Intern Journal: An Afternoon in Ramallah

Our first week of classes was not only chaos free but without a doubt enjoyable and full of energy. I can only speak for myself, but the kids in my photography class were attentive, and eager to get their hands on the cameras as soon as feasibly possible. They’re looking forward to running wild on next week’s class trip to the Old City.

Outside the classroom, the interns took Friday to visit Ramallah, a nearby city in the West Bank, approximately 14.63 km from Jerusalem – or Al Quds as it is known in Arabic. As a newbie to the Middle East, it was my first time out of Nablus, which provided a refreshing break from living and working exclusively in the same building all week – especially as last weekend was spent indoors brainstorming and organising for the week ahead. However from here on out, the weekends shall be a chance to explore this fascinating region or at the very least areas nearby.

The landscape is breathtaking. As our vehicle sped along the twists and turns, I got more of a sense of the hilly nature of the land. I had arrived under the cover of darkness from the airport two weeks back, but on this drive the sunlight bathed the horizon in gold, barely a cloud in the sky.

Friday is Islam’s holy day, and in the West Bank – along with much of the Middle East – most establishments are closed. People have the day off from work to pray, eat, and spend time with their families. This meant that we saw a version of Ramallah that was only representative of the quietest seventh of the week. A couple of cafes and shops were open here and there, but seeing the quiet sunlit streets lined with shut shops, reminded me of sleepy little French towns on Sundays.

After a quick visit to Yasser Arafat’s memorial we meandered into town and sampled the delicious local shawarma. Then, we walked and walked, the length and breadth of the town, eventually culminating in an ever-decreasing spiral to end up back where we started on Main Street.  It was a pleasure to see the beautiful architecture, a maze of weathered limestone houses, gardens and new half-finished constructions. A man walking his daughter back home in a stroller asked us if we were lost, telling us not much happens on Fridays. Another boy ran out from an al fresco family lunch to insist we all try some of their sfiha (small Levantine breads topped with minced meat and spices) then kindly inviting us to join their table. But not wanting to intrude and already touched by such open generosity from a stranger, we thanked him and were on our way.

As usual, the few people we encountered made us feel incredibly welcome. Ramallah is home to more ‘internationals’ than Nablus so no doubt people have more chance to practice their English there. Nevertheless, we were impressed with the level of English across the board in Ramallah. When someone can speak English in addition to their mother tongue, they immediately widen their potential for human interaction, increase their audience and gain access to a plethora of information on everything imaginable — if they can get online too. I feel that if someone has a story to tell, then maybe it should be heard.

Through our English classes here at TYO (both for children and the wider community) people can access and communicate with a world outside of the Middle East. Each new Arabic phrase we are taught and every step we take here as guests in Palestinian society is the flip side of the same inter-cultural dialogue, which we hope will benefit all of us. Once again I can only speak for myself, but every day I learn something new.

– Mathilda

Mathilda is an intern at TYO Nablus.

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Announcing “Suwarna,” a Triple Exposure photography exhibition!

Check out the latest post by Project Coordinator Doris on the Triple Exposure website:

We are pleased and proud to announce the date for the first Triple Exposure student photography exhibition! If you are in the area, please join us on October 29 at the Hashimiya School* in El Bireh, Ramallah.

“Suwarna” is an exhibition of photography taken by the participants in this project: Palestinian boys and girls, ages 10 to 16, who have used their cameras over the past year to capture their homes, neighborhoods, schools, friends, hobbies, and daily moments of beauty.

“Triple Exposure” is a TYO initiative that aims to develop identity, awareness, and vocational skills among children and adolescents through teaching photographic expression and the production of public art.

Updated on October 28 with new location.

Summertime for Triple Exposure!

Check out the new post by Project Coordinator Doris on the Triple Exposure website:

As the summer winds down, we are taking a break from class to observe Ramadan (and to set everything in motion for the fall!). June and July were busy months — whether hiding from the heat by making a trip to the local mall to take photos, staying in the shade while making a mosaic, or using their cameras to show me their homes and families, the kids of Triple Exposure spent their summer holidays producing beautiful work, which I am now proud to show you.

Take a few minutes, sip a cool drink, and enjoy photos of Triple Exposure students putting their designs on city walls, capturing their lives and their city with their cameras, and generally having a rocking good time.

“Triple Exposure” is a TYO initiative that aims to develop identity, awareness, and vocational skills among children and adolescents through teaching photographic expression and the production of public art.

Inter-sectoral approach to Early Childhood Development

I was glad to be in the US last week, in preparation for the Clinton Global Initiative, on the occasion of a panel on inter-sectoral approaches to early childhood development, coordinated by the Wolfensohn Center for Development at Brookings and Save the Children.

