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M is for Music!

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Children in Jade's class learn that 'music' starts with the letter 'M'

Children in Jade’s class learn that ‘music’ starts with the letter ‘M’

In my Core Child English Class through TYO’s International Internship program, students file through the door and greet me with an enthusiastic “Hello!” It’s five weeks into our program, and at this point many of the students are asking unprompted “How are you?”. The progress that I have seen among these young ones has been significant in just five weeks.

TYO Interns teach English because there is a dire need for native speaking instructors in Palestine. Time and time again in conversations that I have had with Palestinians, they have shared their frustrations over language learning in their schools. Despite the fact that instruction begins in the fifth grade and carries on through university, young Palestinians still struggle greatly with verbal and written fluency in English. TYO seeks to develop a foundation for students at a critical early age, introducing the English alphabet to learners between 4-5 years old to prepare them for further study in school later on.

In the first weeks of TYO’s Fall Session there were plenty of tears. Students were adjusting to a brand new environment, with many students leaving the classroom crying because they were nervous and afraid. For many of the young ones at TYO, this session has been their first experience being away from their families and the transition can sometimes be rough. When I spoke English for the first time in my classroom, I remember many students looking on warily and with much confusion.

Now, my students greet me confidently with a smile, a hug, or a high-five. They are visibly more comfortable in the classroom space and in communicating with teachers and volunteers. I can tell that they look forward to our English classes as they gleefully identify pictures such as “apple,” “ball,” and “cat” in our alphabet lessons. When we sing the alphabet song at the end of class, almost everyone is singing along and some are even bobbing their heads to the melody. We create a positive classroom space together, and this environment allows these students to make great leaps in learning. The excitement with which they approach English and their engagement in class each day is encouraging and fuels my desire to make the most out of our time together.

The 4-5 year old students in TYO’s Morning Core classes represent the future of Palestine. The ability of children to absorb so much so quickly is indicative of a love for learning that must be cultivated throughout their development as young leaders. The confidence I have seen emerge in the English classroom is priceless, and plants a seed for these students’ future success in the language.

-Jade is a Fall 2014 International Intern at TYO

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Youth in Focus: An interview with Hadeel Khanfar

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Hadeel Khanfar is from Jenin, Palestine and is currently living in Nablus. She is a second year student at An-Najah National University majoring in Community Service and Sociology.

Hadeel helps facilitate a science experiment

Hadeel helps facilitate a science experiment

What made you apply for STEP!?

There were several things about STEP! that initially attracted me to the program. I was a freshman student when first I joined TYO. As I am studying Community Service it was important to me to get hands on experience to supplement my academic work in this field as soon as possible, so I immediately applied to TYO when I saw the opportunity to volunteer. I believe it is important that youth work to promote a culture of volunteerism in Palestine, and believe I can lead through example. I feel a strong sense of responsibility to helping people in need living in Nablus and other disadvantaged communities.

What new skills have your learned through the program?

The STEP! program has helped me to develop my leadership and team-building skills. The teachers at TYO work hard to ensure each of the volunteers are given an opportunity to lead the class and practice managing children. Additionally, the opportunity to work with other volunteers in the classroom has enabled me to practice team-building. We must work effectively together and coordinate our efforts to ensure the class runs smoothly and that all children receive the same level of attention. Through these activities I’ve also been able to work on my communication skills- both with children and my peers.

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

Following graduation, I plan to work in the field of Community Service and lead the youth in my community to improve their skills through volunteering and professional development trainings- similar to how TYO works to equip volunteers with needed skills. TYO is giving me the experience to be be successful 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 for youth entering today’s job market is the gap between the academic experience and needs of the job market.  We come out of school lacking the hands on, practical experience required to obtain even entry level jobs. This hurts recent graduates as they are generally not equipped with the market needs. Many graduates tend to work in a field unrelated to their area of study because lacked the knowledge of what the jobs are actually available.

