Triple Exposure murals complete in Askar boys’ school

Triple Exposure mural teacher Rimah and her volunteers went to visit the boys’ school in Askar UNRWA refugee camp, Nablus. Over two visits she worked with fifteen boys, ages 10-11 on two murals in the hallways of the school. Whilst representing the themes of nature and school, these murals have a more kaleidoscopic feel to them, with unexpected colours inside the branches and leaves of the tree, really bringing an extra splash of colour to the walls of Askar.

Like many schools in the West Bank, the school doesn’t have an art teacher or art department, and these were the first murals ever in the school. Even the teachers were interested in how the different colours were mixed and applied. The director of the school liked the mural so much he has asked Rimah to come back and do one more any time.

After they had finished the murals, the boys wanted to go home and show their parents they had been working with paint, and thoroughly enjoyed drawing moustaches on each other. The boys showed so much talent and dedication, seeing the project through to completion with admirable focus. If they had an art teacher or more opportunities to practice, the kids could really work on their art skills and creative thinking, on top of making these vibrant and lasting contributions to their community.

To date, Triple Exposure has complete fifteen murals around Nablus. For more details, please see the Triple Exposure blog.

Triple Exposure Mural complete in El Ein boys’ school

Last week, Rimah and the volunteers, in conjunction with a group of eight students, completed a new mural in a classroom at the UNRWA boys’ school in El Ein refugee camp in Nablus. The eight boys, all around 14 years old, had a prior interest in art, and this shone through in their natural affinity for painting. They were full of ideas not only for the mural but also about their futures, and football – asking Rimah if she was a Real Madrid or Barcelona fan – two of the most popular teams here.

Many of them had been to TYO when they were younger, attending the photography and painting classes. Some still find the time to put pen to paper and draw or paint for fun. However El Ein School does not have an art teacher, so this was a great chance not only for the boys to be creative but also to brighten up the classroom for everyone.

We would like to thank El Ein School for such a well organised, well chosen group of boys. They were so talented and professional, and the already established friendships made for some brilliant teamwork!

Walking in Balata Refugee Camp

We unexpectedly had the Islamic New Year off on Tuesday. My Drama class volunteers, Ayham and Yazid, also unexpectedly invited me to spend some time with them Tuesday afternoon. Both Yazid and Ayham are from the refugee camps of Nablus. Ayham is from Balata and Yazid is from Askar. They asked me if I wanted to spend the afternoon with them in Balata. I eagerly agreed since I only had entered the camp once before and saw little of my volunteers outside of class. Balata is the West Bank’s largest refugee camp and is also one of the most densely populated areas in the world with over 23,000 registered refugees living in 0.25 sq. km. It is also one of the areas that suffered the most during the Second Intifada with constant curfews and incursions by the Israeli army (IDF). This knowledge braced me for what I was to see and hear on my trip.

The taxi dropped me off in front of the entrance to Balata. Ayham and Yazid greeted me there with their friends who also wanted to meet me. The air was finally starting to chill in what has been a surprisingly warm prelude to winter, so we were quick to start moving. They began by walking me down the main street of the camp often referred to as the ‘Souk’ or the ‘Market.’ The street was not wider than a one-way street in New York City and it was filled with people. The barbershops, falafel restaurants, butcher shops and grocery stores had a constant flow of potential customers streaming before them in the late afternoon. We navigated our way through the crowd, occasionally greeting friends of Ayham, and made our way to what Ayham informed me was the center of the camp.

The experience of walking through the center of the camp was a profoundly weird one. The idea of a camp does not adequately represent what I was witnessing. A more accurate word to describe the physicality of what I saw would be slum. There was a sense of awkward and inhibited permanence about the infrastructure. The architecture itself illuminates the history of the camp. The land the camp was built on is actually rented on a 99-year lease from Palestinian farmers negotiated by UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). It started as a tent city and eventually evolved into concrete housing on the same plots each family had for their tents.

