Ambassador Melanne Verveer Visits the TYO Center

Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues Melanne Verveer visited the TYO Center in Nablus on Wednesday, April 20, 2010. Her time at TYO Nablus included a working breakfast with the Fostering Women Entrepreneurs in Nablus (FWEN) participants and its steering committee members,  TYO’s Spring 2011 International Interns and TYO staff as well as an informative tour of the TYO Nablus Center and its programming.

Ambassador Verveer gave remarks at the working breakfast that spoke to the importance of innovation in unlocking the great potential of female leaders within their own communities. TYO’s female entrepreneurs shared their business plans as well as the successes and challenges they encountered over the last year during which many of them successfully launched their businesses. Each FWEN participant received personalized feedback and encouragement from Ambassador Verveer. The four Spring 2011 Interns also introduced themselves and their work at TYO highlighting the overwhelming hospitality they’ve experienced since their arrival and the importance of intercultural exchange and direct engagement between American and Middle Eastern communities.

Ambassador Verveer toured the TYO Center with several TYO staff members and had an opportunity to speak to women serving as volunteers in our MEPI literacy project, university students volunteering in our Core Program classes and our Core Program teachers.

TYO was honored to be on Ambassador Verveer’s itinerary during her three-day trip to the West Bank, Jerusalem and Israel, in which she met with government leaders, civil society leaders and non-government organizations to highlight the work they are doing to promote women’s empowerment.

More photos are on Facebook here and here!

Intern Journal: Do Whatchya Wanna!

There aren’t too many jobs in the world where people ask their boss if they can take on more work, and she readily allows it.  As TYO interns, we are not only allowed to develop projects of our own, but are encouraged to do so!  We’ve come as interns, recent graduates, and young professionals.   We will leave (not too soon, thankfully) as coaches, teachers, artists, and league commissioners.

Having received my work assignment by e-mail before heading to Palestine, I worried about all the blank spaces that pocketed my class schedule.  In order to preempt what I was sure would be long lazy days, I packed a bag full of epic novels and slung my travel guitar over my shoulder.  By the time I left in April, I was sure that I would be not only incredibly well-read but also be ready to take on the open-mic circuit.  Six weeks in and I’ve only barely put a dent in my bookshelf while the guitar has collected more dust here than it does at home!

So where does all that time go?  Everywhere, and anywhere!

Since our first day of orientation, we have been encouraged to take ownership of our classes and our role as interns.  The four of us newbies were each shown an empty classroom, and told to make it our own.  We were given basic class outlines, and instructed to devise curricula.  We were introduced to our volunteers, and encouraged to develop friendships.

What we were never asked to do was take on an extra piano class, start a soccer league, make connections in the community, or finish a mural.  But all of this, and more, has happened.

Too many people go to work each day only to go home again at night.  They do nothing that isn’t explicitly asked of them, contribute comparatively little to their employing organization and are bound by rigid, though often abstract, responsibilities and expectations.

What a treat it is to work here at TYO amongst an incredible group of people, striving to fulfill and incredible mission, with an incredible amount of support on so many levels.

When Leila’s piano class overflowed with students the first few weeks, she decided to add a second class.  I’m not entirely sure if she ever asked permission, or just did it, but either way, it’s happening, and that many more kids are getting that much more exposure to the beautiful world of music education.

Through his Big Brother course, Colin quickly recognized that the local youth are deprived of opportunities for socially-productive physical exercise.  So, he went about writing a proposal for a soccer league.  Volunteer Coordinator Ahmad has helped secure translators for the league, Outreach Coordinator Futoon helped recruit kids, Sports Teacher Haitham has generously loaned us equipment, Intern Coordinator Chelsey has provided all the support in the world and Center Director Humaira signed off on our procurement form for two new soccer balls, without which the league would be a mere mirage!

A few weeks ago, Humaira was overheard musing about how she wished that the mural outside was finished.  Without delay, Chelsey organized an impromptu lesson in mural-making from the art teacher, Rimach.  By the time the weekend rolled around our fingertips were cut to pieces and our skin felt like lizard hide.  However, the long stagnant mural was finally completed and we all got a little bit more Vitamin-D, from working outside, then we have in weeks past!

