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.

Spring Football Off To A Grand Start

Late afternoon, early spring, a vanilla sky descending upon us and tinting the surrounds with soft, pastel brushstrokes. A large group of young men from the neighborhood sit in the cement stands surprisingly patient and disciplined, only their anxious, excited eyes betraying an otherwise cool resolve. A sort of calm before the storm you might say. They listen as Adam and Yazid go through League Rules. Finished, the two look over to me. A beat passes before I snap out of my reverie.

Then, with my feet quickly back on the ground, I begin drafting the forty-three players who arrived on Monday evening to take part in our newly formed soccer league. We balance age, size, and skill in assigning them to one of five, historic franchises. Barcelona, Real Madrid, Lyon, Bayern Munich, and Arsenal. They are all greeted by their respective coach and team manager, a collection of gifted and generous volunteers (not to mention precocious footballing minds) that have stepped forward to help Adam and I in the running of the league. I walk around as the teams begin to talk strategy, positioning, what do you think lads, are we designed for the orthodox, efficient, structured and technical play of the Germans? We’ve got some height…perhaps we should look to get the ball wide and knock in crosses like the English. They’ve been convinced of the aerial game’s merits since WWII, after all, and have seen (some) success. Or are we more South American in character, players that need space for individual expression, freedom for flair and cheeky touches, for dribbling displays, spontaneity, spur of the moment creativity?

I’d imagine the conversations went down like that, at least. My Arabic is not quite the stuff of legends yet. Whatever the content of the team huddles, however, after about ten minutes of discussion, the Nablus Premier League (although Champion’s League is probably a more fitting title) at long last officially kicked off. Battling it out on the asphalt pitch that lies just outside the ground floor of the TYO facility, the night witnessed spirited contests, striking displays of skill and collaboration, and even a last second winning goal delivered by Mohammed Hassameh of Real Madrid.

The matches all ran fifteen minutes (five in total) as Adam, myself, and our incredible translators refereed, organized, registered players, passed through a few transfer orders, and were swept up in the great energy of the young men. In view of the league’s auspicious debut and the incredible enthusiasm these young folks displayed, thrilled and appreciative just to have a place to compete, to socialize, to be young and enjoy the camaraderie of youth sports, I feel safe in predicting wonderful success going forward.

In case you were wondering, Arsenal sits atop the Table right now with two convincing wins, the team pushing forward with the same understated confidence that their manager Ali Ramadan displays on the sideline. Bayern Munich and Real Madrid are just three points behind with a match in hand, while Lyon and Barcelona are still working out the kinks at the bottom of the standings. With the temperature rising and the days growing longer, I can’t wait to watch as the League really hits its stride in the weeks to come.

Until next time, stay fly.

– Colin

Mosaic Mania!

Check out the new post by Project Coordinator Doris on the Triple Exposure website:

Triple Exposure mural students have truly stunned us with the beauty and originality of the mosaic murals which are now complete! The first mural, titled “Representations of Palestine” by the students, features olive trees, flowers, and butterflies to celebrate the beauty of the landscape around Nablus. This mural overlooks the TYO parking lot and thus brightens the day…

Our third mural, located on a central street in Nablus

“Triple Exposure” is a TYO initiative that aims to develop identity, awareness, and vocational skills among children and adolescents through teaching photographic expression and the production of public art.

TYO Volunteers Attend Successful Youth Camp

On Monday, August 9, 2010 a three-day youth camp sponsored by TYO came to a bittersweet close. Forty-two university-age volunteers from the spring and summer sessions participated in the camp, which was led by Sports Teacher Haitham and Volunteer Coordinator Imad. The end of summer is an important time for reflection and forward thinking as the new academic year approaches, and the main objective of the camp was to pledge a commitment to improving personal competencies like communication and leadership skills and a commitment to improving the local community.

The camp featured various service projects, workshops and sports activities. Workshops were geared at honing important skills and discussing how to make positive social changes, including a workshop titled “The Art of Listening” led by Khamis, 20, from Askar refugee camp and Ruba, 21, from Khallet al-Amood and a workshop titled “Understanding Others” lead by Imad and Yousef, 21, from Awarta village.

“The harmony between the volunteers during the camp was incredible. It was such a unique experience for us to be together outside of the TYO Center,” said Khamis.

The camp culminated with a workshop in which the participants were asked to identify problems in their communities. Each participant was asked to identify two and then a general vote was cast in which a single social problem was nominated to become a targeted project for the volunteers in the coming year. At the end of much debate, it was decided that the most pressing issue is the community’s struggle to learn the English language. This problem affects many – from the youngest primary-school student who struggles with his homework to the most brilliant engineer who cannot break into the international arena. Over the coming year, these TYO volunteers will work to engage and support local organizations and institutions that teach English in order to increase awareness of and access to their services for the entire community.

“You cannot imagine how high their commitment was during the workshops. It was 100% successful,” said Imad.

Stay tuned for photos from the event!

Triple Exposure mural in the city!

Triple Exposure mural students are in the midst of work on our THIRD mural! This mosaic mural will be in the heart of the city — visit the project website to see photos.

Photo of the Day: Volunteer Training

On Monday and Tuesday, Professor Akram Othman, a psychosocial specialist, lead the TYO volunteers in a training on creative and critical thinking and taking initiative.

UNAoC grant funds new Youth project

Several TYO volunteers on a trip to Bethlehem University

In late November, the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations Youth Fund awarded TYO a $20,000 grant for its “Speaking for Ourselves: Youth-led Do-plomacy” project. TYO’s project was chosen out of 500+ submissions for this very exciting award.

The project will engage three Palestinian and three American interns as the leaders of the project. Through extensive training in intercultural dialogue and familiarization with Palestinian culture (both traditional and modern forms), the six interns will produce a user‐friendly, multi‐media guide to present Palestinian culture to audiences around the world. For the duration of the project, the six interns will document their experience on several social media sites including this blog, Facebook and Twitter. The final result of the project will be a Do‐plomacy Manual designed by our interns to teach other youth about Nablus culture in a way that is interesting, authentic and dissolves prejudice. This tool, in conjunction with the project’s social media efforts, will address the critical problem in Nablus of being isolated from the rest of the world as well as growing divides between the Middle East and the US (and North America and Europe).

Since the beginning of December, coordinators Imad and Chelsey have worked diligently to prepare for the project’s official launch next month. Imad attended a training course in Strasbourg, France from December 12 to19 on effective global youth projects for intercultural dialogue. Chelsey continues to work in conjunction with Nell and Wynne, TYO’s Executive Directors, to recruit three American interns for the project.

Once the Manual is complete, interns will lead Do‐plomacy sessions, directly reaching at least 360 youth here in the West Bank and abroad. However, our target is truly the entire world – we will commit great energy to spreading the concept and our Manual as far and wide as possible. Likewise, we are committed to its sustainability: each spring, TYO will recruit 2 interns, one Palestinian and one American, to revise the Manual as needed based on changing cultural and political contexts.

Isabelle LeGare, Youth Programs manager at UNAoC wrote the following message to Imad following his participation in the Strasbourg conference.

“Your level of commitment to TYO’s work and Palestinian youth was extremely impressive. You worked so well in the team and acted as a “sponge”, wanting to get as much as you could from the training. Your comments, ideas and level of engagement showed that you are a true leader. I am really really looking forward to working with you in the next 6 months and beyond. TYO can count on a very strong coordinator for their Youth Solidarity Fund project.”

We look forward to advancing intercultural dialogue in Nablus through the launch of this project early next year.