Intern Journal: Adjusting My Expectations

It’s a cardinal rule that I have when I travel that I do not have too many expectations. If you are flexible with what you will find, then you will not be disappointed. Your preconceptions about whatever new place you are going to are probably not founded on much more than  your stereotypes or your guidebooks or your friends’ experiences, and it serves you best just to go with an open mind.

Of course I’ve tried to approach many things in Nablus and at TYO in a similar way and for the most part I believe I’ve done a fairly good job and had a wonderful experience because of it, just letting myself soak up and be impressed by what is happening and not being concerned with how it differed from my expectations.

But I may have faltered a bit.

I had a vision of teaching dance to the mothers here at TYO that would expose them to as many forms of dance as I have an elementary grasp of: ballet, tap, jazz, salsa, meringue and (my personal favorite) hip hop.  When I arrived here last October I was intent on actualizing that vision.  It was then that I hit my first hurdle: the mothers weren’t particularly interested in dancing at all.  They were interested in losing weight.  And, their concept of exercise did not include any form of dancing.

That was okay though because I was then on a mission.  I would teach them dance, help them lose weight (or at least get a good workout ) and then they would know that dance is good exercise.  So I began to choreograph little workouts set to music that combined simple dance moves with simple aerobics workouts and it was a success!  My class seemed happy, and when I kicked off the spring session, I had some returning students.

A few weeks ago, I began teaching the moms the salsa steps, which I could tell they really enjoyed learning and practicing.  I ran into an issue, which was that whenever I would concentrate on a set of partners to help them get the steps down, the other ladies would begin to pack up and go!  I could never quite get them all to stay so my salsa classes were eventually dropped.

To replace them and to ensure that my ladies were getting a good workout, I introduced a weight set using full water bottles as weights.  The women have taken to it really well and have appreciated shaking up the routine that way.  Another success!

Then, this week, what might have become the death-knell of my vision of a dance-geared exercise class, was that my ladies requested that there be no music.  Of course, I don’t know how long I could have gotten away with playing my favorite music instead of their favorite music anyways.

I realized, however, that the point of my coming to Nablus was not to cater to what I wanted to do to improve people’s lives here (albeit in a very small way).  In teaching the exercise class that I now teach, I provide women with a chance to get out of their houses and enjoy themselves for a few hours a week.  They chat with their friends, they bring their adorable children, they have a good time.  They are also able to treat their bodies well and to learn about good nutrition.  At the end of the day, providing any helpful service that I can is the essential part of my being here, not the specific form that service may take.

– Bieta

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

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Intern Journal: Multi-generational programming

The soundtrack to my yoga class differs from any I’ve been in before. Many of the women participating in the class are mothers and some of them bring their children with them when they come to yoga. So in addition to audible deep breaths in and out, I can also hear infants gurgling or the pattering of toddlers’ feet as I guide the class through forward bends, standing poses, and twists.

The yoga room offers just one view of the multi-generational environment at TYO. The Core Child Program consists of health, art, sports, and technology classes for 4 to 8 year-olds, but early childhood education is not the only site of learning here. This session I and another intern teach classes in art and drama for 9-12 year-olds, while two former interns are leading a mural painting and photography project with 12-15 year-olds. The volunteers who assist in our classes are local students from An-Najah University. And just this week 25 women began orientation for a economic empowerment project started by TYO.

As an organization, TYO itself is still in its infancy, having started just 2 years ago. Its ability to offer programs and involvement to community members of all ages creates the unique setting where at any moment I can ask advice from an older staff member, hear about growing up during the second intifada from someone my age, or smile at the sight of small children sliding across the marble-like floor of the main hall. When I asked Chelsey, the program coordinator from Maine, if TYO anticipated the young students in my class eventually becoming volunteer assistants, she told me that in her mind TYO will be a success when a child who completed the core program becomes the center director. What a positive vision for tomorrow’s youth!

-Kara

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

Sharing Knowledge about Women’s Economic Empowerment

On Thursday, January 27, 2009, Tomorrow’s Youth Organization kicked off its Fostering Women Entrepreneurs in Nablus project, in cooperation with the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women and the Small Enterprise Center, with a workshop on women’s projects in the West Bank. Over 35 representatives from different organizations and societies throughout the West Bank attended the “Challenges and Opportunities in Women’s Projects” workshop at the TYO Center in the Zafer al-Masri Foundation Building. Tharwat al Shami of the Portland Trust, and Ali Awartani of the Business Development Centre, also funded by the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, and overseen by the Palestinian Businesswomen’s Forum contributed to the event’s organization and content. We are working on uploading video of the event to our YouTube channel, as Nablus internet connectivity permits!

