SOW Journal: TYO Rocks!

Check out Student of the World Ilona’s blog entry about TYO that can also be found at http://www.seechangenow.org/2009/nablus/day_15_tyo_rocks.

Annie and I decide to walk up the never-ending flight of stairs that surround Khallet Al Mood, the neighborhood where TYO is located. We take the stairs closest to the compound. They seem to go for ever…1,2,3…90,91,92…200…To think that men and women climb these stairs daily. There are houses on either side. Well, I guess I would call them grey structures, tall, haunting, unfinished, and barren. It is mid-afternoon. It is hot. No one is out. The stairs are deserted. We finally make it to the top where the stairs abruptly end and a vast forest takes over. From up here everything looks tiny. I hear an ambulance. I see small groups of kids scattered, playing in the street. Each time a car speeds past I freeze, afraid that this time a kid might actually get hit. I look around. I am besieged by trash. At one moment I even jump thinking the plastic bag ruffling in the wind is a person materializing from the forest. A cloud rolls by overhead. Everything turns dark. From gray, everything goes black. The trash’s smell is overwhelming. A man is chanting inside his home. For a moment I feel scared. The cloud passes. I look down at TYO. While everything else seems small, distant, and fragile, TYO appears big and secure. It stands tall, white, and beautiful amidst the grey backdrop. The sound of children playing drifts upward with the wind. We slowly make our way back down to TYO. Immediately upon entering the TYO compound we bump into a class playing tag. They are giggling. They make goofy faces at each other. We walk inside the building. Dorris approaches me. “We are playing with the parachute again, do you want to join?” Yes! From a small blue bag emerges a massive multicolor sheet. Forty kids start running towards it. The main hall is suddenly transformed into a colorful mess. We each grab a side of the parachute. We are designated a number. I am number thirty-three. On 1,2,3…we all lift the parachute, holding it high above our heads. Hassan, a volunteer, yells two and seventeen. Kids from opposite ends of the parachute run at one another. There is something beautiful about the chaos. I feel like a kid again. I want my number to be called. I too get excited each time we lift the parachute. The walls, the floor, the ceiling all melt into blue, yellow, red, green…Everyone is laughing. Everyone is having fun. Everyone is being silly. Even if we ignored the great classes offered here, the mere ability to play gives these children something so crucial to their mental and physical well-being…It gives them back their childhood. Playing with color helps these children imagine a world outside the confines of their respective refugee camps.

SOW Journal: Reflection on the First Day

The first day at Tomorrow’s Youth Organization (TYO) was a great success. The Summer 2009 Session marks the beginning of a Holistic Integrated Approach to early childhood education within TYO’s program for early childhood development. Since the end of April, the Core Program teachers have worked with educators and trainers from MaDad to develop a program that encourages children to create their own environments, curriculum and goals. This child centered approach pushes the child to tell his own story at an age when he may not have an outlet for his voice. The program provides an opportunity for children to become protagonists in their own biographies, education and future. Additionally, the new approach in theory and practice here at TYO integrates families in conversations with the children to better understand, narrate, and expand their personal biographies and opportunities.

Children at TYO educate themselves about subjects they choose and tell their own stories—a form of self-guided therapy. In a setting where psychosocial problems are the norm, their energy and resiliency is outstandingly evident.

On the first day, the Core Program teachers and students focused on actively appreciating their new space.  In order to teach the students about respecting themselves and their environment, the teachers began their classes with a cleaning activity allowing the children to take part in preparing the class for the day’s first activity.  Likewise, at the end of the day the children cleaned their space as well.  This practice of respect and responsibility for one’s environment instills in the children a sense of the classroom rules without lecturing or disciplining—it becomes second nature. I observed Ahmad’s class as he, his volunteers and the participants cleaned, decorated and learned about the space they will use for the rest of the summer.

With in the influx of several American interns, TYO is able to offer lessons in photography, creative writing and creative visual arts to children and youth.  The participants in these classes learn therapeutic skills that will allow them to tell their stories long after their instructors leave. Indeed, these skills are instrumental to TYO’s sustainable long-term goals of bringing their approach into the home.

The children warmed up to the staff and interns quickly. They began journaling their experiences in Kelsey’s Summer Camp. In Doris’ “Nabulsi Explorers” class, students had the opportunity to tell their own stories by learning basics in photography and how to critique each others’ work. Shahla’s “Mad Scientist” class allowed students to draw subjects they wished to learn about in class. When a few students commented that they had never drawn before. All I could think was: What kind of future can a child who has never drawn before imagine? This is the true importance of TYO’s work providing children with the skills to represent themselves through documentation, visual and narrative arts.

-Danny

Danny is a member of the New York University chapter of Students of the World, a volunteer film crew, spending one month with TYO in Nablus documenting the first weeks of the TYO summer program.