The Kalimatna Initiative Presents “This is Nablus!”

Over the course of 2010, seven American and three Palestinian youth worked together to document the city of Nablus through photography and videos of the people, places and things that make it special. The following  multimedia presentation is the final result of the Kalimatna project.

Check out “This is Nablus!” on Prezi!


The Kalimatna Initiative, meaning “our words” in Arabic, is a youth-led cultural diplomacy project whose goal is to introduce the culture of Nablus, Palestine, to the world.

Bon voyage, ya Imad!

TYO Volunteer Coordinator, Imad Mansour, is en route to Rio de Janeiro today for the third UN Alliance of Civilizations Forum! He’s there as the co-project coordinator of Kalimatina (working alongside TYO colleague Chelsey Berlin) – an exciting new TYO initiative that has taken our internship program to a new level in the realm of intercultural dialogue. Kalimatina was funded by the UN AOC’s Youth Solidarity Fund in January 2010. Here’s what the UN says about the fund:

In 2009, over 530 applications from 99 countries on all continents were submitted to the Youth Solidarity Fund. A total of 18 projects were selected through a very competitive selection process. In December, Project Coordinators from the winning organizations were invited to the European Youth Centre in Strasbourg for a week-long training jointly developed by UNAOC and the Council of Europe. The Project Coordinators exchanged about cultural diversity, human rights, project management, advocacy and youth participation. Since early 2010, the projects are being implemented.

Why Kalimatina?

The limited contact between youth in the United States of America and youth in the Middle East allows prejudice and stereotypes to develop and flourish.  Young people in Nablus have previously not had the opportunity to meet youth from other parts of the world due to the ongoing conflict and isolation of the community. The implementation of the awarded project, will allow 3 American and 3 Palestinian university students to develop deep person‐to‐person connections as the American students will visit their peers in Nablus and they will work closely together, during a period of 6 months, to create a ‘Do‐plomacy Manual’ to introduce the culture of Palestinian youth to other youth around the world, and suggest specific ways to engage. This Manual will then be widely disseminated as a tool to reduce stereotypes and prejudices.

Read more about Kalimatina here, or follow our Twitter feed! New participants arrive in Nablus June 6, so we’ll pick things up a bit then. In the meantime, we wish Imad a safe trip to Brazil and a fascinating time at the Forum!!

Kalimatna: Arabic to Arabic Translation

I started studying Arabic during my sophomore year of college six years ago.  Arabic is a very difficult language even for the most gifted language-learner, and given the fact that I am not a gifted language-learner, I think I’ve come a long way.  I spent last year in Jordan reading and studying a variety of classical Arabic texts, which ranged from pre-Islamic poetry to Quranic exegesis.  Sounds pretty impressive, right?

Given the high level of my reading abilities, you might assume that I can speak and understand Arabic with equal facility.  Unfortunately for me (and for the vast majority of Arabic students) that is not the case.  In fact, whenever I open my mouth here in Nablus, I am barely able to utter a sentence without someone breaking into laughter.  “What is so funny?” I have demanded numerous times.  “You sound like a child,” or “you sound like a cartoon character” is often the response I get.  The secret about Arabic (that very few people tell you when you start the language) is that in order to be able to both read and actually communicate with people, you have to learn what are essentially two different languages: fusha (classical Arabic) and amiyya (the spoken dialect).

Unfortunately for me and for other American students of Arabic, fusha is pretty much the only language taught in universities in the U.S.  So when we come to the Arabic speaking world bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and eager to practice our Arabic, we find that no one can understand us, we can’t understand anyone, or that we just sound ridiculous (like the characters in the cartoon programs or like someone from the Middle Ages).  Needless to say, this can be endlessly discouraging. That’s why I’ve decided that the ability to laugh at oneself is the most important attribute for any student of Arabic.  Otherwise, you are doomed for severe depression for the rest of your life.

During my interviews for the Kalimatna Initiative these past few weeks, I’ve tried to keep in mind this “most important attribute.”  It helps me feel not too bad when I ask my questions in carefully prepared Arabic and the interviewee stares at me blankly, blinks for a few seconds, and then turns to Hassan (my Palestinian partner) who then “translates” what I said from Arabic-to-Arabic.  “That’s exactly what I said!” I often squeal after he has re-posed my question.  He smiles back at me with laughter in his eyes.  I glare at him for a second and then sigh, secretly nursing my hurt pride.  At least he could understand me.


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

Intern Journal: Thrilled to be in Nablus!

I arrived in the West Bank just a week ago, and I am thrilled to be here! Last week was filled with orientation activities, which gave me an overview of TYO’s mission and approach, the cultural differences between Palestinians and Americans, and the joys and challenges of teaching in a cross-cultural setting.  I am already so impressed by TYO’s knowledgeable and committed staff, and I look forward to learning more from them as my three-month internship progresses.