The workshop provided a chance for this diverse audience to discuss the current status of economic empowerment projects in the West Bank, their successes and failures, and brainstormed elements of successful projects. Participants welcomed this rare opportunity to share their experiences.

Representatives from nonprofits such as DAI, Palestinian Businesswomen’s Associaton (Asala), Dalia, Abraham’s Path Initiative, Economic and Social Development Center of Palestine (ESDC) and many more broke off into working groups. One group identified the lack of expertise in national and international markets as a major obstacle to women’s economic success in the West Bank. Other participants added that a lack of local knowledge about marketing and complicated government procedures causes many women’s projects to fail. Another common shortcoming was that women often establish social associations in response to finite donor funding, which might have a revenue generation element, but are not structured as sustainable, profit-making businesses.

The second group discussed planning in women’s projects. They suggested that too often there isn’t enough planning.  They believe a centralized project database would be very useful. There are many similar projects, but no way to know how many, where they are, or whether or not they have been successful. The participants in this group suggested creating a database with information on all the women’s projects in the West Bank. An Italian donor has been working on just such a database through a project called Tawasul, although nothing has been made public yet.

The third group, which focused on solutions, stressed the need for continuous capacity building and skills training for participants. This group also pointed out that successful projects should always reflect the needs of the participants.

The Palestinian Authority’s Minister of Social Affairs, Ms. Majida al Masri, delivered uplifting remarks at the end of the workshop, which will be uploaded shortly in Arabic to TYO’s YouTube channel. She closed a very productive day with this encouragement:

“I am very enthusiastic about organizations like TYO that offer programs to support women entrepreneurs. These programs offer a good opportunity to women in need.”

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Intern Journal: Back in 2010

Bieta at the Giza Pyramids in Cairo over the break

Although TYO’s building has yet to be filled with all of our students, it has been very comforting and welcoming to be back in Nablus and preparing for our new session!   I am very happy to return, as I have begun to consider the city and the center my home.  The friendships that I have made here with colleagues, students, locals and expatriates have become very close and I am glad to put off saying good bye for a little while longer.

It was tough to be away from Nablus for the holidays, but it did afford me the opportunity to think about my classes this semester.  I have chosen to teach another round of the same classes again this spring. I gained invaluable knowledge teaching the drama and exercise class during the fall session, which I can put to good use in improving the same classes.  The new crop of students in my drama class can expect some surprises and improvements and the women who attend my exercise class can expect to expand upon the dances we learned last session and add a lot more to their moves! I am definitely looking forward to the challenge of filling up an entire 90 minute class with fun and strenuous workouts!

In addition to teaching my drama and exercise class, I am also happy to be a part of the UNAoC grant project with the incoming interns!  This project will produce a multimedia guide to Nablusi culture.  I look forward to working with the new American and Palestinians interns to create this guide. This process will no doubt form strong bonds between us as we reach out to Palestinian and American youth and hopefully, through our social media efforts, to youth around the world.

All in all, I am looking forward to this semester with a lot of anticipation and excitement!

-Bieta

President Clinton endorses TYO’s women’s entrepreneurialism initiative

CGI sealFollowing our fabulous experience at CGI 2009 in New York last month, we were happy to hear from the CGI folks again today! They have made available an official seal of approval for all Commitment Makers in good standing (at left). They’ll also send a certificate signed by President Clinton that we will proudly display in the entrance of our Nablus Center, next to our other commitment certificate from CGI 2007!

In the meantime, we can confidently say that our commitment is in very good standing – we’re interviewing for Project Managers on Wednesday for the women’s economic empowerment initiative that we’ve developed in cooperation with the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women. The Small Enterprise Center of Ramallah is the local technical partner, and has generously agreed to help out from the very first stages of project development and recruitment.

