Intern Journal: This Class is Our Class

My volunteers are my extra set of eyes, ears and hands. They step in when I need materials passed out and when I need help rearranging my classroom for a new activity. They step in when a child needs a hole punched for a mask and when they need a string tied for a kite. Most importantly, they step in when a student has a problem that I can’t immediately address. After all, I am just one person with anywhere from 10-18 students. And without my volunteers, I couldn’t teach my classes.

This past Monday, right after Field Day in Balata and Community English class, my volunteers, translator and I met in my classroom to discuss our Arts & Crafts class. Throughout the session I have continuously stressed that this class is ours and I always welcome and encourage suggestions. But on Monday, I wanted to remind them just how important they really are to this class.

For the next 45 minutes we discussed what we’ve learned about our class and our kids thus far. What works in class and what doesn’t, what needs to stay and what should we change, but also how to improve. The amount of feedback I got from them was amazing. Together we agreed, using the hand clapping technique we tried to implement at the start of the session, doesn’t get the children’s attention like we had hoped. But making simple yet functional projects is a great way to keep the kids engaged. I appreciated the craft project suggestions from them too. Everything from flowers made of plastic bags, to face paint, to a mural! I have already implemented an idea: adding background music to class while they work on their project. The kids really enjoyed it too!

I want my volunteers to be on board for every craft project or silly game I attempt with my kids. I want them to be as enthusiastic about lessons as I am. And so that things runs smoothly, it is so important that they are included in the decision-making process and can take some ownership of the class. I know that my volunteers walked away from the meeting on Monday feeling much better about the remainder of the session. Weekly, I will keep reminding them that  this class is our class.

– Tala

Tala is a summer intern at TYO Nablus.

SOW Team: A Day in the Life of a TYO Volunteer

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I woke up feeling a little nervous, like the first day of school when you don’t know anyone yet. I walked down to the main floor of the Nablus Center to see many kids sitting along four tables, wide-eyed and restless. Who do I talk to when I can’t say more than ten words? I walk up to a small boy in an orange Holland jersey fumbling with his backpack, “Marhaba, Shooo issmek?” I say, still unsure if I’m pronouncing it correctly. He stares at me with a worried look and I back away embarrassed. Ala, a Core Child teacher at TYO who teaches IT skills, and my only friend who speaks English, points me in the direction of one of the classrooms. I can’t tell who’s more nervous at this point, the kids or myself.

I feel like the new kid again. I shyly introduce myself and take the open seat next to the kid in the Holland jersey. The teacher continues talking in Arabic as a few kids continue to stare in my direction. When your ability to communicate is taken away, you have to rely solely on universal gestures. The fellow volunteers start to hand out blank paper. Are those really butterflies in my stomach? I feel as if I am five again and have to hold the urge to grab the crayons first. It’s only been five minutes and I’m already uncontrollably smiling.

It’s no wonder TYO has so many volunteers. They have over 100 for the summer session, mainly from An Najah University, and overwhelmingly female. They actually started out with only 12 volunteers, all males, but with the increase in numbers each year, more and more women started to participate. After snack time, we prepare for our morning field trip to the Nablus Fire Department. I don’t remember the last time I visited a fire station, probably when I was about this age. After settling who travels on what bus (the kids must be separated by where they’re coming from, Askar, Balata, Khallet al Amood) we make our way down to the Nablus Fire Department.

It would seem that fire stations are impressive everywhere. The firemen greeted us in their typical outfits. There were then some demonstrations. Even though I couldn’t understand, Ala was quick to translate whenever there was a funny moment, such as when one kid, when prompted by the firemen if he had any questions, asked about a monster that attacked his foot last night. I enjoyed the children’s Q&A very much, but I had a question of my own so I conversed with one of the volunteers at the fire station. He told me that it was a long process to become a firemen and that he has volunteered for about seven years!

It seems as if volunteering is a natural option for those at the University because they are able to get professional skills they wouldn’t otherwise have access. Similar to the United States, where internships are the norm before getting a real job, volunteering has become increasingly common in the West Bank. Professor Jawad Fatayer, of An Najah University, stresses that this desire is more than just professional. It is also personal. Volunteers feel a sense of community through their work, that they are making an impact. That is probably why so many of the volunteers stay. Most of the volunteers we interviewed had been with TYO since the beginning. It is great to see how comfortable they are with the kids.

