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WISE II Entrepreneur Profile: Amna

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Amna’s Business: Ibda’ (Creation) Embroidery

Amna is from Arabeh village outside of Jenin, Palestine where traditional embroidery was very much a part of her childhood. As she grew older, she wanted to learn more about the craft. She purchased any book she found on embroidery and practiced on her own to master the trade.

Amna

When Amna first began producing pieces for sale in 2005, she worked with two fellow embroiderers. After some time, she realized that they lacked the ambition and motivation to expand their market base. Recognizing that they were holding back her own potential, Amna branched off and began working independently. She used the savings she accrued while working as a florist and wool tailor to begin her own business. Once on her own, she began producing more items and attending exhibitions, the most recent being the Seebat festival in Jenin in April 2015.

Amna, who heard about the WISE II program at Tomorrow’s Youth Organization from the Jenin Chamber of Commerce, has learned so much about herself and her business through the program. On a personal level, she has gained self-confidence and commitment in herself and her work. This has been accomplished through the various sessions provided by the WISE II program and also from the support of her fellow entrepreneurs. With her newly acquired marketing skills, Amna has expanded her professional network and participated in exhibitions through this new platform. She knows that the WISE II program was the necessary step that she needed to advance her business to the next level.

The single most significant barrier that Amna faces as a businesswoman is the outdated cultural beliefs of the community.  She has lived outside of the West Bank and is accustomed to her personal and professional freedom. In the community she lives in now, her neighbors and friends are not supportive and often question her intentions as an entrepreneur. This does not discourage her though, and her husband has been supportive every step of the way.

Currently, Amna produces her embroidery pieces from her home and is in the process of registering her business with the Jenin Chamber of Commerce. She dreams of one day owning a shop that will provide enough space for her to purchase and store the necessary machinery for her craft. She is always on the lookout for a modern take on traditional Palestinian embroidery and has incorporated the craft into wedding attire and the uniforms of Dabke (a traditional Palestinian dance) troupes in Jenin.

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Youth in Focus: An Interview with Iyad F.

Iyad F. is from Rommaneh, a village outside of Jenin. He graduated from An Najah National University in 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in Media and Journalism.

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Core volunteer Iyad helps Bahaa create a gift in an English lesson on the letter G.

What sparked your interest in TYO’s Youth Service Learning Program? How did you hear about TYO?

I heard about TYO’s Youth Service Learning program through an announcement at the graduate counseling office at the university. I took a look at the website and immediately was interested in TYO’s work, particularly what they offer for youth in terms of work experience and employability training. I was also very interested in working alongside native English language speakers to improve my English, so I decided to apply. I had never volunteered with an NGO before, so I was not sure what to expect.

What are your career goals, and how do you think volunteering at TYO will help you reach those?

I hope to be a TV or radio announcer or work in PR for a Palestinian company. Some would ask what working with children has to do with becoming a TV or radio announcer. To that, I would say that working with children has taught me incredibly important life skills that will help me at any job — patience when facing challenges, communication skills, leadership — the list goes on. It has definitely taught me patience in the face of very challenging and tiring work. I have also learned how to separate my personal life from my work in order to be more productive. Most of all, I feel empowered by the communication and leadership skills I have gained through working in the classroom, and those skills are very important in Public Relations.

What is the greatest challenge youth like you face in the current labor market?

A major challenge we face is that the education system and our universities do not take into consideration market needs and encourage students to pursue those fields. Particularly at the university level, too much focus is put on registering a large number of students without putting thought and resources to the quality of education we are receiving; in a way, the approach is more like one of a business than an educational institution. The result is that students graduate and are shocked  that they cannot compete in the job market because we do have practical work skills.

What do you think your generation can do to overcome that challenge?

I hope the change will come from universities at an institutional level, but until then, we as youth need to pursue work experiences – whether paid or volunteering – before we graduate in order to build our experience. Personally, I wish I had heard about TYO earlier in my college career, because I have gained many skills and practical work experience in my first session here.

If there was one skill you wish you had (English, IT, etc.) what would it be and why?