-Interview conducted by Volunteer Coordinator, Ruba Hafayda

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

 

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ABC: The Alphabet Boosts Confidence

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Claire reviews the alphabet with her class

Claire reviews the alphabet with her class

As a TYO intern, I am teaching English as a foreign language to two age groups: 4-5 year olds and 9-11 year olds. As expected, there is a clear difference between the level of comprehension and students’ ability to speak, write, and understand English in each age group. However, each day the students in the Early Childhood Core Program continue to impress me with their capacity to learn at such a fast rate. After 5 weeks of English instruction, students are not only learning the English alphabet, but they are also building a foundation of vocabulary similar to my older students. The Core AM students’ English skills are impressive, but I am most excited by the development I see in their personal skills like self-confidence, adaptability, and resilience.

At the beginning of the session, there were at least 5 students I worked with that were so intimidated in my English class that they refused to speak. I applied different strategies to engage these students including large group activities, individual attention, and introducing English through art and sports. After a week passed and I noticed little change in the students’ confidence, I felt discouraged. But, slowly, each student has broken through the barrier of fear and discomfort they first felt when faced with a foreign language and teacher. Rather than thinking of English class as an intimidating environment, students now associate it with discovery and creation. English is like an unknown terrain, and each day we use different tools to uncover new ways to describe familiar objects. Once the students have made this connection by doing an activity or creating something themselves, they take pride in and ownership over their work. After receiving positive reinforcement, students’ confidence grows, creating a cycle of increased participation and language acquisition. Now, certain students who were the quietest at the beginning of the session (literally) jump at the chance to show off their English skills.

The most rewarding part of teaching this age group is witnessing the connections students make with English outside of the context of the activity. Students are demonstrating their critical thinking skills at the young age of 4 or 5, and this is a direct consequence of early language learning. Because of the cooler weather in Nablus, one of my students, Fadi, was wearing gloves when he came into class last week. His gloves had the letters A, B, C, D, and E printed on each finger. I pointed to each letter and asked Fadi what he saw. I was ecstatic as I witnessed the concept clicking into place for Fadi and two other students nearby as they started identifying the letters. This ability to adapt and apply their language skills to contexts outside the classroom is a skill that will serve TYO’s beneficiaries throughout their lives.

Finally, students are building resilience in the classroom. I make it a point to engage the students through humor and body language to create an environment where students are comfortable making mistakes. I participate with the students, more often than not making a fool of myself, to let them know that it’s acceptable to laugh at ourselves. When students do make a mistake, they continue to try until they get it right without fear of being embarrassed.

Students have learned basic introductions in English, almost half of the alphabet, and an English vocabulary word associated with each letter. When these students enter primary school, they will have an invaluable advantage in English because of their time at TYO. Their confidence and optimism about what they can achieve in the classroom will contribute to both the quality of their education and, consequently, the positive and sustainable development of their communities.

-Claire is a Fall 2014 International Intern at TYO

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Constructing identity in the Core Child Program

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Children in Core AM practice drawing the Palestinian flag

Children in Core AM practice drawing the Palestinian flag

‘Children are like little scientists. They gather evidence by observing and exploring the world.’

But what happens when they, their parents, guardians, and teachers don’t have control over their world? What happens when their ability to explore is limited by outside factors? For most of the children attending TYO’s Core Child Program, ‘exploring’ their world- even their country- is not an option. Given the barriers to movement created by checkpoints throughout the West Bank, Palestinian communities have become highly fragmented, with many families choosing to remain stationary.

Given the complex political environment in which TYO’s beneficiaries develop, most arrive at TYO having never previously left their neighborhoods or camps. TYO offers an exciting opportunity for these children to have new experiences in a safe and controlled environment. In order to help these children adjust and understand their relation to the world outside their isolated communities, the focus of the first half of the session for children in the Core AM program is community. Each week, they learn about different elements of community- starting with themselves, and then expanding outwards to incorporate their families, neighborhoods, cities, and-finally- country. In the week of ‘My Country’, children learn about different aspects of ‘country’. For example, a country is made of many cities and villages. A flag is used to symbolize a country- and each country has a unique flag. A country can be found on a map. While it is logical that the concepts become more complex as the weeks progress, the challenge of teaching ‘my country’ in Palestine is particularly marked.