The Obama administration’s newly appointed focal points on early childhood education (Jacqueline Jones in the Department of Education, and Joan Lombardi in the Department of Health and Human Services) provided hopeful perspectives on the early developments of these new efforts to integrate the government’s policies and programs for young children. They also underlined a recurrent theme of the discussion: the need to develop a coherent and holistic message for advocacy of political and financial support for early childhood. We need to leverage the strong scientific evidence that has been gathered in the fields of health, education and economics about the potent value of early childhood interventions.

Lombardi pointed out that from her experience, early childhood initiatives were mainly missing public financing and coordination between health, education and other sectors that touch the lives of young children. The discussion suggested that at least in the US, with the important factor of high-level support from President Obama and Secretaries Duncan and Sebellius, efforts are being made to remedy these common challenges. While of course the newly appointed representatives’ work will focus on domestic issues for the time-being, Lombardi did mention the Office of Global Health in HHS, which she suggested could be a starting point for related initiatives that extend beyond US borders.

Jean-Louis Sarbib, formerly Vice President of the Human Development Network at the World Bank, and now a non-resident Senior Fellow at the Wolfensohn Center, reviewed what he saw as the highlights of Lombardi’s and Jones’s presentations. First, he emphasized the value of the high-level support in any effective early childhood policy, which they confirmed feeling from the President and both Secretaries. He felt particularly strongly about President Obama’s choice to invest in early learning as part of the recent stimulus, emphasizing this sector as investment in our future health and economic development, rather than consumption. Finally, Sarbib suggested that we need to talk about early childhood as the period from conception to 8 years, rather than starting at birth.

The first question from the audience highlighted the fact that the discussion had focused largely on domestic arena, perhaps reflecting the reality that these inter-sectoral efforts are new to the US, and have not yet extended to our international policies. Peter Laugharn, executive director of the Firelight Foundation, asked whether this priority on early childhood, and specifically an inter-sectoral approach, would be reflected in the US’s international development assistance. While there was no information provided about specific efforts being made to promote the issue within international policy, the panelists’ eager support for the issue inspires hope. Further, Lombardi mentioned several times her fondness for and commitment to international work, which is evidenced by her extensive and enduring in that realm before accepting this position with HHS.

In sum, the event provided a very satisfying first discussion on the topic. The enthusiastic participation of about 40 professionals from all sides of the early childhood field (health and education; domestic and international; funders and practitioners), as well as the panelists’ eloquent and action-focused interventions, lead me to believe that we will manage to raise the profile of early childhood as a valuable priority for international development aid.

Our experience through TYO in Nablus provides incontrovertible evidence that not only do early childhood programs have profound and lasting impact on children, but also that they provide access to entire families, and thereby communities. What better public diplomacy instrument could the State Department be looking for?
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To Tweet or not to Tweet? Tweeple we love (and you should too!)

Children at ComputersEarly childhood education initiatives and policies have gained impressive momentum over the last year. Scientific and educational researchers along with the Obama administration deserve much credit for imbuing the importance of early childhood experiences and education into mainstream media.  This blog has already published several posts to that effect including research on the importance of play, the need for early childhood education in the face of poverty and stress and the opportunity to merge early childhood education initiatives with new approaches to international development.

With such thrilling happenings taking place in DC and worldwide, TYO uses the Internet (most recently Twitter) to keep in touch and up-to-date. We listen and participate to learn more about ECE policies, valuable classroom lessons, encouraging stories and moving programs and activities around the world.  This constant exchange of information and ideas allows us to do our jobs better, to seek out positive resolutions to situations that stump us and to ask for feedback on how we are doing.  It is an exciting time for educators; it is an exciting time for parents; it is a critical time for children and students.  The global classroom is upon us and everyday through the help of our peers we are working our way not to the head of the class but to a seat at the Harkness table of learning.

Here are four Tweeple we have particularly enjoyed this summer:

@UrbanEducation This user tweets to educate advocates and educators devoted to urban youth and teaching in urban school districts. If you are interested in hip-hop and jazz suggestions for the Monday workday, ideas on how to ease students’ transitions from their neighborhood to the classroom environment, articles on teaching urban youth and the downright enthusiastic and inspirational voice of an educator who has been there and done that, follow this user! Urban Education can also be found at this blog.

@NAEYC The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) is the world’s largest organization working for the benefit of all young children.  NAEYC focuses particularly on ensuring quality education for all children from birth through age 8. NAEYC is incredibly conversational—tweeting daily questions to its followers, offering links with beneficial resources for early childhood professionals, and highlighting new and informative tweeple on the scene.  Find more resources on their blog.

