Seven Psychiatrists in Palestine

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The Mental Health and Psychosocial Support Network (MHPSS), is an international organization that works to connect people, networks and organizations to encourage the sharing of resources and the building of knowledge related to mental health and psychosocial support. Every month, I have the opportunity to participate in the MHPSS working group, updating like-minded organizations and individuals about TYO’s programs and recent research and findings. We aim to establish a strong network of NGOs who can join together and work to make mental health a more pressing issue for the Palestinian government. Lately, we have been focusing on asking government representatives to attend our meetings, so we can work together in asking the ministries to direct their attention towards mental health and provide more services to the people.

Children in the Core Child Program have access to important psychosocial support.

Last week, we had a meeting with the Mental Health Director working under the Ministry of Health, who presented the government’s strategic plan for the two years. The Director shared with the audience the challenges he and his colleagues face in meeting their goals. This includes a lack of financial resources, supervision, and specialists in the field, specifically psychiatrists. For example, the Ministry of Health has only seven psychiatrists in limited areas including Nablus, Tulkarem, Jenin and Bethlehem.

With only these seven psychiatrists, the Ministry of Health faces a problem in diagnosing mental health issues. The Ministry has resisted allowing general practitioners to diagnose mental health issues and prescribe appropriate medicine because they have put more emphasis and importance on psychical health conditions, which do not have the stigma that surrounds mental health issues.

Another point he made was that during the second intifada, they had a special budget to hold trainings to help address mental health issues. Nevertheless, they found these interventions to be ineffective, despite the trainings they held. The quality of the training was strong, but the lack of supervision and follow-up after the training made the intervention weak.

I was very pleased with this meeting, because previously, I used to feel a power struggle between the Ministry and NGOs. But I was amazed by this director, who willingly shared the challenges and opportunities of the Ministry of Health and of the Mental Department in order to work with NGOs to produce better services for Palestinians. I understand that the Mental Health Department struggles to have voice heard when advocating for mental health. It is clear to me that TYO and other like-minded stakeholders and organizations should support the Mental Health Department to ensure that decision-makers meet the needs of its constituents.

-Suhad

Suhad Jabi is the Psychosocial Program Manager. 

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Calling for Institutionalized Early Childhood Programs in Palestine

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When we think about providing programs for early childhood, we often look at the benefits for the children’s individual futures. But pre-school programs are powerful tools that enable nations to build human capacity systematically by designing programs that allow for the transmission of knowledge and skills, as well as the motivation to help people contribute efficiently to the growth and development of their societies. Preschool education has been defined as “the education given in an educational institution to children aged 3-5 years prior to their entering primary school.”

Children in Core Child Program play in sports class.

Research from all over the world has shown through longitudinal studies that working with children during early childhood is one of the best ways to improve a community. Many communities have tried to build programs that reflect the importance of early childhood education. Still, the lack of implementation all over the world around early childhood programs is surprising, given the available information about how powerful these programs are. As an example, even in the United States, where scientists have produced much research about the effects of early childhood education, they are still struggling to convince three states to include kindergarten in public schools. Even in the other 47 states, only one year before elementary school (kindergarten) is provided in public schools. This shows that governments, even in the US, are not devoting enough effort and budget to these programs.

In Palestine, we have two problems. First, there is a lack of research showing how early childhood programs will meet our community’s unique needs and environment. Second, a culture of early childhood in the community and among decision makers does not exist. In a draft of the strategic plan for the Ministry of Higher Education (2011-2013), they added pre-school to their agenda for the first time. Nevertheless, the plan states that they want to open only a very limited number of pre-schools, and the budget was not clear.

As an NGO providing non-formal education, TYO believes in building strong Palestinian institutions to provide early childhood education. We recognize every child’s right to education, and would like to see programs like TYO’s Core Child Program available to every child in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. As one NGO, we cannot reach all of the children who need opportunities for early childhood education. To that end, we should work intensively with the government and other like-minded NGOs and citizens to build comprehensive public programs that will enable every young child to reach his or her high potential.

