The Best Medicine

It’s no secret – we work hard here at TYO. We spend our days oscillating between grownups and kids. We play freeze tag with 8-year-olds and then head inside to submit our weekly attendance spreadsheets and progress reports. We plan for hours, sometimes days, for an in-class activity and emerge from the office with pink crepe paper accidentally glued to our eyebrows. It’s a curious life in which we have to think like children and plan like adults. It can be overwhelming, which is where the kids serendipitously come in.

In the wise words of Buddy the Elf – I just like smiling; smiling’s my favorite. And nothing inspires more smiles than our sometimes sweet, sometimes infuriating, sometimes hilarious, always awesome kids. Cate recently had an interesting run-in with a water balloon. Samin banters with her kids about John Cena – American pro-wrestler and local kid idol. She’s even learned his signature motion, a stern look and rapid wave of the hand over the face – quite the intimidation technique from the always jovial Samin. And while communicating through the language barrier is always a challenge, we’ve found that a silly  joke or some good-natured teasing translates quite nicely.

I discovered the ‘humor bridge’ during a particularly toasty Sports Day outside with the kids. I was still a little anxious – it was only our second week on the job – and my mind was flooded with deadlines, logistics, and dozens of new names to memorize. As I stood in front of the kids, asking them to line up for the busses (“Sufoo! Sufoo!”) our adorable little bespectacled Nirmin ran up to me with a purple flower in her outstretched hand.

I was touched. I thanked her for the gift and, looking helplessly at my notebook in one hand and water in the other, placed the flower behind my ear. The other kids noticed my reaction, and soon I was an alarmed island in a sea of purple flowers clenched in cute little 8-year-old hands. I panicked – I couldn’t hold all of them in my hands but I certainly didn’t want to drop them. In a flash of ingenuity (or insanity) I began placing them at various locations on my head.

Very soon, I looked like an Amy-tree. Purple flowers sprouted from the back of my head, spilled over the corners of my ears and dipped precariously over my forehead. It was spontaneous. It was absurd. It was, apparently, hilarious.

I got a smile from even the most stoic of kids. A few of the adults regarded me with a sort of detached pity, but eventually cracked a smile. Some of the volunteers whom I hadn’t yet met giggled and lined up to take pictures. The anxiety melted away. I remembered why laughing – even if it’s at myself – is my absolute favorite pastime.

So I guess we don’t always have to choose between acting like adults or playing like kids. Sometimes we’re just a big group of humans, laughing at a girl who may or may not have bugs in her hair.



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.

Monday Field Day at El-Ein Refugee Camp

Last Monday TYO spent its weekly field visit in the Hamdi Manko Center, a large, open space near El-Ein refugee camp. We were greeted by fifty excited children, some who were familiar with TYO and some who were new to our program. Ahmad, a current TYO Core Program participant, introduced each and every single one of our staff members to his friends. We were ecstatic to see that Ahmad had relationships with not just one or two, but was close to each one of us. We fell in love with TYO all over again, understanding that it is a center built on meaningful connections between our staff members, volunteers, and, of course, children.

Despite growing up in difficult circumstances, we found that even the new children opened up to us quickly. Haitham, one of our wonderful Core Teachers, had students stand in a circle and introduce themselves differently. One of the boys, Mohammad, introduced himself as Hammodah, the loving nickname his mother has for him.

We played together for hours and, eventually, ended our day with one of our favorite TYO games: parachute!

– Ala

Ala is a Core Program Teacher at TYO Nablus.

The Hills: Rawabi

Until yesterday, my keys to the TYO Center floated precariously loose in my purse. Luckily, our trip to Rawabi yielded not only a nice new keychain bearing the municipality’s insignia, but also some fantastic views and the encompassing warmth of promise and hope.

Rawabi is the first planned Palestinian city and an absolutely enormous undertaking for the Palestinian people. Set in the rolling landscape between Nablus, Jerusalem and Ramallah, Rawabi is literally translated to “hills” in English. The city is initially intended to provide affordable housing to 25,000 Palestinian families, with an eventual aim of 40,000 permanent residents.

I was lucky enough to sit with Nisreen, the Executive Director of the Rawabi Foundation, as we settled into a spot on the city’s highest point for beautiful views and a-maz-ing tapas and juice. Nisreen had mentioned a plan to build a cultural center, museum, and outdoor amphitheater in a central location in the hopes of creating a cultural hub in the West Bank. Indeed, creating a sense of cultural pride can frequently boost a city’s identity beyond just an incidental collection of commercial and residential buildings. From years of jumping back and forth from northern Ohio to Los Angeles, I can attest to the importance of a Greek theater or Pro Football Hall of Fame to a city’s unique character. Even the – eccentric, we’ll call them – street artists on the Venice beach boardwalk create a sense of cultural pride.

