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Welcome Fall 2014 interns!

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

2014 interns Jade and Claire

2014 interns Jade and Claire

Jade

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

Claire

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

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Youth in Focus: An Interview with Scholarship recipient Mari Qawareeq

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

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

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

What is your reaction to receiving this scholarship?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Interview conducted by Volunteer Coordinator Ruba 

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FWEME Entrepreneurs in Lebanon Expand Their Horizons!

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come a great model for all women entrepreneurs!

TYO-L is proud of Mrs. Tilda Moutran for her accomplishments and hard work. She has become a great model for all women entrepreneurs!

Through FWEME, TYO-Lebanon’s efforts focus on integrating businesses skills training with other essential skills to provide female entrepreneurs in Lebanon with the tools they need to be successful businesswomen. The two year program is now in the third and final phase. Women have received extensive business training and coaching throughout the project and are now focusing on developing their English and IT skills, expanding their networks, growing their businesses, and accessing financial support. The women are also receiving additional training support from BLC Bank’s Women’s Empowerment (WE) Initiative. All of the phases of the project have come together to provide a solid foundation that nurtures the entrepreneurs’ skills, creativity, capability and confidence.

As a result of the extensive training provided by TYO-L, entrepreneurs in the program are now prepared to handle any challenge. The entrepreneurs have each developed solid skill sets and the confidence they need to be leaders in their communities and successful agents of social change for themselves, their families, other women and their greater societies.

Mrs. Tilda Moutran, one of TYO-L’s beneficiaries, is a serious, passionate and dedicated entrepreneur. At the start of the project, her family discouraged her from launching her own business, afraid of the challenges she would face and the responsibility that being a business owner brings. Despite the skepticism of her support system, Tilda decided to move forward with her cement and tile company, relying on her sound work ethic and desire to make her business a financial success. Through her work with FWEME, she has been able to expand her network and address her greatest challenege: marketing. Prior to joining the program, Tilda was not confident in her marketing ability, but she’s since gained the knowledge she needs to be successful. Tilda, equipped with her SMART business plan, is ready to take her business to the next level and is creating a fully functional  website, utilizing online marketing tools to increase her customer base.

-TYO Lebanon

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How, Not If

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Nada smiles with her Women's beginner IT class

Nada smiles with her Women’s beginner IT class

TYO is a non-political organization positioned in a climate of endless politics. Discussing my time here without mentioning words like “occupation” or “checkpoints” has been challenging – but if use of semantics in a blog has troubled me so, I can only imagine the massive effort which goes into balancing TYO away from political rhetoric in a land built on a foundation of political rhetoric.

Thoughts of nightly raids, arrests, and the sound of F16s all melt away as the faces of women approach each other in greeting. They range in age, but their unifying characteristics are comical banter, a curiosity and will to learn, and above all the wish to leave politics at the doorstep and enjoy each other’s company. TYO is where women come to forge connections, learn new skills, and take advantage of opportunities they’ve never had. I had the privilege of teaching the beginner’s computer class, which was rewarded daily by the pride women displayed at performing simple tasks like as copy & paste — which, considering many had never used a computer before, was a remarkable achievement.

Whether it was Beginner IT classes or assistant teaching at the honor’s college at An-Najah University, I was consistently surprised by the Palestinian people’s good humor and ambitious attitudes in the face of difficulty. My students at Najah were eager to engage in dialogue in both PR and Leadership classes, the overarching theme being, “How can we improve our society?” What was remarkably surprising to me was that it was never a questions of if they have that power, but how they can utilize themselves for the betterment of society.

I was most impressed by the drive present in TYO’s Fostering Women Entrepreneurs in the Middle East project, a program which actively seeks to incubate female entrepreneurs in Palestine. The women in the program were driven by a remarkable passion for independence. Constantly seeking to improve their services and products, to expand beyond the confines of locale, they stand as a touching portrait of hope and empowerment in a land where the economy is less than hospitable.

By remaining respectfully a-political, I believe TYO it is doing something important for Palestinian society: nurturing a positive outlook. Rather than wallowing in the feeling of defeat, Palestinians are asking the questions, “How can we get back up? How can we improve?” — and TYO seeks to help Palestinians answer that question through empowerment.