English, one hundred percent. Neither in school nor in university did we learn English properly. I have seen how much stronger the TYO staff’s English is compared to ours, and how beneficial it is for their work.

– Interviewed by Futoon Qadri, Outreach Coordinator

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Salam and Mayar: A Multigenerational Success Story

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Enter the first floor of TYO’s center, and – from a quick glance at the colorful, festive classrooms and the sound of children laughing and playing – you would likely think that TYO is an early childhood education center. But as you walk up to the second, third, and fourth floors, you would discover the many generational layers that make up TYO’s work: on the second floor, a group of youth learning photography from TYO’s international interns; on the third, university students participating in employability trainings; on the fourth, mothers of the first floor children letting off steam during Zumba or sharpening their IT skills in the computer lab; and on the fifth, a group of sassy and strong-willed female entrepreneurs picking up new business skills.

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Mayar gets ready for her turn in a competitive water relay game that teaches teamwork and collaboration.

That walk from the first floor to the fifth tells the unique story of TYO’s multigenerational approach. At the core of that approach is TYO’s belief that our educational programs extend beyond the centers’ walls into the homes and neighborhoods of our beneficiaries. Empowering and educating children also means empowering and educating their older siblings and parents with the same lessons, so that those lessons are taught not only in the classroom but also at home.

Salam A. and her eight-year-old daughter Mayar are proof of the tremendous impact that targeting multiple generations can have. Salam tells more of her inspiring story below.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

My name is Salam. I am from Hajjeh, a village just outside of Nablus, but I now live in Old Askar refugee camp in Nablus, which is where my husband is from. I have two girls, Mayar who is 8 and her sister who is 12, and I have two boys ages 6 and 14. I completed my education through Tawjihi [high school] but did not pass because of English; my husband completed his education through 8th grade.

Can you tell me about any changes you have seen in Mayar from being at TYO? How was she before joining versus now?

Mayar has a very strong-willed personality, and she is extremely smart. However, she has always had an issue with jealousy. Before we enrolled her at TYO, the issue had become dire. Mayar could not accept when she was not the best at something – whether playing at home or in school – and her jealousy and disappointment with herself would become so severe that she could not function.

I have seen a huge change in Mayar since she joined TYO. She is still the same Mayar, but now her jealousy has become something positive. She is very competitive and loves participating in the sports and other physical games children play at TYO. Personally, I learned so much from observing how Suhad [TYO’s psychosocial program manager] and Mayar’s teachers talked to her. They showed me techniques to take Mayar’s moments of jealousy and turn those into lessons about negotiation and empowerment. I began to copy those techniques at home, and the change in Mayar was almost immediate.

As a mother in The Women’s Group, what do you enjoy most about TYO?

There is no other place where I feel so comfortable and relaxed. As a woman and mother in our society, you carry a huge burden on your shoulders; as soon as I walk through TYO’s doors, I feel that the burden is released. I love seeing people outside of my own family and neighborhood in Old Askar, I feel great after fitness class, and I have gone from knowing zero about computers to picking up very useful IT skills.

I enjoy meeting other women from around Nablus the most. At home, I only interact with my relatives and my close neighbors; if I speak up and share my dreams or day-to-day challenges, I am judged and critiqued to the point that I do not feel comfortable or free to speak about myself. At TYO, I not only have a right to speak about my dreams and challenges, but everyone pushes me to do so. Also, the women in my classes come from all over Nablus and the surrounding villages, which removes the kind of closeness and judgment that I experience at home.

What is the biggest lesson you have learned – personally and as a mother – through participating in TYO’s programs?

The biggest impact TYO has had on my life is giving me self-confidence; that self-confidence has empowered me to make good choices for my children. Through my own struggles as a mother in TYO’s Women’s Group, I learned that education is the best protection for my children from the challenges in our community. Also, observing the interactions between TYO’s Core teachers and Mayar taught me so much about how to encourage my children to enjoy learning, particularly how to understand their personalities and build their trust in me so that I can play a bigger role in encouraging them to study.

Most importantly, I have learned that early marriage is the worst enemy of education, and that education is the best way to protect my daughters from early marriage. To have a better marriage, women need to be educated; with a strong education, you can make good choices for yourself and be better equipped to rebound from life’s challenges and obstacles.

