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.


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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

Tala is a summer intern at TYO Nablus. 

Intern Journal: This Class is Our Class

My volunteers are my extra set of eyes, ears and hands. They step in when I need materials passed out and when I need help rearranging my classroom for a new activity. They step in when a child needs a hole punched for a mask and when they need a string tied for a kite. Most importantly, they step in when a student has a problem that I can’t immediately address. After all, I am just one person with anywhere from 10-18 students. And without my volunteers, I couldn’t teach my classes.

This past Monday, right after Field Day in Balata and Community English class, my volunteers, translator and I met in my classroom to discuss our Arts & Crafts class. Throughout the session I have continuously stressed that this class is ours and I always welcome and encourage suggestions. But on Monday, I wanted to remind them just how important they really are to this class.

For the next 45 minutes we discussed what we’ve learned about our class and our kids thus far. What works in class and what doesn’t, what needs to stay and what should we change, but also how to improve. The amount of feedback I got from them was amazing. Together we agreed, using the hand clapping technique we tried to implement at the start of the session, doesn’t get the children’s attention like we had hoped. But making simple yet functional projects is a great way to keep the kids engaged. I appreciated the craft project suggestions from them too. Everything from flowers made of plastic bags, to face paint, to a mural! I have already implemented an idea: adding background music to class while they work on their project. The kids really enjoyed it too!

I want my volunteers to be on board for every craft project or silly game I attempt with my kids. I want them to be as enthusiastic about lessons as I am. And so that things runs smoothly, it is so important that they are included in the decision-making process and can take some ownership of the class. I know that my volunteers walked away from the meeting on Monday feeling much better about the remainder of the session. Weekly, I will keep reminding them that  this class is our class.

– Tala

Tala is a summer intern at TYO Nablus.

SOW Team: A Day in the Life of a TYO Volunteer

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I woke up feeling a little nervous, like the first day of school when you don’t know anyone yet. I walked down to the main floor of the Nablus Center to see many kids sitting along four tables, wide-eyed and restless. Who do I talk to when I can’t say more than ten words? I walk up to a small boy in an orange Holland jersey fumbling with his backpack, “Marhaba, Shooo issmek?” I say, still unsure if I’m pronouncing it correctly. He stares at me with a worried look and I back away embarrassed. Ala, a Core Child teacher at TYO who teaches IT skills, and my only friend who speaks English, points me in the direction of one of the classrooms. I can’t tell who’s more nervous at this point, the kids or myself.

I feel like the new kid again. I shyly introduce myself and take the open seat next to the kid in the Holland jersey. The teacher continues talking in Arabic as a few kids continue to stare in my direction. When your ability to communicate is taken away, you have to rely solely on universal gestures. The fellow volunteers start to hand out blank paper. Are those really butterflies in my stomach? I feel as if I am five again and have to hold the urge to grab the crayons first. It’s only been five minutes and I’m already uncontrollably smiling.

It’s no wonder TYO has so many volunteers. They have over 100 for the summer session, mainly from An Najah University, and overwhelmingly female. They actually started out with only 12 volunteers, all males, but with the increase in numbers each year, more and more women started to participate. After snack time, we prepare for our morning field trip to the Nablus Fire Department. I don’t remember the last time I visited a fire station, probably when I was about this age. After settling who travels on what bus (the kids must be separated by where they’re coming from, Askar, Balata, Khallet al Amood) we make our way down to the Nablus Fire Department.

It would seem that fire stations are impressive everywhere. The firemen greeted us in their typical outfits. There were then some demonstrations. Even though I couldn’t understand, Ala was quick to translate whenever there was a funny moment, such as when one kid, when prompted by the firemen if he had any questions, asked about a monster that attacked his foot last night. I enjoyed the children’s Q&A very much, but I had a question of my own so I conversed with one of the volunteers at the fire station. He told me that it was a long process to become a firemen and that he has volunteered for about seven years!

It seems as if volunteering is a natural option for those at the University because they are able to get professional skills they wouldn’t otherwise have access. Similar to the United States, where internships are the norm before getting a real job, volunteering has become increasingly common in the West Bank. Professor Jawad Fatayer, of An Najah University, stresses that this desire is more than just professional. It is also personal. Volunteers feel a sense of community through their work, that they are making an impact. That is probably why so many of the volunteers stay. Most of the volunteers we interviewed had been with TYO since the beginning. It is great to see how comfortable they are with the kids.

After waiting for a bit, our bus arrives. I thank the firemen for their time and prepare for a relaxing and reflective ride back. I am starting to feel less like the new kid and more like a new friend. When we get back, Alaa, Haitham, and Jawad, the Core Child teachers, even invite me to sit with them for lunch. I am touched. I have been used to the familiar territory of the sixth floor; however, it is nice to be around the volunteers whose faces I frequently see, but I’ve never had the opportunity of working side-by-side with. They tell me that all of the volunteers stay throughout the day despite having a break between the morning and afternoon programming. I notice them hanging out in front of the center, or talking in the computer class.