The cut fingers has made it tricky to play music, but who has time for that when I could be reviewing reports with Ahmad or helping Core Child Teacher Maram write her weekly update in English!  Reading is more tactually possible but there’s always the volunteer who’s anxious for a guitar lesson or Facilities Assistant Um Ibrahim who’s ready to chat, nevermind that she and I share no more than four words in any given language!

But then again, at then end of the day, when lesson plans are finished and my computer is turned off, I’m free to lie on the couch and reflect, watch year old episodes of Treme in lieu of attending Mardi Gras, or just stand outside and wonder whether the beautiful mountainside is real, or merely a Hollywood backdrop.

If you’re ever bored here at TYO you could always ask someone if they need help with anything, or, then again, you could just do whatchya wanna!

Photo of the Day: MEPI Director Visits the TYO Center

Karen Volker, director of the Middle East Partnership Institute (MEPI), and David Martinez and Rasha Khatib, of the US Consulate General in Jerusalem, visited the TYO Center on Saturday, February 26, 2011. Their visit followed the completion of training workshops for our literacy collaboration: Enriching our Community: Learning to Serve, Serving to Read.

Intern Journal: My dentist is going to kill me!

This past Saturday delegates from the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) visited TYO. Humaira, TYO’s Center Director, greeted the MEPI representatives with an enormous platter of kenafah, a local pastry made of Nablusi cheese and drenched in a honey-based syrup.  All fine and well for the MEPI visitors who needed to only have a few bites and move on with their morning tour of the TYO Center.  The same can’t be said for us interns who were left to handle the remains!
Throughout the afternoon, a few kilos of leftover kenafah slowly disappeared from our apartment kitchen as bits and pieces were broken off to be shoveled down guiltily but with the utmost pleasure!

And so goes snacking in Palestine, where no occasion, event or meeting begins without a welcoming tea.  Though the flavor differs, sometimes it’s Lipton traditional, sometimes a fancier sage brew, the special ingredient is always the same.  Sugar.

Served in tiny glasses, usually with ornate patters of metallic leafing, the tea is inevitably pipping hot and lip-pursingly sweet!  I have started to wonder whether taking it without sugar is considered back luck, or just a plain social aberration.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the delectable pick me up.  It’s a great way to kick off Arabic lessons, a tour to the local An-Najah University or a meeting at the Yaffa Cultural Center in Balata Refugee Camp.  It only becomes a problem when you do all three things in one day, one after another.  The sugar shakes aren’t easy to, well, shake!

During out last Arabic lesson, Dr. Fawaz insisted we each enjoy a plateful of small pastries with our tea.  Again, the key ingredient being sugar.  Before leaving, we had a pair of candy bars forced on us too.  A single one simply wouldn’t have sufficed as a parting gift!  And for what?  Showing up to a lesson!? Why thank you!

While grocery shopping last week, Walid insisted that Leila and I try a bite of his halawa, a crumbly treat of sesame-paste and, you guessed it, sugar!  After a half an hour of shopping, we had nibbled so many free samples that we felt compelled to purchase a few slices to bring home to the other interns.  Walid conceded that it is best taken with coffee in the morning.  Who am I to argue with his wisdom?

So, for the past week, I’ve been breaking off sweet halawa chunks as a preface to my morning cereal.  Having quickly grown accustomed to the practices of my all-too-gracious hosts, the coffee I pour myself for breakfast has taken on a sweetness that I would normally have spat at had it been served to me back stateside.  But, now, I have nobody to blame except for myself.  I wouldn’t even be able to say how many scoops make it into each cup, because within only four weeks I’ve resorted to simply pouring straight from the bag!

Just yesterday, our facilities manager, Yasser, insisted that we take the rest of a farewell cake upstairs to snack on.  Thankfully, without too much persistence, he assented to our pleas that the last thing we needed was more sweets!

I am continually amazed at the graciousness of the Palestinians.  Their welcoming hospitality is filled with warmth, generosity and sincerity.  Their kindness is unyielding, their sweetness unabating. And, well, I think I might just have figured out the secret.

But, my dentist is going to kill me!

– Adam

Adam is an intern at TYO Nablus.