Release of TYO’s 2011-2012 Nablus Community Needs Assessment


Yesterday, TYO released the findings and recommendations from its 2011-2012 Community Needs Assessment, detailing the pressing needs of the most disadvantaged community members in Nablus.  The Nablus Center Director welcomed partners from the public and private sectors to a discussion, where the report findings were shared and discussed.  Members of UNRWA, Right to Play, the U.S. Consulate General Jerusalem, An-Najah National University, the Palestinian Red Crescent Society, and various local Palestinian NGOs all participated in the event.

Yesterday's community discussion event about 2011-2012 Community Needs Assessment

The report examines the needs of children, adolescents, youth, and women to better understand the challenges that prevent them from realizing their potential as healthy, active and responsible family and community members. It also illustrates the differences in community members’ needs by age and target area, while clarifying what it means to be one of the “most disadvantaged” members of the Nablus community.

Data from more than 400 individuals from the neighborhoods of Khallet Al Amood, the Old City, and the city’s four refugee camps—Al Ein, Balata, Old Asker, and New Asker—inform this study. Information was collected from seven to nine-year-old boys and girls through focus groups; 13 to 16-year-old male and female adolescents through surveys and focus groups; and women through surveys, focus groups, and home visits. Participants were asked to provide information about six issue areas that TYO identified as critical to the current and future wellbeing of individuals, families and the community at large: psychosocial wellbeing, exposure to violence, family life, education, poverty, and nutrition and health.

Humaira Wakili, TYO Nablus Center Director, engages the group in discussion

Key findings from the needs assessment include:

  • Children (age 3 to 9) encountered violence directly from their parents, teachers, school administrators, and peers, and expressed fear of the world around them. Their diets lacked key nutrients and protein sources.
  • Adolescents (age 10 to 16) doing poorly in school were at significant risk of dropping out. Boys and girls alike had almost no outlets for play or creative learning, and many displayed symptoms of anxiety or depression.
  • Youth (age 17 to 25) lacked the skills necessary to join the labor market successfully, indicated by high unemployment. Many women were already married, requiring support as young wives and mothers.
  • Women demonstrated a serious need for psychosocial support, with an overwhelming majority reporting symptoms of anxiety and depression. Women’s challenges included lack of education and job skills, domestic abuse, financial duress, health problems, parenting concerns, and political violence.

From these findings, recommendations for how TYO can improve its programming were also proposed.  Through implementing these recommendations, TYO hopes to more effectively meet the most pressing needs of children, adolescents, and women it currently serves.

An official from UNRWA provides feedback on the report

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Improving English Learning in Nablus


Learning is a continuous process that depends on the person providing information, the person receiving it, and the learning environment. Many problems ranging from rigid curricula, to overcrowded classrooms, to low teacher salaries, to Occupation-related restrictions, to poor teacher performance – pervade the Palestinian school system. All of these problems deserve attention. However, from listening to hundreds of students talk about their school experiences, it seems that often the most vivid and painful memories from school are directly related to the teacher and often to English class.

Children show off their English animals.


All three types of Palestinian schools – public government schools, UNRWA schools, and private schools – offer English as the main second language. Children usually begin English in first grade, take it throughout middle and high school, and then take at least three courses in college.   Even though the children receive English training for at least 12 years, it is still one of the biggest challenges students face in their schools and in their lives.

Every session I lead focus groups with children from the community.  When I ask them about challenges they face in school, the most popular response is always English.  For example, one fourth-grade girl from the Old City said, “I hate English. I hate my teacher and every student at the school hates the teacher; even the smart girls hate her.” From similar focus groups, I have also heard university students cite that English is their most challenging subject.  Additionally, home visits and focus groups with women in our needs assessment revealed that supporting children’s English learning is one of the largest obstacles women face as parents.

In order to improve English instruction in schools, we must develop teacher’s capacities and in turn, improve the learning environment.  All teachers have incredible opportunities to support their students both inside and outside the classroom.  If they want their students to succeed, teachers must demonstrate that they believe in them, will help to motivate them, and will foster a support system around the child with the help of their colleagues.  Teachers who only focus on the literal information in the textbook have more classroom difficulties than teachers who incorporate creative ways of teaching broader concepts. Trainings should be offered to help teachers to see the teaching process holistically as improving life skills, problem solving techniques, and communication abilities.

Aya presents the new English words she learned at TYO.

The non-formal education interventions offered at TYO as well as Community English classes work to help students to realize that English does not need to be difficult.  By offering English support in creative ways, we hope that children will understand that English does not need to be a source of stress; instead, it can be fun.


