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.

Welcome Summer 2011 Interns!

I am happy to introduce our Summer 2011 Interns! These recent graduates and young professionals bring an array of experiences to our team, and they will help TYO reach thousands of community members this summer.

Amy – Amy is graduating absentee in June from the University of Chicago with a master’s degree in Humanities. Her focus is creative writing and she hopes to teach community college upon her return to the United States. Prior to her postgraduate study, Amy worked as a Program Coordinator, organizing and leading talks and activities in Los Angeles schools, for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Amy will teach a creative thinking class as part of TYO’s Summer Camp, fitness for women, a soccer clinic for young kids and an evening English class for community members.

Tala – Tala has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Delaware in International Relations. She spent this spring as an intern at TYO headquarters in McLean, VA. Tala is no stranger to the Middle East and has traveled extensively throughout the region. She will teach an arts and crafts class as part of TYO’s Summer Camp, a nutrition class for women, a soccer clinic for young kids and an evening English class for community members.

Alex – Alex is finishing a master’s degree from King’s College (UK) in Middle East Studies and holds a bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University in Eastern Mediterranean Studies. Alex spent fall semester of her junior year at The American University in Cairo, during which time she taught English to the refugee population there. Alex will teach a creative thinking class as part of TYO’s Summer Camp, fitness for women, a soccer clinic for young kids and an evening English class for community members.

Cate – Cate has a bachelor’s degree from Duke University in Public Policy and Global Health. During her undergraduate years, Cate spent time working abroad mostly with communities in east and southern Africa.  This spring, Cate worked at a refugee resettlement and social services center in Boston. She is very excited to be in the Middle East for the first time. Cate will teach an arts and crafts class as part of TYO’s Summer Camp, a fitness class for women and English classes for TYO staff members.

Mark – Mark has a bachelor’s degree from George Washington University in International Affairs and Journalism. Last summer and fall, he studied Arabic in Lebanon and Syria respectively. In Syria, Mark taught English to Palestinian refugees. He is extremely excited to be back in the West Bank. Mark will teach basic photography as part of TYO’s Summer Camp, coach a soccer clinic for young kids and teenage boys, teach English classes for TYO staff members and assist with organizational social media efforts.

Megan – Megan holds a postgraduate certificate in International Project Management and a bachelor’s degree from The University of Guelph (Canada) in Sociology. In Canada, she worked as a Project Leader for Katimavik, a youth volunteer program. From August 2010 to April 2011, Megan worked at a progressive school in Bangkok, Thailand for kids ages five to eighteen. Megan will teach an arts and crafts class as part of TYO’s Summer Camp, a nutrition class for women and an evening English class for community members.

Samin – Samin has a master’s degree from the School of Oriental and African Studies (UK) in Middle Eastern Politics and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland in Middle Eastern History. This spring, Samin interned at The Public Leadership Education Network and taught part-time at a local middle school. Samin will teach an English class as part of TYO’s Summer Camp, fitness for women, a soccer clinic for young kids and an evening English class for community members.

It is my pleasure to welcome this group to Nablus, and I look forward to all that they will contribute to our team!

– Chelsey

Chelsey is the International Internship Coordinator.

Intern Journal: Ana Adam!

Yesterday marked the beginning of our formal Arabic lessons here in Nablus with Dr. Fawaz, a professor at the nearby An-Najah University.

Dr. Fawaz has graciously invited us to his beautiful home for our first few lessons.  Seated in his comfortable living room, Mathilda, Colin and I introduced ourselves in English before we began.

Wasting little time, Dr. Fawaz jumped right into the lesson, pointing to himself and declaring, “Ana Fawaz.”  With encouraging eyes, we were each ushered into repeating the phrase, replacing “Dr. Fawaz” with our own names.

After ensuring that we had mastered, or at least come close to, the correct pronunciation for introducing ourselves, Dr. Fawaz moved onto introducing others.  With careful movement of his eyes and hands, he was able to convey to us how to say, “He is ___”, “She is ___”, “You are ___,” and “We are ___.”

Again, all of these phrases we were encouraged to repeat ad nauseam.  The once unfamiliar sounds quickly taking the form of a novel nursery rhyme.

From introductions, we moved on to identifying objects in the room: table, window, door, book, pen, chair, paper and tea.  Once Dr. Fawaz had presented these words, he turned the floor over to us students, encouraging us to engage each other in elementary conversation.

