This week we reflect on TYO’s recently published Community Needs Assessment and its connection to our classes.
On Tuesday morning the TYO center was abuzz with the sound of high-heels smacking against tile and filled with the sight of austere security personnel tapping incessantly at their earpieces. The source of this commotion was the completion of a yearlong project to assess the needs of communities that TYO serves. This assessment culminated in a discussion of the report’s key findings with representatives from the local academic and NGO community, as well as members of UNRWA and the U.S. Consulate General of Jerusalem (hence the earpieces and black SUVs). For interns like me, whose understanding of Nablus is somewhat superficial, the needs assessment has given us crucial insight into the communities that we serve and helped us tailor our projects to better suit them.
One aspect of the needs assessment that has greatly influenced my work at TYO is its findings regarding inter-community violence in the local school system. Upon discovering that fighting and bullying are prevalent among children and adolescents from different neighborhoods, a trend that I witnessed during my second class, I decided to focus on fostering cooperation in my sports and health class for local children ages 10-11. In doing so, I hope to provide the students with a safe learning environment and create a more inclusive sense of community in my classes that transcends traditional barriers of neighborhood, family, and gender.
As with my sports and health class, the needs assessment findings have also shaped my women’s information technology curriculum. According to the needs assessment, two of the greatest challenges that local women face are a lack of job skills and financial difficulties. My IT students echoed these sentiments when they expressed that they came to class in order to develop themselves professionally and gain career skills, as well as contend with their husbands’ and sons’ computer knowledge. As per their needs and desires, we will focus on improving basic computer skills, such as typing and word processing, while also demonstrating how they can use Microsoft Excel to keep track of finances.
While the needs assessment has greatly helped me develop projects that are beneficial to two demographics that I serve, it has also emphasized the link between them. As these women improve their IT skills, they can provide increased levels of academic and technical support to their children. Their children, many of whom are enrolled in TYO programs, will benefit both from the knowledge that their mothers share and also from the strong bond that parent to child instruction creates. Ideally, this multi-generational family support will build upon itself to overcome economic and political challenges and promote healthy, cohesive, and happy families.
As I read through the Community Needs Assessment for the first time, I was struck by the many connections I saw between the findings of the report and the experiences I have had in my own classes. In my Critical Thinking and Arts class this past Wednesday, I saw the words come to life in an activity that engaged students to think critically, first individually and then in small groups, about what they would like to change about Nablus and why. Students began by each drawing a picture of what they think Nablus is like today; students then drew a picture of what they wanted their city to look like in the future. The activity culminated in small group discussions where each student reflected on what they changed and why.
In looking at their drawings and listening to my students’ comments in their small groups, many common themes came up that were also echoed in the Needs Assessment. None of my students drew schools in their original pictures depicting life in Nablus today; however, over half of the class drew schools with children playing and having fun in their pictures depicting life in Nablus in the future. When these students were asked what they had changed and why, several responded that they wanted children in the future to have pretty schools where everyone could have fun playing and nobody felt sad. The theme of play was also reflected in pictures of Nablus in the future. With wider streets for children to play on, big public parks, public pools, and even a toy chest that would produce an endless amount of toys for children who didn’t have any.
In many of the original pictures, students also drew buildings that were crowded together. However, in their pictures of Nablus in the future, most students redesigned the city to reflect a different living pattern. Some chose not to have neighborhoods where people were divided and separated, while others chose to have rooms where sunlight came in through every window. Finally, several imagined Nablus as no longer having cramped refugee camps and apartment buildings, but instead having houses surrounded by flowers where individual families could have their own space, and children could have their own place to play.
While I know I cannot address every aspect of the Community Needs Assessment in my class this session, I can clearly see in my students’ work the need to create a safe, welcoming space in my classroom where students feel that they can have fun learning and thinking critically about the world around them through artwork. Insh’Allah, I can make this happen.
After the release and debrief of the Needs Assessment this week, I found myself once again being impressed with the importance of the presence of Tomorrow’s Youth Organization in Palestine. The assessment, which collected data from over 413 individuals through a combination of focus groups, home visits, and surveys, gave statistical grounding to the importance of non-formal education in Nablus.
Through interpretation of the Need Assessment data, TYO has developed several recommendations for the programming that we develop for our children and mothers. While all these recommendations are an important part of how I will move forward with my lesson planning, I felt most reminded of the needs assessment while teaching my Mom’s Aerobics class that is offered through The Women’s Group program here at TYO. As each smiling mom came bouncing through doors of my aerobics room- offering calls of “Good Morning” and grabbing their workout mats, I thought about how the majority of these women suffer from symptoms of depression, anxiety, and psychological trauma.
The aerobics class at TYO, like many of the classes offered to moms, offers a moment of respite from the daily weight of family life. In an attempt to help women understand their bodies and health, the aerobics class is an important way to engage women from the community. Beyond working on physical stamina (and these ladies can work it!) the aerobics classroom is a place for the women to feel less inhibited and to be social in a space that is safe. Through teaching them physical exercises and stress relieving breathing techniques, these women may someday be empowered to take ownership of their own physical and mental well-being.