot of space available. As a result, the children often have no place to play except for inside of the narrow corridors. Needless to say, the kids of refugee camps have to grow up quick.

When Islam first began TYO, he refused to cooperate in any of the programs. If they tried to get him to participate, he would just run away to a different room.  After this behavior went on for a short time, the TYO staff, including Suhad, decided it was time to talk to Islam’s parents and see what his home life was like.  It turns out that Islam’s parents were very frustrated with Islam because he was constantly getting into trouble and causing problems within the community.  Together Suhad, the TYO Core Child teachers, and Islam’s parents all decided to work together to provide consistent positive re-enforcement for Islam.

After just weeks at TYO with the implementation of this new tactic Islam began to cooperate more in class. His parents said there was a noticeable difference in his behavior at home. In fact, Islam had struggled a lot with bed-wetting, but within a few weeks of being at TYO, he stopped.  Islam continued to attend a few more sessions at TYO, and his parents and teachers now say he has become a completely different person.

Our cab went as far as it could into the camp. We didn’t know our way so the taxi driver rolled down the window and asked one of the 15 or so children surrounding the car to tell us where Islam’s house was located. Two little boys on bikes said they would show us the way. Within minutes of winding through the narrow passages of Old Askar camp, we reached the doorway where Islam and his family were waiting outside for us.

We were welcomed in with open arms. His mother quickly introduced her twin 3 year olds, 5 year old daughter, 18 year old son, and of course Islam (her two other children were not home.)  I quickly said hello and tried to show how grateful I was to be there, despite the fact that I cannot speak Arabic at all.

We all sat down and began to talk. Islam was shy at first. Eventually Islam told us about his dream to become a pilot. He said the most exciting part about becoming a pilot is that when you fly the plane super high, then you are able to open the window of the plane and scoop snow in from the clouds. He discussed all of this while drawing his dream plane. I couldn’t help but cry. I tried so hard to hold back my tears, which were from pure joy for such a beautiful person with such pure and happy hopes. But also they were tears because his dream is so out of reach. But it is not hopeless. Perhaps before TYO when Islam was just another lost kid who spent most of his time getting yelled at and sent away. But Islam isn’t the trouble-maker anymore. He is just Islam: a boy who wants to fly. TYO let Islam just be Islam and find himself and his hopes so that he did not have to negatively reach out for attention

It may be a long road before Islam can start the engine to that plane. But there is hope. And sometimes that’s all you need to plant the seed.

It’s Not Elementary, But Preschool.

A very interesting article in this month’s Time Magazine reveals findings of a groundbreaking 25 year study on early childhood education in Chicago. The results?

To cut crime, raise education and income levels, and reduce addiction rates among the poor, no program offers more bang for the buck than preschool….That means having qualified teachers and providing a structured but nurturing environment. In addition to the quality of the program itself, another reason the Chicago preschools may have had such a large impact is that they helped parents feel that they were part of a community and kept them involved with their children’s school.

Whether Nablus or Chicago, access to quality early childhood education can have enormous impact on children, parents and communities.  We encourage governments and donors to recognize the importance of funding early childhood education programs. Because if results are what we want, preschool wins.

Volunteer Spotlight: Nehad Omer

My name is Nehad Omer, and I have been a Core Program morning volunteer for a year.

After I graduated with a sociology degree from An Najah University, I searched for various job openings and volunteer positions. I came across TYO, but was wary about applying because I assumed it would be very difficult to work with children from severely disadvantaged homes. Thankfully, I swallowed my fear and applied.

Since then, I have worked as a volunteer for a variety of classes, ranging from sports to concentration techniques. It was initially very difficult to break out of my own shell, but I soon realized that it was necessary. I could not be helpful if I was shyer than the children! In the past year, I have seen both myself and the children come a long way.

For example, Ghizal, a Core Program child, spent weeks running out of TYO because she was shy and did not feel comfortable around so many other active (and sometimes loud) children. Over time, however, I have learned how to make her comfortable. When she becomes overwhelmed, it calms her anxieties to draw or color by herself. Instead of running outside of the building, she now comes to me and asks if she can spend a few minutes drawing alone. I have noticed her become happier, less afraid, and engage more with the other children in just the past few days. I am excited to see how much she will break out of her shell by the end of this session and am grateful that I am part of why she is happier.

Girls like Ghizal are why I make the one-hour commute from Koforqadon village to Nablus every morning at 7 am. My parents and nine siblings have always encouraged me to go out and volunteer (perhaps because I am the middle child), and have commented on my increased self-confidence since I started with TYO last year.