-Suhad

Suhad Jabi is the Psychosocial Program Manager at TYO.

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The Power of Role Models

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In the Youth Service Learning program, TYO works with university students to prepare them to be in classrooms as role models for younger children. Part of their training introduces them to early child development and focuses their attention on the children’s needs at that age. It teaches the volunteers what they can expect from the students as to behavior in the classroom and how to interact with them most effectively, given their developmental stages.

In part of the training last week, we asked the youth, “What does it mean for you to be a child, six years old?” We asked them who their role models were when they were six years old. From their stories, it is clear that these 19 and 20-year-old students still feel anger towards some of the teachers they had experiences with when they were children.

They remembered being yelled at, laughed at, stigmatized, or even beaten in classrooms, all in front of the other kids. These bad memories can never be forgotten. Not only this, when they were younger, they learned to link the teacher and the subject that he/she taught. The mean teacher, who terrified the kids in school, permanently affected the subject that he/she taught. “We still have that problem,” several volunteers reported. “We hate history because we hate the teacher.”

Many of the girls said that the English teachers in their early lives didn’t present good models. To this day, they have a huge problem with English. Even if they had a good English teacher in secondary school, by that point, they were terrified of English itself and projected their feelings of fear and anger on the new teacher. They lost their self-confidence and sense of achievement. Now, later in life, they still say, “We don’t think we can do it.

It is crucial for TYO to address child development with the volunteers, giving them a chance to process these feelings and to understand that their behavior towards the kids has a huge impact on their lives. These volunteers know what horrible role models are like. They went through it, so they can see the link between the bad experiences they had as young children and the price they continue to pay for it.

We explain to the volunteers that human development isn’t finished. It’s a continuous, lifelong process. Part of our training explains what the characteristics of 6-8 year olds are. We introduce them to Erikson’s stages of development. He proposed that 6-11 year old children can move out of that developmental stage feeling industrious or inferior. We can’t have high expectations for these children beyond their capacity, because that will create anxiety and a lack of self-confidence. On the contrary, when given appropriate opportunities for their age, six-year-old s are young teachers. They’re curious; their brains are ready to absorb a lot of information. Physically, they can jump, accomplish, explore. They are ready to learn.

From our experience at TYO, we see a lot of kids who aren’t satisfied in this age and lack confidence. There is not enough support surrounding them, little positive feedback, and their parents and teachers talk to them as though they were adults. Most of the children who don’t achieve the tasks set before them do so because of the way we talk to and interact with them. We project our fear on them, and so we block their development. We want them to learn from our experiences, not to explore and learn through their own experiences. Together, it is the critical task of volunteers, parents, and teachers to build confidence in these young children and allow them to achieve.

-Suhad

Suhad Jabi is the Psychosocial Program Manager at TYO.

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Recycling is Child’s Play

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During Racing the Planet Games, someone wrote a new rule on our list of classroom guidelines: We are yellow. This new rule was not sanctioned, but when I discovered it after class, I couldn’t have been more proud. Yes, adding this assertion to our rule list likely violated several of the other imperatives around it. More importantly, though, it captured the enthusiasm and sense of belonging that filled the room that afternoon. Nurturing those particular qualities was the goal underlying all of our activities throughout the session.

WE ARE YELLOW!

At the core of TYO’s mission in Nablus is to create a safe space where children can revel in childhood. At the ages of 9, 10, 11, and 12, my students face barriers that already seem insurmountable; they have encountered violence, hunger, an indifferent education, and more. They carry burdens too heavy for adults, while they are still children. As such, my moments of greatest triumph this session have been witnessing my students reclaim childhood.

Aya fills her soda bottle planter with dirt.

