Youth in Focus: An interview with Walaa Qasqas

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Walaa Qasqas is from Sebastia, Palestine. She is a third-year student at Al-Quds Open University, majoring in Health Management.

TYO volunteer Wala assists children with their assignment

TYO volunteer Wala assists children with their assignment

 What made you apply for STEP?!

My sister was a volunteer at TYO and told me about the program. She had mentioned how much she benefited from the experience she received at TYO, so I thought this would be a good opportunity for me to better my skills and prepare for the job market. More specifically, I’ve struggled with self-confidence and communication skills and know this is definitely an area I need to improve if I want to be successful in my career. As I heard TYO offers communication training seminars, I thought this was definitely the right opportunity for me.

What new skills have your learned through the program?

The most important thing I’ve learned is communication and team building skills. The various optional skills training seminars offered throughout the session really helped me to identify areas I need improvement. This session, I plan to focus on improving my leadership skills. Based on my initial meetings with my Core Teacher, I think he will be a strong mentor and help me to improve my skills. TYO has also helped me become more comfortable working in diverse settings. As a woman from such a conservative community like Nablus, I had not previously worked with men. So initially when I began volunteering at TYO I was a little bit nervous and not comfortable dealing with them. However, given the positive experience I had volunteering with TYO last session, I am much more confident in my abilities.

What are your career goals and do you feel that STEP! helped you get closer to those goals?

It is my goal to be a manager at a hospital. TYO is helping me to move towards that goal by giving me the professional foundation I’ll need to succeed in the workplace. A successful manager must be a good communicator, strong leader, and have confidence- all skills TYO has been equipping me with. I recently applied for a position to train at An-Najah Hospital and I know I wouldn’t have applied without the self-confidence I got after joining TYO. In fact, I find the supplementary professional skills I’m developing at TYO to be so useful that I’d been considering postponing a session at the university to fit TYO’s schedule so I would be able to volunteer.

What do you think is the biggest challenge for youth like you in the current labor market?

I think the biggest challenge for today’s Palestinian youth entering the job market is that there are not many job opportunities. There are many people graduating from the same fields, all after only a handful of jobs- this creates a lot of competition. I hope by working on my skills- outside academics- to become a more well-rounded candidate and have a better chance of getting a job when I graduate.

-Interview conducted by Volunteer Coordinator, Ruba Hafayda

This program is funded by the Abdel Hameed Shoman Foundation (AHSF).

 

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The Tools We Need to Lead

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International Intern Claire leads a meeting with volunteers

International Intern Claire leads a meeting with volunteers

One of my first days as a TYO intern, I had the opportunity to participate in an open discussion between the U.S. Consul General of Jerusalem, Michael Ratney, and returning volunteers from TYO’s Student Training and Employment Program (STEP!). The conversation revolved around the high unemployment rate of Palestinian youth and the related challenges that our community members face in seeking employment after graduation from university. I was eager to hear the voices of our volunteers, as I knew I would be working with this very population while facilitating a leadership course at An-Najah University throughout my internship. This course, in addition to STEP!, is giving students the tools they need to make the transition from university to work by bridging the gap between theoretical knowledge and practical experience.

I received my Bachelor’s degree a year ago, and while I listened to our volunteer’s thoughts, I couldn’t help but compare their challenges to my own. My four years in university were marked by the recession in the U.S., and my peers and I were consciously aware of how lucky we were to find jobs after graduation, paid or unpaid. But, when I compare the youth unemployment rates in the U.S. to Palestine, it’s difficult to fathom the enormity of challenges faced by youth here. Youth unemployment has hovered between 13% and 15% in the last year in the United States, whereas quarterly figures reported in Palestine showed nearly 43.9% of unemployment amongst youth ages 16-24. This high rate of unemployment has remained nearly stagnant in Palestine since 2001, whereas we can see a trend towards lower rates of unemployment in America.