Half an hour into the lesson we had each acquired the ability to string together a half dozen complete sentences, and remarkably, Dr. Fawaz had used less English than I normally hear in my fifth grade English class!

For the remaining time, Dr. Fawaz offered to us the word “wa” or “and” in Arabic.  With this simple conjunction, our ability to construct complex sentences instantly emerged as we could link two distinct thoughts together.

Sure, our grammar may not be perfect.  Or, to be honest, it’s essentially non-existent at this point.  But, as Dr. Fawaz continued to stress, grammar is secondary to language.  To learn to speak, one must first master the words, the sounds, the language itself.  Only once this has been acquired can we then turn our attention to the correct structure of sentences and paragraphs.  Focusing on grammar first would be like trying to build a house with all mortar and no bricks.  It’s just not going to work.

I bounded out of Dr. Fawaz’s house giddy with excitement, feeling like a child to whom a whole new world had been opened.  I hopped in Munir’s taxi and instantly felt inclined to introduce myself, despite our friendship of over three weeks.  I found similar joy in identifying the car’s windows and doors by name.

Childish?  Yes.  But, isn’t all language acquisition?

We do not try to teach toddlers “i-before-e” nor do parents get upset when their youngster points to a robin and proudly declares “bird red.”  We don’t worry because the structure, the tenses, the spelling, the form will inevitably come in due time.  For now, only the language itself is important.

Dr. Fawaz has taught Arabic and French at the university level in America.  He currently teaches English to university students in Palestine.  Additionally, he teaches methods and pedagogy, teaching others how to teach language.  It is beyond generous of him to take time out of his day to teach a gang of kids from the other side of the Greenwich Meridian how to say, “My name is ___.”

But, then again, I think I might just understand.

When one of the participants in my English class for TYO Staff came in sick, she and I went over the word for cough and other symptoms of a cold.  As the rest of the class filtered in, she announced, “Adam gave me words,” proudly showing off her new vocabulary.  All I did was identify her symptoms in English.  However, the delight shown on her face from being “given” new words reminded me in part why I am here and what I have to offer those hoping to learn a new language.

In the same way, I would imagine that the joy on our faces will not be lost on Dr. Fawaz when we arrive for our next class and introduce ourselves for the umpteenth time, proud to do it in Arabic.

“Ana Adam!”

– Adam

Adam is an intern at TYO Nablus.

PS: TYO is looking for Summer 2011  interns–check out the application today!

Intern Journal: Learning to draw

While all of the other children started drawing and decorating self-portraits of themselves in the present and in the future, Mahmoud sat still staring absent-mindedly at the table filled with art supplies. His brother Ahmad tried to give him oil pastels and paper, but Mahmoud refused to take them. He exclaimed that he just wanted to sit and not draw anything, but something made me feel that there was some other reason Mahmoud did not want to draw.

Over the past few weeks, I had noticed that Mahmoud never picked up a marker or crayon voluntarily during free time drawing despite the wide variety of colors and choices. Even when he finally picked one up, he would often just hold it in his hand and not use it. This lack of interest in doodling or drawing baffled me considering the fact that he continued to come week after week to my Arts & Crafts class. He was a good student who always listened carefully during storytelling, helped clean up at the end of class and was generally in a good mood. Why did he not want to color and draw like the other children?

I sat down at the table next to Mahmoud and started drawing my own self-portrait in hopes that maybe that would encourage him to start drawing. When that failed, I called over my translator Waleed to see if he could ask him why he did not want to draw. Mahmoud responded, “I don’t know how to draw. I can’t do it.” I quickly said, “Anyone can draw! Here I will teach you. It’s all about experimenting and having fun.”

For the rest of the class period, Mahmoud happily drew portraits of himself in the present and portraits of himself in the future as a teacher. As I watched him, I started to think about his response to my earlier question. Before coming to TYO, Mahmoud probably did not have the chance to express himself creatively and as a result, he did not think that he could do so. With a little bit of encouragement and direction though, he was now a little artist in the making. As he came running up to me waving his artwork, I could not help but smile broadly at his newly discovered enthusiasm for drawing. “Mumtaz Mahmoud!”

– Hannah

Hannah is an intern at TYO Nablus this summer.

Intern Journal: A Ladies’ Picnic

A wonderful part of being an intern at TYO – the thing that made me apply for the internship in the first place – are the opportunities for actually spending time with Palestinians.  Before Nablus, I was living in Amman, Jordan for fifteen months on a fellowship to study Arabic and research women’s rights.  Fifteen months in Jordan!  You’d think I’d be fluent in Arabic, right?  Well, in the end, a lot of my life in Jordan was spent with expats.  In fact, I think I ended up learning more about what life is like for expats in Jordan than what life is like for Jordanians!