Our last project, and the one most students reported as their favorite, was planting flower seeds in planters made from old soda bottles. They first decorated their planters, working in groups to identify a team symbol and using that to inspire their artwork. My table discussed the merits and drawbacks of lions, sharks, tigers, bears, and even rabbits before settling on the eagles. I taught them how to give themselves eagle eyes, and in under two minutes, they had taught their new skill to most of their classmates. They were proud of their eagle eyes, and excited to share.

Showing off their new skills.

When they arrived early or finished their projects before the rest of their classmates, the students played independently with games we kept stocked in the classroom. Battleship was always popular, as were the Mancala boards made in class from egg cartons. Trumping them all, though, was Go Fish! They used a special deck of cards, in which sea creatures took the place of royals, hearts, and clubs. My undersea Arabic vocabulary grew exponentially from the excited bartering of their games.

Colorful Mancala boards.

My favorite moment of childhood bliss was the daily Hokey Pokey session. I used the words and motions of the Hokey Pokey to teach English vocabulary—we covered left and right, hands, feet, head, and body, along with the very useful “shake it all about,” “turn yourself around,” and “that’s what it’s all about!” Consistently, the students—male and female, from 8 years old to 12—would collapse into fits of giggles as we hokey pokied.  They all participated eagerly, every time.

Throughout the session, the students completed ten different projects using materials they normally consider trash. They made flowers out of plastic bags, pencil holders out of cans covered in magazine cutouts, candles in milk cartons, and more. In the process, they practiced resourcefulness, critical thinking, and patience. They left every class with a product and sense of accomplishment. Classroom rules and consequences fostered respect, self-control, and problem solving. But activities and rules alone didn’t make those moments of childhood; they primed the environment for fun, creativity, and exploration, and the kids took care of the rest.

- Karen 

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

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Recess and Academic Achievement

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Throughout the United States, early childhood educators are increasingly concerned with policies that cut recess out of the school day to make way for more academic learning. The social and developmental benefits of recess are well documented, but a new study seeks to demonstrate the academic impact of recess. The study used data on full-day kindergarten students in the United States; researcher Yesil Dagli asked whether the frequency and length of recess time had a direct effect on children’s reading scores. Ultimately, she discovered no clear relationship between the two variables. She concludes, however, that “the findings of this present study show that providing daily and longer than 15 minutes recess for students does not hurt their reading scores, nor does eliminating recess increase their reading scores. Furthermore, neither does daily and more than 15 minutes of reading and language art increase kindergarteners’ reading achievement.” Several previous studies have found even stronger evidence for the academic benefits of including recess in early childhood education settings.

Obstacle courses get children moving in new and exciting ways.

In Palestine, UNICEF reports that only 33% of girls and 34% of boys were enrolled in private kindergartens or preschools to begin with. Among deeply impoverished children, whose families cannot afford to pay tuition, the percentage of children enrolled in kindergarten and preschool is much lower. The children who attend TYO’s Core Child Program for 4 and 5-year-olds would otherwise enter school for the first time in first grade. The 6 to 8-year-olds in TYO’s Core Child Program spend a maximum of 30 minutes a day in recess, and 5 ½ hours a day on academic topics. Each class is 45 minutes long. Moreover, recess in Palestinian schools is much different than in American settings. The children use their one 30-minute break in the day to eat and walk around in an asphalt area. There is no play equipment, not even balls. They do spend time playing tag and other running games. One teacher and assistant are responsible for 300 or more students during the break, which happens at the same time for all of the children in the school.

In many visits to UNRWA and government schools, we have discovered that this break time is adjustable based on teachers’ and principals’ decisions. Due to children’s aggressiveness during the break, especially in boys’ schools, teachers and administrators sometimes cancel recess altogether and end the school day 30 minutes early. Girls’ schools are less likely to cancel recess.

After school, boys and girls alike have few opportunities for supervised physical activity, especially given the lack of appropriate spaces for play in Nablus’s disadvantaged neighborhoods and refugee camps. At TYO, our approach is comprehensive and holistic. We understand that children don’t have the time or space to exercise or engage in physical free play in schools or at home. In our two hours with the children each day, we give them opportunities to encounter not just critical thinking activities, but also supervised free play. We teach children how to structure their playtime, giving them quality recess—not a free-for-all, but a guided experience that helps children reap the full benefits of play.