The question is: why? Our volunteers emphasized how their university educations valued textbook learning over practical experience. For many of them, volunteering at TYO was the only opportunity they had to gain work experience during their time in college. For some, though, this volunteer experience is not sufficient for potential employers in certain fields of work. Others articulated how available employment lacks livable wages. One volunteer said that she was qualified for a job in Ramallah, but the compensation would only be enough to cover her transportation to and from work. A 2013 report by the Sharek Youth Forum, titled “The Future is Knocking at the Door” attributes high rates of youth unemployment to “the weak Palestinian economy in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, disparities between male and female employment rates, a lack of productive opportunities in the Palestinian market, the gap between education and the labor market and the absence of a comprehensive Palestinian policy on youth employment.” Because of the myriad of obstacles graduates face, TYO is working with students at An-Najah University to increase their employability.

As assistants to a leadership course at An Najah University, Jade and I are helping to fill the need for English instruction, communication skills, and professional competency skills. During the meeting with the Consul General, I was impressed with how every participant was thinking critically about his or her education and articulating the need for more professional training. Since the leadership course consists of mostly freshmen, we hope to encourage this type of critical thinking early in the students’ studies.

In a recent blog post, one of our volunteers, Amal, reiterated these challenges: “The universities do not do a good job of preparing graduates for the labor market. For example, I spent four years at my university only developing academic knowledge without any practice application. I was shocked when I began applying for jobs to learn that the knowledge I gained at university was in no way directly applicable to the job market.”

Throughout the session, not only will Jade and I help students develop the necessary skills to successfully apply for jobs, but we also want students to do so confidently. We will work to help students gain public speaking and persuasion skills, all while boosting their abilities and confidence in conversational and written English.

I look forward to working with the students at An-Najah University as they develop skills to take on leadership roles in Palestine. My hope is that, as future leaders, this group of students will be the ones to bring about institutional changes to Palestinian universities so that future students will feel prepared and confident to enter the labor market upon graduation.

-Claire is a Fall 2014 International Intern at TYO

This program is funded by the Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation (AHSF).

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All in the Family

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Hala shows off her family tree

Hala shows off her family tree

The second week of the Core Child Program focuses on the concept of family. It is important to root this idea with children early in their development, as their understanding of family is critical not only to their sense of identity, but also serves as an early lesson in tolerance and diversity. Family is the first formal social structure to which children are exposed, and while it is normal to have different family structure, this does not necessarily mean all children are comfortable with their family unit. By teaching young children that it is ok to be different, they learn to appreciate, rather than fear, differences.’ At TYO, a third reason it is important to address the concept of family early in the session is because of the prevalence of domestic abuse amongst our beneficiaries. It is important the Core Child Teachers gather as much information about children’s family lives as possible so there is time to refer the child and family to TYO’s Psychosocial Program Manager for an intervention if needed.

As is often the case in high poverty areas, domestic abuse is more prevalent than amongst the general population. For TYO’s beneficiaries, the lack of education, typically caused by early marriage has created generations of parents who never developed the higher level thinking skills and emotional maturity needed to properly process their own environmental stresses.

Core Child Teacher Shireen reports that during an activity in which children were asked to draw their family tree, several children indicated their older brothers or fathers hit them. Younger children were much more open about sharing such information verbally when asked questions about their family tree. Older children in the program were less verbal in sharing information about problems in the home. Instead, Shireen was able to discern problems based on the way children colored their projects- such as the colors and images depicted in art class.

For this reason, TYO program staff work closely together to ensure children are provided with a supportive and nurturing environment to mitigate the long term impact of an unhealthy home life.

-Shireen is a Core Child Program Teacher and Jessica Dargiel, Deputy Director

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English Immersion Today Prepares Palestinian Children to be Tomorrow’s Leaders

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Jade greets her students on the first day of Core AM English

International Intern Jade greets her students on the first day of Core AM English

Language acquisition begins in the womb. Linguistic studies indicate that childhood is the optimal period to learn a new language for a variety of reasons, and immersion programs are becoming the foremost model for language learning on a global level. At Tomorrow’s Youth Organization, the International Internship Program seeks to create fun, safe spaces for young students to engage with the English language through activity and to equip the next generation of youth in Palestine with the linguistic skills necessary to succeed in an increasingly globalized world.