Suhad Jabi Masri is TYO’s Psychosocial Program Manager.



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TYO welcomes back Core AM and Core PM children


This past week, TYO was once again filled with the smiling faces of its 4-8 year olds in the Core AM and Core PM classes. We have more children registered this session than ever before and the demand for our programs has never been higher. We also have adjusted aspects of the program and are excited to pilot them and share them with you.

In the past, Core AM has enrolled 60 students and Core PM has had roughly 80.  Now, 83 children are registered in the morning program and 109 children are registered in the afternoon program.  The waiting lists for both programs are also overflowing.  Moreover, roughly half of the children have been in the Core AM and PM programs in a previous session.

Nehad, Core Child Program teacher, and children in the Core AM program wave hello.

The first half of the session will be very activity-focused, whereas the second half will be filled with more field trips.  TYO is excited to partner with one of the safest swimming pools in Nablus to enable many of its children to go swimming for the first time.  This pool, staffed with lifeguards, is normally frequented by some of the more privileged people in Nablus. Therefore, we are excited to not only give our children the opportunity to swim for the first time, but to also bring them to the nicest pool in Nablus.

A few children in the Core AM program smile for the camera.

One of the most significant changes to the Core AM and PM programs this session is the new snack options.  In the past, children in the program ate wheat sandwiches with tomatoes and a glass of fruit juice.  This session, we decided to focus more on providing our children with diverse forms of fruit and protein.  This past week, we piloted the changes in the snack program to see how the children enjoyed the new food options.

The Core AM children received two new meals.  On two days, they ate a hard-boiled egg with tomato salad and wheat bread; on the other two days, they ate a bowl of yogurt with fresh strawberries and bananas.  The Core PM children also had two new options; they ate a bowl of salad with lettuce, tomatoes, and peppers with a slice of wheat bread on two days; on the other two days, they ate the yogurt bowl with fruit.  All of these new snack options were big hits with the children – especially the hard-boiled eggs.  Notably, many of the children had never seen snacks like these before.  Therefore, we are thrilled to be able to provide them with nutrients that they would not normally receive otherwise.

Want to help provide these new healthy meals to the children TYO serves?  Join our Racing the Planet campaign.

One of the new snack options for the Core AM children

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Why I Know TYO Matters – Final Reflections from my Creative Thinking Class


“The most important thing at TYO is that every child leaves class every day feeling like they can accomplish anything.” – TYO staff member

Over the past session, I have been privileged to teach a creative thinking class to children from the four refugee camps and two neighborhoods TYO serves. Filled with laughter, challenges, and breakthroughs, this session solidified for me the importance of TYO’s work – both through better understanding specific needs from community members themselves and from observing the transformation of my own students in the classroom.

Spending the past few months implementing an informal needs assessment has given me an invaluable opportunity to visit diverse homes and schools in the refugee camps and communities TYO serves. I have walked through the narrow one-person wide alleyways between homes in the camps; I have sat through interviews in overcrowded homes where seven or more people live in two rooms; and I have seen the bare and chipping walls of school classrooms that create sterile learning environments.  It is clear to me that this environment doesn’t provide children with safe places or opportunities to play.  Moreover, through focus groups and home visits I have heard children ask for drama, art, sports, and music classes – classes that other children around the world might take for granted.

Students in my Creative Thinking class

The need from the community for non-formal education programs and safe areas to play is clear to me; thankfully, TYO is able to provide that space for organized play. Having this basic understanding and appreciation for what TYO offers children helped me to maintain perspective as I worked with forty students over the course of the session.  As they mastered different challenges and games, I watched as my students’ abilities to solve problems increased as did their self-confidence.  Results from my pre- and post-assessment activity, where children built buildings from straws and paper clips, tangibly illustrated just how much this skill had improved over the session.  In my two classes, initially, only 57% and 67% of students could build a structure from straws and paper clips, with only 14% and 17% building structures that could stand upright.  In the final assessment, 100% and 87% successfully built structures, with 47% and 40% building structures that stood upright.  In this final assessment, children proudly presented elaborate castles, stadiums, and domes that spanned the table.

While I saw enormous increases in children’s problem-solving abilities over the session, I was even more impressed by their behavioral changes.  I was thrilled to watch my students create our classroom rules, learn to abide by them, and to help enforce them. By the end of the session, they had assumed complete ownership over them.  I watched as students overflowing with energy would try their hardest to restrain their bodies and to ask for permission before grabbing something off of the shelf. I watched as students would come tell me when someone had said something disrespectful, instead of responding by cursing at them or hitting them. Lastly, I watched as children adopted our positive discipline system– a structure completely foreign to most of them. This was comprised of two main components – a student of the week system and a system of behavioral compliment paper chains. Students would rush to class to see if their picture was pasted on a star outside of the classroom, representing that their behavior had improved in the previous class. They also enthusiastically wrote compliments about the behavior of their classmates at the end of every class.