– Interviewed by Niralee, TYO Core Child Program Manager

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Girls and Education: Four Reasons for a Brighter Future

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Historically, and in many parts of the world, we have seen women and girls take the back seat in education. Some may wonder why this is, and the answer is long-winded, but simply put – many societies do not value the education of women and girls because they are not valued socially. Although in many societies, the tradition of keeping women and girls at home may be the dominant narrative, when given the opportunity, educating more women and girls has remarkable benefits for the local community and society as a whole. Besides a basic human right, equal education for men and women is essential to driving social change and economic change.

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TYO Intern Ashley mixes boys and girls together in an English-learning sports activity to teach her class about gender equality.

The community that TYO serves faces limited economic opportunities as it is. Additionally, girls in the Nablus community are susceptible to early marriage and therefore early pregnancy. Breaking that tradition and empowering girls through education can break the cycles of poverty in just one generation. How? Educated girls understand and can defend rights, and therefore will marry and have children later in addition to educating their children. And the result? Not only are they empowered as individuals, but also their families and communities thrive.

From my first month at TYO, I have seen how that idea is at the core of TYO’s approach: TYO serves the Nablus community through empowering individuals and families, an act that starts a ripple effect in addressing larger societal issues, such as gender-based inequality.

So what does it take to empower girls through education? The first initiative should be parental and community involvement. It goes without saying that families and communities must partner with schools to develop curricula and ensure the quality of children’s education. TYO takes exactly that approach to improving the quality and impact of education for children in Nablus; as a multi-generational organization, our educational programs target not only children and youth, but also their parents. Through The Women’s Group, we educate mothers in order to ensure that their children’s education extends beyond school walls and into the home.

In the end, we know that empowering and educating girls educates an entire family and society, leads to social change, strengthens families against domestic violence, and drives economic growth. That makes four reasons to support empowering girls through education – and certainly seeing the excitement of TYO’s Core Child Program 4-8 year-old girls, and getting to know our strong-willed and fun-loving women in the women’s empowerment programs, would give you one more.

– Ashley, TYO Summer 2015 Intern

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Every New Beginning Comes from Some Other Beginning’s End

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I have sat in front of my computer, writing and re-writing the first sentence to my farewell TYO blog countless times. How do I synthesize and summarize my last two months as a Zahi Khouri Fellow? How can I adequately communicate what a gift this experience has been?  What I have come to realize is that sometimes words betray the heart. Nevertheless, here goes…

Merely four months ago I was casually scrolling idealist.org. I came across an announcement for a Zahi Khouri Fellowship position for Palestinian-Americans interested in working in the West Bank. I was dubious at first, but applied to TYO’s two-month fellowship.  I applied for and was eventually offered the position. I panicked. Should I accept it? What if I didn’t like it? What if it was the wrong move?

I called a friend of mine who had interned at TYO years ago. I had countless questions: Did she like the work? Did she like the people she worked with? What was it like to live in Nablus? Did she think I should do it? After reflecting on our conversation, I decided to take a chance. I accepted the position and haven’t looked back since.

In the past two months I have had the honor and opportunity to teach a three-week Business English and Computer/IT intensive to TYO’s WISE II entrepreneurs, teach eight weeks of fitness and nutrition classes to our Women’s Group, and teach English to 7-8 year old children in our Core Child Program. I have absolutely loved having hands-on experience with multiple generations of TYO’s constituencies. It has helped me better understand the needs of the community as well as how TYO seeks to address those needs.

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Vanessa plays a game of “C for catch” with 7-8 year old children in her Core ESL class.

In addition to working at TYO, I have had the honor of eating many delicious meals in people’s homes, traveling to beneficiaries’ villages, and exploring the many nooks and crannies of Palestine on the weekends. I have loved all of my weekend adventures yet it felt so good to come back to TYO at the end of each sojourn.

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Vanessa helps Solafa create her professional email account in a Business IT class.

