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Youth in focus: An interview with Hadia A.

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Hadia A. is from Nablus. She graduated in 2014 from An-Najah National University with a degree in Social Work and Sociology.

Hadia Al-Shaf'i

Hadia helps a child in the IT lab

What made you apply for STEP!?

I was interested in applying for STEP! in order to gain experience in dealing with children and to learn more about their needs and the problems they face. I knew I would find the program both personally and professionally rewarding – especially because of my academic background in social work, a career I hope to pursue in the future.

What new skills have your learned through the program?

The most important skill I have learned is team-building skills by working in groups in the classroom with children. I have also improved my leadership skills by supporting children and groups during activities. Also, I’ve been able to learn more about the much needed skills in the field of Social Work and how to be objective in dealing with others.

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

I’m planning to work in my field of study as a social worker. TYO’s STEP! program helped me gain experience in working with children – especially with children ages four and five years old, as I had never worked with this age group previously. I now have a much better idea of how to work with them in the future, how to solve their problems and how to understand them more.

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

I think that the biggest challenge is that they cannot easily find jobs. Now, people rely on “wasta” or nepotism to secure a job and we feel that if we don’t have a strong connections or networks, we cannot get a job easily.

-Interview conducted by Volunteer Coordinator, Ruba Hafayda

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

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Youth in Focus: An interview with Hanaa N.

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Hanaa N. is from Nablus. She graduated in 2012 from An-Najah National University with a degree in Bio-Technology.

Hana

 What made you apply for STEP?!

I was interested in applying for STEP! because I saw it as an opportunity to get real-world experience in the workplace. As I’ve already graduated, I want to be able to step into my first job already understanding the basics of what is expected in the workplace so I can build a solid foundation for my career.

What new skills have your learned through the program?

So far, the most important skill I’ve learned is how to deal with children in an appropriate manner. Related to this, I’ve learned how important it is to plan activities and prepare ahead before doing anything. Being prepared for class isn’t just a matter of knowing what activities will be done, but it’s also having alternative ideas in case things don’t go as planned. Being well prepared definitely helps to increase confidence as well, as it reduces the chance of being caught off guard in class.

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

My experience at TYO has helped me by improving my confidence and communication skills. As a woman coming from a very traditional family, I was initially met with a lot of resistance when I started volunteering at TYO because my family didn’t understand why this was important to me. However, being at TYO has helped build my confidence which is really important on a personal level as it helps me to defend my choices when people at home disagree with me.  Finally, I believe volunteering at TYO has helping me to improve my presentation skills which I know will be important at any job in the future.

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

The biggest challenge for the recent graduates is the existence of wasta i.e. personal connections. I’ve tried many times to find employment opportunities but couldn’t because other people had their own connections with the decision maker. This system  deprives otherwise qualified candidates from getting a job.

-Interview conducted by Volunteer Coordinator, Ruba Hafayda

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

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Reflecting on Progress in the Core Child Program

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Mahmoud with children in his Core AM class

With the end of the Fall Core Child Program session almost in sight, it is a good time to reflect back on the last 11 weeks to assess the progress children have made throughout the session. Oftentimes, no place is this more clear than in the halls of the Core AM program. As is oft reported, the first weeks of the program can be jarring for our 4 and 5 year old children- both new and returning to TYO. For many of them, this marks the first time in their young lives that they are spending time away from their families- and in some cases away from their refugee camps. Children must get used to being in a new environment with new guardians, new friends coming from parts of Nablus unfamiliar to them, and new experiences. To help children adjust, TYO emphasizes the importance of providing children with a consistent structure throughout their time at TYO- this means meeting every day at the same time, in the same place, following the same teacher, and even walking in straight single file lines as they move class to class (although anyone who has been in TYO the first week of the program can attest the lines are never quite straight at first!). Adjusting to the new environment unusually involves a lot of crying, pushing and shoving in line, and silly fighting over ‘who took whose’ crayons in Arabic class. This is why week 11 of the program- which focuses on Peaceful Problem Solving- can be a particularly rewarding week for the Core Child Teachers- as it allows them to really observe how far their children have come in such a short amount of time.