In conversations I have had with university students in Nablus, many of them have expressed a need for English language programs in Palestine. Most feel that English is a skill critical to successfully navigating the job market and beginning their careers and that in order for Palestine to meet this demand, it must commit to stronger models of language teaching through immersion.

Learning a new language takes time, and adhering to a model of immersion significantly increases and student’s exposure to a second language, therefore increasing their level of acquisition and capacity for successful communication. While challenging at first, students are able to learn through expressive teaching, contextual clues, and continued practice in using the language.

At TYO, International Interns use many strategies and activities to get students excited about speaking English and increasing their desire to learn more. In my morning ESL class, I have found that my students respond extremely well to movement, and that by incorporating some gesture or dance to associate with a word or phrase increases their retention and strengthens their confidence in English. For example, when students were learning appropriate responses to “How are you?” using a thumbs-up for “I’m good!” provided a type of kinetic reinforcement for their learning. These types of gains are invaluable, and give me great hope in their continued success in the language.

Children may not fully understand that English language skills they acquire today can benefit them in university and the job market, but the concept of play is universal. By engaging students in enjoyable English-language activities we are broadening their capacities for cross-cultural communication and preparing Palestinian children to be global citizens.

-Jade is a Fall 2014 International Intern at TYO

This program is funded by the Abdel Hameed Shoman Foundation (AHSF).

 

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Let’s Get Down to Business.

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brookings report

In a recent publication by Brookings: Tomorrow’s Skilled Workforce Requires Investing in Young Children Today: The Importance of Early Childhood Development we are reminded again of the imperative and critical need of early childhood education especially in low-income countries.

So why aren’t we using what works?

While the article highlights four compelling reasons – the one that resonates with us at TYO is the lack of the private sector partnerships. For years, we have witnessed the gap between university graduates skills-readiness and private sector needs in Palestine. We have listened as executives in profit-driven companies have lamented about the lack of a skilled qualified workforce, and simultaneously, graduates who cannot find employment even five years after graduation.

This is one of the reasons we partnered earlier this year with the Abdel Hameed Shoman Foundation (AHSF) creating the Student Employment and Training Program (STEP!) Together, we are providing a model that demonstrates how business can back education.

At TYO, we understand that academic institutions are not meeting the needs of their students and parents. With only a handful of public kindergartens in the West Bank, children are set up for failure before they ever step foot in first grade. Teachers who are unqualified, an archaic system that still uses rote memorization and ‘Tawjihi” testing for high school ‘achievement’ and perhaps most alarming, a lack of government oversight in public schools that are witness to increasing violence all create an ecosystem not conducive to learning.

In partnership with Columbia University’s School of Social Work in New York, STEP! is providing children in Nablus access to world-class early childhood enrichment programs. Focusing on themes like Community & Identity, Health, and Problem Solving – and doing it in a mixed gender environment – the results have proven to be dramatic.

However, the STEP! program does not stop there.

While we investing in tomorrows youth at the earliest ages – we also support university students and graduates in our in-service training program and university leadership courses. With 100 percent of in-service volunteers positively assessing their experience with the program, we are on the right track to creating a more hopeful and energized workforce. And, we are encouraged to see that the business community is finally seeing the results as well.

As Brookings notes, “Businesses need not make such investments just because they are moral or the right thing to do, but because they are in fact critical to supplying a skilled workforce of the future—something very much in business’s self-interest.”

Humaira Wakili, Country Director

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YOUTH IN FOCUS: AN INTERVIEW WITH AMAL Khdeer

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Amal Khdeer is from Nablus and graduated from An-Najah National University with a degree in Business Management.

TYO volunteer, Amal,  poses with Core AM children

TYO Volunteer Amal with Core AM children

What made you apply for the STEP! program?