Another great development on this front this week was learning of the Entrepreneurial Finance Lab within Harvard’s Center for International Development from Henriette Kolb, Director of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women. The team at Harvard is studying ways to remedy the under-utilized economic potential of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in developing countries. This group at Harvard, as well as Mrs. Blair and her Foundation, see SMEs as an essential ingredient for fighting poverty, in different ways from microfinance initiaitives or global expansion of Fortune 500 companies. Harvard’s site provides a comprehensive and lucid description of the issue, as well as innovative and compelling solutions that they are developing, including using psychometric tests to evaluate loan applications!

Come visit us in Nablus to see the CGI certificates in person, and more importantly, check out this exciting new project to promote women as innovative and potent economic engines in their community!

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Mrs. Cherie Blair talks about our Partnership

Mrs. Cherie Blair, Founder of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women is interviewed by Steve Clemons of the New America Foundation and Washington Note at the Clinton Global Initiative 2009 in New York. She addresses the issue of women’s economic empowerment in the West Bank, and a new initiative that her Foundation is pursuing in partnership with Tomorrow’s Youth Organization, which was founded by fellow CGI member Hani Masri.

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Next step in cooperation with Cherie Blair Foundation

Following Mrs. Cherie Blair’s visit last week (May 3), TYO has moved to the next step of cooperation, submitting a proposal for a joint project with the Cherie Blair Foundation in honor of Mother’s Day yesterday. We suggested an eight-month pilot project that would train members of TYO’s community (university volunteers and mothers of our participants) in life skills and design and marketing techniques. The outcome of the project would be to produce modern items reflecting traditional Palestinian embroidery skills for international sale. The larger goal would be to empower women as creative and productive community members, promoting financial security for themselves and their families.

CBF staff are reviewing the proposal so that we can continue our discussion about working together in the coming days. In the meantime, we wanted to share the following information about CBF’s work:

The mission of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women is to provide the business skills and tools that will enable women across the world to realise their potential and achieve economic independence and success.

Women with economic security and independence have greater control over their own and their children’s lives. Economic empowerment also gives women an influential voice in tackling injustice and discrimination in their own communities and in wider society.

“I am passionate about championing the cause of women. Whenever I can, I do so through my professional life as a human rights lawyer.
And I also have used my higher personal profile over the last few years to take the message out to any audience which will listen to me.
So I have spoken to audiences about the importance of women’s rights here across Europe and North America but also in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. And wherever I have been, I always tried to grab the chance to meet with women to discuss the challenges they face in their own societies.
I have always found these meetings fascinating and frequently inspiring. When you hear first-hand, for example, of the role women are playing in healing the scars of Rwanda, you leave humbled by their courage but also determined to do what you can to help.
What has also struck me is the widespread desire of women in the developing world for advice and support from those of us who live in the more developed countries. They feel such help would not only have a real practical benefit – whether with advice on how best to tackle discrimination or, for example, expand their businesses – but would also play a major role in boosting morale in their fight to improve their lives.
I have also been encouraged by the fact that, whenever I have mentioned this to women in countries like our own, there has been a real enthusiasm to provide this help and support.
That is the reason I have set up the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women. Its aim is to help women across the world to realize their potential by promoting and supporting their economic independence and empowerment. In particular, it seeks to promote women’s role and leadership in the global economy by enhancing the growth of women-owned small and medium enterprises in the developing world.
Women with economic security and independence have much greater control over the lives of themselves and their children. It also, importantly, gives women a more influential voice in their communities and wider society to tackle injustice and discrimination.” – Cherie Blair

About the Foundation
Given the prevalence of informal self employment in many African and Asian economies, the expansion of successful micro enterprises into employment-generating small and medium enterprises (SMEs) is of great importance for economic growth. As women are the primary participants in micro finance programmes, the growth and further expansion of these women-owned enterprises is essential.

Evidence shows that the enterprise gender gap widens for established business owners (enterprises existing beyond 42 months), suggesting that women face specific barriers to establishing and expanding vibrant businesses. Although no single barrier explains the gap, studies find that women entrepreneurs are less likely to have knowledge and experience in financial management and are less likely to have and utilize business networks – two critical areas for successful business.

While micro finance programmes often provide a basic level of training in financing, women looking to grow their businesses will require a much higher skill level in finance and management. The market currently lacks training and networking programmes to support women in this expansion and micro finance providers have expressed great interest in linking their most successful clients (approximately 1-3%) to a more advanced business development programmes. The CBFW will do just that, partnering with micro finance organizations and business service providers to develop a new programme to support women entrepreneurs grow into and thrive at the SME level.