My experience at TYO so far has been different.  Of course, this is not a complete immersion experience.  I mean, I live with Americans and end up speaking English a lot of the time.  But, I find that if I take a little bit of initiative, it is not hard to make friends with and spend most of my time with Palestinians.

Take this past weekend, for example.  Sameeha, the lovely computer teacher at TYO who is also one of my English students, invited me and the other interns to her cousin’s wedding on Thursday night.  None of us know her cousin or the man her cousin is marrying, but as they say in Arabic, “A’dee,” no problem, we could all come to the wedding.  So after putting on our best (women here go ALL OUT for weddings), we made our way to the festivities.  For most of the night, men and women did not celebrate the union of the new couple together.  Even though both the groom and bride were at the women’s party, the men invitees were in a separate room until the last hour, when they came to pay their respects to the newly weds.  At that point, many of women who had been unveiled (some even wearing sleeveless dresses!), scurried to cover themselves before the men saw them.   After the men left, the dancing and eating continued until the respectable hour of 10 PM, when we all went home.

On Saturday, Kara and I had the opportunity to attend a ladies picnic with one of TYO’s wonderful translators, Aya, and many of her friends and relatives.  This picnic was truly a delight.  While the golden sun set in the valley below, we gathered amidst giggles and smiles on Aya’s family’s land in the neighborhood of New Nablus, which is perched on the mountains above the city.  Fried chicken juices dripped down our faces as we struggled to eat all the other riches that were on the table: homemade fattoush, nuts, toasted seeds, potatoes, pita bread, soft drinks, and Kara’s chickpea and pepper salad.  After stuffing ourselves, we drank sage infused sweet tea and smoked shisha, taping hilarious conversations of ourselves struggling to interview each other in Arabic and English.  Then came the Arabic coffee, the homemade carrot and lemon cakes, more seeds and more nuts, and then finally a picture taking session.  By the end of the evening, Kara and I had been invited to two more weddings, another picnic identical to the one we had just had, and even a possible sleepover!  It is clear that these women love spending time together, and I feel lucky that Kara and I have so seamlessly become one of the crew.


Mary is an intern at TYO Nablus and a participant in the Kalimatna Initiative.

Summer 2010 Internship- DEADLINE EXTENDED!

The deadline for TYO’s 2010 Summer Internship Program is NOW APRIL 1, 2010.

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Intern Journal: The Straw that Broke the Camel’s Back

In my Moms English class last week, I called on one of my students to write five letters of the English alphabet on the board.  Until that point, class had been jubilant and energetic, filled with laughter, smiles, and supportive applause.  Many of my students know each other well, a fact made obvious by their constant embracing and excited chattering that is sometimes difficult to bring to an end.  They are joyful and effusive in class, and often communicate their affection for me by spontaneously declaring, “I love you!”  With so much positive energy around, it took me by surprise when the student I called to the board broke down in tears.

At first, it was hard for me to understand why she had started crying.  But later, when I learned more about her family situation, my perspective changed.  My student’s brother, like many other Nabulsi young men, is currently in an Israeli jail, and it is unclear when, if ever, he will be released.  Her father is unemployed and hasn’t been able to find work for many years.  Learning these facts about her life was a wake up call for me.  It reminded me that even though my students seem upbeat and light hearted overall, the reality of their circumstances, which is life under a military occupation, is stark.  Many of them have experienced hardships that I can only begin to imagine.

The ubiquity of suffering and loss among Nablus residents has been the most difficult aspect of life here for me to understand and process.  Almost every time I meet a new person, I learn that something horrible has happened to them.  One friend was imprisoned for three years at the age of 18; another saw his father killed before his eyes.  These stories always take me by surprise mostly because at first sight the people I meet seem so normal.  But life in a city whose walls are always plastered with posters to commemorate the newly dead is anything but normal.  I need to keep this in mind as I continue to get to know and try to be helpful to my students.  In light of the stresses of life here, such as the military bases that tower over the city from the mountains above or the regular ear-splitting roar of the military planes breaking the sound barrier overhead, it is not surprising that my student started crying in class.  Not knowing the letters in front of her fellow students was just the straw that broke the camel’s back.


Mary is an intern at TYO Nablus and a participant in the Kalimatna Initiative.