This is my third session volunteering at TYO. Initially, I joined the program because I wanted to gain work experience in order to enhance my CV.  This continues to be a motivating factor for returning to TYO. Additionally, I heard that native English speaking interns come to TYO and I saw this as an opportunity to practice and improve my English skills. Beyond improving my hard skills, ultimately I find the volunteer program at TYO to be extremely rewarding. I was surprised, as I’d never considered working as a teacher- even thinking it was a professional I’d hate- but through my experience at TYO I’ve learned I actually really enjoy working with children and am now encouraged to seek teaching opportunities for work.

What new skills have your learned through the program?

The most important thing I’ve learned is patience. Previously I thought that I would be skilled working under pressure, but after joining TYO I found that this was not the case as I struggled in stressful situations. I immediately saw this as something I needed to work on and feel I’ve greatly improved my stress management skills, improving my ability to work under pressure. I’ve also improved my time management skills. When I was a student I tried scheduling my first class at 10:00am so I could sleep in, however once I started volunteering at TYO, I adjusted my schedule to wake up at 5 AM as I am a bus monitor and need to arrive at TYO early. Beyond needing to wake up early, TYO’s strict rotation system has taught me the importance of managing my time in classes, as any delay in the schedule would ruin the entire rotation for other teachers as well.

What are your career goals and do you feel that STEP! helped you get closer to those goals?

I’m planning to begin a Masters program next semester and I’m applying for many jobs in the field of Business Management. TYO  has helped me to develop my English language skills, which is very important as all of the jobs I’ve been applying to require English skills. Additionally, the extra job readiness training sessions TYO offered last session were really helpful. I had an interview after receiving the job interview training and was very confident in my responses. The public speaking training was also very helpful and enabled me to  improve my skills in this area.

What do you think is the biggest challenge for youth like you in the current labor market?

I think the biggest challenge is the general lack of job readiness skills of recent graduates. The universities do not do a good job of preparing graduates for the labor market. For example, I spent four years at my university only developing academic knowledge without any practice application. I was shocked when I began applying for jobs to learn that the knowledge I gained at university was in no way directly applicable to the job market. I think that the universities should think seriously this gap and focus on preparing students for real life.

-Interview conducted by Volunteer Coordinator, Ruba Hafayda

This program is funded by the Abdel Hameed Shoman Foundation (AHSF).

 

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C is for Curiosity

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International Intern Claire greets her students on the first day of Core AM English

International Intern Claire greets her students on the first day of Core AM English

At Tomorrow’s Youth Organization, our halls and classrooms are buzzing with nearly one hundred and fifty 4-5 year old students by 8:30 AM. As a new Fall Intern, I watched in excitement as the children filed into my first morning Core Child Program English class, wide-eyed and curious. I’m sure their heads were filled with questions about who I was, where I was from, and why I was speaking so strangely. I soon witnessed, however, how the students were able to transform their initial curiosity about my foreign-ness into curiosity and aptitude for learning English.

Scientific research concerned with language acquisition overwhelming identifies the critical period for learning a second language as the time between the ages of 3 and 7. A report by the Foundation for Child Development debunked several myths about young English language learners, concluding that “consistent, coherent approach to education that provides continuous, enhanced [language] learning opportunities from Pre-Kindergarten through Third Grade (PK-3) offers the best chance for improved academic performance.”

One of the most significant myths is that children will be confused or overwhelmed learning two languages at such an early developmental stage. The author of the report refutes this claim by pointing to research by neuroscientists and psycholinguists that demonstrate a child’s brain capacity to learn multiple languages, distinguish them from each other, and “interpret contextual clues to know which language is appropriate in a given context.”

Children’s brains are wired to learn languages at this age, and TYO is giving them the opportunity to fulfill this potential and build a solid foundation of English through consistent exposure as they progress to our afternoon Core Child classes and after-school programs for older ages.

In my first week of English classes, I have already witnessed how this research applies in the classroom. After less than an hour of English instruction, children were able to properly (and enthusiastically) identify the context in which we say “Hello!” and “Goodbye!” For most of these children, it is the first time they have spoken to a native English speaker, so you can imagine how impressed I was when a significant number of students were able to answer, in a full sentence, the correct response to the question, “What’s your name?” To put this into context, I just learned the equivalent in Arabic after more than a week in Nablus.