From that point, they wanted me to see the alleyways that split off from the main street. There was originally one street that the tents lined up against. As the population grew the camp expanded away from this main street. What this led to was a serious of maze like alleyways that now lead to houses. The alleyways are so narrow at points that one has to walk sideways through them. Windows on these alleyways have views of the concrete wall of neighboring houses only two or three feet away. Despite the fact that it was still daylight outside these alleys were remarkably dark. This was not a walk for the claustrophobic.

The walls were often lined with bullet holes. The limited sanitation system meant that waste filled some of the streets, and a stench occupied the air. This was especially true when we arrived at the small park that doubled as a garbage dump, where I was told the children play soccer because there is no space elsewhere in the camp.

We finally arrived at Ayham’s house and ate a wonderful meal of kafta. Afterwards we enjoyed some shisha and tea, while having discussions about a variety of topics, from politics, to life in America, to our studies, to life in Balata. With the exception of only one of Ayham’s friends, who was an Arabic Literature Major, everyone studied English literature so I was able to communicate with them in English.

Typical of Palestinian households, Ayham made sure I was more than adequately full and caffeinated before I was allowed to leave his home.  I also had an impromptu Debka lesson at the very end, when I expressed my desire to learn. The warmth of the hospitality lingered as I stepped out into the chilly night. We continued walking through the camp some more and came back to the Souk. I was told this area of the camp experienced particular hardship during the intifada and suffered the most damage. Now the street was even more crowded than the afternoon. Old men walked in their patient pace, while children scurried around them under the store lights.

As we neared the end of the street we came across a funeral procession going in the opposite direction. A coffin surrounded by men who took turns holding death above their shoulders, floated along with their hurried march. We stepped to the side and respected the riveting silence. There was no apparent sadness in the eyes of most of these men. Only a clear sense of duty and direction, emanated from them. I was not left empty after witnessing the sight. Instead I was comforted. Life goes on in Balata camp. Its people live with a collective and resilient strength while bearing its hardships. I left with a renewed sense of duty in my own work with the children of the camps. I also left with the comfort of knowing that the friendships I have made here will last longer than this winter.

– Samee

Samee is an intern at TYO Nablus.


Inspirational Afternoon at TYO

On Monday, 22 February 2010 TYO hosted an inspirational afternoon that celebrated the winners of the Universal Education Foundation’s 2010 Elham contest. About 200 teachers, students and leaders from Ministry and UNRWA schools, along with NGO representatives from Nablus, attended the ceremony.

After a warm welcome by Outreach Specialist Futoon Qadri and International Director Nell Derick Debevoise, TYO’s Core Program teachers lead the audience in an engaging trivia activity that promoted critical thinking and fostered creative mood for the day’s event.

Marwan Awartani, Secretary-General of the Universal Education Foundation (UEF), an organization that advocates for the holistic development of children as a responsibility of society as a whole, gave an uplifting presentation to the audience about the importance of supporting innovative projects in Palestine.

TYO was thrilled to host this event at the Zafer al Masri Building in Nablus and looks forward to further collaboration with UEF.

Students and teachers are invited to submit their innovative projects to Elham for consideration to be adopted by the Ministries of Education, Health or Social Affairs. See more here.

TYO Welcomes Nablus Center Director Wynne Mancini

Tomorrow’s Youth Organization is excited to introduce the latest member of our team in Nablus. Wynne Mancini has joined the TYO staff as the Center Director of TYO’s flagship center in Nablus.

Wynne’s professional background is in Arabic and the Middle East. From 2007-2008, Wynne studied in Damascus, Syria on a CASA fellowship and also worked with the Director of Public Information while interning at UNRWA. In 2009, she graduated from Georgetown University with a masters degree in Arab Studies. While at Georgetown, Wynne worked as a research assistant at the United States Institute of Peace, examining American involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Her work experience in DC also includes consulting for the International Organization for Migration on their counter-trafficking publications.  Wynne initially became interested in the Arab World while living in France, where she worked as a paralegal in the Paris office of Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosle LLP. She received her B.A. from Princeton University in 2003. She is fluent in French and Arabic.

Please join us in welcoming Wynne to our team!

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Making school fun… Even on Saturdays!

