Rambunctious Ramadan Mornings

Happy beads

Throughout the month of Ramadan, daytime fasting and nighttime feasting push business hours and bedtimes later here in Nablus.  Mornings are particularly quiet, as children and adults alike sleep in after staying up late to work off the post-Iftar sugar high. But on Monday, at 10 am sharp, TYO was once again ringing with the sound of kids’ laughter and running feet as the Core Child Program teachers and the Triple Exposure team began the Ramadan session for 22 kids from Khellet Al-Amood.

TYO Friends

This three week class is different from TYO’s normal 12-week interventions.  In large part, it is designed to keep the children active and growing during this quiet month.  Studies show that children without access to diverse enriching experiences during extended school vacations suffer significant losses in academic skills (National Summer Learning Association).  In order to preserve and deepen the growth that our youngest Core Child Program students have been engaged in at TYO, we’re bringing them back for an hour and a half, three days a week, for the next three weeks.

Coloring the sea

The first week of the session has focused on instilling a sense of self and other in the children.  On Monday, they drew pictures of themselves engaged in their favorite activities.  On Tuesday, after listening to Jawwad’s spirited rendition of a story about an old lady, her cat, and some contentious milk, the children drew pictures of the characters in the story.  On Wednesday, they discussed the many colors, animals, and plants that can be found in the sea.  Each child then designed his own oceanic backdrop for the tissue paper and googley-eyed fish that they will make next week.

The next two weeks of the class will be structured more generally around the concept of creative play.  Warm-up activities like “Simon Says” and games where they simulate the life cycle of a plant allow for simultaneous physical and cognitive learning.  Threading beads onto strings  helped develop the motor skills that the children will need when they will string all of their painted cardstock butterflies together to make a huge butterfly chain.  Thus, through stories, art projects, and athletic games, these kids from Khella will spend their Ramadan mornings flexing their creative muscles, and in doing so, learn volumes about themselves, each other, and the world around them.

Stringing beads

Introducing TYO’s First Fellows

TYO welcomes Clare and Karen to the Nablus Center.  They come to TYO as recipients of the Princeton University ReachOut 1956-81 International Fellowship, an alumni-funded grant awarded to a graduating senior (or pair of seniors) pursuing an international service project.  The ReachOut Fellowship enables graduates to leave a lasting impact on some of the world’s most marginalized communities.  Over the course of the coming year, Clare and Karen will work on many projects, including the design and implementation of community needs assessments, a social media strategy, fundraising campaigns, and local and international outreach strategies.  They will also teach classes to youth and mothers.  A brief introduction from each follows

Clare Herceg

About Clare:

A government-sponsored trip to Egypt during high school first drew me to the Middle East.  It was there that I heard Arab perspectives on the Arab-Israeli conflict for the first time.  I left Egypt with a desire to learn Arabic, so that I could better understand these opinions from people themselves, as opposed to relying solely on the American media.  At Princeton, I immersed myself in Near Eastern studies courses in politics and history, striving to better understand both sides of the conflict and the extent of the American involvement in it.  Regional study-abroad experiences in Amman and Cairo supplemented these studies.  I also explored my interest in education policy by taking classes on the achievement gap and race relations, while complementing these courses with teaching in a local prison.

TYO has given me an incredible opportunity to combine my interest in education with my desire to serve Palestinian refugees.  I am already impressed by the sheer volume of its programming and the emphasis placed on monitoring and improving its programs to ensure that it continues to effectively meet community needs.  I hope that this fellowship allows me to better understand the effects of the Occupation on Palestinians and to serve this community in a meaningful and lasting way.  When I look at the beaming faces of the children as they rush into the TYO Center, I know that for now, this is exactly where I want to be.


About Karen:

Karen Campion

A bit of hubris, combined with the conviction that current U.S.-Middle East relations were based on a set of serious misunderstandings, led me to Arabic 101 during my first semester of college. I quickly discovered how little I knew about the region, and I became more determined than ever to develop a nuanced understanding of its societies, politics, and people.  The following year, I helped coordinate a conference that brought Arab and U.S. college students together to discuss relations between the United States and the Arab world.  There, I learned that U.S. policies towards Israel and Palestinians were a very real source of anger and frustration in the Arab world.  Moreover, as I studied the conflict itself, I began to appreciate the devastating impact that conflict and occupation have had on  individuals and communities alike.

In the last three weeks, I have already witnessed the power of TYO, where friendships, field trips, and classroom activities allow individuals to learn about themselves and each other in profoundly new ways.  I am honored and excited by the chance to be a part of this joyful and transformative community in the coming year.