But, science aside, students at this age have an overwhelming curiosity when it comes to learning, which gives them a natural advantage to learn foreign languages. TYO aims to encourage and develop this curiosity through an emphasis on play, art, and music in our classrooms. Exposure to a second language at this age is not only directly linked to long-term cognitive, social, and economic benefits, but it also sparks a new curiosity in students about foreign cultures and their roles in a global community. This cyclical effect of language learning is crucial to students throughout their education, and it provides them with tools, such as cognitive flexibility and creative thinking, to thrive in other subjects. By exposing children to a second language at such an early age, TYO is normalizing this instinctual curiosity for learning.

My presence as a native speaker also forges a personal connection between the students and English at an early age. Throughout my own foreign language education, my success was driven by my motivation to communicate with friends who were native speakers of French. I hope to be that person for students in our Core Child Program so that, from age four, they will realize that foreign languages are the key to opening the door to new cultures, places, and people around the world.

-Claire is a Fall 2014 International Intern at TYO

This program is funded by the Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation (AHSF).

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New beginnings aren’t always easy

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Psychosocial Program Manager Suhad sits with a child on the first day of classe

Psychosocial Program Manager Suhad sits with a child on the first day of classe

After many hours of planning and preparation, the Fall session is at last underway and the sound of laughter and chatter once again fills the halls and classrooms at TYO. Children from the most undeserved areas of Nablus are greeted with smiling faces from TYO staff as everyone excitedly welcomes the children back to TYO.

But as is often the case at the beginning of the session, some children in the Core AM program struggle with attachment and separation anxiety issues. For many of TYO’s youngest beneficiaries (4 & 5 years old) coming to TYO marks the first time in their short lives they are away from their families and in some cases even the first time they are away from their refugee camps or neighborhoods. Despite entering a warm and loving environment at TYO, for many of the children the drastic change in environments can be overwhelming. Beyond this, as a result of the instability of camp life, many children will have already had exposure to traumatic events- such as home invasions, or the incarceration of a parent- which can exacerbate existing attachment issues. As such it is even more critical that TYO mitigates the stress created by entering a new environment. Given that most children will not have access to pre-school or kindergarten, it is critical that we ease children’s anxiety and help them to develop positive feelings towards a classroom environment in order to alleviate adjustment issues later which could harm their academic achievement. Further, when acute separation anxiety goes untreated, it could develop into more serious psychological issues in adulthood.

Under the guidance of TYO’s Psychosocial Program Manager, TYO utilizes a play therapy approach to help children adjust. Play-based activity enables children to establish links between their inner thoughts and their outer world, allowing them to inadvertently reveal the thoughts and emotions they deem as threatening. It can be used to help treat a variety of issues- everything from anger management, exposure to crisis/ trauma, to anxiety and autism. Once expressed and depending on the severity of the situation, TYO’s Psychosocial Program Manager can put together an action plan for the child, Core Child Program Teacher, and parents as to how to best help the child adjust.

Through the STEP! Program, TYO has been working with Columbia University’s School of Social Work to evaluate TYO’s existing Core Child psychosocial curriculum in order to best meet the needs of children. As such, the activities in the first week of the program were revised to include more ice-breaking activities with an emphasis on proactively treating separation anxiety issues. Beyond this, backup activities are prepared outside the classroom for children who need more individualized attention. In such cases, those children requiring extra attention are often crying and unwilling to engage in classroom activities. TYO volunteers and staff are ready to work one-on-one outside the classroom with building blocks, clay, and iPads. The use of such materials has been extremely effective in helping children to workout their anxiety and overcome their fears while adjusting to their new environment.

Though the first week can be stressful for children, we know the safe and nurturing environment created for our children is bound to return smiles. Until then, we are waiting with illimitable energy and patience to ensure a smooth transition.

-Suhad Masri, Psychosocial Program Manager & Jessica Dargiel, Deputy Director

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Welcome Fall 2014 interns!