It is a warm feeling coming back to TYO and I understand a little bit better what it means to be a volunteer. It is not just a role, but a mindset. You can tell that it must not always be so easy to work with the kids but the volunteers genuinely enjoy their work. They continue to come and be a part of TYO and the bond is obvious. I become slightly jealous that I don’t have a place like this back home, and a little guilty that I maybe haven’t searched for it as much as these students have. I walk upstairs feeling that sense of accomplishment and fulfillment that Dr. Jawad described. For a little while, it is easy to feel hope and love, to feel an impact, to feel a connection.

– Sarah

Sarah is the journalist for the SOW National Team.

Just Add Water

At the end of June, the staff, interns, volunteers, and kids of TYO held what we’ve lovingly referred to as “Water Day.” The kids played about thirty minutes of soccer before volunteers began to emerge from the shadows of the Center, carrying mysterious baskets, bags, and buckets overflowing with the water balloons we’d spent hours preparing. I could practically hear the “Rocky” theme song as I watched, preparing for an epic afternoon. Nothing breaths life into a childhood memory quite like a water balloon or two.

Intern Cate and I got our kids settled in a large circle for a game of “Drip, Drip, Drop” – like Duck, Duck, Goose only instead of yelling “Goose!” the kid dumps a full cup of water on his/her target’s head (also, we decided to throw water balloons in lieu of tagging.) Cate and I jovially agreed to play, and mere moments after settling onto the concrete I had a water cascading down my forehead as I sputtered a laugh and tried to maintain control of my cotton-candy pink balloon.

The kids had a blast, and we learned a few interesting tidbits as well. Little Izz, for example, is only slightly slower than the speed of sound. The kids, who we worried might stick with their friends, turned out to be equal-opportunity soakers. Kids soaked teachers, teachers soaked volunteers, water balloons both missed and connected with their targets as everybody tried to figure out the best way to launch a balloon with a mixture of velocity and precision.

It was a ton of fun. Toward the end of the day, as we started to settle the kids and get them ready for the bus, I leaned down to pick up a small balloon that hadn’t popped. Before I could get back up, a tidal wave connected, Rose Bowl style, with the back of my neck. I turned to see our adorable Lin frozen in place with a now-empty bucket, grinning. As I stared at her in mock shock and teasing anger, I was hit with that profound realization that you’re in the middle of a memory that will last for years beyond its expiration.

So although I was still picking water balloon pieces out of my hair hours later, Water Day was a hit. My favorite moments here at TYO are those that transcend age and culture – the moments that emphasize our commonalities rather than our differences. And everyone, as it turns out, enjoys a good water balloon fight.

-Amy

Amy is a summer intern at TYO Nablus.

Celebrating 4th of July in Salfit

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On the morning of Tuesday, July 5th, the high-pitched voices of 50 third graders could be heard humming “This land is your land, this land is my land, from California, to the New York Islands…” Had Boy Scouts invaded the TYO Center? Had a Midwest homeroom class been transported to the TYO Center? Neither! A Palestinian classroom had magically transformed into a celebration, all with the help of some games, a little paint, and delicious burgers. Many smiles ensued.

Normally, on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, the interns pile into Munir’s car for the windy trek over to Salfit, a nearby Palestinian village, for some extracurricular English classes at their local American Corners library. American Corners is a worldwide program run through the U.S. State Department. In Palestine, its sites aim to share American history and culture while also encouraging intercultural dialogue through literacy. So in that spirit, we celebrated the 4th of July with our Salfit students. Armed with flag coloring sheets, patriotic paint colors, and Independence-themed Bingo, we led various lessons on the most important values we share with our Palestinian brethren. Concepts like “family,” “nation,”  and “pride” are ideas that translate well in any language, and our students were excited to share with us their own holidays, traditions, and pride in their country. Through this special celebration, TYO hopefully imparted some of the best values we all honor on Independence Day. And, of course, what would the 4th of July be without hot dogs, hamburgers and ice cream?

Happy (belated) Independence Day from all of us at TYO!

– Alex

Alex is a summer intern at TYO Nablus.

SOW National Team: Trip Compendium

From the Students of the World blog:

It has been almost four weeks, and it still feels like yesterday we were anticipating what this experience would be like. As Jackie’s fortune cookie foretold the night before our departure; “Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter.” The days have fused into a collection of memories and revelations, each of us taking different detours on the road we’ve traveled together. Sometimes leading us to different surprises, highlights, and stories to share. Here is a concise exploration of our thoughts looking back on our experience, bittersweet nostalgia on the day we leave.  -Andrea

Over the course of the next week, TYO will post to this blog many of the SOW National Team’s reflections. It was an absolute pleasure hosting them in Nablus the last four weeks. We will miss dearly their passion, energy and commitment to their work. Thank you for sharing your talents with us.