A Family Affair: Evaluating the Holistic Approach to Education


TYO’s Academic Support Services Program has just begun and is already promising to be a rewarding session. This program provides students between the ages of 9-14 with educational lessons in English, math, and Arabic, as well as homework support. We have many return students and are welcoming new faces to program this fall. Take a look at how TYO’s holistic approach to education can impact entire families and improve relationships in this week’s interview with Wafa, who has two daughters enrolled at TYO, Reem and Aya.

Many of the students who join TYO face academic challenges and have issues with self-confidence. Overstretched education systems often lack the resources to provide students with the one-on-one support they need to overcome these barriers. Wafa’s story about her family’s experiences at TYO reveals how our multilevel programming works on different fronts to provide students with the tools to excel academically and build self-confidence.

TYO participant Wafa and her daughter, Core student Aya.

The Women’s Group participant Wafa and her daughter, Core student Aya both enjoy their time in the sunshine after their classes at TYO.

Welcome Wafa! Please tell us about your family and the different programs they are in at TYO.

I am originally from the Al Ein refugee camp in Nablus. I stopped attending school when I was fourteen years old in the eighth grade, which is why I decided to join the TYO’s Women’s Empowerment Program to participate in English and fitness classes. After I got married, I moved in with my husband at Balata refugee camp in Nablus. We have five children together, two boys, Mohamed who is twenty-one, Ahmed who is nineteen, and three girls, Baraah who is twenty-three, Reem who is thirteen, and Aya who is five. Aya is in the Morning Core Child Program and Reem is in the Academic Support Services Program. Reem is in the seventh grade at school and in her second session at TYO.

Why did you decide to enroll your child in the academic tutoring program?

Reem became extremely jealous when Aya was born because she was no longer the youngest child and needed to share my attention with her new sister. I truly believe this had a significant impact on her personality. Reem was suddenly very verbally and physically aggressive, and this started to affect her grades and behavior at school. She had no boundaries and would fight with her siblings, as well as her peers and teachers at school. First, I enrolled Aya in the Core Child Program in order for her to receive quality early childhood education outside of the dim conditions of the camp. I knew she was enjoying herself at TYO, so I asked if they offered any support services for older children. At this time, they were just starting to offer the Academic Support Services to children from the camps, so I decided to give it a try for Reem.

Student Reem smiles before her class with the Academic Support Program.

Student Reem smiles before her class with the Academic Support Program.

Have you noticed any major changes in Reem and Aya’s behavior since they started attending TYO?

For as long as I can remember, Reem never wanted to study, but recently that has started to change. She is opening her books and studying on her own without me having to tell her to do her homework. She still has some challenges in math, English, and Arabic, but I think this may have more to do with her feelings towards school, rather than her academic capabilities. Reem had a really hard time adjusting to school and said she hated it and always went late. Since starting at TYO, she wakes up early and arrives to school on time. She is consistently studying for her exams and I am starting to see progress in her grades. Unfortunately, her attitude is still detached. It is easier to see progress in terms of academic improvement, but she still needs special attention towards behavioral development in terms of the skills she needs to better deal with anger, fear, and disappointment.

As for Aya, before she started the Core Child Program she was very shy and did not like speaking. Now she is much more confident speaking and participating in activities. Her teachers at TYO have even noted this development, as she is now much more outgoing and socializes with her peers.

What does Reem talk about at home she talks about academic tutoring at TYO ?

She always gives me a daily update about how the session is going. Reem told me all about the pre-assessment for English yesterday and that today is the Arabic test. She loves the teaching methods that they use in her classes, especially learning through play. Tutoring sessions are not boring and she is really looking forward to this Thursday’s class because it will be a free day for activities. I can tell by her attention to detail and willingness to share all this information with me that she is fully engaged in the program.

Is there a particular memory from last session in which you realized the impact tutoring was having on your child’s life? 

