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.


Advertisements

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. 

The Hour of Separation

It seems only yesterday I arrived to Nablus, yet the last three months have given me a lifetimes worth of fulfillment. Today being the final day of our summer session classes was very sentimental, as I said my goodbyes to students, aerobics moms, volunteers and translators.  An infinite amount of hugs from my students and moms would still not have been enough, and the countless number of gifts I received will be keepsakes that I will hold on to forever.

There is not much left to say besides that the people of Nablus have been incredibly welcoming, and their kindness and warmth will never been forgotten. My experience here has far surpassed what I had ever imagined, and for that I am eternally grateful to TYO and all those associated with it. Farewell my beloved, Palestine. I’ll be seeing you again soon, inshallah.

And ever has it been known that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation. -Kahlil Gibran

– Samin
Samin 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.

Between Two Ferns with Mutasim Qawariq

Mutasim can usually be found leading the soccer leagues on the TYO soccer field, mingling amongst interns, volunteers and staff like the Mr. Popularity that he is, or in my classroom doing his best to engage the children in English lessons. Amidst his busy schedule, I finally found a moment to sit down with Mutasim for an interview regarding his indispensable work with TYO:

Me: Can you tell me a little about yourself –age, education, work, hobbies/passion, etc?
Mutasim: My name is Mutasim. I am 23 years old, and studying English Literature at An Najah University. I like football, and spending time on the computer.

Me: How long have you worked at TYO?
Mutasim: I have been here for about 5 months, working as a volunteer and translator. In the Spring 2011 session I worked as Colin Powers’ (former intern) translator for homework help. This session, I helped translate for Colin during Soccer League, and with you in your summer camp English class.

Me: What brought you here?
Mutasim: There are not many job opportunities here for post graduates. I worked in a summer camp called “Holy Book” when I was 19, and really enjoyed it. I found that I like volunteer work and working with children very much.

Me: What is keeping you here?
Mutasim: I have lots of friends at TYO. I like to stay involved here because we are serving a lot of children in good ways. We can offer them more than just playing in the streets; instead they can spend time having fun in different ways in which they learn how to deal with other children and adults nicely. Also, can I say, I come because I like to improve my English [laughs].

Me: What is your schedule at TYO?
Mutasim: I work from Sunday through Thursday, from about 11:00 am to 6:00 on Sunday and Monday, and 11:00 am to 5pm on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.
Me: Wow, busy schedule. That’s great!

Me: Do you have a big family/are you use to a lot of interaction with children?
Mutasim: There are nine siblings including me, and I am the 7th in line. I live at home with my parents, but all of my other brothers and sisters are all over West Bank studying or working. I also have two brothers living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, who I will visit, inshallah. I don’t have any very young siblings, but I do have nephews and nieces that I see sometimes. It’s a new idea for me to work with kids, but I enjoy it a lot because of their innocence.

Me: How do you envision your life being without having TYO around?
Mutasim: I would be wasting time. Here I feel I am doing something.

Me: What influence has TYO had on you personally?
Mutasim: Yeah, patience!

Me: How do you feel the work you have been doing here has affected the children you work with?
Mutasim: Sometimes I feel I can do a lot of things to help the children, but sometimes it’s frustrating to deal with naughtier children. This makes me want to stay even more because I want to continue practicing patience and helping children overcome their problems. I feel like I am doing something so good, and feel happy when the children like me and call me by my name, instead of Amo (Arabic for uncle meaning Mister) or something like that. They feel close to me.

Me: What is your favorite part of TYO?
Mutasim: Field days are good because it seems the work of TYO is expanding already through different parts of Nablus. And I also enjoy cleaning the parks because it makes me feel responsible. I feel I am doing something good for my country.

Me: What is your hope for TYO in the future?
Mutasim: I hope to see TYO extend to other cities like Ramallah, Jenin, and so on because I want to offer these great programs for children throughout Palestine. I also hope that they will continue adding other helpful programs for adults as well, inshallah.

Me: How long will you stay with TYO?
Mutasim: Until they become sick of me [laughs].

I hope that one day Mutasim’s hope for TYO’s extensive expansion becomes a reality, inshallah. It would be a privilege for us to have his continued support and involvement in TYO. I look forward to being witness to the mutual exchange of growth that one will provide to the other.

– Samin
Samin is a summer intern at TYO Nablus.

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.

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