The Next Steps for Women Entrepreneurs in Lebanon

TYO celebrates the start of the second phase of the Women Entrepreneurs in Lebanon Project. Coming off a hugely successful 4-day Business Training at the BIAT facility in Tripoli, where we had such an amazing turnout, choosing our 20 women was no easy task! Each participant brought her own insights, ideas and creativity to the project, but alas, we did have to choose. In an effort to find the right women for the “job,” the project staff and steering committee assessed each participant of the first-round training according to a basic selection criteria that included ideas and potential for real business success in the local Lebanese markets; commitment to the project and its training schedule; and willingness to take risks.

We are so happy to announce the 20 women selected to continue into the next phase of the project, the one-on-one coaching/mentoring sessions where they will have the opportunity to further develop their ideas and get them that much closer to financing, implementation and success! The dedicated BIAT team will provide the following top 20 women with their sessions:

Sahar Abou Doleh, 48, Kfar Habou
Sahar produces honey and with the right materials, can greatly improve and increase existing honey production, so she would like to expand!

Salma Ajaj, 62, Miryata
Salma, a skilled seamstress, would like to be able to grow her capacity to serve her local need.

Halimeh Al Chaar, 40, Tikrit
Halimeh has a green thumb and a license in gardening so she is perfectly suited to embark on the business of opening a Green house.

Jaqeline Al Nachar, 46, Halba
Jaqeline would like to open a custom boutique specializing in wedding dresses.

Aziza Abd Al Rahim, 29, Nahr El Bared Palestinian Refugee Camp
Using her knowledge of farming cows, Aziza wants to have her own small-scale dairy!

Asma Al Amyouni, 57, Kfar Habou
Asma would like to create olive oil and preserved olives with a spin on tradition, including green herbs such as sage and rosemary, in the preservation process.

Houwayda Sharaf Al Dine, 38, Berkael
Houwayda’s tasty twist on traditional mouneh (preserved/pickled foods) will include the preservation of dry fruits with chocolate.

Rima Al Rachid, 41, Machta Hassan
Rima already has a successful marble company and would like to innovatively manufacture gravel from marble.

Nahla Bikaii, 47, Baddawi Palestinian Refugee Camp
Nahla has a successful local shop that she would like to expand to include café services to meet her customer need.

Layali Chaaban, 27, Baddawi Palestinian Refugee Camp
With just a few upgrades, Layali hopes to enhance her flower shop.

Tania Hamad, 20, Halba
Tania shows real business acumen with her idea to provide marketing services to local workers producing local goods, helping them to increase their sales.

Ahlam Hammoud, 39, Halba
Thinking outside the cardboard box, Ahlam decided to develop a recycling initiative in homes and local schools.

Soumaya Jokmak, 53, Kfar Habou
When life gives Soumaya lemons, she makes not only lemonade, but jams and local sweets! Her project focuses on using lemons for a variety of products.

Maysa’ Kassem, 30, Nahr El Bared Palestinian Refugee Camp
Maysa’ identified a gap in the entire Lebanese market and decided to start locally, with a much needed library!

Noura Khodor, 23, Al-Kouweichra
Noura creates handmade decorative candles of all shapes and sizes, for all occasions!

Rana Mouhammad, 29, Ayyat-Akkar
Rana would like to open a Beauty Center.

Samira Mansour, 55, Kfar Habou
Samira’s tried and tested technique for homemade olive oil and olive soap production is something she wants to take to the next level and expand her existing business.

Joumana Saiid, 30, Aydamoun-Halba|
Joumana identified a real-need for a Women-only Health Center in her community.

Lamia Sawan, 59, Kfar Habou
Lamia’s love for the arts inspired her to want to open an artisana shop in Lebanon to showcase locally made handmade crafts.

Najwa Zaydan, 39, Nahr El Bared Palestinian Refugee Camp
Bridal and Baby One-Stop Shop is Najwa’s idea for business success!

Check out the map below to see where our participants are from in Northern Lebanon!

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.

Triple Exposure mural complete at Khadijia School, Nablus

The TYO mural class have completed the seventeenth Triple Exposure mural in Nablus. Across three visits to the school, mural teacher Rimah and her volunteers worked with the team of twelve students, ages ten to twelve, to finish this large mural on the external wall of the school for all to see.

Highlighting the importance of creative play as a part of a holistic education, the book in the centre reads ‘My right to play’. The book symbolizes learning and communication, and the sunset landscape, the undeniable beauty of Palestine.

mural at Khadijia School

unexpected visitors

mural complete!

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 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.

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!