Balata Refugee Camp: fieldnotes and reflections

Last Saturday my friends and Kalimatna partners Mary and Khamees met with the director of the Yafa Cultural Center, which offers programming similar to TYO for children and youth in Balata refugee camp. Since almost half of the kids in my art and storytelling class come from Balata, I tagged along. After the director’s introduction to the Center’s activities, two young men took us on a tour of the camp. Balata is 1 square kilometer, with more than 20,000 inhabitants. It is the smallest camp in the West Bank in land size, but with the largest population. Like so many camps, it was created in the 1950s for a population of 5,000-6,000, and the infrastructure has grown disproportionately (and haphazardly) with the population.

What follows combines our guides’ commentary with my thoughts during and after the tour.

Walking through narrow alleys that many U.S. Americans would not even fit through, I wonder what I am doing here. How can it be that tours of refugee camps even exist? The shabby but temporary tents that the word “camp” evokes are nowhere to be seen—just buildings crammed between and on top of more buildings. The guide points out the window to the first building erected in the camp decades ago. It now faces a wall to another apartment, less than a meter away. Again and again we are told about the lack of privacy and fresh air in the homes here. Sunshine cannot get inside, so lights are kept on all day.

Uncomfortable that I am taking in people’s living quarters as if they were a tourist attraction, I turn to the other young man from the Yaffa Center, Ahmed. “How often do you give these tours?” I ask. Every day, more or less, because there are lots of interested internationals, he says. (A curious response since Nablus is purportedly a city unfrequented by foreigners). Then I ask how he feels about leading tours for these visitors. He says that he likes to show people the conditions of the camp. He studied journalism and he knows that the media coverage of Palestine mostly only shows one side of the issues.

“You don’t have to be born in Palestine to believe in the Palestinian issue,” he tells me. “It is a matter of the heart of all human beings.” Ahmed talks about poverty, the right to return, and the change that foreigners can make from “the outside.” I am reminded of my time in coup-led Honduras, where so many interviewees trusted foreign journalists to tell the world “the truth.”

The tour ends with so many of my questions unasked. In particular, how do Ahmed and the others at the Yaffa center envision change from within? This question is always difficult to answer, but here in Palestine, where community (the basic unit for internal change) has been so intensely and purposefully fractured, I am at a loss to know where people’s answers will begin.

Additionally I want to ask what he is proud of about Palestine. I realize that my feeling of conspicuousness as I hugged my Nikon around tight corners of Balata’s alleys comes from my focus on what is lacking in the camp. It seems absurd to walk through such an impoverished place while knowing the way I and others richer than myself live. Yet it strikes me that perhaps people in all places like to show and describe where they live to visitors. In that sense, our tour is no different from the time years ago when I showed some friends from England the Amish sites of Pennsylvania. Of course Ahmed and the others declare life in Balata to be nearly unlivable, but there is also something here that they recognize as theirs—something to be proud of. Though I didn’t ask the question, I can guess at the answer: the people.

– Kara

Kara is an intern at TYO Nablus and a participant in the Kalimatna Initiative. The views expressed in Kalimatna blog entries are those of the author; TYO does not take positions on Middle East policy.

Meet Haya!

This week the members of Kalimatna Initiative completed our first set of interviews.  In addition to wandering around the Old City and An-Najah University talking to falafel sellers and bookstore owners, we interviewed each other!  To learn more about our wonderful team member Haya, read Bieta’s interview with her:

Where are you from?

I am from Jaffa.  We are refugees here and we live in Nablus. I am Palestinian with a Jordanian passport.

How many brothers and sisters do you have?

I have five sisters and no brothers, unfortunately.  It’s unfortunate that I have no brothers, not unfortunate that I have five sisters.

Describe yourself in three words:

I am kind, open-minded and teachable.

Describe your country:

It is boring.  It’s not boring for you [Bieta] because you are not from here. It is boring because I don’t travel overseas.  It is nice geographically, meaning the weather and the land.  It is occupied.