-Suhad and Karen

Suhad Jabi is the Psychosocial Program Manager at TYO. Karen Campion is currently a TYO Fellow as a recipient of the Princeton Class of 1956-81 International ReachOut Fellowship.

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What is leadership?

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Roz and Areej display Roz's drawing of a park, colored with homemade play dough.

Early in the session, as I dove into the research on classroom management, I came across the following definition of successful leadership: achieving a shared goal through other people’s effort. It struck a chord. Leadership isn’t about the leader at all, but about all those other people expending their own effort. No matter how good the goal, it’s only going to be reached if they’re committed to it, and if they agree with the leader about the type and amount of effort they’ve been asked to expend.

In my Recycled Crafts classroom, I work with a team of four university volunteers to create a safe and exciting environment for our 20 students. If you’re doing the arithmetic, then yes, that’s one adult for every four kids, hardly unmanageable. As it turns out, though, chaos is still the default state, even in a classroom with five adults. Here’s where leadership comes in. We need to work as a united team despite language barriers, differences in vision and experience, and unequal power over classroom resources.

Fakhri helps Mahmoud with his mancala board.

In most classes this session, I introduced the activity to the students as a full group, then assigned them to sit at a table with a volunteer, who helped them to actually execute the project. Play dough too sticky? Add some more flour. Can’t cut through the sponge? Peel off the scrubby part first. Magazine clippings peeling off of the tin can pencil holder? Slather it in watered-down glue. The volunteers helped the students troubleshoot these and countless other hiccups as we used recycled materials to make arts and crafts.

This system, though, left me as the decision maker. I chose which activities we would do and on which days. I chose and prepared the materials. I handled disciplinary problems. I was the teacher, and they were volunteers. Sometimes they performed fantastically, and sometimes they seemed checked out of the class. As those disengaged moments increased, I knew that my leadership style just wasn’t hitting all the right motivational points. So as we entered the last few weeks of class, I asked the volunteers if they wanted a chance as the teacher. They jumped at the opportunity. Fakhri led the class in making colored ice candles; Zaki taught them how to make pencil holders out of tin cans; Areej showed them how to make play dough out of everyday kitchen items and use it to color their own drawings; and tomorrow, Hanin will help them plant “flowers of hope” in old soda bottles.

Ahmad laughs as Zaki helps his team with their mancala boards.

They all came in on off days to prepare for their classes, thinking for the first time about all the large and small details that go into running a classroom. They had the freedom to try out new games, new ways of dividing the kids into groups, and even new spaces to play in around the center. While they led the classes, I got to sit at the tables with the students and worry about nothing other than bonding with them as they completed their projects.

Moreover, by observing the different teaching approaches of each of the volunteers, I learned a lot myself. No two teachers will ever be entirely alike, but we can all learn a lot by watching each other in action. I am lucky to have had the opportunity to learn from my volunteers as they’ve taken center stage in the classroom.

Hanin watches as Sohaib decorates his card with a sponge stamp.

When we met at the end of each class to discuss the lessons learned, the volunteers were animated and engaged as I had never seen them before. They shared details they’d observed about the children’s work, the challenges around focus and discipline, and recommendations to make the activities better for future classes. And so, it was by abdicating the position of “leader” that I really became one, guiding, supporting, and encouraging Areej, Hanin, Fakhri, and Zaki as they expended serious effort to provide fun, formative activities for the children we have all come to love.