@FSSimon The ultimate 2.0 advocate from the National Association of Child Resource & Referral Agencies (NACCRRA), Fran uses Twitter, Facebook and blogs on the Child Care Aware Parent Network blog to circulate resources, participate in conversations, and mobilize and empower parents and professionals around key educational issues. Reply to her and you will always get a response!

@TeachStrategies and @cateheroman Formally, Teaching Strategies offers curriculum assessment, professional development, and family connection resources to programs serving children from birth to age 6. On Twitter, @TeachStrategies offers all of the above and exceptionally comprehensive updates on early learning inroads from Oregon to Florida. Vice President of Curriculum and Assessment Cate Heroman’s tweets passion-infused tips on how to help your child or student become a successful learner.

Thank you all for your efforts!

-Chelsey

Intern Journal: Small Steps, Positive Change

After reading Chelsey’s blog entry yesterday, I wondered about my own effectiveness but was given an early morning example of the effectiveness of TYO’s unique approach to education.

As usual, I had a few early arrivals for my 10:30 a.m. sports class and I realized that my classroom equipment was not in proper order. Knowing the boys would be coming soon, I asked one of the early boys, ten-year-old Mo’min, and his eleven-year-old big brother to help organize the tangled jump ropes, hula hoops, balls and cones. I started the task with them and then I realized that I had forgotten to go over some logistical details with an administrator downstairs. Leaving them alone for only five minutes, I came back to find that they had continued with the work and had put all of the items in their respective places, tucking everything neatly into the corner.

It might be considered a small behavioral change, but it is something I never would have imagined two months ago when my rambunctious boys ran in to a neat room and grabbed any and every toy they could while screaming on the first day of classes. But, after developing a set of classroom rules with the students’ input and critiquing their behavior during supervised play, they have begun to realize the value of structure. They spend less time quarreling over minute details and more time enjoying their activities.

Even more important than that is the increased group cohesiveness. At the beginning of the summer, the boys often limited their interactions to their brothers and cousins, never really bothering to play with the other boys. Splitting up these small social units proved difficult and would often lead to complaints, but it is now a simpler process to divide the boys into groups and teams, an indication that they are less reliant on comfortable relationships, and more willing to accept others.

It is easy to become overwhelmed by the problems these boys face when they leave TYO and head to their homes. However, we have to accept that there are no miracles and that we have to hope that the changes we impress upon them will pervade their everyday lives in a positive manner. And this is something that I have seen, something that has proven effective.

-Adam

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Intern Journal: A space to play

This past Thursday I made a visit with my Palestinian TYO counterpart, Iman, to the sports club in al-Askar refugee camp. Because 12 to 14-year-old boys need significant room to play, and because the afternoon sun in July and August here in Nablus is oppressive, TYO decided to seek out a covered sports area for my soccer class. The indoor field at the al-Askar club resembles a warehouse – dim yellow light seeping through the tin roof panels, an eerie echo, and a tarmac surface. But given the suffocation of the neighborhoods in which most of the children reside, I imagined the space would overwhelm them with a sense of liberation.

The manager of the club, Hussein, insisted we drink tea with mint. Following patient greetings and some talk of weather, we toured the remainder of the facility. Like most everything in the camps, the structure has grown awkwardly and opportunistically over a 50-year period. It burrows down and juts out. It hugs the small stores that make their home in its bottom floor.

We descended into a cramped space in which paperback Arabic children’s books were stacked and stuffed haphazardly on cardboard boxes for lack of shelves. Through a metal door was a room so central to the building’s interior that natural light fought to penetrate its few slender breaches. A troop of young women, dressed in resplendent colors, danced in unison to traditional Palestinian dabka music. Each swing of a saber, each dip to the ground, each spin and each twirl, said the manager, has a special significance and corresponds to a lyric. I promised Hussein I would bring the rest of the TYO interns to see the girls perform.

On Monday afternoon, I returned to the center with 18 boys from our target areas. Hussein brought five boys from al-Askar camp, including his son. The boys were thrilled at the idea of soccer in mid-afternoon without being subject to the sun.Unsurprisingly, that time of day is generally reserved for napping and waiting in the shade. The soccer they know occurs for a few minutes at school or in the evenings when they climb over a wall to access a small paved court. Often these evening games are interrupted by aggressive and apathetic teenagers.

We formed four teams for a rotation. While half of the boys played on the field, the other half cheered from the elevated bleachers, eagerly hopping along the guard rail. The sound resonated above and filled the expanse with a thick roar. The dabka girls peeked bashfully through interior windows and then scurried away.

Space is a thing of privilege. For children who often see walls, but rarely see past them, a few hours of sustained release is a gift that TYO is delighted to provide.

-Adam Gardner