In fact, I am pleased to say that I am not saying farewell but am only saying “See you soon!” After completing my Zahi Khouri fellowship, I will be joining TYO’s team as the Women’s Empowerment Project Manager this summer. I have forged an extra special bond with the women of TYO and am thrilled to come back to start my next chapter with the organization and the brilliant women it serves.

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Vanessa and TYO’s WISE entrepreneurs celebrating on the balcony after a hard day of work.

See you soon, TYO!

– Vanessa, Zahi Khouri Fellow

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Youth in Focus: An Interview with Bashaer K.

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Bashaer Khdair is from Jamaeen, a neighboring village of Nablus. She is currently studying Mathematics Teaching Methods at An Najah University.

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Bashaer helps TYO Core children Sajida and Shahd with their homework.

What sparked your interest in TYO’s Youth Service Learning Program? How did you hear about TYO?

My friend was a volunteer at TYO and always talked to me about her experiences with the early childhood education program. I loved what I heard about the program, and I also wanted to teach that age after graduating, so I thought it would be a great way to gain real experience in the classroom. I have to say, I was nervous at first; I know working with children is not easy, and I was not sure that I would succeed. However, after I started volunteering, I quickly gained the respect and trust of students in my class and felt confident to continue.

What are your career goals, and how do you think volunteering at TYO will help you reach those?

After graduating, I plan to teach in a private school in Nablus. Volunteering at TYO has helped me learn many techniques – particularly how to teach through play – that will help me as a future teacher.

More importantly, TYO has taught me commitment and confidence in my ability – as a woman, and as someone from a village – to change my community. Before TYO, I was not a very committed person; I would skip university lectures, miss assignments in school, and in general not give enough attention to my studies. However, TYO helped me realize the important responsibility I have towards my community to study well, move ahead in my career, and give back. TYO gives all volunteers an essential role in class, and I always think twice before missing a single day. Having that responsibility made me feel valuable as a woman in a way I had never felt before, and also capable of improving my community.

What is the greatest challenge youth like you face in the current labor market? What can your generation do to overcome that challenge?

Youth my age are too focused on attending university and getting a diploma as their only way of accessing the job market. We do not have the foresight to begin building out work and practical experience during university to help us when we start looking for jobs. Too often, university students start thinking about their careers only when they graduate, and therefore they are not prepared. Because of the political and economic challenges here, we need to be even better prepared to compete in the job market. We need to take more individual responsibility to develop our skills for the job market, especially the skills university does not teach us.

If there was one skill you wish you had (English, IT, etc.) what would it be and why?

There are many skills I want to develop, but particularly English because it is in biggest demand in the job market. I also want to improve my communication, leadership, and other soft skills so I can be ready to take advantage of any job opportunity that comes my way.

– Interviewed by Futoon Qadri, Outreach Coordinator

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My First TYO Lesson: Learning Through Play

When it comes to teaching – especially for first-timers like myself – it’s easy to fall into the safe and traditional style of teaching we’re all used to: standing in front of the class, reciting, and having the children respond back. For years, teachers and educators around the world did just that and believed it to be effective; they never would have considered play as a way to teach (never mind an essential part of learning!).

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TYO Summer 2015 Intern Ashley teaches children in her ESL class “How are you?” and “I am fine!” through a game of catch.

What is “play” anyway? Play is recreation, amusement, or in “kid terms” – fun! Even more, says special education professional and creator of Play Reflections Jeanne Bassis, “Play is not just about doing, it’s about being. Play is about grace, innocence, wonder and creativity… and happens when anyone is truly living in the present tense.” For children, play is a way of life. There is no distinction between learning and play; in fact, playing is the only way they can learn!

Enter Tomorrow’s Youth Organization, where I currently intern as an ESL teacher for 4-5 and 6-8 year olds. In my first two weeks here, it is clear that TYO does a fabulous job of teaching through play, and it has not doubt proven to be one-hundred percent effective.