Reem constantly emphasizes how much she appreciates the general atmosphere of TYO. The volunteers are very nice and respectful. She especially likes how she does not have to wear a uniform like at school. Every night she carefully picks out her favorite outfits for the next day and she pays attention to every little detail. If there is one button missing from a dress, she will make me sew it before she wears it to TYO. Also, in the camps there are no places to go. It is school to home, home to school. TYO is an exciting addition to her daily routine.

Are there other centers in Nablus offering academic support like TYO? What do you find unique about us?

There is a local NGO in the camp where she can go for academic support, but I chose not to send her there because it does not give her the opportunity to leave Balata and meet friends from other places in Nablus. The nightly raids and arrests in Balata camp have created a high-stress environment in which there is a circle of violence and aggression among children and youth. I chose to send her to TYO because she needs to be in an environment completely removed from the camp where there is love, respect, compassion, and most importantly, no violence.

What has been the impact of TYO’s programs on your family as a whole?

Reem has certainly improved her time management skills and makes sure to arrive on time to the bus because she enjoys going to TYO. This means that the yelling, tension, and anxiety about getting ready for school have decreased and our morning routine runs much smoother. Reem is becoming more independent, and Aya is much more confident. Our daily activity of attending TYO together teaches us all about responsibility, commitment, and organization.


Reem is a participant in the After-School Academic Support Program sponsored by Relief International. Aya is a student in the Core Early Childhood program which is part of STEP! II, a youth employability, empowerment, and community leadership initiative supported by Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation. Wafa is a participant in The Women’s Empowerment program. 


Interview conducted by Marina, Fall 2016 Teaching and M&E Fellow, and translated by Futoon, TYO Outreach Coordinator.

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What Do an Island and the Letter ‘T’ Have in Common?

EFL Fellow Mike and his students share a laugh during a STEP! II EFL class.

EFL Fellow Mike and his students share a laugh during a STEP! II EFL class.

People often say that jokes are the most difficult thing to translate.  While this can sometimes be  true, joking can actually transcend language barriers.  It’s also a good way to trick people into learning a language.  Comedy is a great way to learn a language, or really anything for that matter.   

While the students of my STEP! II EFL class knew Great Britain, Ireland, and other English speaking countries have different dialects, they were entirely unaware that different parts of the United States have different accents. Learning about different American accents was an enormously successful activity in my class and the students absolutely had a blast.  Coming from Rhode Island, I can put on a fairly decent Boston accent.  The giggling that followed my rendition of “pahk the cah in Havad Yahd” could have filled a stadium.    

However, while the students were definitely enjoying themselves, they were learning important vocabulary at the same time and getting exposure to how English speakers in the real world actually speak.  It can be intimidating to listen to native speakers.  We speak quickly and without any regard to how difficult we are to understand.  But if the person has a funny voice and the students can laugh as they listen, they open up more.  

Before I knew it, we were reviewing the transcripts of these listening files and everyone was furiously writing down all of this new vocabulary.  If I had only handed out worksheets with lists of vocabulary, I imagine I would have found many of them crumpled in the garbage.  As their teacher, I have been trying to focus on vocabulary that the students can really use in their day-to-day life.  Given the amount of English media they all consume, they desperately want to speak like Americans. A sentiment I understand, given how badly as I want to speak Arabic like a Palestinian.

As non-native speakers of English, my students obviously speak with a Palestinian accent.  I felt  their comfort level increase as they came to realize that every speaker of English sounds different.  There is no ‘right’ way to speak English.  Your grammar can be incorrect, you can mispronounce a word, and those are real mistakes, but you can never ‘fail’ at English.  Some of the ‘mistakes’ EFL learners make are not so different from the ‘mistakes’ made by native English speakers.  

To me, these kinds of exercises are the most important part of language learning.  Not only did my class get excited about the English, but also developed a level of comfort with each other and with me as their teacher.  If we, as a class, can gently tease the pronunciation of someone, like myself, with a slight New England accent, then how can any student feel bad mispronouncing a sound?  Or misspelling a word?

