Hip Hop at TYO!

What better way to celebrate the last day of classes than with a performance by the hip-hop dance troupe Dar Al-Fonon from Nablus’s Old Askar Refugee Camp.  Participants in both the Core and Intern Program classes were treated to a multi-faceted show that began with sketch comedy and ended in full blown dance off between the members of Dar Al-Fonon and some of the Volunteer Program’s braver, or at least less self-conscious, participants!

As many TYO’s attendees come from the refugee camps of Nablus, it was doubly thrilling for students who recognized the dancers from their community.  It was furthermore exciting to see a particularly familiar face in the hip-hop project as one of the members is an all-star player for Lyon in the emerging Nablus Premier League.

Sure, our class party was cut a bit short, but with the way my Fifth Graders swung to the music, I can’t imagine a better way to sign off the Spring 2011 semester!

Walking in Balata Refugee Camp

We unexpectedly had the Islamic New Year off on Tuesday. My Drama class volunteers, Ayham and Yazid, also unexpectedly invited me to spend some time with them Tuesday afternoon. Both Yazid and Ayham are from the refugee camps of Nablus. Ayham is from Balata and Yazid is from Askar. They asked me if I wanted to spend the afternoon with them in Balata. I eagerly agreed since I only had entered the camp once before and saw little of my volunteers outside of class. Balata is the West Bank’s largest refugee camp and is also one of the most densely populated areas in the world with over 23,000 registered refugees living in 0.25 sq. km. It is also one of the areas that suffered the most during the Second Intifada with constant curfews and incursions by the Israeli army (IDF). This knowledge braced me for what I was to see and hear on my trip.

The taxi dropped me off in front of the entrance to Balata. Ayham and Yazid greeted me there with their friends who also wanted to meet me. The air was finally starting to chill in what has been a surprisingly warm prelude to winter, so we were quick to start moving. They began by walking me down the main street of the camp often referred to as the ‘Souk’ or the ‘Market.’ The street was not wider than a one-way street in New York City and it was filled with people. The barbershops, falafel restaurants, butcher shops and grocery stores had a constant flow of potential customers streaming before them in the late afternoon. We navigated our way through the crowd, occasionally greeting friends of Ayham, and made our way to what Ayham informed me was the center of the camp.

The experience of walking through the center of the camp was a profoundly weird one. The idea of a camp does not adequately represent what I was witnessing. A more accurate word to describe the physicality of what I saw would be slum. There was a sense of awkward and inhibited permanence about the infrastructure. The architecture itself illuminates the history of the camp. The land the camp was built on is actually rented on a 99-year lease from Palestinian farmers negotiated by UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). It started as a tent city and eventually evolved into concrete housing on the same plots each family had for their tents.

From that point, they wanted me to see the alleyways that split off from the main street. There was originally one street that the tents lined up against. As the population grew the camp expanded away from this main street. What this led to was a serious of maze like alleyways that now lead to houses. The alleyways are so narrow at points that one has to walk sideways through them. Windows on these alleyways have views of the concrete wall of neighboring houses only two or three feet away. Despite the fact that it was still daylight outside these alleys were remarkably dark. This was not a walk for the claustrophobic.

The walls were often lined with bullet holes. The limited sanitation system meant that waste filled some of the streets, and a stench occupied the air. This was especially true when we arrived at the small park that doubled as a garbage dump, where I was told the children play soccer because there is no space elsewhere in the camp.

We finally arrived at Ayham’s house and ate a wonderful meal of kafta. Afterwards we enjoyed some shisha and tea, while having discussions about a variety of topics, from politics, to life in America, to our studies, to life in Balata. With the exception of only one of Ayham’s friends, who was an Arabic Literature Major, everyone studied English literature so I was able to communicate with them in English.

Typical of Palestinian households, Ayham made sure I was more than adequately full and caffeinated before I was allowed to leave his home.  I also had an impromptu Debka lesson at the very end, when I expressed my desire to learn. The warmth of the hospitality lingered as I stepped out into the chilly night. We continued walking through the camp some more and came back to the Souk. I was told this area of the camp experienced particular hardship during the intifada and suffered the most damage. Now the street was even more crowded than the afternoon. Old men walked in their patient pace, while children scurried around them under the store lights.

As we neared the end of the street we came across a funeral procession going in the opposite direction. A coffin surrounded by men who took turns holding death above their shoulders, floated along with their hurried march. We stepped to the side and respected the riveting silence. There was no apparent sadness in the eyes of most of these men. Only a clear sense of duty and direction, emanated from them. I was not left empty after witnessing the sight. Instead I was comforted. Life goes on in Balata camp. Its people live with a collective and resilient strength while bearing its hardships. I left with a renewed sense of duty in my own work with the children of the camps. I also left with the comfort of knowing that the friendships I have made here will last longer than this winter.

– Samee

Samee is an intern at TYO Nablus.