The class rules that the students in my class drafted together

TYO creates an alternate reality for the children it serves. It provides a reality where any kind of violence is unacceptable; where children have ownership over their classroom; where consequences and rewards for behaviors are understood and expected as opposed to arbitrary; and where respect for one another is the baseline. I am honored that I had the opportunity to contribute directly to that reality.


Clare Herceg is currently a TYO Fellow as a recipient of the Princeton Class of 1956-81 International ReachOut Fellowship.

Final class picture from my Creative Thinking class

Our Creative Thinking classroom that the children helped to decorate

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CORE Program Children Visit Beita Amusement Park


This past week, we celebrated the last day of the spring 2012 session with a trip to a local amusement park.  This trip was a reward for those children who had high attendance – meaning that they only missed a few classes over the session.   Field trips are one of the many ways we try to incentivize attendance in our non-formal education programs.  We traveled to Beita, a village near Nablus, and enjoyed spending time with our children outside of the classroom.

The children couldn’t hide their smiles when they saw the park, the games, and the train.  They couldn’t wait to start trying all of those games.  For many of these children, this was the first time that they had ever been to an amusement park.  The people who worked there were also very kind and welcoming; they offered us a great area to gather and helped us to organize children for each game.

Unfortunately, it was our last day with the children for the session.  I feel very sad that I won’t get to see most of them anymore.  However, I am grateful for the opportunity to spend a beautiful morning with them in a wonderful place full of plants , trees, and mountains.


Ala Aburrub is one of TYO’s Core Program teachers; she teaches 4-8 year olds.

Children riding the trains at the amusement park

A view of the amusement park

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What are our children eating (or not eating)?


Chips. Crackers. Candy.  Anyone walking through one of the six neighborhoods or refugee camps TYO serves is bound to see children eating these packaged goods in the streets.  A few months ago in this blog post, we discussed the prevalent rates of food insecurity and hunger among the children who come to TYO daily. But how does food insecurity translate into eating options?  What kinds of food and meals do the children and women who come to TYO eat in their homes?  How much do they know about healthy foods?

Informed by conversations in the community and formal interviews with women through TYO’s current needs assessment, Suhad, TYO’ s Psychosocial Program Manager, is able to provide valuable insight into our children’s eating patterns.  First, most parents don’t prepare breakfast for their children and instead give them 1-2 shekels (25 – 50 cents) to purchase food at school.  (The few who do prepare breakfast often give their children bread and cheese or yogurt.)  With their 2 shekels of spending money, children purchase snacks from their school canteen.  The children often choose to buy a combination of soda, chips, cookies, crackers, and candy because they are only .5 shekels each.  Needless to say, a breakfast filled with empty calories and an abundance of sugar does not give these children the energy they need to concentrate in school.   Instead, they become more hyperactive.

Children at TYO enjoy whole wheat sandwiches with tomatoes and cucumbers.

When children return home from school, they often eat their biggest meal of the day –lunch.    Because of the low income of the people TYO serves, this meal only contains meat (usually chicken because it is cheapest) twice a week at most.  Most other days, the meal is based on potatoes and rice.  A common lunch dish for children is fried potatoes served inside white pita bread with salt.  Another common dish for young children is rice with yogurt.  Many families are unable to purchase milk because it is very expensive, so instead, they buy instant juice mix.  Families only provide their children dinner when they have enough money to do so.  Often, this meal is a small sandwich with white bread, yogurt, and cheese.

The lack of nutrients, protein, and vitamins in this diet is clear.  So what should a healthy meal look like?  In June 2011, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) transformed the traditional food pyramid into a more consumer-friendly plate, illustrating the proportions of vegetables, fruits, grains, protein, and dairy a person should eat at every meal.  The USDA recommends that vegetables and fruits account for half of a meal; at least half of grains are whole grains; protein sources are lean; and dairy products are fat-free or low-fat.

The proportion of vegetables, fruits, protein, grains, and dairy recommended at every meal by USDA (courtesy of

In Suhad’s experience, when asking about providing healthy food, most mothers explain that they do not have enough money to purchase it.  Instead of focusing on what kinds of foods they should be serving their children, they are simply focusing on providing enough food.  On the rare occasion that they can afford it, they can only purchase vegetables that are in season because they are the cheapest.  Moreover, the culture of teaching children why healthy food is important does not exist.  Suhad noticed that even when the family does have enough money, they don’t know how to cook in a healthy manner.  While mothers know that healthy foods exist, they may not understand the benefits of eating it and likewise, the consequences from not eating well.