Core Child Teacher Mahmoud shares a proud moment from his class:

There was one child in my morning class who had been the source of many problems early on in the session. He’s a sweet kid, but very hyperactive with a tendency towards violence- pushing, shoving, and pinching other children when he didn’t get his way. Throughout the session I’ve been working with this child to control his reactions to situations and explain the importance of respecting his peers— while trying to model what respectful behavior looks like. But just this week I was both shocked and so proud when this same child took the initiative to come up to me and say, ‘Amo, someone hit me in line– but I swear I didn’t hit him back– can you please come and help me?’ Though sometimes it can seem like progress is slow- events like this make me realize that we really are successfully rooting the foundations of respectful behavior with our children. It’s a great moment to realize when your teaching has been the source of positive change for a child. Sometimes it’s easy to think I’m only helping one child, but looking around it becomes so clear how this child’s improved behavior effects the entire environment around him. It’s a true honor to be working in an environment where I know we are helping to build a stronger community by teaching our children values.

-Mahmoud Saleh, Core Child Teacher & Jessica Dargiel, Deputy Director

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

 

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Youth in focus: An interview with Ola D.

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Ola D. is from Nablus. She graduated in 2014 from An-Najah National University with a degree in Primary Teaching Methods.

Ola helps children in Core PM with an art project

Ola helps children in Core PM with an art project

What made you apply for STEP!?

There are two things that really interested me in the STEP! program. First I was interested in the opportunity to get hands-on experience in my area of study (I studied Primary Education Methods in university). Second, I heard that the professional development trainings offered through the STEP! program are very helpful in terms of providing participants with the materials and skills they need to get a job. This was an excellent opportunity to utilize the experience of TYO’s staff so I could prepare a strong CV.

What new skills have your learned through the program?

TYO’s emphasis on creative thinking and learning through play taught me a lot about how to prepare activities that would be engaging for children. Beyond that, I learned how to link fun (and seemingly basic) activities to much higher level thoughts and learning objectives. Additionally, since volunteering as TYO, I’ve been able to practice and improve my communication, team-building, and leadership skills.

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

I’m planning to work as an elementary teacher. TYO benefited me by teaching me how to better manage children. I also learned to be more conscious of my own needs and emotions and through the psychosocial trainings at TYO, I’ve learned how my own mentality can effect the children.

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

The biggest challenge for recent graduates is the lack of job opportunities in Palestine. It is my hope that by working hard and trying to develop myself, I will become a strong and well-rounded candidate and thus have a better chance of finding a job.

-Interview conducted by Volunteer Coordinator, Ruba Hafayda

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

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Developing resiliancy through group work

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Children develop collaboration skills through an activity requiring them to work together to build a farm.

Children develop collaboration skills through an activity requiring them to work together to build a farm.

A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that prolonged exposure to abuse or traumatic events in childhood stunts emotional development and puts children at greater risk of developing personality disorders or depression later in life. This is a concerning reality for those working in early childhood education in wartorn regions. According to a UNICEF report regarding the rights of childrenv, the ‘Occupied Palestinian Territory is a place where children may become, deliberately or incidentally, the victims of extreme acts of violence and brutality, such as targeted and/or negligent killings, indiscriminate attacks on their homes, schools, camps and neighbourhoods, maiming, and other forms of physical and psychological violence – including torture, arbitrary arrest and detention, house demolitions, land confiscation and obstruction of livelihoods, discrimination and harassment. It is estimated that over the 2005-2008 period,334 Palestinian children were killed and 1,461 injured.’ Understanding this relationship, TYO’s curriculum was designed to  address the gap in development created by abuse and trauma and thereby help children to develop resilience.

Resilience can be defined as, ‘the human capacity of all individuals to transform and change, no matter what their risks; it is an innate “self-righting mechanism”.’Inherent in developing this ability to adapt to changing circumstances is the flexibility to problem-solve both individually and as part of a team and to understand one’s role within their community. As such, having addressed the themes of identity and community, week 10 of the Core Child program focuses on further developing children’s collaboration skills. By creating a safe and structured environment for children to work together, TYO has removed the stresses inherent with new experiences. Core Child Teacher Ahmed explains how he introduces this important theme children in his class:

The week of collaboration is usually a bit of a surprise for children. When asked, they say that they prefer to work alone and as such, they don’t understand that collaboration is a skill they’ve already begun to develop. Ahmed then explains collaboration isn’t a scary new idea- it’s simple. You are showing your ability to collaborate when you…

…are supporting someone else
…are participating in a group (or class)
…are showing respect for others
…are being honest
…are helping to create a team

Through class discussion, it’s apparent that on a cognitive level children understand the importance of these values. They are aware that upholding such values empowers them to make a positive impact on those around them. During class discussions, children gave examples from their home lives showing how they collaborate with siblings, with many children expressing that ‘if someone asks for something I willingly share.’ Despite this, during classroom activities, many children still react in an impulsive manner and satisfy their own needs before the group. Ahmed explains that further practice and positive reinforcement is needed to firmly root these values with children.

