An Evening with Lina and Friends

Walking up what felt like 100 flights of stairs, Samin and I finally reached Lina’s house in our neighborhood of Khallet al-Amood. Lina is a mother who is in both my nutrition class and Samin’s aerobics class, and after weeks of asking us to come to her house, we finally had the time to visit with her in her home. I can speak for both myself and Samin when I say it was one of our favorite experiences in Nablus thus far.

Lina outdid herself with delicious tabbouleh salad, cakes, and fruits piled higher than I have ever seen! Slowly, one by one, familiar faces began to enter the room. Other neighborhood women from our classes began entering Lina’s living room to join us in conversation and good food. The women talked about their families, their children, their frustrations, and their lives during the first and second intifadas.

For me, the most interesting part of the entire night was speaking to Lina in Arabic and her responding in English. Throughout the evening we would switch between the two languages so that each of us had a chance to practice speaking and understanding.

Quickly into the night, Lina’s youngest son Hassan and Jenan’s son Saleem joined us. Both boys, are arguably the most adorable 6 and 4 year olds ever. They spent the entire night running in and out of the house, eating cakes and making and flying paper airplanes across Lina’s living room. Samin and I could have stayed there all night playing with the two boys. When it started getting late, Samin and I politely excused ourselves and thanked Lina and her family for their hospitality. We promised we’d be back to visit before we leave Nablus.

As our time here comes to an end, I have had the chance to reflect on my experiences here. I have fallen in love with the city of Nablus, that was undeniable, but until last night, I couldn’t exactly put my finger on why I loved it so much. And as cliché as I know it sounds, I have fallen in love with the people of Nablus. Just yesterday when I walked down to the juice stand with my fellow interns, I heard my name being called out and as soon as I turned around, I saw one of my students, little Alaa, waving her hands furiously from 100 feet away. It’s Alaa’s enthusiasm and joy and Lina’s wisdom and hospitality that are a constant reminder of why I love Nablus so much.


Tala is a summer intern at TYO Nablus

Intern journal: When the students become teachers…

Teaching is a humbling experience, but humility need not mean feeling defeat – rather, it is awareness that my role as a teacher and even my lesson plans provide only the foundation for all the growth and excitement that can take place in a classroom. Indeed, the moments I most treasure from working with my kids this summer are the ones in which my role as a teacher is minimal – the moments in which I feel a surge of pride to see them reach out to help, teach, and support each other. In my Explorers class, we were presenting the photos that each “Explorer” had taken with his or her take-home camera: introducing family members, explaining neighborhood hangouts, and displaying the beauty in their surroundings that they had wanted to capture on film – a view of Nablus in the evening from the top of a Khallet al-Amood hill, a close-up of a display of car engines waiting to be sold, flowers and plants from around their homes. As Halima, from Askar camp, shakes her head repeatedly when it is her turn to go up and show her photos, Ibrahim, from Balata camp, sees that she is nervous and offers to stand with her as she speaks to the class. Drawing confidence from his presence, Halima walks up to the front of the room and allows the class to get to know her better, through her eyes, through her words.

A striking example of the power of peer-to-peer inspiration and support has occurred twice with my Model United Nations class. On many levels, it is impossible to solely convey through words the organized chaos that is a group of high school students getting dressed up and debating, writing, and voting to address the challenges faced by the countries they represent and the world at large. Early in the summer program, therefore, the class went on a trip to Ramallah to watch the Model UN club at the Friends School go through a four-hour simulation of what MUN geeks affectionately refer to as “ECOSOC,” the Economic and Social Council of the UN. The students were enraptured to see Palestinian students their age, who have had far greater educational opportunities and thus can debate the merits of immigration policies like pros, engage in the simulation and fully enjoying themselves while doing it. “How can we be like them?” they asked me, and I told them we had plenty of time to practice in class! I’ve built up a relationship with the students from Ramallah, after having advised them on the planning of a “Model UN summer camp” for students new to the club (and I was even invited to be the keynote speaker at the opening ceremonies of the camp!) A week ago, three of these students were kind enough to visit and give a guest lesson to TYO’s Model UN students on the UN, Model UN, and how to learn to represent your assigned country with confidence and intelligence.

The effect of this lesson on my TYO students was tangible. Brimming with excitement after the lesson, they repeated the same desire: “We want to be like them!” and recommended we increase the amount of times per week that the class meets. To have high school students, in many ways just like themselves, tell of their experiences as Model UN delegates to conferences around the Middle East, meeting and befriending students from around the world, galvanized my students to spend their summer training to be mini-diplomats in a way I could never do on my own, no matter how stimulating a lecture I give or how creative a “world affairs” game I concoct.

For these reasons and beyond, interning at TYO is to be so much more than a teacher. To have my students – at TYO and from Ramallah – build on each other’s strengths, learn from each other’s experiences, and inspire each other to attain what they wouldn’t have previously conceived to be possible is something I am thrilled to enable.

TYO's Model United Nations class attends a Model UN simulation in Ramallah!

TYO's Model United Nations class attends a Model UN simulation in Ramallah!

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A Conversation over Tea

“She returns from school in hurry, puts her bag aside, asks for a small snack and runs out the door and saying, ‘I am TYO!’”

Sundos’ father said, explaining his daughter’s behavior since enjoying Tomorrow’s Youth Organization. Sundos’ mom added that they used to spoil Sundos. She described the way Sundos used to cry about everything, isolate herself from her peers and never display interest or enthusiasm.

“After my older daughter’s death in a car accident, my husband and I became very protective. We were scared to let our kids go anywhere alone—even to school,” her mother explained.

“When TYO first opened across the street from where we live, we did not believe that such a huge, fancy building would be available to the children of our neighborhood,” said Sundos’ mom.

Having the Center in Khallet al-Amood helps not just Sundos but her entire family to recover from the loss of a child. As Sundos becomes more engaged and motivated through her time at TYO her parents have learned to trust her. “I am not worried anymore about my daughter crossing the street alone, or going out with her friends,” said Sundos’ mom. “I can now watch my daughter grow up without being overprotective, so thank you for giving me hope to a become a better mother.”

This conversation took place between TYO Sports teacher Haitham and Sundos’s parents, who all live in the Khallet al-Amood neighborhood.  The piece was adapted to English from an original story written by Haitham, in Arabic, about the importance of his work.

SOW Journal: TYO Rocks!

Check out Student of the World Ilona’s blog entry about TYO that can also be found at

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.