What do you do for fun?

Facebook, reading and filming.

What do you want to do when you grow up?

I want to go to London, get experience there and come back to teach in Palestine. I want to go to Goldsmith College at the University of London to continue my MA in filmmaking.  I want to use film to talk about human rights in Palestine.

What are you passionate about?

I am passionate about my friends, friendship, family, work and study.

What is the most important thing in your life?

My bedroom because I grew up there and my mom read me stories there so it’s special. My family wants me to bring my bedroom with me when I get married.

Kalimatna’s Social Media Platform

Over the last few weeks, the Kalimatna team has been working on our presence in the wonderful world of social media. We created a page on the TYO blog where you can read more about our initiative, we began documenting our journey on flickr, and we created a Twitter feed!

While the overall goal of our project is to create a by‐youth, for‐youth multimedia kit to introduce the culture of Nablus to the world, our equally significant secondary goal is to engage an international audience in our journey. Entrez Twitter!

Twitter will allow us to share information about our work in Nablus with people beyond the city’s limits. We hope not only to imbue the image of Nablus with thoughtful and positive insights, but also to draw our audience closer to us, hold their attention and garner their support in order to improve our kit through intercultural and peer dialogue.

Kalimatna’s twitter feed will share news about our work, our journey, ourselves—our 140 character mini bios are already up–and our beloved city Nablus!

Please tweet with us @kalimatna to share your ideas about our work, our tweets and what you would like to learn about the culture and history of Nablus!

-Kalimatna Initiative

Social Media Training!

Today, the Palestinian interns involved in the Kalimatna Initiative at TYO learned how to use social media, including how to post this entry on the TYO blog!!

-Hassan, Khamees, Haya, Chelsey and Imad!!!!

Hassan, Khamees, Haya are the Palestinian interns participating the Kalimatna Initiative, an initiative of TYO funded by the Youth Solidarity Fund of the UN Alliance of Civilizations. Chelsey and Imad are the project’s coordinators.

Free money for TYO’s kitchen and library

Yet another Facebook challenge – this time, you get 20 (FREE) votes to choose the charity that ‘matters’ most, and Chase will give them up to $1,000,000. YES, that’s One Million Dollars.

As you may have been reading in the news, or our Twitter feed, Early Childhood Education matters. Especially for children growing up in poverty, amidst violence, or other stressful conditions, having access to high-quality programs during their earliest years is proven to improve their chances of doing better in school,having higher-paying jobs, and staying out of jail. As far as we’re concerned, those are results that matter!

So, especially today – International Children’s Day – take a second to vote for TYO and other child-focused charities in the Chase Community giving program. And spread the word :)

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Call to Action: Support TYO in America’s Giving Challenge!

Tomorrow’s Youth Organization enables children, youth and parents in disadvantaged areas of Nablus to realize their potential as healthy, active and responsible family and community members. America’s Giving Challenge on Facebook Causes empowers real people to realize their potential as philanthropists by hosting a challenge where the wining nonprofit is the organization that rallies the most support instead of the largest amount of funds. In short, it is the number of donors we inspire to give that matters not how much they give (so long as they meet the minimum requirement of $10).

Now you can help TYO realize its potential by donating $10.  If you donate NOW—before 3:00 pm EST on October 16—you can help TYO win today’s daily competition and a $1,000 prize. Now is the time for an exciting donation blitz! Click here to make a $10 donation to TYO.

Your $10 donation will:

  • Buy a child healthy snacks for over two weeks.
  • Fund a youth volunteer’s transportation to TYO for a week.
  • Supply enough classroom materials for one child for the whole Fall Session.

If you donate before 3:00 pm EST on November 6—remember each individual can make a $10 donation once a day until the end of the challenge—you can help TYO win a $50,000 prize!

If we win the $50,000 prize:

  • We will create a child-friendly library.
  • We will build an outside play area.
  • We will furnish a second computer lab to serve all the need we observe in Nablus.
  • We will outfit our kitchen with basic equipment in order to offer hot meals to our participants and basic nutrition and sanitation classes for our kids’ mothers in order to extend our efforts within the Center to the entire community.