Hip-Hop and Breakdance Performance at TYO Center

Havikoro and Identity gave an electric and interactive performance for almost 200 community members at the TYO Center in the Zafer al-Masri Foundation Building in Nablus today. Young Nablus residents were engaged from start to finish, clapping, dancing and at times singing along with the performers.

Earlier in the day, Havikoro, a Houston-based hiphop and breakdance group, held a workshop for Identity, a group of young dancers and rappers from Askar refugee camp in Nablus. Together, the performers worked to improve their craft and talked about the importance of art in building bridge and transcending national boundaries.

Havikoro, based in Houston, Texas, is touring the West Bank and Jerusalem with the support of a Performing Arts Initiative grant from the US Department of State and the US Consulate General in Jerusalem. See their moves here, and keep your eyes on this page for video of the Nablus performance in the coming days. The group brings a positive message to young people around the world through breakdance other forms of hiphop.  They have shared the stage with artists and associations such as Destiny’s Child, Coolio, Black Eyed Peas, and P.O.D.

The universality of music – and hiphop culture specifically – were evident from the first glimpse of their workshop this morning, when it was impossible to separate one group from the other. Many attendees were overheard wondering who was who throughout the performance! Participants also bonded across their language barrier about the need for an Energy Drink after lunch, and enjoyed a Red Bull together before putting finishing touches on the performance. This immediate bond demonstrates the power of public diplomacy, particularly engaging youth, as described by Undersecretary Judith McHale – check out our post about her comments on the subject here. Earlier this month, Ann Stock – Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs – confirmed the Public Diplomacy’s section’s commitment to such cultural exchanges, citing them as “essential for achieving America’s foreign policy objectives and for strengthening America’s international leadership.”

TYO is grateful to our friends American Voices and the Cultural Section of the US Consulate for facilitating this energizing cultural exchange – we look forward to further cooperation!

Inbal from Askar featured in Hopeful Voices

TYO is thrilled to be part of a great new initiative: Hopeful Voices, a brand new teaching aide featuring stories about 10 children from around the world, from Haiti to India to the US to right here in Nablus! The publication is a project of My Class Cares, an American 501c3 tax-exempt organization that works “to inspire youth to care deeply for the well-being of people throughout the world”. The stories have been compiled as a teaching guide: each one provides a window into the people, culture, challenges and opportunities of one country. My Class Cares staff have done a wonderful job of enriching each story with background information on the country, as well as reflection questions and research prompts.

Through TYO’s involvement in the project, Inbal, a 10-year-old girl from Askar camp in Nablus, was chosen to share her Hopeful Voice with the world! Download the publication (totally free, just requires an email address), and reach her story! In the meantime, here are some highlights from Inbal’s story:

My name is lnbal. I am in fourth grade. I live in Askar refugee camp. We live in a very narrow alley. My grandparents live in the house next to us. In you go up on the steps on one side is my uncle’s house and on the other another uncle. If you go up more steps there is my grandfather’s room and if you go up on the top there are two sheep. On the other side is mint, sage, water tanks and the satellite dish.

Inside our house, there is a room for visitors. There are shelves and glasses and books. Then we enter our bedroom and there is a closet. There are four beds in this room for me, Nibal, Manar, and my mother. From this room there is a balcony and my mom uses it to dry the clothes. On the other side there is a kitchen and a bathroom. We have a very small kitchen and we cannot eat in it. We eat in the bedroom. We have a very small bathroom.  There is a boiler for heating the water, sink and a toilet.

My favorite day was when I enrolled in TYO.  I feel that everyone loves me here and that I respect everyone and they respect me back… I like it when my teachers ask us to share something about our lives in the classroom. I learned how to use the computer and how to draw. I learned that stealing something from others is not appropriate.  The person who loses something will feel sad, frustrated and angry. TYO is encouraging me to be stronger.

We hope you will enjoy these Hopeful Voices from around the world, and support the wonderful work of My Classroom Cares in the US and around the world. If you have children, or work with children, share the publication with them. We’d be happy to pass your messages on to Inbal!

Bookmark and Share

Last Day Celebration!

Mother and Daughter Look at Art

On Wednesday, 12 August 2009 Tomorrow’s Youth Organization celebrated United Nations’ International Youth Day on the last day of our eight-week summer session. Over 500 community members came to the TYO Center in Nablus to view their children’s artwork and enjoy a series of performances and exhibitions, including dabka and athletic performances, an experiment by TYO’s “Mad Scientists” and a performance by a group of clowns from Askar refugee camp.  The Center was filled not only with the exuberant colors of childhood art but also the laughter and shouts of children and families enjoying their time together.

A special thanks to the TYO volunteers who put forth an extraordinary effort in preparing and carring out the event. Congrats to the volunteers on their 100% participation in this event.

Please check out our flickr account for more pictures of this event. Video footage will also be posted on our youtube channel in the coming days.

Mothers receive seeds to plantHousesClownBoy Laughing