Core Child Teacher, Haithem highlighted some of the issues he faced during this week. For starters, having never traveled outside Nablus, the idea of ‘country’ and what makes a country different from a city is rather abstract for young children. Second, none of the children in his class were able to recognize the Palestinian flag as a symbol of their country prior to this week of the program. Previously children in his class had associated the flag with funerals- saying that they’d seen the image before in the street processions. It’s important that the teacher and volunteers guide children to instead create positive associations with the flag, as it becomes a critical part of their own cultural identity. Finally, Haithem explained that maps arouse children’s natural curiosity. Even through the children in his class are only 4 and 5 years old, several of them had asked after seeing a map of the region if they’re so close to water (the Mediterranean Sea), why have they never seen it? Haithem explained this is an extremely emotional week as a teacher, as he must address children’s questions in a forthright and pragmatic way, ensuring he doesn’t impart his own impressions developed as a Palestinian growing up under Occupation.

While there are significant challenges presented in the classroom, ultimately this is a positive week for children in the Core Child Program as they uncover another layer of their complex identities.

- Haithem Okeh, Core Child Teacher and Jessica Dargiel, Deputy Director

 

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Playing to Learn at TYO

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Children in Jade's class learn through play

Children in Jade’s class learn through play

Five of my students stand upon the stage. One is holding a guitar, another is dressed up in a fake mustache, and two of them are having a tug-of-war match over a paper television remote. It’s all fiction of course. My after-school psychosocial class through TYO’s International Internship program is performing skits that they wrote about resolving family issues and by the end of the play, the two “siblings” involved in the argument come to an agreement, devising a way to share the remote.  The kids think that they’re just playing: I know, however, that these activities are encouraging them to think critically about important concepts including self-confidence, cooperation, respect, and problem-solving.

Play is critically important in a child’s life. Through play children utilize all senses, interacting with the world not just through books and academic lessons but also through taking on agency in their learning – creating, imagining, and facilitating games and activities on their own.TYO works with the most at-risk youth in Nablus, most of which come from the refugee camps in the area. The cramped conditions, lack of playgrounds or safe spaces to simply fulfill the child’s inclination to play furthers the stress and anxiety already present due to conditions of military occupation.

At Tomorrow’s Youth Organization, we aim to provide spaces in which kids can be kids. Bright classrooms, outdoor play areas, and ample space to move around make a world of difference in the lives of these children. In this environment, their leadership skills flourish and they learn to collaborate with classmates on ideas and strategies to further their aims in the classroom. Over the course of the past four weeks I have seen my students become more comfortable in a new environment of classmates from different refugee camps and neighborhoods, a foreign teacher, and a psychosocial curriculum that challenges them to grow beyond just academics. Whether it’s an English language art project, a team game, or drama activity, I am always impressed and inspired by the ingenuity displayed by my students and the clear gains that they are making at TYO.

TYO’s after-school program engages children through fun, safe activities that allow them to develop as individuals and community members. By incorporating English language activities as well, we are furthering this objective to foster a sense of global citizenship that will prepare our students for success in university and the professional sphere later on. In this way, we seek to empower the next generation of Palestinians by providing them with the tools necessary to be the leaders and change-makers of the future.TYO’s commitment to serving youth is rooted in the belief that positive change can and will come for Palestine. All it takes is belief in our children and youth, a commitment to serving them, and a bit of play.

-Jade is a Fall 2014 International Intern at TYO

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Youth in Focus: An interview with Eyad Odeh

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Eyad Odeh is from Salfeet. He is a third year student at An-Najah National University studying Law.

Eyad leads a group of students in a trash collection activity

Eyad leads a group of students in a community service activity

What made you apply for STEP!?

There were several reasons I opted to apply for STEP! I felt it would be a good opportunity to improve my personal and professional skills, particularly my communication skills as I knew I’d be working with a wide variety of people – both young children and foreigners. Additionally, I liked the idea of being able to help children in my community. I think it is important that young and able youth like myself direct their energy at causes that will improve their communities.

What new skills have your learned through the program?