-Zahi Khouri Fellow, Nada

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Parting Ways With Palestine

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Amanda teaches her class 'K is for Kite!'

Amanda teaches her class ‘K is for Kite!’

As an Assyrian American from Chicago, I thought I had virtually no ties to Palestine. The homeland of my mother and father is in Northern Iraq. I came to Palestine to learn how to teach under pressure and to strengthen my professional skills. The more time passed, the more parallels I began to find between Palestine and my own life. The women here are strong-willed, not afraid to speak their minds – much like my mother, my aunts, my cousins. The people here feel a strong attachment to their culture and heritage despite being displaced – so much like the Assyrian people. There are Muslims and Christians living together peacefully, side-by-side, much like the childhood my mother describes to me while she was growing up in Iraq. The food, the music, the sense of humor – all of it resonated with me and the life I have lived up until this point.

This land is a part of me now. These people are not people I can just say goodbye to and forget about. They will consume my thoughts and find their way into my days far after I’ve left here. They will eat away at my heart, make me laugh and cry. Maybe I’m just a really emotional person.

You can’t know until you’ve been here. You can’t understand until you’ve seen the little girls and little boys screaming “Khalto! Khalto! Khalto!” – Auntie, auntie, auntie, the university students eager to learn as much as they can from you, the women dancing Zumba to their heart’s content during the few hours they get to themselves. Having iftar dinner with the local staff. TYO has been a place where I could truly be myself. I will sincerely miss this land and these people and am extremely grateful to have had the chance to share my summer with them – so much so that my words seem meaningless or empty even as I write them. My mother asked me today, “Do you feel like you actually made a difference? Like you helped any of your students?” I told her I had no doubt that I did, but if anyone was the student here it was me.

-TYO Intern, Amanda

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A final goodbye

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Dari teaches children in her Core AM English class a dance move.

Dari teaches children in her Core AM English class a dance move.

On our last day of session at TYO, we took the children to the pool. Most of the kids could not contain their excitement and began splashing at the earliest possible moment. Ghazal didn’t follow suit. In the five weeks that I taught her English, she did not once smile. This was despite many efforts through group play and crafts that were meant to advance the kids’ English ability. But somehow, with the help of one of the Core AM teachers, we were able to get Ghazal to join the others in the pool. She only stuck her feet in at the edge but when she realized the fun that can be had there, there was no stopping her. She kicked and splashed to her little heart’s content and for the first time, I saw her laugh.

That is what childhood is about: learning and laughing. I am so grateful to have been able to work with TYO to give children the opportunity to learn and laugh in a safe and loving environment. Seeing the confidence with which they shout answers to questions asked and the excitement they brought to every English class made every minute of data collection and report writing worth it. Countless times over. It was also amazing to see the initiative each child took to make class their own safe space. Some asked to sing in front of the class and others asked for extra alphabet worksheets. It was inspiring to see the thrill with which my students devoured the opportunity to learn through shouting and playing and making a mess with glitter. This showed me how TYO succeeds in providing the opportunity for better childhoods.

I’m incredibly sad to be leaving because of the many beautiful moments I’ve had here. Seeing Ghazal so happy to be splashing in the pool reaffirmed the hope I have for Palestine. Yes, there is a mountain range that needs to be climbed in order for peace and equality to come. But I think that for every Palestinian child that is empowered through learning and a positive childhood, another mountain is claimed. I’m not ready to leave Palestine because although a child’s laughter is an incredible step toward peace, it is only the first step. While I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity I have had to contribute I this way, I deeply wish to be here for the extended journey.

-TYO Intern, Darializa

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The Last Post!

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Yvonne wave goodbye with her Core PM English class.

Yvonne wave goodbye with her Core PM English class.

“Khalto Eve! Khalto Eve!” My class waved at me for the last time from the windows of their school buses, and I waved back as they disappeared into the distance. TYO’s summer program has flown by, but the faces that left me behind were happy. It did not feel like that would be our last goodbye, and I began to reflect upon my experiences over the past couple of months, and several memories of TYO stood out in particular.