After waiting for a bit, our bus arrives. I thank the firemen for their time and prepare for a relaxing and reflective ride back. I am starting to feel less like the new kid and more like a new friend. When we get back, Alaa, Haitham, and Jawad, the Core Child teachers, even invite me to sit with them for lunch. I am touched. I have been used to the familiar territory of the sixth floor; however, it is nice to be around the volunteers whose faces I frequently see, but I’ve never had the opportunity of working side-by-side with. They tell me that all of the volunteers stay throughout the day despite having a break between the morning and afternoon programming. I notice them hanging out in front of the center, or talking in the computer class.

It is a warm feeling coming back to TYO and I understand a little bit better what it means to be a volunteer. It is not just a role, but a mindset. You can tell that it must not always be so easy to work with the kids but the volunteers genuinely enjoy their work. They continue to come and be a part of TYO and the bond is obvious. I become slightly jealous that I don’t have a place like this back home, and a little guilty that I maybe haven’t searched for it as much as these students have. I walk upstairs feeling that sense of accomplishment and fulfillment that Dr. Jawad described. For a little while, it is easy to feel hope and love, to feel an impact, to feel a connection.

– Sarah

Sarah is the journalist for the SOW National Team.

Volunteer Spotlight: Luai

My name is Luai, and I am a 25-year-old from Odla Village near Nablus. I first began volunteering with TYO while I was a sophomore studying Arabic at An Najah University. I didn’t necessarily consider teaching much, but I had some free time and thought it would be fun to play with kids in sports classes.

I quickly realized what a rewarding experience it was to volunteer, and couldn’t help but sign up to volunteer in more classes, including computer, summer camp, and art classes. I found out that I ended up learning while teaching, that I could not wait to finish my classes so I could go to TYO and play with the children.

Don’t get me wrong – it wasn’t always easy. I had no idea how to work with children, let alone children who had come from difficult backgrounds. Even during the most stressful times, however, I always left TYO wishing I could stay longer with the children.

That’s what made me realize that I wanted to become a teacher. I have since graduated from An Najah and am now a certified teacher with the Ministry of Education and, when I am not volunteering at TYO, I am teaching 14 to 18 year old students Arabic at a local school. I try to incorporate what I’ve learned at TYO as much as I can. Our school system in Nablus is very rigid, but TYO has taught me the importance of being a kid and having the opportunity to open our minds to creative ideas. It also stressed a crucial component of being part of the Nabulsi community: working in teams. To teach, I divide students in groups and have them work together with the help of teaching aids. I’ve noticed that the kids not only learn more, but they are happier. I am excited to continue integrating what I’ve learned from my experiences at TYO with my new job as a teacher.

I have no intention of leaving TYO though. As long as TYO’s doors are open, I will be here doing what I can.

– Luai

Luai is a volunteer at TYO Nablus.

More about TYO’s volunteers:
Like Luai, 95 volunteers hail from An Najah University. Others come from surrounding colleges, including Al Quds Open University. Of the whopping 125 registered volunteers for this term, 95 are female and 27 are male. Five of them have been with TYO since the beginning and 17 have been with TYO for at least two years. Three quarters of our volunteers aren’t just helping teach in the classrooms, but are also still students in the university classroom themselves. We couldn’t ask for a more dedicate core group of volunteers and we certainly couldn’t do our jobs without them.

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.

 

International Volunteer Day at TYO

Tomorrow’s Youth Organization (TYO) celebrated United Nations’ International Volunteer Day today (Sunday, December 5, 2010) in conjunction with the penultimate week of the fall session. In an award ceremony with honored guests An Najah National University President Dr. Rami Hamdallah, Dr. Jawad Fatayer and Mrs. Asma Masri, over 60 Palestinian volunteers and four American interns received certificates in recognition of their work this session. Ten exemplary volunteers received special recognition by Dr. Hamdallah and TYO for their outstanding service and perfect attendance over the course of the session.