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When they approached us this summer, Tomorrow’s Youth Organization was glad to respond to UNRWA’s request that we get involved in their Education Rehabilitation Plan. Concerned about falling rates of achievement in UNRWA schools, particularly in Arabic and Math, UNRWA’s central office in Jerusalem led the creation of a multi-year strategy to better support students who are struggling to pass standardized tests, beginning in Grade 3. Teacher training, de-centralization, and increased attention and care for children’s mental health are three focus areas of the strategy. The fourth is community engagement: leveraging the know-how and relationships of organizations in the schools’ communities to enrich the services that UNRWA is able to offer at-risk students.

In the context of this fourth pillar of the Education Recovery Plan, the TYO team spends each Saturday at a different UNRWA school. Two schools initially asked TYO to participate in their Saturday sessions, but word quickly spread, and we now divide Saturdays between three schools, with several others lining up for our services. As the program becomes more established, we hope to identify the resources needed to replicate the model of TYO’s involvement at other UNRWA schools in Nablus and elsewhere in the northern district.

For now, a dozen TYO-trained staff and volunteers from An Najah University each lead a group of students, from 6 to 16 years old, in games and activities designed to build teamwork, creativity, problem solving, and to provide an outlet for energy after spending an extra morning in tutoring sessions led by UNRWA teachers and volunteers.

Imad – TYO’s volunteer coordinator – along with Ahmad Hanani (health teacher) and Haitham Okeh (sports teacher) support TYO volunteers to plan activities each week, depending on what the students responded well to (or not!) during the previous session. He is now helping volunteers to work with older students on improving their school community: identifying first, the problems they observe, then possible solutions, and finally a feasible plan to address the most urgent problems that are within their control.

The Head Teachers of the schools where we’re working have expressed in no uncertain terms their gratitude for TYO’s contribution to their new Saturday sessions. Students are more likely to attend the optional programs to have a chance to participate in TYO-led activities; they focus better in the classroom in advance of the release provided by physical and social activities led by TYO; and the divides between cliques of students are fading as a result of their blending between different TYO groups (Imad wisely insisted on dividing them, rather than students choosing their own groups).

Congratulations to UNRWA on a great initiative to meet an important need of Palestinian children! Most importantly, credit is due for recognizing the value of engaging other community actors to support these at-risk students holistically, rather than trying to address their academic development with a monolithic approach. We look forward to continuing and expanding the cooperation between TYO and UNRWA in the service of Palestinian children’s academic and personal development!

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New Van helps TYO to unite Nablus

A generous donation from a philanthropist in Cairo funded the purchase of a new 19-passenger van for the Tomorrow’s Youth Organization center in Nablus! The van means a lot to TYO’s entire community, because they come to TYO from all over the city of Nablus and its refugee camps.

As a result of poverty, minimal public transportation infrastructure, and the safety risks of moving around the city, most Nabulsis with whom we work have never ventured beyond their immediate neighborhoods. Further, the large population of the three refugee camps within the city limits (about 1/3 of Nablus’s 120,000 people) is as isolated from residents of the ‘city’ of Nablus as those in the far-away city of Jerusalem.

TYO Van Stereotypes and mistrust flourish as a result of this lack of exposure to residents of Nablus’s other camps and neighborhoods. Indeed, on the first days of each TYO session, we see a variety of name-calling, teasing, and occasional physical conflict among the children who live in different areas of the city. Tensions have even flared between mothers from different neighborhoods in aerobics and computer classes.

But these quickly subside as the participants get to know each other. This spring, one family said: “Our children have formed new friendships across Balata/Askar lines” [two refugee camps located next to each other on the edge of Nablus].

This summer, for the first time, we have opened registration for some of the summer camps run by international interns to families from the city of Nablus who do not live in the five at-risk areas where most of our beneficiaries live. With the incentive of enjoying a high-quality educational and fun summer program, both children and parents have put aside their stereotypes about people they don’t usually associate with and we’ve seen barriers tumble. Summer intern Doris reports that some of the new participants from the city request to visit other classes at TYO, eager to join in on the movie-making, photo-taking fun with the participants from the camps and our other primary target areas.

On its pick-up route throughout the city, the new IVECO van helps TYO to invigorate and unite the city of Nablus, one family at a time!
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