Whilst working for the Student Training and Employment Program (STEP!) at An-Najah National University, the vast changes in the students between the first and last classes were phenomenal. At the start of the course, 90% of students did not have a CV and cover letter, and did not know how to network or create opportunities for themselves. By the end of the course, students had perfected professional the professional documents and grown exponentially in self-confidence. In one student’s words, “This class confirmed for me the idea of working together, to keep working to fix mistakes, and not to be unhappy if I have some problems but work to solve them.”

In Core English, the most significant experience I had with my students was witnessing the confidence they gained as they progressed over the course of the program. The most significant change occurred when we used a universal language, that of movement. By linking actions to words, our communication vastly improved, and when we used song, dance and games to learn, the children’s understanding was at its strongest. When my students began to march into my classroom, singing our greetings song at the tops of their voices without even being asked, I knew that I could not make them more confident in using their new vocabulary.

For The Women’s Group, it is hard to pick a single memory from the course on which to focus. At the beginning of the program, we found that women attended precisely because they had decided to make a change and become the driving forces of their lives, and of their community. Over the course, they overcame many personal challenges to hold true to this goal, improving their own fitness and questioning nutritional practices to learn about how best to provide for their families.

To facilitate these experiences at TYO, be part of so many personal changes (and to become Khalto Eve, and gain many new aunties myself!) has been an honour. The effect that my students and Nablus has had on me is certainly more substantial than the effect I may have had on them. I know that I will always carry these inspirational memories with me, and as “we only part to meet again,” I will not make this a final goodbye, but look forward to the next meeting.

-TYO Intern, Yvonne

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Reflecting on a New Home

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While teaching the letter 'H', Michelle shows children in her Core AM English class what it means to be happy.

While teaching the letter ‘H’, Michelle shows children in her Core AM English class what it means to be happy.

As I sit on the balcony overlooking Nablus writing this blog post, I  am in awe at the fact that I came back to the land that my grandfather fled from 66 years ago during the 1948 War and was never permitted to return to. Before coming to Palestine, I rarely identified myself as a Palestinian. Since both my parents were born in Lebanon and because I was born and raised in the United States, I tended to see myself solely as American-Lebanese. Throughout my time here in Palestine, however, I have felt a connection to a part of my heritage which I never embraced before. My 7 weeks at Tomorrow’s Youth Organization, teaching English to 4-8 year-olds and a professional competency class to college students at An-Najah University allowed me to connect with bright Palestinian youth who serve as the future of Palestine. As I reflect on my experiences here at TYO, all of the strong, resilient, kind, and compassionate people I have met come to mind. Despite the struggles of every day life in Palestine, including home invasions, arrests, poverty, and domestic violence, the children, women, and university students always managed to keep their infectious smiles and positive attitudes with their heads held high.

I was amazed to see the way that my students were able to forget about whatever hardships they faced the night or day before and truly engage in class and the activities. For instance, in my morning English class the day after home invasions in the neighborhood where TYO is located, students who were usually very responsive were tiredly rubbing their eyes and struggling to stay awake. I went over to of my most approachable and active students from the neighborhood who could barely keep his eyes open and asked him what letter we were working on. He tried so hard to answer the question with a big smile on his face, but could simply not focus on what we were learning because of his fatigue. This interaction affected me because it served to summarize the sad truth that the occupation affects children in unimaginable ways. Children are not only hindered psychologically, but also academically. Nonetheless, my students still came to TYO everyday prepared to learn, play, and grow.

Not only have I had the chance to engage with the warm and welcoming students, volunteers, and local staff and discover an indispensable part of my background, I have also had the opportunity to refine my professional skills and learn about the field of development in the Middle East. As an international relations and Middle East studies double major, I aspire to empower women and children in the Middle East through education. My experience at TYO has given me hands-on experience, allowing me to translate my emotions from the struggles I have witnessed into hard work and fun activities for my students. I have also learned about important practices, such as moderating and evaluating, and about NGO work in the Middle East as a whole. After I complete my studies, I hope to return to Palestine and continue the work that TYO and other organizations have begun. Therefore, instead of saying goodbye, I will say “See you later!” to everyone here because as we say in Palestine, Inch’Allah I will return one day soon.