International Volunteer Day is of particular significance in Nablus where over 50 percent of the population is under 25 years old.  This day resonates with TYO’s community-based approach to early childhood education in which children, youth, university students and parents are engaged to work for positive social change through active participation and volunteerism.  Volunteering at TYO ensures that the rising generation has the necessary leadership, communication, and problem solving skills for productive lives as parents, professionals and citizens.

“I want to personally thank all our volunteers for giving TYO children role models who provide positive, individualized attention in the classroom and beyond,” said Nablus Center Director Humaira at the ceremony. “Your leadership gives the children of Nablus hope for a brighter future.”

Following the ceremony, TYO’s staff and volunteers descended upon a local park for a community trash pick up in honor of this important day.

TYO extends a heartfelt thank you to all of the Palestinian and American volunteers that make our work in Nablus possible. Thank you for your time and efforts!

Highlights of the Week

As an intern at Tomorrow’s Youth Organization, I have the wonderful opportunity to directly experience TYO’s multi-generational approach to community-building by leading an aerobics class for women of various ages and a dance class for pre-adolescent girls.  While working to help the women in my aerobics class improve their level of physical fitness and knowledge of wellness issues, I have discovered that several of the workouts popular in the United States are also enthusiastically received by Palestinian women, including Tae Bo and yoga.  As for my dance class, I focus the first half of each lesson on ballet.  In just six class sessions, the girls have learned first through fifth position, port de bras, plié, relevé, tendu, and rond de jambe. I spend the second half of class teaching hip hop, in which several of my students have demonstrated a real talent.  So far, the girls have learned how to chain together nearly 15 steps to create a hip hop dance routine.

Outside of class, I seized several opportunities to become better acquainted with my translators and volunteers this weekend.  My aerobics class translator, Hanin, had previously extended an invitation to me to visit her home, and I gladly accepted her kind offer on Thursday evening, when I joined her family for dinner.  She and her husband picked me up from TYO and drove me to their house, where I met her children and a few relatives.  Hanin had prepared a delicious dinner of foul, pita bread, kibbeh, fried tomatoes, a tahini-based dish, eggplant, and fettoosh, which we topped off with home-made ice cream cake.  Hanin and I then moved out to the balcony to chat over coffee and fresh fruit.  We sat in the stillness of the evening, breathing in the chilliness of the night air and enjoying each other’s company.  Hanin’s daughter Nana and son Munir, both of whom are close to me in age, soon joined us, and we gradually began to open up to each other.  Perhaps inspired by my revelation that it was the first time I had tasted fresh guava, and despite my protest since she had already lavished enough generosity upon me, Hanin stuffed an ice-cream container full of fresh fruit for me to take home.  Finally, her family and I packed into their car for a driving tour of Rafidia, a fun going-out district full of boutiques, restaurants, and ice cream shops where many of Nablus’s Christian residents live.

I found myself coming back to Rafidia the next evening with Adrienne, Ashwini, and Samee to meet our Kalimatna Initiative partners Hasan and Haya, accompanied by her sister Hala, for “fruit cocktails” (milkshakes made with fruit juice, ice cream, and nuts and topped mixed fruits on top) at Fekhfekhina, a fruit juice and ice cream shop.  I ran into our third Kalimatna Initiative partner, Khamis, on Saturday in the municipal park outside the Suwarna Exhibition featuring photographs taken by Nabulsi children participating in TYO’s Triple Exposure program.  There were also several other TYO volunteers helping out at the exhibit, including my dance class volunteers Ruba and Jumana.

After seeing the Suwarna exhibit, I walked with Ruba and Jumana to Rafidia to meet with more of our class volunteers—Somoud, Iman, and my translator, Farah—for snacks at a restaurant with a great view overlooking the mountains and hills of the city.  I was glad to have the chance to spend an afternoon with my volunteers outside of the classroom to learn about what subjects they were studying at the university, how many brothers and sisters they had, and their past volunteer experiences at TYO.  In turn, they took the opportunity to learn about my interest in Arab and Palestinian culture, my passion for working with children and youth, my impressions of Nablus, and a bit about my life in the United States.

– Julie

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