Teachers at TYO are in a unique position to help children overcome the challenges imposed by a harsh living environment. By modeling positive interactions with peers, children, and even children’s parents, children will learn to associate the values of collaboration with a safe and secure environment such as they receive at TYO.

 

-Ahmed Khateeb, Core Child Teacher & Jessica Dargiel, Deputy Director

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

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Youth in focus: An interview with Sahar I.

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Sahar I. is from Salem. She graduated in 2006 from An-Najah National University with a degree in Arabic Literature and Language.

Saher assists children with a project designed to teach children about cooperation.

Sahar assists children with a project designed to teach children about cooperation.

What made you apply for STEP?!

I was interested in applying for STEP! because I thought it was a good opportunity to develop myself and improve my skills at they pertain to working with children. Thus far I’ve benefited a lot from this experience and have even been able to apply the discipline tecniques I’ve learned at TYO on my daughters at home. This has been such a positive experience and I hope to one day be able to work full-time at TYO.

What new skills have your learned through the program?

My leadership and communication skills have most improved since I started volunteering at TYO. Every day we practice standing in front of the class and leading children. This requires a lot of practice and patience, but I think I’ve really improved in my ability to control children. Related to this, I’ve improved my communication skills. Getting children to listen and participate requires a certain type of interaction with them- it is very important to maintain a positive and encouraging attitude. It’s easy to forget how much the rest of the class is watching and following your behavior. I noticed the other day as I was focused on helping one child with his homework that the rest of the class was also focusing their attention on me. Thus it’s important to always be mindful of what we are doing and saying in front of the children.

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

I’m planning to work as an Arabic Teacher in a private or governmental school. TYO has been really helpful in teaching me job application and interview skills, as well as giving me the classroom management skills needed to be an effective teacher.

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

I graduated from university in 2006. So for me, the biggest challenge has been competing with other, more recent graduates for jobs. There are just so many new graduates and so few jobs it becomes more of a challenge with every year to find a job.  To try and combat this problem I’m always looking for new opportunities to better myself and improve my skills.

-Interview conducted by Volunteer Coordinator, Ruba Hafayda

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

 

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Addressing the ‘Why?’

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Haithem helps a child in Core AM to plant seeds.

Haithem helps a child in Core AM to plant seeds.

The ‘why’ stage- it’s the often joked about stage of child development where children are so wildly filled will curiosity about the world around them that it seems every other word out of their mouths is ‘why’. Addressing and encouraging children’s natural curiosity is critical to shaping the type of thinkers they will be later in life. They need to be provided with answers, but they also need to feel competent and that they are capable of understanding the complexities of the world around them. If a child is made to feel that they are not fit to learn on their own, they are more likely to adapt an attitude of fleeing challenge rather than embracing it as a learning opportunity- growing up to seek opportunities to evade failure rather than explore and learn. In the book ‘How Children Succeed,’ author Paul Tough explains that ‘character is created by encountering and overcoming failure.’ However, a particular challenge arises for children coming from lower socioeconomic backgrounds- such as those living in the refugee camps in Nablus. ‘There is often little support to help them turn these omnipresent obstacles into character-enhancing triumphs.’ Children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds do not receive the support needed from their parents- often because the parents lack these higher order skills themselves.

Understanding this challenge, TYO’s curriculum was designed to address these issues and provide children with a safe space which encourages critical thinking and creativity. TYO’s Core Child Teachers create a positive environment for children by nurturing and supporting their natural curiosity. Core Child Teacher, Haithem, shares a story from a seed planting activity in his class to illustrate this point:

The focus of this past week was to teach children about logic and reasoning- with one of the primary areas of emphasis being understanding the relationship between cause and effect. To illustrate this concept for children, we spent the week learning about plants- how they grow and how to take care of them. At the beginning of the week we read stories about plants, watched videos, and had discussions, but it wasn’t until Wednesday’s planting activity that you could see the ideas resonate with the children. At this age children are thirsty for hands on activities- it’s how they learn best. We culminated the week’s activities by having children each plant their own seeds in a little garden at TYO. Each child then marked the place where they planted their seeds with a small sign with their name, helping the children to develop a sense of ownership and responsibility to the space. This activity conjured engagement from even the most withdrawn children- the entire class was suddenly abuzz with questions: ‘Is the seed thirsty?’ ‘Can he [the seed] breathe under so much dirt?’. But most exciting was the next day when children came in asking about their seeds, ‘Do you think they’re ok? It didn’t rain yesterday! We should feed them!’ The children’s concern signaled their understanding- plants need water to grow. If we feed the plan [action] it will grow [outcome].