-Zahi Khouri Fellow, Michelle

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Until We Meet Again: Last Week of The Women’s Group

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Last week, The Women’s Group at TYO marked the final few days of the Summer 2014 session with certificates for outstanding commitment, an intensive seminar on the dangers of withholding food from children during the current season of Ramadan, and an exciting field trip to the local swimming pool. In these last bits of celebration, over 100 women wrapped up what’s been an eventful, awareness-raising five weeks as we’ve covered topics such as protecting one’s self after violence, preventing women’s cancers, and the problematic consequences of the past-time of shisha smoking. And we know that it wasn’t just an information overload without implementation- TYO’s monitoring and evaluation assessments demonstrated an over 90% increase of knowledge on key empowerment issues within participants, and we’re planning follow up throughout the summer to check-in about how various parenting tips or health best practices are working for women at home.

TYO Computer class student Riham smiles with her hard-earned certificate

TYO Computer class student Riham smiles with her hard-earned certificate

Yet despite the enthusiasm and accomplishment of this session, we know that it’s far from our final step to success for women’s rights in Palestine. Recent publications like the United Nations Secretary-General Annual Report on Children and Armed Conflict provide data for the sort of dangers that mothers face daily in Nablus and surrounding areas. The report outlines some of the key challenges and barriers for raising families in Palestine, such as highly limited movement, children witnessing traumatic events, extreme difficulties accessing proper healthcare, and heightened volatility for intra-personal violence. Further, the document cites Palestine as one of 50 countries around the world where children face extreme exposure to armed conflict- so while we wished mothers a few months of summer fun until we start the next session, we know our work to support Palestinian women doesn’t cool off.

Women smile with their certificates and excitement at the end of the Summer 2014 session.

Women smile with their certificates and excitement at the end of the Summer 2014 session.

Throughout the upcoming weeks, here’s a few ways we’re working to continuing our women’s empowerment efforts and offering a strong network to mothers:

  • Follow Up on Children’s Sleeping: During this session, we spent a special seminar discussing the severe dangers of a lack of sleeping in children- particularly during the Ramadan month, when community norms shift and it’s typical to see kids playing outside until dawn. We know this is harmful for both immediate and long-term health outcomes, ranging from both cognitive development issues to exposure to armed violence, and we utilized speakers from the Ministry of Health and UNRWA to educate moms about the risks, as well as how to best encourage improved sleep in their kids and teens. Over the course of the summer, we’ll be checking in with moms to gage if they’re implementing what they learned during session in terms of bedtimes- but also offering additional support if they’re struggling in this, and encourage their feedback about what would be most helpful in the next session if we speak about this topic again.
  • Checking in Stopping Shisha: Shisha- also known as argilah or hookah- is one of the most dangerous forms of tobacco, with just one puff causing the same damage as smoking an entire cigarette. This session, over 95% of women learned this for the first time, after assuming that shisha was a safer form of smoking, or that it didn’t come with harmful effects. After hearing from the Nablus Police Department as well as the Ministry of Health about the fatal consequences of shisha, multiple women made pacts to permanently quit the practice. However, smoking isn’t an easy habit to knock- so we’ll be following up with women who committed to quitting to check in on their progress, and offer additional supports from the Ministry of Health- such as smoking cessation literature and twelve-step processes- to make sure women feel supported and strengthened in their endeavor.
  • New Partnership Development: Within The Women’s Group, not all of our work is directly accomplished with beneficiaries- in fact, a key aspect of our women’s empowerment programs are to connect with local institutions and civil society organizations that equally aim to empower women. Through these partnerships, we recruit speakers for The Women’s Group, but also create a stronger support network for women in Palestine. While we work with over 40 local organizations currently, the down time between sessions is one of our busiest times for forging new relationships, as we look to bring more innovative approaches and organizations to our participants.

As referenced in recent UN reports, it’s clear that summer months in a place like Palestine can be shadowed by the ongoing, highly-challenging situation- but we remain confident in the progress achieved by mothers in the past session, and look forward to remaining a constant, holistic support until we meet again in the Fall.

- Cayce, WEP Coordinator

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