Please join the TYO Team as we work to win the most donations in a single day on October 16.  With your help, we will be one step closer to becoming a genuine challenger for the overall $50,000 prize! Click here to make a $10 donation to TYO.

A twenty-first century introduction to Half the Sky

My entire experience with Half the Sky (Nicholas Kristof’s and Sheryl WuDunn’s new book) has been so twenty-first century that I can’t help but think that times really have changed. And girls and women stand to gain from these changes – I am inclined to believe the many smart and experienced people who are claiming that we have reached a tipping point on this issue: people (finally) get the vital importance of investing in girls and women. It is good for our families’ health, our children’s development, our economy’s vitality, and indeed the security of our states and sustainability of our world.

Half the Sky bookI started reading Half the Sky just last week on my brand new Kindle [what a treat]! Then, I saw a post on my Twitter feed from @GlobalGiving that they were giving away a spot in the call-in book party with the book’s authors, as well as partners from Global Giving, CARE, and other organizations working for girls and women on front lines around the world (many of whom were cited in the book).

Before I go further, I’d like to share the origin of the book title: an ancient Chinese proverb, “Women hold up half the sky.” This eminently Eastern piece of simple yet profound wisdom suits the ‘girls and women issue’ so ideally: a total no-brainer that nonetheless has a lot of deep and complex implications.

First, I was impressed by this conference call concept – low-income, easy access (800 number with an access code) way to get folks together to chat. The discussion was dynamic and interesting – Kristof made the valid point that his involvement, as a man, helps mainstream the cause of women. Several points of discussion revolved around the universality of this issue, and the relevance of both women and men in all regards. For example, many of the remarkable women profiled in the book recognized the importance of a supportive father (or father figure) in their lives, who facilitated the education, perspective or resources necessary to challenge a system that disadvantaged them.

When I asked about ways to bring men into the fold as champions for girls and women in their communities, the authors didn’t provide any concrete suggestions, but did emphasize that they already find many such male allies. From US-based callers to radio shows to tribal leaders, it was reassuring to hear that men around the world are already sticking their necks out for girls’ and women’s rights. WuDunn pointed out that many of the worst perpetrators of injustice against girls and women – slavery not least among them – are themselves women. These points should remind us not only what a complex issue this is, but also that it is something that no human being can afford to ignore.

Both Kristof and WuDunn cited the power of media to propagate ideas, another area in which these authors are well-positioned to get a lot of distance for any issue they adopt. They alluded to online social action planned to amplify the Half the Sky movement, including innovative tools like online gaming as well as increasingly mainstream outlets like Facebook and Twitter.

Congratulations to the authors, Fenton communications representative Amanda Fox, Global Giving and everyone who took part on this hyper-modern and extremely valuable conversation!

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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

TYO is tweeting!

Today is a huge day in TYO’s social media evolution: we started tweeting! Over the last few months, full-time staff and volunteers have been working on TYO’s presence in the rapidly expanding world of social media. We feel good about our blog, thanks to local and international staff and volunteers, and even if we didn’t meet the requirements for a Vanity URL, our Facebook page is coming along nicely. (Check ‘em out and see for yourself!) The next frontier to conquer was clearly Twitter!

TYO tweeting!

After all, one of our primary goals is to build bridges: sharing information about our work in Nablus with people beyond Nablus, and bringing insight and information from the outside world to improve our work here. Many underprivileged communities are isolated by various barriers, but this is particularly true of the communities we work with in Nablus, which are cut off from the rest of the West Bank, Israel and Jordan by physical barriers.

TYO’s twitter account will share news from TYO and our areas of work: early childhood development, psychosocial programming, community development, youth empowerment, social entrepreneurialism.

Why not follow us to find out more? And please tweet us @tomorrowsyouth to share your ideas about our work, our tweets, and how you’d like to help!

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