TYO Intern Alumni: Where are They Now?

“Professionally, my time at TYO was invaluable because it enabled to get my next job. Having on-the-ground experience in Palestine set my resume apart from the others and was one of the determining factors in allowing me to find a job immediately after returning to the US.”

Adrienne Clermont

An Ithica, NY native, Adrienne taught beginning photography and women’s English during her TYO internship in the fall of 2010.

What was your favorite moment/story from your time with TYO?

My favorite moments at TYO were while I was working with the kids in my Beginning Photography class. These were also moments when I wanted to tear my hair out, because there were 20 screaming kids running around me, carrying very expensive cameras! But to see the looks on those kids’ faces when they realized they could capture their own images was really priceless. I especially appreciated the fact that some of the most hyperactive, disruptive boys in the class became incredibly calm when holding one of the big DSLR cameras in their hands — they could really focus their attention and get engrossed in the process of finding the perfect shot. It made me realize that each of these kids had something special to offer, if someone was just willing to give them the chance to show it.

What do you miss most about TYO or Nablus?

By far what I miss most about TYO and living in Nablus is the hospitality of the Palestinian friends that I made there. Every single Palestinian that I met at TYO was instantaneously friendly and welcoming, and many of the women that I worked with (through my English class and the Women’s Entrepreneurship program) invited me over to their homes to meet their families and share a meal with them. By my final weeks in Nablus, I was feeling guilty at the number of invitations I had to turn down because I simply didn’t have time! This hospitality is one of the most wonderful things about Palestinian culture and I am so grateful to have experienced it first-hand — and to have gotten the chance to sample homemade maqlooba, kunafeh, and other delicacies!

What have you been up to after leaving Nablus and what are your plans for the future?

I am now a Program Coordinator for the Middle East region at the International Youth Foundation, an NGO based in Baltimore (www.iyfnet.org). Thanks to my experience at TYO and my knowledge of Palestinian culture, I was brought on board to help manage projects in Palestine and Egypt. These two projects focus on youth employment, job skills, and life skills training — key issues for young people facing high levels of unemployment in the Middle East today. My plans for the future are to continue working in the field of international development and to pursue a graduate degree in this field in the next 2-3 years. I hope to work abroad in the Middle East again soon!

Do you have any advice for anyone considering applying for a TYO internship?

Absolutely apply for this internship! Nothing compares to on-the-ground experience in a country that interests you — both from a personal growth perspective and from a professional perspective. Having that experience and demonstrating that you are capable and knowledgeable enough to live in another culture will set you apart from other candidates at every job you apply to in the future. Plus, TYO is a great place full of great people, and you will have a lot of fun!

Goodbye for now

The activity in my arts and crafts class was simple; to write and/or draw a picture about your favorite memory from these past two and half months. As I saw my students writing about the time we made paper lamps for Ramadan, new friends, water balloons, and pool day, I couldn’t help but reflect on how important this experience has been to me and how I just can’t seem to shake the perpetual pit I’ve had in my stomach about leaving so soon.

Nearly three months ago I said goodbye to my family and boarded a plane with a certain amount of excitement and trepidation for a new and often misunderstood place, a new adventure. Although I had never been to the Middle East, I immediately feel in love with the resilient and vibrant spirit of the Nabulsi people. From the first week onwards, life has moved at an extraordinarily fast pace with little time to process.

But in this short time I have seen my students take leaps and bounds in developing their confidence and personality. One student, Aya, came into class the first two weeks and sat down with her head on the table. She was silent, upset, and refused to participate in many of the activities. Eight weeks later, I am bound to find Aya attached at the hips of a new group of girlfriends from a different neighborhood, coming to class early to practice her numbers in English with me, and standing in front of her peers to present her art projects with a shy but steady smile. What is even more encouraging is that Aya’s story does not stand by itself but is representative of TYO’s impact on the children who participate in its programs. Throughout these 8 weeks, I have heard similar stories repeated time and time again from my other interns; it’s one song I will never get sick of listening to.

My students and the intern program has challenged me to grown in new ways both personally and professionally. The lessons learned, stories I have had the privilege to hear, and experiences I have shared with my fellow interns will stay with me wherever I go.

Until I’m back in Nablus…ma’a salama.


Making Friends

As a way to end the summer session, Samin and I combined our classes together to discuss the friendships we’ve made at TYO. We began by playing a video story of the popular and beloved book, The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein. As the video played, we stopped periodically for translation from our translators Yazid and Refiq. Samin and I were amazed at how much the children enjoyed the story!