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TYO is pleased to introduce the Fall 2014 International Interns! They come from diverse backgrounds – all the way from Washington and Colorado in the United States. Read all about them!

2014 interns Jade and Claire

2014 interns Jade and Claire

Jade

Jade grew up in Washington State. After finishing high school, she moved to Seattle to work full time as an AmeriCorps literacy tutor with a prominent immigrant and refugee community. Her work with AmeriCorps inspired her to study Linguistics and Human Rights at the University of Washington. While at the UW she’s been involved in social justice pursuits and college readiness mentorship, leading a university seminar on anti-racist activism and mentorship. Additionally, she had the chance to study abroad on a human rights program in Morocco, where she also conducted an independent research project related to language and identity of the Amazigh/Berber people. While at TYO, Jade will be teaching ESL for the Core Morning Program, afterschool classes for youth, and will be facilitating leadership and professional competency classes at An-Najah National University.

Claire

Claire is from the Chicago area but has called Colorado her home for the past five years or so. She graduated from Carleton College (MN) in 2013 where she studied International Relations and French. She taught English in Marseille, France in three primary schools that were in primarily immigrant communities. During college, she also studied post-genocide restoration and peacebuilding in Rwanda for a semester, and she had the opportunity to conduct a short independent research project on refugee reintegration. While at TYO, Claire will be teaching ESL for the Core Morning Program, afterschool classes for youth, and will be facilitating leadership and professional competency classes at An-Najah National University.

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Youth in Focus: An Interview with Scholarship recipient Mari Qawareeq

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Mari receives her scholarship from Humaira Wakili, Dr. Alia, and Ruba Hayfayda

Mari receives her scholarship from Humaira Wakili, Dr. Alia Assali, and Ruba Hayfayda

Mari Qawareeq is the winner of TYO’s University Scholarship Competition. The scholarship was awarded to Mari by Dr. Alia Assali, Dean of the Education Faculty at An Najah National University.

What is your reaction to receiving this scholarship?

It is an amazing feeling. I’m so glad to win the scholarship. I believe I worked very hard over the past three sessions volunteering at TYO, so I’m proud to have my efforts and hard work rewarded.

How will this scholarship help you in achieving your educational goals?

The scholarship will help me pay for my university tuition, getting me one step closer to graduation and my BA degree, which will help me get a job in the future. As there are two of us currently studying at the university, this is a very difficult financial time for my family. I was uncertain if I’d even be able to enroll in the university this fall because of a lack of funding, so I am so grateful to TYO for keeping me on my academic track.

What do you feel you have gained by volunteering at TYO?

Volunteering at TYO has enabled me to develop my personality and skills. I’ve improved my leadership skills- the area in which I felt I needed the most work. I also improved my time management skills and patience in dealing with children. Moreover, I got the chance to develop my communication skills by meeting and interacting with more people. Prior to volunteering at TYO, I was not a very sociable person- particularly at school- but now I can say that I have a solid network. I also learned the importance of being strong- that we shouldn’t give up easily and should fight to achieve goals.

What skills did you gain from your experience at TYO that you think will help you when you graduate and look for a job?

I am studying in the psychology department, so the volunteer work I do at TYO is directly related to my career field. As such I believe the experience at TYO will help me a lot as I’ve already started to develop real world experience while I’m still at university. I hope future employers will see this as a strength, thus making me a strong candidate for whichever job I apply for.

TYO believes in women’s empowerment and equality. Has your volunteer experience in any way changed your opinion about your role as a woman in your community? If so, how?

Volunteering at TYO has changed many of my beliefs. As a result of my experience at TYO, I now strongly believe that women have a place and role in the community. Prior to coming to TYO, I’d only been exposed to academic life and had never taken on a real leadership role, but being at TYO I was able to see that not only was I contributing, but I was surrounded by many other women who were working hard to improve their community. Through this, I really began to see how important my role is as a woman and that I can make a difference.

-Interview conducted by Volunteer Coordinator Ruba 

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