Every day in my Core English course, my students left the classroom yelling, “Goodbye! Goodbye!” They waved furiously, ecstatic at the opportunity to demonstrate their new English skills. I smiled and laughed at their enthusiasm, giving them countless high-fives in return for their hard work.
Now, that word takes on a new meaning to me as my internship with TYO comes to an end and I prepare to leave Nablus. Though my time here was relatively short, the mutual impact that my students and I had on each other is palpable. As my first time in Palestine and the Middle East, I had an incredible amount of knowledge to gain from this experience. Through the relationships I’ve built with TYO staff, volunteers, and, of course, the community members we serve, I’ve undoubtedly grown to know Palestine. But, even more apparent to me is how much more I have to learn about this place, its history, people, culture, and future. Though my internship ends, this was the first step for me in establishing my role as an advocate for this community.
TYO serves at-risk youth in Nablus. At-risk: what does that mean exactly? I’ve taught students who have witnessed violence in their homes and students who are restrained by the physical space of refugee camps. Certain students lack basic nutrition, access to clean water, and sanitation. Where you are born should in no way determine your access to a healthy and happy life. But, in a place where conflict is reality and violence is normal, Palestinian children face these obstacles.
I’ve learned that all they need is an opportunity. They need someone to cheer for them. When your world is filled with hopelessness, you need hope. I feel extremely grateful to have contributed to fostering that hope at TYO. Though I now have a greater understanding of the reality of my students’ lives here, I’ve also had the chance to see them grow as individuals and thrive in an environment that gives them the support they need to develop.
I was humbled on my last day of class when I looked at my students and saw how much of a difference TYO makes in this community. After six weeks, I saw tangible changes taking place in my students’ attitudes. One student, Imad, raised his hand to share with the class that he considers TYO his family, and he expressed how important this program was to him. I was touched by the honesty and self-awareness he demonstrated at only 10 years old. Though I am sad to leave, especially when I know that my students are at a crucial point in their after-school program, I leave with hope. If I saw such significant change after just six weeks, imagine the difference that these children will make in their communities after continuing to enroll in TYO’s programs.
From afar, it is difficult, and some may say impossible, to conceptualize the reality of Palestine. My own preconceptions have changed drastically since living in Nablus, and I look forward to sharing my experience with others back home. From dancing dabke and playing football in a mixed-gender setting to Palestinian meals and laughing with my students, I will keep these memories close to me. Most importantly, I can’t wait to share the stories and voices of my Palestinian friends with my friends and family in the US.
Because I was aware that my time here was coming to an end, I started to teach, “See you tomorrow!” to my 4 and 5 year old students. I’m grateful that they’ve been able to retain “See you!” I don’t believe in goodbyes – I believe that there will be an opportunity to see the people and places you care about again. So, officially, “See you later, Palestine!”
-Claire is a Fall 2014 International Intern at TYO