It’s this combination of support and autonomy offered by TYO’s curriculum that the hope is for children grow to be confident and critical thinkers- who aren’t afraid to strive boldly for success, even if it means risking failure along the way.

Children in Core AM asked many questions about the planting process.

Children in Core AM asked many questions about the planting process.

Children marked their seeds with a name-tag.

Children marked their seeds with a name-tag.

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

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

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Departing Palestine: It’s Only Goodbye for Now

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Jade leads an English class with children in Core AM.

Jade leads  English class with children in Core AM.

Two weeks after taking my last final for university, I boarded a plane bound to Tel Aviv to begin my session as an International Intern with Tomorrow’s Youth Organization in Nablus, Palestine. I didn’t know what to expect and couldn’t anticipate the incredible impact that my relatively brief time here would have on me.

Throughout my time as an intern at TYO, I have heard the stories of people in this community, have seen the ingenuity of children at play, and listened as university students expressed their passions and the ways in which they hope to make a difference in their communities. I have made strong connections with children, volunteers, and staff that have defined my experience in Palestine and broadened my understanding of the true meaning of international exchange and collaboration.

The past nine weeks with TYO has been one of the most positive experiences of my life. The opportunity to work with the extraordinary community of Nablus has been a privilege, and seeing the progress young students have made over the course of six weeks in English and psychosocial classes is an encouraging indicator of the potential these youth have to make an impact as future leaders in Palestine. My heart is heavy with the thought of departing this place that has been a second home for two months, but I leave with great hope and belief in the Palestinian people and the power that youth have to make change in their communities.

I know that this goodbye is only temporary, and that I will return to this place that has welcomed me so wholly during TYO’s Fall Session. I look forward to sharing my experience in the United States, and for when my life will once again bring me back to Palestine and my new friends and family within it. Until then, shoukran and m3salamma!

-Jade is a Fall 2014 International Intern at TYO

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Youth in Focus: An Interview with Shorooq A.

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Shorooq A. is from Nablus, Palestine. She graduated in 2014 from Al-Quds Open University with a degree in in Social Sciences Teaching Methods.

Shorooq models respectful behavior for children in Core AM.

Shorooq models respectful behavior for children in Core AM.

What made you apply for STEP?!

I was interested in applying for TYO’s STEP! program so I could gain work experience. I’m a new graduate and really need to focus on building a strong CV as well as improving my skills. I would like to work as a teacher, so it is very helpful for be to be able to observe the Core Teachers and practice various teaching techniques on the children in the classroom. Finally, I feel it is my responsibility to do what I can to help children within my community.

What new skills have your learned through the program?

The most important skills I’ve learned thus far are leadership skills and teaching methods. Volunteering at TYO gives me the opportunity to lead a group of children in the classroom, which allows me to practice speaking in front of a group as well as practice explaining concepts to young children. This ties in closely to developing my teaching methods techniques. I am able to both mimic the Core Teachers as well as practice my own style of communication with the children to see what works and what areas I should improve. I feel much more responsible having had this experience at TYO.

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

I’m planning to work as a Social Sciences teacher in a private or governmental school. The various trainings- both program specific (like the psychosocial trainings) and the job readiness trainings (CV building and interview skills)- are helping me by giving me the skills I need to be successful once I have a job. Additionally, by allowing me to practice teaching methods in the classroom, I feel I will be fully prepared to lead my own class when I get a job.

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

One of the main challenges for today’s youth is the inequality between the number of available jobs and the number of youth seeking employment. Job opportunities are very limited in Palestine. Volunteering is very useful in that it gives us practical work experience, which will help distinguish us as candidates in a very competitive job market.

-Interview conducted by Volunteer Coordinator, Ruba Hafayda

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

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Until Next Time

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Claire spends time with children in the park during a field trip

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

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