I’m looking forward to joking around more with my class and I’ve definitely felt us getting closer as a group.  Now, after the second week, there is a line of five or six students waiting to ask me questions.  I feel very strongly that my openness and willingness to joke with them makes the entire classroom a more comfortable setting.  Inshallah, this can continue and my students won’t tire of my corny sense of humor!  
P.S. The answer to the riddle is: They are both in the middle of ‘water.’  Thankfully my students found that more funny than my fellow teachers did.  


– Mike, Fall 2016 EFL Fellow


The English as a Foreign Language (EFL) program is part of STEP! II, a youth employability, empowerment, and community leadership initiative supported by Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation.

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A Space to Learn, Play, and Grow: A One on One with Raneen


TYO is gearing up to start the Fall Session of the Academic Support Program for students between ages 9-14. What started out as a pilot project for the residents of the Khallet El Amoud neighborhood, the Academic Support Program has been scaled up with incredible success to welcome children from the wider Nablus community, including all four of the refugee camps in the city. This affords the children of the most underserved communities with an opportunity to learn, play, and grow through TYO’s interactive approach to education. New beginnings are also an important time for reflection. As such, we invited Raneen, who is entering her third session of the program, to share her thoughts and experiences at TYO.


Welcome back! Can you tell me about yourself and how you got started at TYO?

I am ten years old and in the fifth grade. I come from the Khallet El Amoud neighborhood and I am the oldest of five siblings. I have two younger brothers and two younger sisters. I started out at TYO in the Core Program and am now in the Academic Support Program. My parents noticed how my grades in Math and English started to improve, so they decided to enroll all four of my brothers and sisters at TYO.

It seems that TYO has become a family affair! How has TYO has impacted your family?

My mom comes from a village nearby and my dad is from Nablus. My mother attended school until the eighth grade and my father attended school until the fifth grade. My mom is a housewife and my dad is a worker in his friend’s carpentry shop. My mother registered me in the program because I had trouble with English and Math. My parents cannot help my siblings and I with our homework and they do not have the money to pay for a tutor. TYO is where my brothers, sisters, and I come to learn and play.

Have you noticed any particular changes in yourself since starting at TYO?

Before I came to TYO, I was very shy and did not feel comfortable speaking in the classroom. Now I am the first student to answer questions in class. I even volunteered to participate in this interview! This confidence came from being able to play games and activities with other students and volunteers. I also like learning English and practicing math, especially multiplication.

What are some of the activities you participated in at TYO that helped you build your confidence?

When the weather gets really hot, we go outside and have water balloon competitions in teams. This is definitely one of my favorite games because I get to make new friends from different neighborhoods and villages. I have made friends from my neighborhood that I never spoke to at school, as well as the Balata camp and the Old City. I really like how TYO teaches us activities that use materials I can easily to find at home. After I learn a new game, I teach it to my siblings so we can play it together. The fisherman game is really simple to set up and I love to play it at my house with my brothers and sisters.

You mentioned how you really enjoy playing the games you learn at TYO in your home, why is that important to you?

I usually only leave my house to attend school and the Academic Support Program at TYO. Before learning new games that I can play at home, I was bored and my house is very crowded. I study between 3-4 hours a night when I am at home. In Palestine, we have many tests at school, which does not leave much time for students to play. Tomorrow, I have four exams I need to study for!

My house is very small, we only have two rooms, one for my parents, and one for the children. I am not allowed to leave and play in the streets like some of the other kids in my neighborhood, because my parents do not think it is safe. TYO is a safe space where I can be a kid.

Can you give me some more examples of how TYO is different from your experiences at school?

I really enjoy coming to TYO because it is a completely different way of learning than at school. At school, we have to remember everything we learn by studying with our books.  When I am at TYO, we learn by playing fun games. The students at school are always shouting at each other and it can be very distracting for the teachers and the class. There are fewer students at TYO and the classrooms are much bigger, so students have more space to speak and do activities.

