I Hope That You Will Come Back!

That phrase is what I heard most from people today. This was my last week of teaching at TYO and it was a happy, sad, emotional, amazing week with my kids and women. I will never forget them and our time together. It’s fair to say that they taught me more than I taught them. I’m finding it difficult to express in words what they’ve done for me, so check out the photos that tell our story below.

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– Megan is a summer program intern at TYO


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.

The Man Behind the Wheel

The view of Munir we see most often...

“Marhabaaaaa! Keifik?” Every time we climb into Munir’s spotlessly clean taxi we are welcomed by this cheery greeting as he, always the gentleman, holds the door open for us. “My favorite part of driving is talking to the interns,” he said. “Americans are always happy, and they always like to talk.” This may not be news to anyone who has experienced Americans abroad, but neither is Munir’s genuine interest in our lives surprising to me, as this open friendliness has become indicative of most of my interactions with Palestinians.

Munir has been driving interns all over Nablus (and the West Bank) for four years now, ever since TYO first opened in 2007. With each trip, he has taught us valuable lessons to use and build upon before our next journey with him. I learned quickly to listen carefully as, without fail, Munir always remembers to quiz you the next time you get into his car. “Hatha al-Diwar. Hatha hajiz. (This is the central circle. This is a checkpoint).” On my first grocery shopping trip, Munir decided to teach me the names of all the stores and the ever-necessary word “fatoora” or “receipt.” Inevitably, on our very next ride to the store, I had my first vocab test, which I passed only after every word of “badee narooh ile mahal fouwaka (I want to go to the fruit store)” was drilled into my head. Ever since, whenever I call him up, he makes sure to correct my pronunciation and verb agreement, my unofficial Arabic tutor checking up on me. This has produced great results, as my halting Egyptian Aameya has slowly morphed into a more confident Palestinian form of colloquial Arabic.

So if it’s our bi-weekly trips to Salfit to teach English (an hour round trip), a weekend trip down to Hebron, or a simple trip to the grocery store, Munir is there for the interns, ushering us through every leg of our discovery of Palestine. If one passenger even looks slightly concerned, whether we’re eyeing a passing army vehicle or we’re simply stuck in traffic, his immediate “Noooo problem!” always calms us down.

What lies ahead for our humble guide? “I will go wherever TYO goes. Anywhere they need me.” So, future TYO interns, you can look forward for years to come to many long and interesting rides with the ever-charming Munir. Yaslamu li kiteer rihlat momtaza, ya Munir!

Let’s Ask Ahmed!

My translator Ahmed has been an invaluable resource in my Arts and Crafts classes and sports days at TYO. He has also become a good friend and someone I truly respect. I couldn’t have asked for a better teammate at TYO! Below is an interview I did with Ahmed so that I could share more about him with the world beyond Nablus!

Me: Ahmad can you tell me about your studies at An Najah University?

Ahmed: Right now I am studying English literature. I love English and am interested in learning more. Right now I’m studying Shakespeare. We also study American lit and semantics etc. in my program. I will graduate next semester.

Me: Why did you want to study English?

Ahmed: I was going to be an engineer but didn’t have the grades for it. I also considered working in IT, but then I switched to English Literature.

Me: How long have you been fluent in English?

Ahmed: I was always speaking with foreigners who taught English at my schools as a child and then expanded on my knowledge in university.

Me: Why did you apply to be a translator for TYO?

Ahmed: I took a Western Civilization course and there was a quote I remember hearing in class that said “public service always leads to salvation” so I changed my course in life to do that. I really like working with children as well. For example when you tell the children there will be a swimming day you can even smell the happiness in the room!

Me: What do you like most about volunteering here?

Ahmed: Meeting new people from other countries and other Palestinians. I enjoy being exposed to new cultures and getting along with foreigners.

Me: Could you tell me about one of your favourite moments in Arts and Crafts class this session?

Ahmed: When the kids poured water on you (me) on water day. It was very funny!

Me: How do you feel about the summer program at TYO coming to a close?

Ahmed: I feel sad because I like it very much and the interns are leaving. I don’t want it to end.

Me: Would you like to continue working with TYO in the future?

Ahmed: If there are opportunities, I really like working here. After vacation, I’d like to return in the fall.

Me: What is your dream job?

Ahmed: Professor of English Literature.

Me: In Palestine?

Ahmed: Of course!

Me: What advice would you give to future translators and volunteers with TYO?

Ahmed: Be flexible with the children and be flexible with the teacher. Work on understanding things through context and not just the words. Pay attention to what’s going on between the teacher and students so that you can convey the student’s feelings to the teacher.

Me: Thank you Ahmed for taking the time to share a little bit about yourself and your experience here at TYO. It’s been a privilege to work with you and I hope that we have a chance to do it again someday in the future!

Ahmed: It’s my privilege to work with you.

– Megan is a TYO summer program intern

The End of an Era

Today, our beloved Intern Coordinator, Chelsey, is sadly leaving us for the world beyond Nablus. Chelsey, who has nurtured us from intern infancy over the last eight weeks, who has introduced us to the wonderful people of Nablus, who has gracefully handled our hundreds of daily questions, has helped guide seven different rounds of interns through their first experiences of life in the West Bank, all with a huge smile on her face.

For the interns, we will take away wonderful memories of Old City walks, long talks on the balcony, and bonding over our love for iced coffee, to name just a few. For the many staff members she has worked with over her three years here, she has been a trusted colleague and a friend.

Whether it’s seeing her snapping away behind a camera – barely containing her obvious love for the children – or hearing her infectious laugh echoing through the hallways, we will miss her presence around the center. Chelsey, we wish you luck on your next adventure!

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.

Launching Women Entrepreneurs in Lebanon

Lebanese women geared up for business last week, marking the start of the Women Entrepreneurs in Lebanon business training program. TYO, in partnership with the Rene Moawad Foundation welcomed 37 participants to the Business Incubation Association of Tripoli (BIAT) for tailored Business Plan training sessions July 4-7, 2011. The women, from all different parts of North Lebanon and a variety of religious and socio-economic backgrounds, joined together in a rousing welcome session and embarked on a 4-day training session aimed to assist them in developing their creative and innovative business ideas into formal business plans.

Project participants hard at work during the 4-day intensive training at the Business Incubation Association of Tripoli (BIAT)

The ladies spent their first day at the well-equipped BIAT facility in Tripoli, getting to know each other and learning about basic business principles to take their own ideas further. As the training carried on over the four days, under the guidance of the amazingly talented trainers, the women had the chance to not only learn about business, but also about themselves, as they also participated in activities aimed at encouraging their self esteem, self confidence, and communication skills.  We were lucky enough to have Andrea Smith, our Deputy Director, in town for the training and her presence was warmly felt as we wrapped up with a certificate ceremony that left the women feeling empowered and connected through their shared experience… and had us feeling awfully proud as we look forward to the next steps!

To view more photos from the training and graduation ceremony, visit the photo album on Facebook.

Project Partners (left to right): Fawaz Hamidi, BIAT Director; Andrea Smith, TYO Deputy Director; Josette Moawad, RMF Coordinator; and Nadine Okla, TYO Project Manager