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.


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

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

Triple Exposure murals complete in Askar boys’ school

Triple Exposure mural teacher Rimah and her volunteers went to visit the boys’ school in Askar UNRWA refugee camp, Nablus. Over two visits she worked with fifteen boys, ages 10-11 on two murals in the hallways of the school. Whilst representing the themes of nature and school, these murals have a more kaleidoscopic feel to them, with unexpected colours inside the branches and leaves of the tree, really bringing an extra splash of colour to the walls of Askar.

Like many schools in the West Bank, the school doesn’t have an art teacher or art department, and these were the first murals ever in the school. Even the teachers were interested in how the different colours were mixed and applied. The director of the school liked the mural so much he has asked Rimah to come back and do one more any time.

After they had finished the murals, the boys wanted to go home and show their parents they had been working with paint, and thoroughly enjoyed drawing moustaches on each other. The boys showed so much talent and dedication, seeing the project through to completion with admirable focus. If they had an art teacher or more opportunities to practice, the kids could really work on their art skills and creative thinking, on top of making these vibrant and lasting contributions to their community.

To date, Triple Exposure has complete fifteen murals around Nablus. For more details, please see the Triple Exposure blog.

Painting complete in Nablus Basic School

The Triple Exposure mural class were busy painting during June and have brightened up a hallway in UNRWA Nablus Basic School. The students worked together in class to come up with ideas of how to protect the environment, and images that they could create to represent these. They personified the environment as the sun and the water droplet, and showed that if we leave taps running we are wasting a precious resource, and if we pollute the skies we ultimately damage ourselves. The earth represents the one planet we all share.

After painting their designs onto hardwood, the art work was then installed in the school. On Thursday, mural teacher Rimah took the students to view their painting, and both the students and the school were delighted with the finished piece.

The mural class and their painting

New Triple Exposure workshop – Notes from Nablus – Balata

Portraits of kids, by kids: presenting the faces and voices of Nabulsi youth to the world.

Aya - we are all one family

The best way to let the children of Nablus try out digital photography is to take the cameras to them. So June saw the start of our new Triple Exposure workshop – Notes from Nablus. Our first location was Balata UNRWA refugee camp.

After some Q&A on portraits and basic tips on composition we went over how to use the DSLR cameras – as it was the first time for the nine to eleven year olds, we kept it simple by talking about how to use the viewfinder, zoom, flash and how to hold the camera. Everyone made colourful name cards and took each others’ portraits to practice taking shots.

On day two we started by discussing what Nablus means to us. The children talked about what they love about Nablus, and what they would change if they could. They then brainstormed in groups and presented what they’re most proud of about their city/country, and how they would improve it if they were in charge. The levels of political and historical consciousness were impressive despite the young age of the participants.

Finally, we asked the children to each choose a short message to send out to the world from Balata/Nablus/Palestine. After writing the messages on each others’ hands, they took each others’ portraits once again and came up with this series of wonderful portraits which give voice to the children of Balata.

Please see the Notes from Nablus gallery for more photos.

Intern Journal: The Happy Moments in Between

Living and working in Nablus is filled with its daily challenges and sometimes even a little bit of contained chaos. During Sunday’s meeting, all of the interns were able to reflect on the little moments that gave us joy in the past week. These are the moments that sustain and drive us to do our best.

For me, there were several moments to choose from this week that were both hilarious and enlightening. On Tuesday, my students learned about and made paper fans using popsicle sticks, tape, construction paper, and watercolors. Half and hour into the class, I noticed something odd sitting on one of the tables. It was small, round and yellow…a water balloon? I looked down to see Eiz, probably the tinniest students in my class, meticulously painting with the concentration of Picasso. I came to find out that Eiz had smuggled his water balloon into class and had kept it under his shirt for most of our activity. While it’s unclear what his intentions were, I’m pretty sure they were somewhat innocent. Still, he didn’t get his precious contraband back until after the day was over.

More of these joyous moments happened during class presentations. Prior to having class presentations, I assumed that only a small number of students would volunteer to present their work. Even in an American classroom, 8-10 year old students can be incredibly shy and reserved. And when you add the highly traumatic nature of growing up as a refugee, I was pleasantly surprised that nearly half of my students’ hands shot up when I asked them to come to the front of the classroom. One of my favorite presentations was made by Ibrahim who presented his painting in Arabic and then again in English, just to practice.

Another one of my favorite presentations was made by Ayman, who told the class that his fan was a picture of boys and girls playing nicely together. Considering the fact that, on a good day, I have to fight to get my male and female students to sit at the same table, this felt like a small victory for gender parity.

Finally, there’s Leen, a girl with confidence and wisdom to spare. The oldest child in her family, I found her several times this week helping her fellow students to sound out new words,encouraging shy students to present their work in front of the class, and gently explaining steps in our art projects with the patience and maturity.

The week’s happy moments culminated in Thursday’s sports day. Whether it was the incessant cheering each time the ball was hit during our volleyball game or our insane game of “Snakes in Grass”, I absorbed enough joy for all of the interns combined.

– Cate

Cate is a summer intern at TYO Nablus.