Do you have a favorite memory since starting your journey at TYO?

All of the volunteers are at TYO are so nice and helpful, but there was one volunteer from the Academic Support program that I liked the most. She took the time to help me work through the challenges I had in English and Math. Her patience and kindness is what really encouraged me to keep coming back to TYO.


Raneen is a participant in the After-School Academic Support Program sponsored by Relief International.

Interview conducted by Marina, Fall 2016 Teaching and M&E Fellow, and translated by Futoon, TYO Outreach Coordinator.

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Humans of Nablus 28



My goal is to work with children in the local hospital and currently I study Health Management. I received my first degree in nursing and worked with children but I did not know how to deal with them. TYO has given me the opportunity to develop my skills in leadership through the local intern program. I have learned how to deal with them when they are stubborn, crying, and sad. Also, I practice basic first aid with the kids from what I have learned while getting my nursing degree. This has made me more confident in my skills.

هدفي هو العمل مع الاطفال في المستشفيات المحلية وحاليا انا ادرس ادارة صحية ,  حصلت على شهادتي الدراسيه الاولى في التمريض وعملت مع الاطفال ولكنني لم اعرف كيفية التعامل .منظمة شباب الغد اعطتني الفرصة لتطوير مهاراتي في القيادة من خلال برنامج المتدربين المحليين . لقد تعلمت كيفية التعامل مع الاطفال العنيدين , البكاء , وحالالت الحزن اضافة الى ممارستي للاسعاف الاولي عند الحاجة لذلك لتطبيق ما درسته .وهذا زاد من ثقتي بمهاراتي


Azharb is a local intern in the STEP! II TYO Youth Internship program, a youth employability, empowerment, and community leadership initiative supported by Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation.

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To Give Joy is to Get Joy: The Success Story of Masarah Kana’an



Masarah Kana’an was born and raised in Nablus. She studied Early Childhood Education at Al Rawda College until her graduation in 2014. Masarah has been active with TYO since February 2016 as both a student in the STEP! II EFL Program and as a volunteer with the Youth Service Learning Program. tAlways eager to help others, Masarah began volunteering with the Core Child Program because she wants to help educate and help children to grow in a positive atmosphere within the Nablus community.

What has your professional experience been like outside of TYO?

While I was studying at Al Rawda College, I trained at 4 kindergartens to help me to learn how to teach young children. I trained at a kindergarten on my university’s campus for 1 year as part of the early childhood education curriculum where we taught to use play as a tool for teaching young students. I also observed at two kindergartens to learn teaching methods and was employed for a short time at a fourth kindergarten. The job at the kindergarten did not work out and while I was looking for more work, I wanted to find an opportunity to continue working with young students in a classroom. It was at this time I began to volunteer at TYO.

What is your career plan?

Growing up, I was always good at English and I wanted to get an English degree, but my tawjihi (graduation exam) test score did not allow me to study English. I always wanted to be a teacher and I love children. Instead of teaching English, I decided to study early childhood education so I can teach at a kindergarten. I chose early childhood education because young children may not have someone to show them affection or to care for them. I want to show the students that someone cares about them.

When I was in kindergarten, my teachers were great and showed me love and affection.  It was more than only learning numbers and letters. As kindergarten teachers, the adults are also working to help raise children to be good people. There are no counselors in the class to help children who are emotionally troubled, so the teacher must be prepared to help. If a child has any problems, the teacher will help solve those problems. I still go to visit my kindergarten teachers because they made such a good impression on my life.

What do you look for in a work environment?

The most important thing about a work environment is to feel comfortable, so the atmosphere must be warm and the staff and volunteers must be like a family and work together toward a common goal.