Since joining the program I’ve improved my ability to work with both children and adults- varying my method of communication depending on who I’m speaking to. I’ve also developed my time management skills- an improvement that I’ve noticed has carried over to other facets of my life as I’ve become more organized. Through leading groups of children at TYO I’ve also improved my leadership and teamwork skills.  Regarding teamwork, it’s particularly helpful that we work with the same group of students and volunteers throughout the session as this gives us the opportunity to learn how to collaborate effectively with our peers.

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

Though I haven’t completely decided, I am considering an additional 2 years of law training so I can work as a lawyer, or I may continue my current work at the Department of Land and Real Estate, as I’ve been working there as a legal aide for the last 6 months. TYO has helped to bridge the gap between academic life and the real job market. The trainings we receive help to put our work as volunteers into perspective as to how we are impacting the community at large. Additionally, the professional development trainings at TYO have been really beneficial in preparing us for the job market.

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

I think the biggest challenge facing youth entering the labor market is that there is a big gap between academic life and the job market.  Recent graduates don’t have the needed job skills since such skills are not addressed in studies. University is spent discussing theories and concepts, rather than teaching students hard skills that can be applied to the real world. This is why the volunteer opportunities are so important, as they provide one of the few chances for youth in Palestine to be exposed to real world activities before officially entering the workforce.

-Interview conducted by Volunteer Coordinator, Ruba Hafayda

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

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Play to Grow: TYO’s Experiential Learning Model

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Children in Claire's class learn through play

Children in Claire’s class learn through play

The act of play is an instinctual and fundamental part of childhood. When the fourth and fifth grade students in my afternoon intern classes rush into TYO, full of enthusiasm, it is clear that these students not only want to play, but they also need play as an outlet for this uncontainable energy. Throughout my first few weeks teaching in Nablus, I quickly learned that play is the most productive and beneficial means for this age group to learn, develop, and explore.

In addition to the immediate pleasure children get from playing, there are also long-term emotional, cognitive, and physical benefits to unrestrained play. Stuart Brown, president of the National Institute for Play discusses these benefits in his TED talk, Play is more than just fun, arguing that it is crucial to integrate play into our lives to promote healthy development. Play encourages the natural curiosity that children possess, which positively reinforces curiosity in other environments such as the classroom. Students are encouraged to think creatively when they play, promoting innovative problem solving when they are challenged in math, science, or art class. Finally, social play is central to creating a sense of belonging and community among classmates.

The curriculum for the afternoon intern classes covers similar topics of identity, belonging, and community, and I’ve utilized play as a tool for students to explore these complex subjects in an experiential way. Students have played tag, participated in treasure hunts and obstacle courses, raced each other, and played different team sports. Students are consistently engaged and enthusiastic during these classes. For many students, being at TYO is one of the only opportunities they have to play in an open, safe environment. The majority of TYO’s beneficiaries are residents of Nablus’ refugee camps, where physical space is constrained and population growth continues to impede upon children’s freedom to play. Besides the positive association my students have developed between outdoor play and learning, students also have the opportunity to develop social relationships with new peers. Due to the insular nature of the refugee camps, students have little opportunity to interact with peers from other communities. By learning through play, students are breaking down social barriers while simultaneously developing behavioral skills like teamwork and communication.

This type of experiential learning has been particularly effective in our afternoon English classes. Because language use is inherently social, the most effective means to learn a foreign language is through social interactions. Using play as a means to engage all the senses, the students are learning alternative ways to engage with English rather than just through a textbook. English has become more accessible and less intimidating to students whose strengths may lie outside of classic learning models. One of the greatest challenges to language learning is a lack of self-confidence while speaking. By giving students the opportunity to play without the fear of making mistakes, their confidence in English soars and so does the level of classroom participation. This confidence is transferrable to both academic and personal settings, yet another benefit of learning a foreign language.

At TYO, we foster students’ imaginations and channel their energy into positive learning environments. Rather than stifle the natural predisposition that my students have to play, we will jump, climb, explore, and run as a means to learning about subjects ranging from family relations to the English alphabet. Students will develop optimism, creativity, and openness through play, but, most importantly, they will have fun!