-Karen

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

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Writing Minimum Standards for Child Protection in Emergencies

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During the Second Intifada, Palestinians experienced daily invasions into their homes, streets, and markets by Israeli soldiers. We lived in a state of emergency, feeling that at any moment someone could die. Even though we had experienced Occupation since 1967, the events of the Second Intifada made it clear that social workers and psychologists were still unprepared to deal with the emergency situation. We asked: What should we do? How can we start? Where should we go? Which camp first? All of Palestinian society was emotionally destroyed and dysfunctional. In government and NGOs alike, we discovered that we had no strategic plans for such a bad situation. This experience made it clear that we Palestinians needed to work together to develop our capacity to ensure that we are prepared to help children in emergencies. We need the tools to ensure that they do not carry trauma from emergencies for the rest of their lives.

To that end, TYO’s Nablus Center Director and I recently participated in a very interesting workshop in which we discussed Palestine’s proposed minimum standards for child protection in emergencies. Child protection in emergencies has been defined by the international Child Protection Working Group (CPWG) as “the prevention of and response to abuse, neglect, exploitation and violence against children.” Palestine is one of 20 countries piloting and reviewing these minimum standards in an initiative organized and supported by Terre des Hommes, UNICEF and Save the Children. It covers the following issues as they affect children in emergency situations: communication and advocacy regarding children’s issues, child protection monitoring, psychosocial distress and mental disorders, and community-based mechanisms for protecting children in emergencies.

In 2010, CPWG, which works on a global level, agreed on the need for child protection standards in humanitarian settings to address a critical gap between theory and implementation and strengthen the protection of children in emergencies. These minimum standards for child protection in humanitarian response are intended to:

  • Establish commonly held principles amongst all actors who play a role in child protection.

(This point is very important in Palestine, because the trauma we continue to experience creates a sense of tearing apart in the community, which blocks the creation of an effective network to protect our children.)

  • Improve the quality of child protection programming to achieve greater impact for children.
  • Improve accountability within the child protection in emergencies sector.
  • Define the professional field of child protection in emergencies.
  • Synthesize and make available good practice and learning in the sector to date.
  • Enable humanitarian workers and others to better advocate and communicate on child protection needs and responses.

I was glad to participate in this workshop, where government and NGO representatives reviewed a draft of minimum standards for child protection in emergency situations. I worked with a group particularly focused on the standards relating to psychosocial distress and mental disorders. Our primary recommendations were to increase the focus on community preparation and build more capacity for treatment after trauma.

Regarding our first recommendation, it is ordinary people supporting their own communities who are the first line of response to emergency situations. As Palestinians, we understand what it means to live through this kind of trauma; we still have Occupation, which makes trauma and emergencies a constant threat. Therefore, we need to prepare the community to do its part during the trauma. This is especially important, as my professional experience has made it clear that those who engage with their communities during an emergency suffer fewer post-traumatic effects.

The draft also calls for efforts to build the capacity of professionals to meet community needs after the emergency has subsided. But what are actually the best interventions in emergencies? As a group of practitioners and experts, we need more specifics, so that we can really raise professional and community capacity to meet these minimum standards for child protection. From the experience of the Second Intifada, I know that psychologists and social workers need training in how to detach themselves from the emergency. They experience a huge amount of stress, which actually hurts their ability to do their work. Moreover, they need to be trained in holistic interventions that can offer relief to families and communities, not just individuals.

These are the main recommendations we made regarding the psychosocial and mental disorders sections of the document. The conference organizers have asked participants to read the draft again and submit written comments, so that we can continue the discussion about the nature and implementation of these standards.  Taking part in this project helps not just Palestinians, but also other people around the world. As we build standards to protect our children in emergencies, others can learn from our unique situation to emulate the great resilience of Palestinian society, and we can learn from them.

-Suhad

Suhad Jabi is the Psychosocial Program Manager at TYO. 

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Children Detained

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“Impact of Child Detention: Occupied Palestinian Territory” is the title of a report launched at a workshop that I attended on March 12, 2012 in Ramallah. Save the Children and the YMCA have worked together since 2009 to document the psychological impact of child detention on children and their families.