Afterward, we led a discussion about the story and its meaning. One student said, “the boy kept using the tree until it was naked”. Another said that a friendship shouldn’t be like that. Instead, it should be about equal giving and taking from both sides. Samin and I were so impressed by how engaged the children were throughout the story and what conclusions they were able to draw from it.

We asked if anyone had made a new friend this session and they all raised their hands “Ah! Ah!”. They had made friends from other neighborhoods and refugee camps. To remember the new friends we made, all of our students made friendship bracelets to exchange with one another. And the next day at the pool, we spotted all of our students still wearing their friendship bracelets, showing us with pride.

As our last days are coming to an end, I had a chance to think about all of the friends I have made during my time here as an intern. Women like Jenan, Lina, Hanin, and Raja, students like Layal, Safa, Qais, and Maha, and volunteers like Doha, Zaki, and Yazid and Tamam. I’ve also made friends at Hajjawi, Cinema City, and the juice shop, some of our favorite places in Nablus. The greatest gift I received during my time here is the opportunity to call these Palestinians my friends.

-Tala

Tala is a summer intern at TYO Nablus. 

What’s Right About Being Wrong

It was a good week for my Creative Thinking class. Once an idealistic brainchild led by two terrified first-time TYO teachers, the pilot class is really starting to come into its own.

Heading into the class eight weeks ago, one of my major goals was to convince our kids that sometimes, it’s totally fine to be wrong. Getting the right answer isn’t always the point; it’s the process of reasoning  that refines our logic and molds us into lean, mean critical thinking machines. Being wrong about things is what makes us human – it’s the proverbial hand on the stove top or super hot pepper that your brother dared you to eat. It might not be your proudest moment, but being wrong is what makes us grow.

To that end, I assigned a class project for which being right was victorious and being wrong was hilarious. The kids were each given a water balloon and told that in half an hour, we were dropping it off the roof. Their assignment was to create a protective barrier to prevent the balloon from breaking from the collision.

After a solid three minutes of staring at their balloons and fighting every ounce of kid instinct telling them to forget the project throw it directly at their teacher, they got to work. What resulted was nothing short of a miracle. There were no squabbles over materials, no moments of frustration, no asking for the answers – just good old fashioned hard work. They squinted their eyes and pursed their lips as they taped pieces of cushion and foam and newspaper around their fragile balloons. A half hour later, it was show time.

Only four kids out of two classes successfully protected their balloons from utter destruction, but it didn’t seem to matter. They laughed as volunteer Imad counted down from three before he released each kid’s creation. They laughed even harder when the balloons exploded all over me and my translator, Jamila. They smiled and shrugged when I held up the popped balloons with a grin, and four of them jumped up and down and hi-fived their friends while raising an dry, intact bundle triumphantly over their heads.

When we got back to the room, we asked if they’d had fun. The answer was a resounding “Ah! Ah! Ah!” (kid translation: yes, we did.) The activity wasn’t about being right – it was about learning that sometimes failure is okay. Especially if it soaks your teacher with a water balloon.

An Evening with Lina and Friends

Walking up what felt like 100 flights of stairs, Samin and I finally reached Lina’s house in our neighborhood of Khallet al-Amood. Lina is a mother who is in both my nutrition class and Samin’s aerobics class, and after weeks of asking us to come to her house, we finally had the time to visit with her in her home. I can speak for both myself and Samin when I say it was one of our favorite experiences in Nablus thus far.

Lina outdid herself with delicious tabbouleh salad, cakes, and fruits piled higher than I have ever seen! Slowly, one by one, familiar faces began to enter the room. Other neighborhood women from our classes began entering Lina’s living room to join us in conversation and good food. The women talked about their families, their children, their frustrations, and their lives during the first and second intifadas.

For me, the most interesting part of the entire night was speaking to Lina in Arabic and her responding in English. Throughout the evening we would switch between the two languages so that each of us had a chance to practice speaking and understanding.

Quickly into the night, Lina’s youngest son Hassan and Jenan’s son Saleem joined us. Both boys, are arguably the most adorable 6 and 4 year olds ever. They spent the entire night running in and out of the house, eating cakes and making and flying paper airplanes across Lina’s living room. Samin and I could have stayed there all night playing with the two boys. When it started getting late, Samin and I politely excused ourselves and thanked Lina and her family for their hospitality. We promised we’d be back to visit before we leave Nablus.

As our time here comes to an end, I have had the chance to reflect on my experiences here. I have fallen in love with the city of Nablus, that was undeniable, but until last night, I couldn’t exactly put my finger on why I loved it so much. And as cliché as I know it sounds, I have fallen in love with the people of Nablus. Just yesterday when I walked down to the juice stand with my fellow interns, I heard my name being called out and as soon as I turned around, I saw one of my students, little Alaa, waving her hands furiously from 100 feet away. It’s Alaa’s enthusiasm and joy and Lina’s wisdom and hospitality that are a constant reminder of why I love Nablus so much.