On a walking tour with Hassan and Haya, two of the Palestinian interns with whom I’ll be working on the Kalimatna Initiative, I saw the ancient market and winding streets of the old city, as well as the beautiful Turkish baths for which Nablus is famous.  Nablus’s architectural heritage impresses me as much as the dramatic natural landscape that surrounds the city – in every direction, steep rocky hills dotted with green pastures and evergreen trees jut up towards the sky.  I can easily understand why the Palestinians I have met here are so proud of this city.

Yesterday was my first day of classes.  I am going to be teaching a variety of English classes to mothers at TYO, core teachers, and university-age volunteers. Unfortunately, the stormy, rainy day kept most of my students at home, but despite the small class size, the students who showed up were totally energized and excited to be there.  I’m particularly excited to be teaching the moms.  TYO focuses on early childhood education, and because mothers play such an important role in the lives of their children, TYO also offers classes to moms.  Most of the moms I met yesterday have not completed high school, but they are committed to learning English because they want to be able to help their children.

Yesterday was also one of the first meetings for the American and Palestinian interns of the Kalimatna Initiative.  The purpose of the project is to create a multimedia guide to the city and culture of Nablus.  But what is culture exactly?  The answer to this question remained elusive yesterday as we discussed the challenges of defining and talking about culture.  To convey the complexities of culture, Chelsey, TYO’s program coordinator, drew a picture of an iceberg.  Together, the interns had to decide where on the iceberg to locate different aspects of culture, which ranged from concrete cultural manifestations such as clothing and food to more abstract concepts like family, self, friendship etc.

The iceberg exercise brought up a variety of important challenges for the group.  Even though two of the Palestinian interns have wonderful English, we had a lot of trouble defining and translating abstract concepts, such as deference to authority, work ethic, and even personal space.  This created an unequal balance of power in the group because the Americans could do the exercise much more quickly than the Palestinians. To some degree, the final answers didn’t reflect a group decision-making process to the extent that it could have.  Was the problem simply the language barrier or did it reflect cultural differences in how to talk and think critically about these abstract concepts?  As we go forward with the project, especially as we start exploring Nablus, I know that this balance of power will inevitably shift in the other direction, since the Americans will be unfamiliar with the language and culture.  In the end, the challenges of the iceberg exercise highlighted for me that patience, listening, and communication will be essential for the success of our initiative.


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

Intercultural Training in Strasbourg, France

In December, I traveled to Strasbourg, France to take part in a training course titled “Global and Effective Youth Projects for Intercultural Dialogue.” The United Nation’s Alliance of Civilizations (UNAoC) and the Council of Europe sponsored the course. The twelve participants, including myself, represented the international dialogue projects chosen by this year’s grant committee. You can read about TYO’s project here.

The training was an amazing opportunity to learn about intercultural dialogue while also taking part in it. The participants at the training came from all over the world. Through learning from my peers at this conference, I came to understand the exact meaning of ‘alliance of civilizations.’  Everyone was so passionate about their project and eager to effect positive change in their community and share it with others.

We also had plenty of fun. One night we decided to go to Kehl, across the border in Germany. We went to a coffee shop to have some tea and coffee. As we sat down, we were all speaking in English, our shared language, and some of us were engaged in side conversation in our native tongues. When the waiter came to collect our order, we realized that he only spoke German and none of us did! We started to talk with him in our mother tongues attempting to gauge whether he also understood Arabic or Croatian—he did not. Finally, through pantomime and pointing, we received our orders. It was a crazy night.

On a professional level, this conference strengthened my skills in human rights education, intercultural dialogue, monitoring and evaluation, and project management. I left the conference feeling very confident in my ability to express myself to people from other cultures and in turn to better understand them.


Imad is TYO’s Volunteer Coordinator and a UNAoC Project Coordinator.

Happy New Year!

And…we’re back! Happy 2010, everyone!

Today, the Nablus staff returned to the Center after a rejuvenating winter holiday. We are very busy planning for several programs and projects, including our Spring 2010 Session! Things you’ve enjoyed reading about like the International Internship Program, our partnership with the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women and Triple Exposure took large strides in the last weeks of our fall session. (PS: Have you seen the first Triple Exposure mural, yet? We love it!) And, new programs like the UNAoC youth project were announced.

Stay tuned right here for program updates, photos of the day, Kelsey’s Crafts and early childhood education and development analysis.

It is shaping up to be a very exciting new year!


Chelsey is the Program Coordinator at TYO Nablus.