Within the classroom, some important things that need to be available are good lighting, good air, and big areas for playing and running. There must be games that will help develop students’ thinking abilities. Children are very smart and they need games to improve their mental capacity. Adults must help the space feel safe by showing the children comfort and care so the children will love the classroom and feel as if they are at home.

What skills have you gained from your time with TYO so far?

One of the most important skills I have learned at TYO so far is patience. I have become a more patient person and have learned to be calm and control my emotions. I have learned that there are many kind people in the world. I have worked with three teachers and they have each helped me to learn a new skill. I have learned how to balance my affection for children and maintaining control in a classroom in a mindful way, how to control my emotions and express feelings in a good way, and how to be more positive. I have learned how showing appreciation for someone helps others to feel good.

How has TYO impacted your professional life?

I have gained the experience I need to work at a kindergarten and manage a classroom. TYO has widened my contacts and helped me to make new friends. The community to which I belong has grown and I feel more connected to people in the neighborhood. I have learned I am most happy when engaging with children and feel their happiness. My confidence has improved and my self esteem has grown. All of these things will help me to lead a wonderful classroom in the future.

I love everyone at TYO and it is as if TYO is my home. I feel so much appreciation and respect and I am grateful for everyone. I see everyone here as my family and we’re all brothers and sisters. I suggest everyone come to TYO because their lives will change for the better.


Masarah is a volunteer with the Youth Service Learning program, which is part of STEP! II, a youth employability, empowerment, and community leadership initiative supported by Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation.

Interview conducted by Lindsey, the International Internship and Fellowship Coordinator, and translated by Rawan, the Women’s Empowerment Program Assistant.

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Shared Excitement and a Hunger to Learn


Language education on the global scale becomes of greater importance everyday. With expanding communities through social media, sometimes language is the only barrier that separates human beings and ideas. Upon my arrival to Nablus, I felt a sincere interest and urgency in learning the local Arabic dialect from the most simple of phrases regarding food or directions to more complex vocabulary surrounding the history and culture of the Nabulsi people. Entering Nablus and jointing the TYO team as an EFL fellow, I was especially interested to know and understand the language of my incoming students.

STEP! II EFL students wait for class to begin on the campus of Al Quds Open University.

STEP! II EFL students wait for class to begin on the campus of Al Quds Open University.

I began my first week of beginner level EFL classes this past Monday. I was both excited and nervous to meet my new students upon arrival at Al-Quds Open University. It is here where I would be teaching for the next 8 weeks. Having taught English abroad before I knew there would be a few kinks to work on the first day, I needed to get to know my students and they would need to get to know and trust me. I took a breath, reviewed my lesson plan, and awaited the arrival of my 30 plus students.

EFL Fellow Mecca writes on the board as students enter the classroom in the first week of EFL class.

EFL Fellow Mecca writes on the board as students enter the classroom in the first week of EFL class.

Around 10 am, they began flood into the classroom, some smiling and excited while others curious and asking questions. I was curious about my students. I wanted to know their levels and future aspirations. We started the first class with The Name Game where you say your name and then say an object that begins with the same  letter. This immediately opened the door to learn more about my students. I learned that Ala’a like apples and Khaleel likes computer programming because he mentioned a keyboard.

After The Name Game, I opened up the floor to see if my students had questions for me and hands sprung up right away. They asked me about my name, where I was from, where I studied, and what I studied in school. I learned that they were just as eager to learn about me as I was to learn about them. We shared a common interest to learn to each other’s language and know each other’s culture. I saw in them the same desire and urgency to be able to communicate in a 2nd language. I am happy to share this common interest with my students. It provides the perfect opportunity for us to learn from each other.

Everyone smiles as they participate in an English learning activity.

Everyone smiles as they participate in an English learning activity.

Since I have arrived in Nablus 2 weeks ago I have had the pleasure to meet interact with so many members of the wonderful TYO staff.  I am constantly inspired by their spirit and drive. I traveled here to teach and support personal growth. However, I anticipate an equal exchange of language, culture, and education the end.