-Tala

Tala is a summer intern at TYO Nablus

Intern Journal: Continuing the work

Over the past six weeks, all of us interns have come to rely on our translators to literally be our second voice in the classroom. But from lesson planning to TYO sponsored trips in the West Bank, time has flown by and we all realized that we had not had an opportunity to spend much time with our translators outside of the TYO Center.

For me, one of the most important things I wanted to gain from this experience was a better understanding of what it is to be a young person in Nablus so I was very excited when the interns and translators arranged a time to meet to have some food on Rafidia Street.

Under Sunday’s pink-tinged Nabulsi sky we all enjoyed lemon-mints, an amazing view, and good company. Our conversations often revolved around lighter subjects like debating the merits of John Cena, Troy, the Pittsburgh Steelers, iPhone applications, and 50 Cent; I will probably never understand some of the translators’ enthusiasm for the Oprah Winfrey Show.

Although we could all laugh and joke with each other, we were all cognizant of the very different lives we have all experienced. At the same time, we didn’t forget the larger commonalities that bond us as young people. All of us are of the same generation and have passions and dreams that drive us whether that be our work, families or Ernest Hemingway’s prose. But above all, we have our shared experiences at TYO. I felt incredibly hopeful and reinvigorated by the commitment I saw from many of our translators to continue the important work we have all started together long after the interns have left this beautiful place.

Blooming in Palestine

My mom always says to bloom where you’re planted. It’s a cryptic life instruction; I think it’s somewhat akin to the superficially obvious unattributed quote, “Wherever you go, there you are.” Nearly a year ago, I left my friends and family in Los Angeles to pursue some sort of ambiguous higher calling. I never expected to wind up in Palestine. It’s amazing where a random email through your graduate school listserv can lead.

I suppose we all wind up in unexpected places. These sometimes-serendipitous-sometimes-scary digressions frequently compose more of our lifetimes than the stuff we planned. And while it’s always experience, living impulsively is not always easy. I’ve recently been hit, as I think many TYO interns are at some point, with a wave of homesickness. Perhaps this was spurred on by blackberry season in Wooster, Ohio, the small midwestern town where I was born and raised. My mom’s blackberry pies are otherworldly.

But something funny happened last weekend. Some of the interns went to Ramallah to sample exotic new flavors of iced coffee and explore another area of our new home in the West Bank. Upon our return to Nablus later in the evening, I flopped down in my room and listened to the confused rooster outside my window who starts to crow at 11pm. I walked out to the balcony to take in the Nabulsi breeze and fantasize about the kunafa I’d eat in excess the following day. It was good to be home.

In that moment, I realized that unbeknownst to me, I had taken mom’s advice. I liked it here. Actually, I loved it here. I realized that Palestine had gotten into my blood, and perhaps it would be a little harder to leave than I originally anticipated. I still miss my family and friends – mom’s blackberry pie, my dad’s high pitched giggle when he plays with the dog, the dimples in my nephew’s cheeks when he does something his mother JUST told him not to do – but there are just as may things about Nablus that I’m going to miss when I’m gone.

So, whether it’s the kunafa, little Rida’s subconscious habit of pushing his glasses up during a soccer game, the “secret hi-five” we have with the neighborhood girls, or the friendships I’ve made with the other interns, I’m going to spend the last three weeks here taking in every single moment of it. Well, maybe not the kunafa part – I’ll stick to every other day with that.

Intern Journal: This Class is Our Class

My volunteers are my extra set of eyes, ears and hands. They step in when I need materials passed out and when I need help rearranging my classroom for a new activity. They step in when a child needs a hole punched for a mask and when they need a string tied for a kite. Most importantly, they step in when a student has a problem that I can’t immediately address. After all, I am just one person with anywhere from 10-18 students. And without my volunteers, I couldn’t teach my classes.

This past Monday, right after Field Day in Balata and Community English class, my volunteers, translator and I met in my classroom to discuss our Arts & Crafts class. Throughout the session I have continuously stressed that this class is ours and I always welcome and encourage suggestions. But on Monday, I wanted to remind them just how important they really are to this class.

For the next 45 minutes we discussed what we’ve learned about our class and our kids thus far. What works in class and what doesn’t, what needs to stay and what should we change, but also how to improve. The amount of feedback I got from them was amazing. Together we agreed, using the hand clapping technique we tried to implement at the start of the session, doesn’t get the children’s attention like we had hoped. But making simple yet functional projects is a great way to keep the kids engaged. I appreciated the craft project suggestions from them too. Everything from flowers made of plastic bags, to face paint, to a mural! I have already implemented an idea: adding background music to class while they work on their project. The kids really enjoyed it too!