The study’s methodology includes focus group discussions and a desk review of background documents on currently and formerly detained children. Save the Children and the YMCA collected and analyzed those documents in order to evaluate their program, Post-Trauma Rehabilitation of Palestinian Ex-detainee Children in the West Bank. The baseline study for the project, which was conducted in June 2009, included 186 ex-detainee children, 104 families, and 58 members of community-based organizations. The second phase of the study was the post assessment survey performed in May 2010; its participants included 173 ex-detainee children, 89 families and 73 members of community-based organizations. The third phase was the Mid-term Evaluation Report in March 2011, and the final phase collected data in June 2011.

The results showed that 98% of the detained children were subjected to violence, and 90% of the children reported PTSD symptoms. For all of the children, the moment of arrest itself was one of the worst experiences of the whole ordeal. Traumatized by their own detention, the children were also impacted by seeing their family members’ helplessness as they were arrested. Adding to the trauma of their own detention, 70% of detained children had one or more family members arrested before, during, or after their own detentions. Hearing these results about the trauma of the arrests did not surprise me at all. Working extensively with children from the refugee camps around Nablus, I see many children whose fathers were arrested or remain in prison. These children always talk about the moment of home invasion, when they were forced to leave their homes in the middle of the night, sometimes in very cold weather. As a child, I myself experienced home invasions, and I am always scared to think that it could happen again in front of my own children.

Looking around in the workshop at the adults and professionals working so hard to help these children and their families cope with such crises, I realized that many of those adults had been arrested themselves or lost one of their relatives during the intifada. I was upset by the thought that this cycle would never end. I have participated in hundreds of workshops and trainings about helping families and children to cope with the trauma in their life, but while the cycle of violence still exists, more people will continue to be traumatized. The difference at this particular workshop was that people were more aware of human rights and children’s rights as protected by international laws. As organizations, we will continue to work hard to offer these essential services, but we also need to think about prevention. How can we stop these bad experiences—the direct result of occupation—from occurring in the first place? People all around the world deserve to live peacefully and securely, especially our young children who have only just started their journeys to make change in their communities.

-Suhad

Suhad Jabi is TYO’s Psychosocial Program Manager. 

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Combatting Toxic Stress with Nonformal Education

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Toxic Stress Defined

Toxic stress in the earliest years of childhood has a dramatic, negative, and lasting impact on health, educational, and life outcomes. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently published a policy statement calling attention to the individual and social consequences of toxic stress and the biological mechanisms by which it functions. The AAP defines this acute form of stress as the “strong, frequent, or prolonged activation of the body’s stress response systems in the absence of the buffering protection of a supportive adult relationship.” In such a situation, children rarely, if ever, feel safe and protected, and their bodies respond as though they are constantly in danger.

The consequences of toxic stress are severe; the AAP report explains that “toxic stress can lead to potentially permanent changes in learning…behavior…and physiology…and can cause physiologic disruptions that result in higher levels of stress-related chronic diseases and increase the prevalence of unhealthy lifestyles that lead to widening health disparities.” In sum, toxic stress affects how well children can learn academically and socially, how they function in relationships, and increases the likelihood that they will suffer from debilitating chronic diseases throughout their lives.

Toxic Stress in the Classroom

The 9 to 11-year-old children in my Recycled Crafts class are all vulnerable to the effects of toxic stress. TYO’s ongoing community needs assessment continues to reveal chronic poverty, parental unemployment, exposure to violence, the use of violence for discipline at school and home, and maternal depression to be common experiences for children in the refugee camps and neighborhoods where my students live. I have only limited knowledge of my students’ specific home lives, but I know that one child in my class is an orphan, another has a severely disabled brother, and every time I speak with her, the mother of one says, “He drives me crazy! His older and younger brother are good, but he makes me crazy.” Moreover, I am all too familiar with student behavior that suggests toxic stress—one is illiterate; most are hyperactive; some lack impulse control; still others are painfully shy.

Assad throws in the ball.