-Mecca, Fall 2016 EFL Fellow


The English as a Foreign Language (EFL) program is part of STEP! II, a youth employability, empowerment, and community leadership initiative supported by Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation.

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Humans of Nablus 27



I have realized that education is the greatest method for achieving understanding. I hope to become a physician in the future because I believe that through medicine I will be able to connect to the world. By speaking English fluently, I will connect with a greater pool of scientists and maybe they will be able to come to Palestine, meet Palestinian physicians, and create and teach projects.

أدركت أن التعلم هو افضل طريقة لتحقيق التفاهم. أتمنى أن أصبح طبيبة في المستقبل لأنني اؤمن أن الطب سيمكنني من التواصل مع العالم. من خلال التحدث باللغة الأنجليزية بطلاقة سوف أستطيع التواصل مع مجموعة اكبر من العلماء و ربما سيتمكنون من القدوم إلى فلسطين، التعرف على الأطباء الفلسطينيين و إنشاء و تدريس المشاريع.


Maysoun is a volunteer with the Core Early Childhood program as part of STEP! II, a youth employability, empowerment, and community leadership initiative supported by Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation.

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The Power of Teaching: A Gift That Gives Years Later


As a child growing up in New York City enrolled in the public school system, I changed schools at every level of education (i.e. Elementary, Middle and High school). This meant I sat in the classrooms of upwards of 50 different teachers. Some of these teachers I liked, while some less so. Then there were some who changed my life. The most prominent being my high school Global History teacher, Mr. Moscow. At the time, I did not realize how much of an impact he made on my life, but now, I can reflect on my one and a half years in his class and I see his influence. Mr. Moscow made me want to learn about anything and everything. In his class, my appetite for new knowledge could not be curbed. One of the most memorable and innovative assignments of Mr. Moscow’s class was his requirement to come to class each day having read the front page of the New York Times. While I definitely spent many mornings worrying about his infamous pop quizzes about the news, it was through this assignment that I first started reading about Palestine, which ultimately led me to apply for a fellowship at TYO in 2013. In considering my time as a student in his class in light of my last six months as a teacher with TYO, I have realized  the importance, impact, and need to invest in quality, caring teachers.


Across programs, TYO’s teachers are incredible. Be it the Core teachers of TYO’s Core Early Childhood Education program, the local interns of the Academic Support program, or the Teaching Fellows of the EFL program, all of the teachers demonstrate such care and commitment to their classrooms and act with incredible selflessness. As I walk down the hallway each day, I am inspired by countless instances of thoughtful teaching: I see Masa, an academic volunteer, holding a disabled student’s hand as they make their way to class together, I see Amy’s EFL class erupt with laughter while inventing a fantastic story, and I see the giggling students of Ahmad’s Core class as he playfully presents them with art supplies for a craft project. Just as these instances of inspired teaching continue to impact the students within TYO, they have impacted me: every day I aim to be the best teacher I can be for my students. The teachers at TYO also act as a reminder of what academic institutions around the world must strive for; although teaching English grammar or multiplication in math is important, being a teacher is about supporting your students growth as people, and inspiring them to be the best versions of themselves.  I know this is true because Mr. Moscow’s Global History class was just that for me. Yes, it was a time to learn about the Silk Road, but superseding this, it was a time to become a more thoughtful, intelligent, young woman.


So, as I prepare to leave TYO for the unforeseeable future, I cannot help but think back to my class with Mr. Moscow and feel immensely grateful for his efforts as a teacher, and think of the teachers within TYO and feel immensely hopeful. Each day the lives of humans, ranging from four years old to fifty years old, are being molded to create a more beautiful, peaceful world. I feel honored to have been surrounded by such caring teachers for the last six months, and I hope one day my students can look back and see a little bit of Mr. Moscow in me.


– Kyra, Summer 2016 EFL Fellow

The English as a Foreign Language (EFL) program is part of STEP! II, a youth employability, empowerment, and community leadership initiative supported by Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation.

