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Interview with Sonia Abu Ayyesh

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Can you tell me about any changes you have seen in your daughter Malak since she joined TYO’s Core program? How were they before, during, and after?

Malak has had the pleasure of participating in two Core Early Childhood Program sessions. Before joining TYO, she was very shy, would run away from strangers, and refused to talk to anyone who was not in our immediate family. She was afraid of most people and if someone came to our door, she would run and hide. She was also very sensitive—simple questions would make her run away and cry. Now she loves to sing and dance in front of anyone and is just a ball of energy and enthusiasm! We didn’t see much of a difference after her first session with TYO, but following her second session, we began to see incredible changes in her behavior and personality. She began to make friends in class, talk about those friends at home, and still asks me if she can invite them to our house to play. She also speaks in a loud voice, she explains and defends herself more, and has more overall confidence. As her mother, it is important that my daughter have the confidence to make friends in school and engage with people in our community with confidence and without fear. The ways in which Malak has developed at TYO will carry her throughout the rest of her childhood, adolescence, and adulthood and I could not be more grateful. Malak has begun to find her voice.

Sonia and her daughter Malak pose for a photo at TYO's flagship office in Nablus

Sonia and her daughter Malak pose for a photo at TYO’s flagship office in Nablus.

What do you think Malak enjoys most about TYO? What does she talk about at home when she talks about TYO?”

I am incredibly proud of the progress my daughter has made. Malak loves sports and art classes. She was never able to color inside the lines or properly hold a crayon until coming to TYO. When TYO was in session, she would come home and tell her siblings what she had learned that day. She likes to announce when she is going to wash her hands before mealtime, she proudly puts her toys away, and she makes sure the entire family knows she learned these habits from her teacher Fawz. She constantly asks me when she is going to come back for a third session and says that she misses the TYO community, her friends, and the delicious meal she is always fed.

Are there other centers like TYO? What do you find unique about us?    

I love the energy here. I love the beautiful building and the sunshine that streams through the windows. My family has a long-standing and positive relationship with TYO—my older children attended TYO and now Malak and I are both actively involved. I have not sent my children to any other organization as my family is seeing countless positive outcomes. When my older son Moath started with the organization, he had similar problems as Malak— he was very shy and unable to defend himself. Moath used to only walk on the sidewalks and wouldn’t confidently walk in the street like the rest of the boys his age. The longer he stayed at TYO, the more confident he became. As I saw positive outcomes in my children, I decided not only to keep them at the organization but to also join myself. We live in Balata refugee camp, which is not a safe place for our children. TYO offers them a safe space to play, to breathe and to be who they are: children.

Have you noticed a change in your child’s academic performance? Have you noticed a change in their attitude towards school or behavior in their school environment? 

Malak has not yet started school but I undoubtedly saw an improvement in my son Moath’s academic performance. Moath is more confident, earns better grades, and looks forward to school. Before starting at TYO, he hardly had any friends. Soon after, he developed relationships with his school classmates at TYO. TYO allowed him to develop relationships with his classmates he had known for years but never befriended. TYO teaches the importance of friendship, relationship-building, and respect; my children have greatly benefitted from these lessons. I always speak positively about TYO and encourage all of my friends, neighbors, and family members to register themselves and their children. I tell them about the TYO approach of “learning through play” and the positive impact it has had on my family. I also encourage young mothers to join the Women’s Group and tell them all about the amazing seminars and educational classes I participate in and how beneficial they are for me.

What have you learned in the Women’s Group that has positively impacted the way you engage with you children? How has it positively impacted your relationship with your children?

I really enjoyed the educational seminars with Suhad Jabi-Masri. By attending her sessions, I learned that I got very angry, very quickly and that my anger outbursts were negatively impacting my family. Suhad taught me and the other participants that the first step to addressing negative family dynamics was to take responsibility for our role in perpetuating them. One time, my youngest daughter was imitating me and she acted like she was angry and resentful. Seeing myself reflected in my daughter’s imitation was such an important wake up call. Suhad’s sessions provided me with the tools to help me begin to change my behavior.

I also learned that I must take time for myself. Now, I take my children to my parents’ house and either go out alone or relax at home alone. I am now more social, have strengthened my relationships with my friends, and am a more patient and loving mother.

The Core Child Program is supported by STEP! II, a youth employability, empowerment, and community leadership initiative supported by Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation.

Interviewed by Futoon Qadri

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