I want my volunteers to be on board for every craft project or silly game I attempt with my kids. I want them to be as enthusiastic about lessons as I am. And so that things runs smoothly, it is so important that they are included in the decision-making process and can take some ownership of the class. I know that my volunteers walked away from the meeting on Monday feeling much better about the remainder of the session. Weekly, I will keep reminding them that  this class is our class.

– Tala

Tala is a summer intern at TYO Nablus.

The Interns Experience a Wedding…Nablus Style

Two hundred pairs of eyes turned to us the moment we entered the huge hall, occupied by the bridal party and about every woman in downtown Nablus. The bride and groom continued their dancing uninterrupted as we glued ourselves to the back wall and tried to blend in unsuccessfully. The foreigners had arrived.

Let me backtrack a bit. Last week, during one of our aerobics sessions, one of the mothers in our class graciously invited us to her daughter’s upcoming wedding. I was taken aback, not only by this woman’s openness but also that she was even old enough to be a mother-in-law. The other female interns and I accepted with great excitement as we had been hearing wedding parties in the streets for weeks and had wanted to experience a Nabulsi party. Finally! We had managed to make it into the inner circle!

Back to the wedding hall. As we edged along the wall trying not to tip over flower stands, wooden altars, and ginormous cakes, the fellow interns and I tried to look the least conspicuous as possible – a tall order when we were the only unveiled women in the room. Up on the stage, the bride and groom were happily slow dancing as a fog machine and bubble maker created mystical clouds around them. It was fairytale-like, which is, I guess, the underlying theme of most weddings. Except here, the dancing was reserved solely for the bride and groom, while the rest of room buzzed with the general feeling of happiness that comes with all weddings.

A noticeable change in the demeanor of the other women came when the mother-of-the-bride greeted us warmly and thanked us for coming. Perhaps this was the official signal that we were indeed invited guests and not over-curious gatecrashers, as we were then invited to sit down. We introduced ourselves to the women around us, at which point two very adorable babies were handed to us for some inexplicable reason. We were simultaneously overwhelmed by cuteness and flattered by the mothers’ trust.

It was at this point that the party really started to pick up, as the men from the adjacent room began to pour in and the flashing neon lights went especially crazy. I found this part particularly interesting, as the flurry of activity (which was later explained to me as presentations of gifts of money) seemed to center around the groom on stage as the bride posed for pictures off to the side. At most wedding in the US the bride is the center of attention; thus, this tradition struck me as particularly interesting.

Just before we left, we all managed to get our hands on a sliver of cake. Only minutes beforehand, this cake had been sliced by the groom with a massive sword, not a sight you see at any old wedding and one of the many reasons why I hope to attend another Nabulsi wedding in the future. Insha’allah.

– Alex

Alex is an intern at TYO Nablus.

Intern Journal: A Day Off in Nablus

The interns have made an amazing discovery, one that in my opinion rivals the adventures of the great explorers of the fifteenth and sixteen centuries. We have found it, our holy grail….ice coffee in Nablus.

To say that we interns have a bit of an addiction is an understatement. The first thing we did upon landing in Ben Gurion airport was to find the nearest coffee shop and sip slowly on the delightful elixir before driving into the West Bank. After a busy week of lesson planning, meetings, and reports, we look forward to having a day or two to unwind before the madness starts again. On Saturday afternoon, Amy, Tala, Samin, Megan, and I ventured into the Old City and soon found ourselves in the relaxed yet bizarre atmosphere that is the Cinema City cafe which provides us with all of the comforts of home right here in Nablus.

Checkered with flaming red and black designs, Cinema City is the perfect place to sample blended frappe beverages, coffees, and desserts aptly named after film’s leading ladies including “The Angelina, The Megan, and The Zeta-Jones.” Or Tala’s favorite treat, “Magic Corn” which is basically just sweetened corn. When our waiter brought over the tray of blended coffees, some of us had difficulty restraining our joy, others had problems breathing.

Sitting at our table under the “Thanks for Coming Y’all” sign, I momentarily forgot where we were. Was I actually in the States at my local mall? Had I somehow sleep-walked my way across the green line? Nope, I was still in Nablus – al-humdulillah! – but in a place meant to provide an escape for its customers from the realities of life happening outside its walls. A place where women go out with their friends for ice coffee and you can still catch Scream 4 playing in all its ridiculous goriness.

– Cate

Cate is a summer intern at TYO Nablus.