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Welcoming Our Fall 2016 Fellows!

Fall 2016 Fellows Mecca, Mike, Marina, Ronaldo, Catalina, and Leah.

Fall 2016 Fellows Mecca, Mike, Marina, Ronaldo, Catalina, and Leah.

Introducing the Fall 2016 Fellow class! 6 fellows from the United States and Canada have been selected to teach intensive English as a Foreign Language classes and assist with program development at TYO. Read all about them!


Mecca Abney was born and raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She obtained a dual degree in Communications and African-American Studies from Temple University. Upon graduating, she immediately began her career in advocacy as a labor union organizer with AFSCME International. Through her organizing career that spanned over a decade, she has worked on a combination of both public and private sector trade union campaigns as well as a host of political campaigns to address labor related legislation. In 2012, she took a leave of absence to study abroad in Costa Rica to learn Spanish and to become TEFL certified to teach English internationally. From 2014 – 2016 Mecca worked as a Youth Asset Builder in southeastern Morocco with the United States Peace Corps. The majority of her time there was spent working with young adults at local youth centers teaching English, implementing community projects, and working closely with the local artisan community developing product and marketing strategies to enhance private business.

In her free time Mecca enjoys the usual simple pleasures like getting to know new people, discovering cool new music, and dancing.



Michael Avanzato, from southern Rhode Island, is a recent graduate of the University of Massachusetts Amherst having obtained degrees in Legal Studies and Middle Eastern Studies. He attended the American University of Beirut in Beirut, Lebanon during the spring semester of his junior year, where he studied conflict resolution, Arabic, and social inequality.  Following AUB, he worked as an English teacher at a refugee camp in South Lebanon.  After he returned to Umass, Michael focused on writing his thesis concerning the relationship between state refugee policy and conflict in the Middle East.

Having worked with Palestinian students in the past, and having a love of the Middle East from his time spent in Lebanon, Michael is thrilled to return to the region.  Though his passions are activism and policy-based advocacy, he is probably more well-defined as someone who enjoys telling stories, goofing around, and drinking copious amounts of coffee.  He looks forward to serving the Nablus community to the best of his ability, and working both with TYO’s staff and the people of Nablus.



Marina Santilli will be joining the TYO team from Ottawa, the capital of Canada (where Justin Trudeau lives). She completed a Bachelor of Arts in Human Rights, Law and Gender Studies from Carleton University and a Master of Arts in conflict studies from the University of Ottawa and Saint Paul University. She has held several student positions with the Government of Canada as a junior policy and research analyst. She also has considerable experience in the non-profit sector, think tanks, and NGOs. During her gap year before starting graduate school, she obtained her TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) certificate and taught English to Syrian refugees residing in Istanbul, Turkey. Marina has previously led three voluntary programs in West Bank. She is a social butterfly that fits in wherever she lands, who loves to travel and try new cuisines. She spent the summer backpacking across Europe and is now looking forward to her next adventure in the Middle East.



Ronaldo Ribeiro is a native of Minneapolis who grew up playing soccer and the guitar in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. After spending a year in France and later a few months travelling in Latin America, Ronaldo obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication Studies and Literature and a graduate degree in Literature and Theater. Teaching opportunities at UW Madison, Middlebury College, and the Wharton School at UPenn taught him how to value each and every students’ perspectives, knowledge, and life experiences. Ronaldo values friendship, empathy and compassion. He looks forward to working at TYO and to learning from his students and his colleagues.



Catalina, born and raised in New York City, recently obtained her Bachelors of Arts in International Studies with Minors in Arabic Language and Culture, and Islamic World Studies from Loyola University Chicago. Throughout her undergraduate years, Catalina traveled to underserved communities in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Mexico to learn about the realities of underrepresented persons, to develop her own understanding of solidarity, and to become a well-informed global citizen. These immersions, her study abroad, and independent travel experiences have inspired Catalina to pursue human rights work – especially for the protection and just treatment of refugees and undocumented migrants – in organizations such as the United Nations and Amnesty International.