I am a first-time teacher, but I am not new to working with kids; though challenging, I truly enjoy it. Of course, teaching presented many new challenges and lessons to learn. My first class, my approach was to stand in front of the class and say “Hello,” then have the children repeat after me – basically the conventional teaching approach. It all seemed to go well until I introduced “Goodbye.” It was the same approach: listen and repeat, listen and repeat. When I entered class, the students greeted me with “Hello!” However, when the children left, they did not know what greeting to say, and I realized that they had just been repeating without understanding the true meaning of the phrases. I quickly realized that the children being able to repeat “Hello!” and “Goodbye!” did not mean understanding the meaning.

So the next day, I switched it up! I split the class into small teams and had them enter and leave the room as we, together, said “Hello” and “Goodbye”. Having the children work competitively and playfully in teams, and having them act out the actions with the words, made a world of difference. How do I know it worked? Now, without any prompt, the children greet me with “Hello” when they see me and “Goodbye” at the end of class.

I am certainly not the first intern at TYO – I’m actually one of about a hundred before me! – and I am certainly not the first to experience firsthand teaching through play. I can say that I am one of many who have tried teaching through play and succeeded. That is one of the great things about TYO; there are tried-and-true methods for the best way to teach our kids. This week my kids went home elated, singing A for apple and B for bounce. It was the best lesson that learning through play really is the best way to create a love of learning.

– Ashley, TYO Summer 2015 Intern

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Early Childhood Education: Access vs. Quality

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In a recent podcast by the Brookings Center for Universal Education, Maysa Jalbout – an education advisor to government leaders and philanthropic organizations in the Middle East – discussed the greatest education challenges in the Arab world and what progress has been made to address those. “The Arab world has made huge progress in giving children access to school,” she says. However, she notes an important difference between access to school versus the quality of learning in the classroom: almost sixty percent of primary-school children in the Arab world are not achieving the minimum learning standards – for example reading and literacy levels – necessary at their age not only to access jobs in the future, but also to have the critical skills to pursue a healthy, happy, and productive life.

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Jalbout points to the increasing school dropout rate among boys as an indicator of low education quality; across the region, boys are less likely than girls to stay in school, achieve high grades, and continue on to higher education. The reason? Jalbout notes that “Quality impacts how children perform in school and their motivation to stay in school; so if young people, particularly boys [who face a higher pressure from their families and society to find employment], do not feel that they are receiving the kind of education that’s going to contribute to them actually being able to access the job market, then they are less likely to want to stay in school.” Importantly, she notes that the dropout trend is equally high across the region – across poor and wealthy countries, both peaceful and those facing conflict – which further narrows down the problem to the quality of classroom learning itself.

Although Palestine leads in elementary school enrollment in the Arab world, the quality of education varies widely, and most schools take a conventional approach modeled after memorization and rote learning. That is where TYO steps in. We understand the need to look beyond access to education and talk about the quality of learning experiences. And, we know that “quality” means looking beyond rote academic learning to a more holistic approach.

At the core of TYO’s education-driven programs is a focus on teaching the critical life skills needed to become active and responsible members of the community. Our Core Child Program curriculum, targeted for 4-8 year olds, helps children build their sense of self-efficacy, responsibility, and agency necessary to become active life-long learners and contributors to their communities. We focus on exposing children to new experiences in the classroom that they do not experience at home: for example, mixing children from the city and refugee camps, or mixing boys and girls in the same class. Through experiencing these alternatives children develop confidence in their ability to change their own situation and their communities.

– Niralee, TYO Core Child Program Manager

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International Day of Families 2015

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Today, May 15th, is International Day of Families! This year, the UN chose the theme: ”Men in charge? Gender equality and children’s rights in contemporary families.” The aim is to raise awareness towards promoting gender equality and rights of children within families. This day is especially important to us at TYO because multigenerational programming and gender equality are both cornerstones of our programming.

Mohammad in the Core Child Morning Program completes his family chart

Mohammad in the Core Child Morning Program completes his family chart

In The Women’s Group (TWG), we work with mothers, offering seminars on health, mental health, parenting & children’s needs, education & literacy, and women’s & girl’s empowerment. We work with mothers to help them understand their role in the family and in society. Men and women should be equal decision-makers in their homes and in their families. Mothers must also feel empowered to take charge of their lives and seek personal happiness – benefiting themselves and their children.