-Claire is a Fall 2014 International Intern at TYO

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Teaching collaboration to build a stronger community

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Children in Shreen's Core PM class show off their projects.

Children in Shreen’s Core PM class show off their projects.

Human nature dictates that a child’s first instinct is to satisfy his or her own needs before developing an awareness of the needs of those around them. It isn’t until roughly the age of three that children are developmentally prepared to start thinking about and sharing with others. At this point, in a healthy environment, a child’s perception begins to slowly mature as they observe the concept of collaboration being modeled in front of them by family members. This constant spirit of sharing and support helps to root the idea of collaboration as a value within children, consequently enabling them to grow to become responsible and contributing members of society.

However, children exposed to violence, trauma, or otherwise oppressive environments at a young age tend to retreat back into themselves and become more selfish in order to ensure their basic needs are fulfilled. Further, ongoing exposure to traumatic events triggers the release of stress hormones, which in young children, can be harmful not only to a child’s physical well-being, but can also have a lasting impact on a child’s emotional development. There is ‘a concern is that these changes may affect the way traumatized children and adolescents respond to danger and future stresses in their lives.’ Children growing up in such environments are at risk of not fully advancing through the normal stages of development. This can have lasting consequences not only on their own mental and physical well-being, but also on the health and efficacy of the community to which they belong, as children never learn how to build trust and work together in order make positive contributions to their community

Given that many of TYO’s beneficiaries come from the UNRWA administered refugee camps in Nablus, most have been exposed to the harsh realities of a tense political situation in which night military raids are common and arrests of family members- including at times young siblings- are ongoing. As such, TYO’s psychosocial curriculum aims to addresses the developmental needs of children that most often go unmet in homes because of the complex environment in which they are growing up. Week 4 of the Core Child Program thus focuses on communication and collaboration.

Teachers in the Core Child Program report that this tends to be a challenging week as they are met with resistance from children to the idea of sharing. One activity during the week places children in small groups in which they collaborate to develop imagined communities. They work together to create and environment, establish which characters are present in the environment, and create roles for each of the characters. Initially children were reluctant to work together- which came across both through words – ‘this is mine’- and actions. However, by mid-week, children showed some improvement in their willingness to collaborate. By the end of the week, children proudly showed off their creations. It is this sense of pride in accomplishment obtained through group work that helps to slowly build the value of collaboration.

While lasting behavioral changes can not be made in a week alone, as teachers continue to build on the concepts and reward positive behavior, it is the goal that by the end of the session children will have incorporated these lessons and make positive gains towards their cognitive, emotional, and physical development.

 

Children in Mahmoud's Core PM class work together

Children in Mahmoud’s Core PM class work together

- Shireen Issa, Core Child Teacher and Jessica Dargiel, Deputy Director

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Stress Tests: Looking Beyond Exams

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Jade leads a professional development seminar

Jade leads a professional development seminar

It’s that time again: midterm exams at An-Najah University. Many of TYO’s STEP! volunteers are current students, and in recent days the dark circles under their eyes have not gone unnoticed. Balancing university and volunteer commitments can be challenging, especially with a university culture that values high exam marks over everything. Many students in Palestine are painfully aware of the emphasis placed on their test scores before they ever enter university; the university application process does not consider extracurricular activities or outside talents. In the last year of high school, the Tawjihe exam determines a students’ fate, and this exam-heavy academic culture continues throughout their university years.

Each Sunday and Thursday Claire and I facilitate discussion in a Leadership Development course at An Najah National University with topics covering everything from communication and teamwork to interview preparedness. During these sessions, we have the opportunity to engage with university students on issues that are important to them, and the challenges they face in preparing for life after they earn their degree. Time and time again, students have voiced the competitive nature of the exams in university and the anxiety caused by these tests. Because the pressure surrounding these tests is so high, they must dedicate as much time as possible to ensuring that they can get the right answers, impeding on time and incentive to engage in activities and opportunities beyond the university classroom. This fosters a university culture that does little to support activities through which students can gain significant experience and benefit including volunteer programs, internships, and clubs or organizations.