– Nehad

Personal story as told to Shahla

SOW Team: A Day in the Life of a TYO Volunteer

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I woke up feeling a little nervous, like the first day of school when you don’t know anyone yet. I walked down to the main floor of the Nablus Center to see many kids sitting along four tables, wide-eyed and restless. Who do I talk to when I can’t say more than ten words? I walk up to a small boy in an orange Holland jersey fumbling with his backpack, “Marhaba, Shooo issmek?” I say, still unsure if I’m pronouncing it correctly. He stares at me with a worried look and I back away embarrassed. Ala, a Core Child teacher at TYO who teaches IT skills, and my only friend who speaks English, points me in the direction of one of the classrooms. I can’t tell who’s more nervous at this point, the kids or myself.

I feel like the new kid again. I shyly introduce myself and take the open seat next to the kid in the Holland jersey. The teacher continues talking in Arabic as a few kids continue to stare in my direction. When your ability to communicate is taken away, you have to rely solely on universal gestures. The fellow volunteers start to hand out blank paper. Are those really butterflies in my stomach? I feel as if I am five again and have to hold the urge to grab the crayons first. It’s only been five minutes and I’m already uncontrollably smiling.

It’s no wonder TYO has so many volunteers. They have over 100 for the summer session, mainly from An Najah University, and overwhelmingly female. They actually started out with only 12 volunteers, all males, but with the increase in numbers each year, more and more women started to participate. After snack time, we prepare for our morning field trip to the Nablus Fire Department. I don’t remember the last time I visited a fire station, probably when I was about this age. After settling who travels on what bus (the kids must be separated by where they’re coming from, Askar, Balata, Khallet al Amood) we make our way down to the Nablus Fire Department.

It would seem that fire stations are impressive everywhere. The firemen greeted us in their typical outfits. There were then some demonstrations. Even though I couldn’t understand, Ala was quick to translate whenever there was a funny moment, such as when one kid, when prompted by the firemen if he had any questions, asked about a monster that attacked his foot last night. I enjoyed the children’s Q&A very much, but I had a question of my own so I conversed with one of the volunteers at the fire station. He told me that it was a long process to become a firemen and that he has volunteered for about seven years!

It seems as if volunteering is a natural option for those at the University because they are able to get professional skills they wouldn’t otherwise have access. Similar to the United States, where internships are the norm before getting a real job, volunteering has become increasingly common in the West Bank. Professor Jawad Fatayer, of An Najah University, stresses that this desire is more than just professional. It is also personal. Volunteers feel a sense of community through their work, that they are making an impact. That is probably why so many of the volunteers stay. Most of the volunteers we interviewed had been with TYO since the beginning. It is great to see how comfortable they are with the kids.

After waiting for a bit, our bus arrives. I thank the firemen for their time and prepare for a relaxing and reflective ride back. I am starting to feel less like the new kid and more like a new friend. When we get back, Alaa, Haitham, and Jawad, the Core Child teachers, even invite me to sit with them for lunch. I am touched. I have been used to the familiar territory of the sixth floor; however, it is nice to be around the volunteers whose faces I frequently see, but I’ve never had the opportunity of working side-by-side with. They tell me that all of the volunteers stay throughout the day despite having a break between the morning and afternoon programming. I notice them hanging out in front of the center, or talking in the computer class.

It is a warm feeling coming back to TYO and I understand a little bit better what it means to be a volunteer. It is not just a role, but a mindset. You can tell that it must not always be so easy to work with the kids but the volunteers genuinely enjoy their work. They continue to come and be a part of TYO and the bond is obvious. I become slightly jealous that I don’t have a place like this back home, and a little guilty that I maybe haven’t searched for it as much as these students have. I walk upstairs feeling that sense of accomplishment and fulfillment that Dr. Jawad described. For a little while, it is easy to feel hope and love, to feel an impact, to feel a connection.

– Sarah

Sarah is the journalist for the SOW National Team.

Stretching our Limits

Three years ago, TYO opened its doors to the communities living in our five target areas; El-Ein, Balata, New and Old Askar, the Old City, and the surrounding Khallet Al-Amood neighborhood. We have struggled with the Arabic-English barrier, buses that aren’t always on time and, of course, the burning sun we have all come to love. Perhaps the most difficult task, however, has been saying “No.”

Today, a mother from El-Ein refugee camp came into my office with her three children, two boys and a girl. Her children’s ages ranging from 3 to 7 years old. She had heard last night that there was a respected free community center in Khallet Al-Amood and had desperately tried to put her kids on the TYO bus this morning. As a matter of organization, our bus drivers strictly limit who can and cannot get on the bus via a TYO List of Participants. (After all, we do not want to accidentally take a scared and confused child across town.)