We promote gender equality in our classes for children as they are all mixed gender. In Nablus, social, cultural and religious norms and expectations, put a heavy emphasis on gender separation – every UNRWA refugee camp school and every local Nablus school that TYO children attend are separated by gender, starting at the first grade. At TYO, we try to break the cycle of thinking that mixed gender environments are harmful for children. We promote the idea of equality between the genders and have seen a great shift in children’s willingness to cooperate with both boys and girls.

While changing people’s conceptions about gender is a big challenge, TYO and its staff have witnessed great breakthroughs! Parents and children alike are breaking down barriers and heading towards greater gender equality.

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Soap, Not Soup!

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I had just landed in Palestine and was to begin working at Tomorrow’s Youth Organization (TYO) as a Zahi Khouri Fellow. I was overwhelmingly grateful for the opportunity, but was nervous and unsure of what to expect during my tenure at the organization. Before I began teaching TYO’s entrepreneurs I was filled with first-day jitters and self-doubt. My fear and hesitation quickly blossomed into one of the most positive and enriching experiences I have ever had while traveling abroad.

Zahi Khouri Fellow Vanessa, alongside Psychosocial Program Manager Suhad with the WISE II participants.

Zahi Khouri Fellow Vanessa, alongside Psychosocial Program Manager Suhad, pose with the WISE II participants.

As a Zahi Khouri Fellow, I was tasked with the responsibility of teaching The Women’s Group (TWG) fitness and nutrition courses. TWG is for women residing in refugee camps and disadvantaged neighborhoods in Nablus, with a focus on mothers of children in TYO’s Core Child Program. Classes include health, nutrition, and exercise alongside IT classes.

In addition to TWG, I would also provide intensive Business English and Social Media and IT courses to women participating in the Women’s Incubation Services for Entrepreneurs (WISE) II Program.  WISE II  enhances women-led, small enterprises in marginalized areas of northern Palestine. It is the first of its kind to serve women of northern Palestine who cannot access services offered in Ramallah or other areas.

I had limited experience teaching English, Social Media, or IT upon arrival. Now, I was tasked with the responsibility of facilitating a successful educational experience for TYO’s entrepreneurs. What if they didn’t like me? What if my lessons were boring and uninteresting? What if they left feeling as though the classes were a waste of their time? Fortunately, TYO believed in me. Additionally, my experience building community-based infrastructure with Palestinian and Iraqi refugee women in the United States would help inform my classroom time with the WISE II entrepreneurs. Rather than mire myself with worry, I decided to enter the classroom with enthusiasm, excitement, and determination.

Equipped with three weeks of lesson plans, I entered class expecting the women to bring an ample amount of sass, brilliance, and personality. The women brought that and so much more. For three weeks, the women pushed themselves and each other to learn conversational English that they will undoubtedly use while promoting and running their businesses. Some of the subjects we covered included how to properly pronounce words associated with their businesses, how to speak in formal English about their business over the phone and in person, and how to craft and articulate a business pitch. We often erupted in roars of (loving) laughter when one of the women just couldn’t grasp the pronunciation of a difficult word or when many of the women would refer to their “soup” business instead of her “soap” business.

Many of the entrepreneurs had one and a half hour commutes in order to get to our center yet always came to class with dogged determination to tackle the day’s lesson. For their final assignment, the women had to present a business pitch to a mock potential investor. Each woman confidently stood before the class presenting their pitches. I stood and listened, feeling overwhelming pride for the progress the women had made in such a short period of time.

Their final presentations proved to me what I had suspected: upon completion of the three-week class, the women had not only garnered more command over English, but they also gained more self-confidence in themselves, and love and respect for each other.

I have had the pleasure of traveling to Tulkarem and Jenin to visit many of the WISE II entrepreneurs. I felt tremendously honored to have been able to visit the women’s villages and homes, eat their delicious food, and connect with them outside of the classroom. In retrospect, it is hard to believe I was ever nervous about teaching at all.. Together we have built genuine relationships based in mutual respect and I am so honored to have been a small part of these women’s entrepreneurial journeys. I cannot wait to see what the future holds.

Vanessa, Zahi Khouri Fellow

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