In a discussion I had with a university student last week she stated, “The exams cater to only the highest-ranking students. Everyone studies so hard simply to compete, but almost everyone is very qualified and does well on the exam. Some of the marks just come down to chance – and yet we do not know how to apply this knowledge outside of the classroom.”

TYO’s STEP! volunteers are challenged to take their knowledge and apply it outside of the box through direct engagement with the local community, developing practical skills that increase their professional capacities, and understanding how they can make an impact in Palestine. Their talents, real-world experience, and hard work could not possibly be captured by black-and-white exam marks. Sometimes referred to as the “tyranny of the quantifiable,” because numbers lend themselves to ranking students. Qualitative aspects of student ability like charisma, experience, ingenuity, and work ethic cannot be captured in such a way, and there are currently few means of capturing these very important factors through graded assessments. Human capital is more than just an exam mark, and the successes of volunteers display the efficacy of programs that take students out of the classroom to develop the professional skills that they will need to be successful.

While exams are necessary for measuring student retention and understanding of course material, they are not the end-all-be-all indicators of student ability. To meet the challenges and demands of the modern world, students must have access to programs that bring their lessons to life – through volunteering, internships, or practicums that apply their learning in a tangible setting. A recent study has revealed that an increasing amount of employers find new graduates to be unready for an ever-changing job market, citing lack of leadership, critical thinking, and organization as issues that bar students from being truly ready to enter their career fields In the modern day, one must have more than just a degree to be competitive in the job market. By fostering a university culture that encourages community and career engagement outside of the classroom, we can expose students to real-world problems in their fields of choice and instill them with the confidence to tackle these issues head-on.

In Khalil Gibran’s famous book The Prophet, he states, “A little knowledge that acts is worth infinitely more than much knowledge that is idle.” We must encourage university students to look beyond their exams and conceptualize ways in which they may activate their learning in their society. Through this mindset, we will see the fruits of their academic labors in the productivity and successes of their work.

-Jade is a Fall 2014 International Intern at TYO

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

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Youth in Focus: An Interview with Sameer Adham

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Sameer Adham is from Nablus. He is a third year student at An Najah National University and is majoring in Finance.

Samer assists children in the IT lab

Samer assists children in the IT lab

What made you apply for STEP!?

I am always looking for new opportunities to better my skills, so when I saw the advertisement for STEP!, I was immediately interested. But what really caught my eye about the STEP! program was the chance to work with disadvantaged children from within my community. I like the idea of being able to make a positive impact on my community while at the same time being able to train myself for the future to be a good father.

What new skills have your learned through the program?

The two most important things I’ve learned thus far are patience and leadership. Working with young children requires an exceptional amount of patience- both with yourself and with the children. As I was learning the most effective techniques for interacting with children, I needed to be patient with myself when I wasn’t always successful. Additionally, working with children inherently requires patience, as they are very energetic and not always prone to following direction. Through this, I’ve also been developing my leadership skills as I’ve been learning how to control the class in a positive way. In general, I’m content with the progress I’ve been making in the classroom. The psycho-social trainings I have taken at TYO have been very helpful- not only in teaching me new skills to lead children, but also by challenging me to better understand myself and my own abilities.

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

I would like to continue on to a Masters program once I complete my undergraduate studies. Ultimately I would like to start my own company. The trainings I’m receiving at TYO are very helpful in preparing me for what to expect when I complete my studies- most particularly, how to write a CV and how to prepare for a job interview.

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

The biggest challenge facing today’s youth in Palestine is the lack of job opportunities. That being said, I believe that with hard work and a focus on self-improvement there is a chance to succeed. In terms of self-improvement, taking advantage of every professional development opportunity and getting as much experience as possible will really help to differentiate ourselves from other graduates; we’ll all have university certificates, but we won’t have all put in an equal amount of effort to improving ourselves. It’s that extra effort that should really make the difference when it comes to job opportunities- simply put, some people work harder and deserve the opportunities more than others.

-Interview conducted by Volunteer Coordinator, Ruba Hafayda

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

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