This particular mother, though, was not going to give up so easily. Despite not having any money with her, she took a private taxi across town with her three children at her side and found her way to my office. She sat down in front of her children and me and begged. I couldn’t help but match her tears with my own. Her husband recently suffered from a stroke that left the right side of his body incapacitated and the home without a breadwinner. She has little supportive family in the community and is, as a result, left alone to take care of her husband and three children in an impoverished household.

Her desperation brought her to TYO four weeks after our Core program began. My immediate response was a difficult denial not because it is difficult to integrate new kids in the program, but because we simply do not have the resources to enroll every child who wants to and needs to come to our center. But her persistence and her story made me realize that TYO is the one place where we can’t afford to say no. It may force us to have larger class sizes and we certainly can’t take in every child, but we have to try our best.

Her kids, she said, are very shy and have no place to go in the refugee camp. They ask her each day why they can’t just be like the other kids in the world, why they can’t be children. These words from a three-year-old brought a mother to TYO, a place whose doors opened specifically for these kids who lack support elsewhere.

In the end, we managed to enroll her two older kids in the program, but there are still children who need help, children who we can’t help. This is easily the hardest part of my job, and I don’t know if there is anything to be done.

– Suhad

Suhad is the Psychosocial Program Manager at TYO Nablus.

Monday Field Day at El-Ein Refugee Camp

Last Monday TYO spent its weekly field visit in the Hamdi Manko Center, a large, open space near El-Ein refugee camp. We were greeted by fifty excited children, some who were familiar with TYO and some who were new to our program. Ahmad, a current TYO Core Program participant, introduced each and every single one of our staff members to his friends. We were ecstatic to see that Ahmad had relationships with not just one or two, but was close to each one of us. We fell in love with TYO all over again, understanding that it is a center built on meaningful connections between our staff members, volunteers, and, of course, children.

Despite growing up in difficult circumstances, we found that even the new children opened up to us quickly. Haitham, one of our wonderful Core Teachers, had students stand in a circle and introduce themselves differently. One of the boys, Mohammad, introduced himself as Hammodah, the loving nickname his mother has for him.

We played together for hours and, eventually, ended our day with one of our favorite TYO games: parachute!

– Ala

Ala is a Core Program Teacher at TYO Nablus.

Diving Headfirst into Summer

The Core Program revitalized the building here in Nablus last week. The voices, cheer, excitement, and sheer wonder breathed air into the lungs of TYO. Their arrival marks only the beginning of our summer programming, however. This week, we’re back in rhythm and jumping right into a full schedule of classes and projects.

Of course, we’ve got a whole bunch of fresh faces in the building. A new crop of great interns has arrived, and having spent the past ten days or so orienting and acclimating, eyes wide and ears open, the seven of them are ready for business. They are eager and rearing to get started, teaching a wide scope of courses from nutritious cooking and women’s fitness to photography and critical thinking. They’re a diverse and talented group about to set off on an amazing journey. It looks to be another great session.

Today, we launched the first of our summer Field Days, effectively taking the TYO show on the road and out into the neighborhoods of the people we have served here at the TYO Center for the past three and a half years. Pulling together a dream team of sorts, including Core Program teachers, international interns, staff members, and university-student volunteers, we’ll be traveling throughout the summer to all the refugee camps of Nablus (as well as the Old City) to offer two hours of fun programming, every Monday, for all those children that might not be fortunate enough to attend TYO from week to week. The first day at Askar Refugee camp was great fun, allowing us to reach nearly two hundred new children and spread the TYO message far and wide.

In June, six university students from Students of the World (SOW) will join us in Nablus.  Their national team, volunteer film crew, comprised of members from universities across the United States, will spend a month with us in Nablus, documenting our new activities and foundational programs. (Check it out: SOW’s NYU chapter spent June 2009 with us and produced this wonderful video.) We are absolutely thrilled to have SOW back in the building.

The TYO-MEPI literacy program completed five trainings this month on a variety of topics, including Scholastic’s My Arabic library, leadership, volunteerism, education, and civic engagement. The program’s volunteer corps grew by an additional fifteen local volunteers and seven international interns. This summer, they will teach 220 children (ages 6 -12) how to read.

Triple Exposure is snapping away, homework help is packed four days a week, and the Midnight Football League is rocking out three nights a week. The soccer league added in two new age groups, including a mix-gendered league for the seven to ten year-olds of Khallet al-Amood. Maybe the next Mia Hamm is in our midst…

Busy times here in Nablus! And following all our May planning, it feels great to have the beating heart of the community back  in the building.