At TYO, every child is offered a healthy meal that reflects the USDA guidelines.  Meals vary daily, but consist of a combination of the following options: a bowl of lentil or bean soup, whole wheat bread, sliced cucumbers, sliced apples, sliced tomatoes, a whole wheat sandwich with olive oil, and freshly squeezed juice (no sugar added).  For many children, not only does TYO offer their first complete meal of the day, but it also provides their only source of some essential nutrients.

Want to help provide healthy meals to the children TYO serves?  Join our Racing the Planet Campaign.

Children enjoy a bowl of lentil soup and apples at TYO.


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what does creative thinking look like?


Activities that engage children in critical thinking come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from group challenges to brain teasers, and creative art projects to science experiments. See for yourself by clicking through this slideshow from my spring session Creative Thinking class.


Clare Herceg is currently a TYO Fellow as a recipient of the Princeton Class of 1956-81 International ReachOut Fellowship.

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Fighting Societal Pressures facing Nabulsi Youth


No power in society, no hardship in your condition can depress you, keep you down, in knowledge, power, virtue, influence, but by your own consent. 

-William Ellery Channing

To this day, girls are discriminated against in every corner of the world; Nablus is no exception.  Through my work at TYO, I am aware of how societal pressures affect disadvantaged women in our society every day.  However, sometimes it is easy to think that when women become more educated and financially independent, they become immune to conservative societal pressures.  I even find myself sometimes forgetting that the pressures facing women in Nablus are still felt by these female members of the elite.  However, this past weekend I was again awakened to the fact that our community still fails to treat girls with the same respect and equality that it offers males, regardless of socioeconomic status.

Last Saturday I engaged a group of undergraduate students from the YALLA project in a training about self-awareness.  I asked them to identify and discuss what obstacles were prohibiting them from moving forward or from trusting themselves.  All of the participants shared deep feelings of fear, guilt, and lack of trust.  They shared stories about their personal lives and about their relationship with their families.  They spoke about being so afraid to make mistakes that they avoided trying new things; they viewed failure as the worst possible scenario instead of a necessary step on the way to success.  All of them shared a need to further develop their self-confidence, but after hearing the girls’ stories, it was clear that the daily pressures facing girls are much more than those facing boys of the same age.

Youth involved in the YALLA project discuss self-awareness

It is clear that girls face a unique set of pressures from their families and society.  First of all, they are not allowed out of the home without permission; the only acceptable reason to leave the home is academics.  They are only allowed to come to TYO because they receive academic credit for their volunteer hours.  Also, they face a lot of resistance if they want to leave home on the weekends.  If a girls is seen outside of the home, people in the community assume that she is doing something unacceptable; the members of the community then begin to gossip with each other about the girl, her family, and the reputation of both.  Moreover, even though these girls are very smart and university-educated, their families expect them to make marriage and family their first priority.  If these young women are unable to balance a job and raising a family, they are expected to quit their job.

Nabulsi youth engaged in discussion at recent training

In addition to better understanding these unique pressures facing girls in the community, I was also struck by the severe lack of self-confidence amongst boys and girls.  I would attribute this lack of self-confidence to the hierarchical community in which we live.  Up until this point in their lives, these youth have not been given agency to make decisions for themselves; instead, they must listen unquestioningly to their elders.  During this transitional stage, they are beginning to make their own decisions for the first time, and are therefore hesitant.

Self-confidence is a prerequisite for success.  Building self-confidence is a learning process that needs internal motivation.  To build self-confidence, people must make clear long-term goals, as well as smaller short-term goals that are measurable and task-oriented.   When the students spoke about their daily struggles it was obvious that they didn’t have any goals for their lives; instead, outside forces—such as family and community expectations—controlled them.  Although some trainees could identify their struggles, they had trouble creating goals to help them feel satisfied.  Trainees said that being at TYO as volunteers had helped them to further develop their self-confidence.   They were grateful to be surrounded by positive people and mentors who gave them respect and support in overcoming their own self-doubt.


Suhad Jabi Masri is TYO’s Psychosocial Program Manager.

