Intern Journal: An Afternoon in Ramallah

Our first week of classes was not only chaos free but without a doubt enjoyable and full of energy. I can only speak for myself, but the kids in my photography class were attentive, and eager to get their hands on the cameras as soon as feasibly possible. They’re looking forward to running wild on next week’s class trip to the Old City.

Outside the classroom, the interns took Friday to visit Ramallah, a nearby city in the West Bank, approximately 14.63 km from Jerusalem – or Al Quds as it is known in Arabic. As a newbie to the Middle East, it was my first time out of Nablus, which provided a refreshing break from living and working exclusively in the same building all week – especially as last weekend was spent indoors brainstorming and organising for the week ahead. However from here on out, the weekends shall be a chance to explore this fascinating region or at the very least areas nearby.

The landscape is breathtaking. As our vehicle sped along the twists and turns, I got more of a sense of the hilly nature of the land. I had arrived under the cover of darkness from the airport two weeks back, but on this drive the sunlight bathed the horizon in gold, barely a cloud in the sky.

Friday is Islam’s holy day, and in the West Bank – along with much of the Middle East – most establishments are closed. People have the day off from work to pray, eat, and spend time with their families. This meant that we saw a version of Ramallah that was only representative of the quietest seventh of the week. A couple of cafes and shops were open here and there, but seeing the quiet sunlit streets lined with shut shops, reminded me of sleepy little French towns on Sundays.

After a quick visit to Yasser Arafat’s memorial we meandered into town and sampled the delicious local shawarma. Then, we walked and walked, the length and breadth of the town, eventually culminating in an ever-decreasing spiral to end up back where we started on Main Street.  It was a pleasure to see the beautiful architecture, a maze of weathered limestone houses, gardens and new half-finished constructions. A man walking his daughter back home in a stroller asked us if we were lost, telling us not much happens on Fridays. Another boy ran out from an al fresco family lunch to insist we all try some of their sfiha (small Levantine breads topped with minced meat and spices) then kindly inviting us to join their table. But not wanting to intrude and already touched by such open generosity from a stranger, we thanked him and were on our way.

As usual, the few people we encountered made us feel incredibly welcome. Ramallah is home to more ‘internationals’ than Nablus so no doubt people have more chance to practice their English there. Nevertheless, we were impressed with the level of English across the board in Ramallah. When someone can speak English in addition to their mother tongue, they immediately widen their potential for human interaction, increase their audience and gain access to a plethora of information on everything imaginable — if they can get online too. I feel that if someone has a story to tell, then maybe it should be heard.

Through our English classes here at TYO (both for children and the wider community) people can access and communicate with a world outside of the Middle East. Each new Arabic phrase we are taught and every step we take here as guests in Palestinian society is the flip side of the same inter-cultural dialogue, which we hope will benefit all of us. Once again I can only speak for myself, but every day I learn something new.

– Mathilda

Mathilda is an intern at TYO Nablus.

Teaching English to Preschoolers

“Ma-ma-Mohammed!”

“Fa-fa-Farah!”

“Ba-ba-Bashar!”

The children enthusiastically shout their names and the sounds that go along with them, delighting in learning the English letters that their names start with.  They are my students at Al-Namothajia daycare, where I have been teaching 4 and 5-year-olds English phonics for the past two and a half months.  In addition to being the cutest beings on Earth, my students are filled with eagerness and quickly absorb the many songs, games, rhymes and words I teach them.  English is a ubiquitous language around the world, and even at this young age, I know that they hear English on TV, on the radio, on the street and in their homes constantly.  It must be thrilling to begin to make sense of the jumble of English they hear, like piecing together the clues to a mystery.

The biggest focus of my lessons has been for my students to learn the phonics, or sounds, that go along with the English letters.  The children had mastered the alphabet’s order and the names of the letters—their favorite song to sing is the alphabet song!—but the connection between, for example, the letter “D” and the sound “duh” hadn’t quite been made yet.  The nursery teachers asked me to focus on one letter per week, and the unhurried pace has proven valuable.  I plan two lessons a week, all centered around the letter we are learning that week.  When we did the letter “E,” for example, I played games where the children “exercised,” we looked at pictures of “elephants,” and sang songs beginning with the word “everybody.”  Throughout it all, I would repeat the letter E’s phonic: “Eh-eh-elephant,” the kids would happily chirp.

In the last three or four weeks, I have seen promising retention of these concepts.  If I use a word we previously learned, several children will say the phonic unprompted with it—“Ha-ha-hand!  Fa-fa-finger!”  I have also started informal assessments of the children’s ability to find the letter on an alphabet chart that corresponds with a certain sound.  At this point, at least 50% of my students are able to correctly identify the letters.

But the lessons in no way are all grammatical!  A large part of my goals in teaching at this nursery is for the children to simply participate in activities that are done entirely in English, even if they don’t fully understand all of the words I am using.  Learning English songs, or simple games like Simon Says, will increase their capacity to learn English later in school, as they will have had practice forming the sounds, words and sentence constructions associated with English.  And a personal benefit for me—I have had to learn some basic Arabic to translate the meanings of some of my lessons to the children.  It is truly a symbiotic relationship, and as much as I give the children as a teacher, I know that the joy that they bring every time they greet me with smiling faces and a zestful “Good morning, Miss Ashwini!” is worth more to me than I can begin to describe.

-Ashwini

Ashwini is an intern at TYO Nablus.