In her spare time, Catalina likes to learn languages (Arabic is her 5th), practice aerial yoga and martial arts, read, and journal. Catalina awaits the opportunity to grow, learn, and contribute to TYO’s community.



Leah Passauer was born in Bowie, Maryland. During high school her family moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil which gave her the opportunity to volunteer in the slums working on projects focused on health and development. After three years in Brazil her family moved to Miami and then to Northern Virginia. She received a Bachelors of Science degree from Virginia Tech in Design and Management. After spending a few years working in management and human resources she began volunteering during her spare time with a group that participated in farmer to farmer activities with Haiti. The focus was on bringing farmers from Haiti to America to educate them on sustainable practices that they could take home with them. This experience ultimately led her to apply to the Peace Corps. She spent two years working in Guizhou, China as a University TEFL Instructor, teaching around 500 different university students while also working with teachers from several rural communities. Other projects she developed involved women’s wellness by teaching health classes and yoga to hundreds of female students from her university.
Her passions are traveling the world, running marathons, yoga, teaching, and learning about new cultures. She is really looking forward to her time spent learning and developing at TYO.


Welcome to the TYO Team!

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Life May Not Always Be a Party, But While Here, Let’s Dance… Dabka!


Life for a vast number of human beings all over the world may not be the party they hoped for. The road to success is wild, unexpected and plenty of obstacles to overcome. My Colombian compatriots, just like my new Palestinian friends here at Tomorrow’s Youth Organization, understand the meaning of being challenged by life day in and day out and this is why I believe we connected from the very beginning. Since the moment I arrived in Nablus, I got enchanted by the smiles and energy of the people, their kindness and their powerful will to help each other. One thing I admire about my local colleagues and students is their capacity to look on the bright side of everything, I am glad that is really contagious.


Despite challenges of all sorts, people’s characters and personalities here are shaped with a touch of determination, resilience, and lust for life. I had heard of success stories and heroic deeds resulting from an endless desire to make an impact on societies; however, the stories I have heard and learned here during a little bit more than two months have nothing to envy. They are experienced and harmoniously told by some of the most amazing humans I have ever had the chance to interact with. And these are the stories that I would like the world to hear, these are the stories I would like this wonderful country to be known for. Today, I am happy I had the opportunity to get an insight of what it means to be a Falestini, through their kanafeh and their maklubeh, through their dabke and their chobee, through their beautiful music and language; today I feel one of them.


My work at TYO was always full of strong feelings. Waking up every morning from Monday to Thursday for the course with my team of upper elementary students was a real pleasure. Arriving in the classroom and see how happy they were coming to learn, the activities and exercises, the great atmosphere and positive vibes, the moments of laughter, the confessions, the breaks we shared together learning from each other about our lives and dreams made me feel as part of the family, priceless moments no doubt. The words of acknowledgements, their creative presents, the spontaneous Arabic lessons, the crazy selfies and videos, the colorful posters, the interviews, our volleyball and football games, their will to attend the courses no matter what; are just a tiny part of what made this experience one the most rewarding experiences of my entire life. Who would have imagined we would reach such levels of connection?. I wouldn’t, at least not before I set foot in one of the most ancient cities in the world.


My experience as an ESL fellow at TYO will soon come to an end but our friendship and the great memories will last for decades. I am satisfied and happy with the outcomes of my mission here with my local colleagues and students, and my only wish is to see them all again and follow up on their progress, they have a lot to offer this world, they only need opportunities, opportunities like the ones TYO provides to Palestinian children and youth.


– Leandro, Summer 2016 EFL Fellow

The English as a Foreign Language (EFL) program is part of STEP! II, a youth employability, empowerment, and community leadership initiative supported by Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation.

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