Nisreen and her team are spot-on with this one. As we gazed onto the hill that would eventually pulse with Palestinian music, art, and history, the TYO team had a moment of collective awe at the possibilities literally sprawled out before our eyes. Part of our goal here at TYO is to encourage kids to nurture their creative instinct – to appreciate their potential for self expression. Sitting on that hill with the dedicated team of the Rawabi Foundation, I couldn’t help picturing Leen curating an art exhibit, or Nirmin adjusting the lighting scheme for a visiting string quartet. Maybe Ayman will coach a youth soccer team in the Rawabi public park.

Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself. But it’s nice to imagine that the same kids who walk through our classroom doors every day will soon have a major cultural outlet only 25 kilometers away. And in the meantime, check out Alex’s chalkboard-wall hybrid, Tala’s floor, or Samin’s sing-alongs for a sample of the kids’ creative efforts.


Amy is a summer intern at TYO Nablus.

Field Trip to the Park with the Core Program!

Last Thursday, the Core Teachers skipped TYO’s building and went straight to the park with their students. It’s was a beautiful day and end to a long week, so we all decided the kids could use some fun in the sun. They played on the swings, jumped around in the sand, and got some exercise. And, we ran around taking pictures of their experience. Here are some of them!

“I’m so happy here! This is the first time I’ve been to a park!” said Sadeel, a 4-year-old. Sadeel wasn’t the only one who was new to the playful park experience. Some of the children weren’t sure what to do. Maid, for example, refused to play because he wasn’t sure what to do at a park until another child, Nihad, came to play with and help Maid. It’s great seeing the kids caring for each other, trying new things, and have fun!

The kids loved to role play on the playground. Here is a little girl driving!

We ended the day with some face painting. Kids requested flowers, butterflies, lions, cats, and even the TYO building! Eventually, the hours passed and it was time to go but the kids all expressed their excitement about another field trip to the park. It was a great day for the Core Program!


Suhad is the Psychosocial Program Manager.

MetaThought – An exploration of critical thinking in Palestine

Intern Alex and I are teaching TYO’s first Creative Thinking class this summer session. As has quickly been driven home, teaching here in Nablus demands you be adaptive and quick on your feet. I approached the challenge of a pilot class with vigor, enthusiasm, and the sort of ambitious idealism that only the slightly naive possess. One week later, pulled down from the clouds by two groups of very real 8-year-olds with 8-year-old attention spans, I am ready to reexamine this idea of critical thinking.

The thing is, we’re not so different – me and Ayman or Muhammad or Nirmin. We all, child and adult, American and Palestinian, have a propensity to follow the easiest form of logic. Our brains nestle into a pattern of thought like we nestle into our favorite spot on the couch. It’s an unfortunate reality – sometimes it’s just easier to hold our questions and go with the flow.

So how do we encourage inquisitiveness and brain teasing among children who have been taught to think in very linear ways? And how do we do it, when all they want to do is drop the puzzle, go outside and play soccer with Colin? I believe that the answer is closer than I may have originally thought.

Today, Alex and I were working on creating Tangrams, a puzzle of Chinese origin whose pieces can be rearranged to form nearly 6,000 different shapes. Curious, a few other interns floated over to our workstation and began tinkering around in an attempt to work out the most popular formation of the pieces – a perfect square.

It isn’t as easy as it sounds. I think it took me nearly a half-hour the first time, and that’s with a generous dose of rose-colored memory glasses. “This is so frustrating!” Tala exclaimed within minutes. Megan just stared at her amorphous blob and sighed, “I don’t have the patience for stuff like this.” As I watched (admittedly with a bit of smug amusement, as I had the solution memorized), I began to wonder how the students would react to being challenged with a puzzle that had stumped a roomful of college-educated adults, myself included.

I also realized that critical thinking can be as simple as reaching an incorrect conclusion, recognizing it, and then attempting to make it right. To that end, I will take my Tangrams into my class this week with an open mind and a rapid heart rate. Perhaps the students will grow tired of the exercise in mere moments. Or maybe, just maybe, they’ll see a problem, know that it has a solution, and work until they find it.

Happy thoughts!

– Amy

Amy is a summer intern at TYO Nablus.

Triple Exposure Rockin’ Out

My 12-14 year-olds coming from the local camps arrived at TYO enthused, eager and ready to learn. Weeks before, they had signed up for my photography class, Triple Exposure, hailing from all the local refugee camps: Old Askar, New Askar, Balata and Al-Ein.  Additionally, a few others come from the surrounding neighborhood of Khalleh and the Old City of Nablus.

While the focus of our first week was to introduce the students to TYO and our overall goals for the semester, we branched off and found many great, unexpected successes. The students showed skills that I thought would take time to develop such as creativity and perspective. The scavenger hunt activity that we did on day one gives testament to these skills.

The angles, use of light, and their passion was evident with each photograph. Furthermore, I thought that it would take many classes- even weeks for the students to learn how to use a Nikon or Canon DSLR camera; however, this was not the case. The students masterfully focused on their subject, adjusted the magnification and great photos resulted. Continue reading