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Reflections from Youth@Work: Partnerships for Skills Development Conference


Recently, more and more attention has been given to at-risk youth and the issues of youth crime, violence, sex, substance abuse, and poor academic performance that often are linked to this population.  On February 21-23, I was fortunate to participate in the International Youth Foundation’s Youth@Work: Partnerships for Skills Development conference in Amman, Jordan where we discussed such topics.  The goal of the conference was to “engage participants in efforts to build effective, scalable, and sustainable youth skills development projects across the region,” as stated by IYF.  As a representative from Tomorrow’s Youth Organization (TYO), I presented a short documentary clip about one of our at-risk children and explained the importance of engaging family; as evidenced in the clip, engaging an at-risk child’s family can transform the child’s life as well as that of his family’s.

Photo from the IYF conference (photo credit:


The conference gave me an opportunity to connect with and learn from many dedicated and diverse people.   It was clear that the conference participants were aware of the increased complexity surrounding today’s at-risk youth.  Moreover, working as a Psychosocial Program Manager enabled me to put faces to the data and statistics presented in the panels; every child that I have met at TYO is classified as an at-risk child.  The unique combination of poverty, violence, and trauma found in Nablus has presented many obstacles for the children we serve.

Notably, no one from the Ministry of Education was present at the conference.  This absence saddened me because I believe that the education system is integral to the conversation about how to treat children and understanding why they are not in school.  I do not hold only the Ministry of Education accountable; I also believe that more governmental organizations like the Ministry of Welfare and the Ministry of Health, as well as other NGOs should all be part of this discussion.  We are all responsible and have a long way to go to help these youth.

I believe that we as parents, representatives of government, members of non-governmental organizations, and employees from the private sectors must all work together in community-based efforts to help educate and guide at-risk youth and their families towards useful and varied services.  Programs that offer counseling, skills development, assistance in finding jobs, and volunteering opportunities can all prove useful.  In addition, we must create more preventative programs to help children before they ever reach this vulnerable point.


Suhad Jabi Masri is TYO’s Psychosocial Program Manager.

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Science Erupts in the Creative Thinking Classroom


Do you remember when you built a volcano in your middle school class?  Or when you experimented with acids and bases in science lab?  Can you imagine your science classes without any lab component?  While the engaging experiences that science lab offers are common for American students, they are virtually nonexistent for the children that TYO serves in Palestine.

Few school teachers incorporate scientific experiments into science lessons in Nablus.  When I asked my students if any of them had ever done a science experiment before, they all expressed that they had not.  However, a notable exception to this norm is a Palestinian organization named Al Nayzak that is developing interactive educational programs for science and engineering.  It was founded in 2001 and has offices in Ramallah, Gaza, and Jerusalem.  The organization brings science experiments into the classroom, offers after-school programs, and also runs a science fair.  Although it is bringing more hands-on opportunities for science to some children in Palestine, it has not yet reached the children who come to TYO.

Students create a volcanic eruption from vinegar and baking soda

Given that my Creative Thinking class aims to increase children’s critical thinking abilities, I have been able to incorporate many different science experiments into it.  For example, last week we created a volcanic eruption from vinegar and baking soda.  First, the students worked in groups of five to construct the volcanoes from newspapers, flour, water, tape, cardboard, and plastic bags.  After the paper-mache dried, they painted them.  On the third day, the children were able to create the volcanic eruption themselves.  After the students enthusiastically watched as each group successfully created an eruption, we discussed why these eruptions had occurred.  The children explained that when acids and bases were combined, they produced CO2.  Thus, the combination of vinegar (an acid) and baking soda (a base) formed the gas; the pressure of the newly formed gas in the plastic bottle had forced the liquid to explode out of the bottle and over the top of the volcano.

Students make a volcano from newspapers, flour, and water

Students work together to paint their volcano

Another day, we combined corn starch with water to make a gooey substance called “Gluep.”  Gluep is a plastic that behaves like both a solid and a liquid.  The children giggled and squealed as they experimented with rolling it between their hands and then watching as it melted onto the table.  They had never seen anything like it before.  By observing what shape the substance did or did not hold while responding to a series of prompts like “roll it into a ball,” the children learned about the unique characteristics of this substance, while having a ton of fun.

Students play with the Gluep that they made from combining cornstarch and water

Rafat and Ahmad play with their Gluep

All of these science projects not only solidify concepts that my students may learn in school textbooks, but they also allow them to have experiences that they never imagined possible.  For example, none of my students could even predict what would happen when we added water to cornstarch; all of them were completely shocked when we created a new substance.  These experiments thus expand their realm of possibilities.   Lastly, I hope that these experiments also demonstrate a broader life principle: even when things appear impossible on the surface, you don’t know if they are possible until you try.

- Clare

Clare Herceg is currently a TYO Fellow as a recipient of the Princeton Class of 1956-81 International ReachOut Fellowship.

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