The key to combatting toxic stress is establishing relationships that make the children feel safe and secure. In my classroom, my daily challenge is to deal with the behavioral effects of years of toxic stress while creating an environment that is safe, supportive, and fosters resilience. With my first group of students, I quickly learned that they had too much energy to work on arts and crafts projects for the full two hours of our class. I also learned—through a series of highly disruptive classroom power struggles—that the boys and girls in the class felt uncomfortable working at tables together. More to the point, they were determined to sit with their friends for every activity. These larger issues and many smaller ones meant that discipline, rather than arts and crafts, occupied most of our class time in our first weeks together.

In order to help us build a positive classroom environment, TYO’s Psychosocial Program Manager, Suhad, led a class discussion with my students. She asked them to express their frustrations with the class and propose changes that would allow them to be more comfortable and engaged. First, small group discussions about favorite movies, places they’d like to visit, and favorite school subjects allowed the students to get to know each other on a deeper level. Second, the boys requested soccer, lots of soccer. I complied, adding soccer to the curriculum. In later classes, I noticed that during drills or scrimmages, the boys and girls were equally fierce, cooperative, and focused on scoring goals. They started agreeing to sit together in the classroom, too.

Class discussion.

The bottom line is that we built a better class as a team of students, volunteers, teacher, and administrators. By listening to their concerns and suggestions and adjusting the class to reflect their needs, we made it clear that we trusted them. TYO became their center, not ours, because it was a place where they were safe and their voices mattered.

Chasing down the ball.

Of course, their behavior at this point is far from perfect. But it is precisely the class challenges and frustrations that have allowed me to clearly and unequivocally establish myself—and everyone who works at TYO—as adults ready to build nurturing, supportive relationships with those students.

-Karen

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

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Teaching Physical and Psychosocial Health

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My name is Nehad Omar, and my health class is one of the important classes provided to 4-8 year-olds at Tomorrow’s Youth Organization (TYO) in Nablus.  Health is about more than healing; it can be defined as the ideal condition of wellness. The main objective of TYO’s health class is to provide a safe place for children to improve their physical and psychosocial health.

In class, we teach children how to take care of themselves in healthy ways—including lessons about hygiene, nutrition, and self-expression. This is not always the first time the children have encountered this information, but their knowledge of healthy habits needs to be enhanced to help them build healthier routines. Moreover, health class helps to raise children’s self-confidence. As a result of their strengthened knowledge and self-confidence, we have witnessed many children stopping some of the unhealthy behaviors that they displayed when they first came to TYO. This class also helps children to be more expressive about their feelings and dreams for the future. I would like to share the story of a child whose success story has deeply impressed me.

Mohmammad Arafat in health class.

Mohammad Arafat is a child living in Old Askar Refugee Camp. A Palestinian proverb says, ”A beautiful feather isn’t enough to make a beautiful bird,” and Mohammad is without doubt a beautiful bird. He only needs beautiful feathers to be able to fly.

When I first talked to Mohammad to get to know him, I got the impression that he was really sad. That was later confirmed when he talked about his life and dreams and what he would like to be when he grew up. All of the children listened to him in silence as he sang, “I hid a tear in my eye and my sadness in my heart,” part of a popular sad song. Then he started telling his story about his father who passed away from a heart attack in front of him. He told us that he wished to be a doctor in order to help people like his father and save them from death. He also wanted to be a doctor to earn money to help his family live with a good standard of living. In the weeks that I have known him, Mohammad has never sung childish songs; he always prefers to sing those sad songs.  When I asked him why, I was shocked by his answer: “These songs express me.”

Mohammad, who is only 8 years old, shared all of that. He is a Palestinian bird who used to live in darkness and silence, unnoticed until he came to classes at TYO.  By providing a safe place for Mohammad to interact with other children and adults, we hope to not only positively affect his physical health but also provide a place for him to heal.  We know this child is a candle who can light all the darkness around him.

-Nehad

Nehad Omar is one of TYO’s Core Child Program Teachers. 

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