New Experiences, New Skills, and New Opportunities


Participation in extracurricular activities for children and youth can be hard to come by in underserved communities. TYO’s center provides local youth with an open space to learn, play, and take part in activities that they otherwise would not have access to. The academic program offers students educational support in Arabic, English and Math. There is a free day each week where students have the option to attend different recreational centers, such as swimming pools, bowling lanes, and martial arts schools. These events are the only opportunities some students have to learn from new experiences outside of school and the home. In this week’s interview with two siblings in the academic support program, Shaima and Muhaned, they share how they have gained confidence in both academic and social capacities from their time at TYO. Shaima and Muhaned

Welcome Shaima and Muhaned! Can you tell me about your family and how you are involved with TYO?

Shaima: I am twelve years old and in the sixth grade. I attend the United Nations Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) mixed boys and girls school in Nablus. I have nine siblings, six sisters and three brothers. I am the seventh oldest in my family. I started at TYO in the Core Child Program when I was in the second grade and now I am in the academic support program. My dad also works fulltime at TYO, so I really feel like we are part of a family here.

Muhaned: I am ten years old and in the fifth grade. I attend the UNRWA school for boys in Nablus. I started at TYO in the Core Child Program when I was in the first grade and now I am in the academic support program with my older sister.


How are your experiences at TYO different than school?

Shaima: They teach very differently here than at school because we learn by playing games and having fun. I have the hardest time in math and the weaker students do not get enough attention at school. Before I started the academic program, I would try to get my older sister to help me, but it is very hard because she is busy with her own homework. At TYO, the teachers take the time to explain new ideas in a way that we all can understand and there are many volunteers that are happy to help if I have any problems. I can already see my grades getting better. I have more trust in myself and I participate more in class.

Muhaned: I like coming here because we get to play games and we have space to run around.  At school, there are too many students and sometimes we get angry and hit each other. There is also a lot of yelling and I always feel lost inside the classroom. Only the strong students get attention and sometimes I feel left behind. Discipline is also done differently at TYO than at school because we talk about problems and try to find solutions. I realize now that violence does not solve problems. Hitting each other at the boys’ school is common, and even if a boy hits me, I will not hit him back anymore. Instead, I will tell an adult.


Have you noticed any changes in your academic performance since starting the program?

Shaima: We play a lot of grammar games that teach us new vocabulary and sentence structures in a fun way. Last week we played a game where we had to talk about our dreams for the future and I felt really comfortable presenting to the class. I will do these activities at home for extra practice or just for fun. At TYO, they build our confidence and encourage all students in the class to participate. It turns out that most of the time at school I had the correct answers to questions the teacher would ask us, but I used to be scared to say it in case I am wrong. Now I do not have this fear. If I am right, great, if I am wrong, that is how I learn. It is okay to learn from mistakes, that is how you grow.

Muhaned: The hardest subject for me is Arabic, I cannot even write! Math and English are easier for me, even though I speak Arabic at home! I do not even know the basics, and I am not getting better just yet. In Math, I am doing well and the extra help that I get from the academic program is making my grades even better.


What has been your most memorable experience at TYO?

Shaima: I love the karate class the most! I never had the chance to do martial arts before coming to TYO. It teaches structure, discipline, and I get to improve my physical strength.  Also, I do not get to dress up often and at school there are uniforms. Here I get to wear all my favorite outfits!

Muhaned: I love counting games with balloons and going to the pool on Thursdays, which is our free day!  We do not have many public swimming pools in Palestine, so this is always a lot of fun!


Shaima and Muhaned are participants in the After-School Academic Support for Kids program sponsored by Relief International. 

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

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Humans of Nablus 35



If you want to learn any language, you must be serious.  To learn anything, you must be serious.  And you really need to have a friend from that country.  To learn Arabic, for example, you have to have a friend from the Arab world.

اذا اردت تعلم لغة جديدة عليك ان تكون جديا في ذلك وعليك ان تجد صديقا من تلك البلد التي تتعلم لغتها . فمثلا لتعلم اللغه العربية عليك ايجاد صديق من العالم العربي.


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

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Fairuz in the Morning, Frank Sinatra in the Evening

Students of the STEP! II EFL program take a break to enjoy some music and sunshine.

Students Nihaya, Rawia, Dania, and Ala’a of the STEP! II EFL program take a break to enjoy some music and sunshine with their classmates.

Music is a powerful and positive force that connects people of different ages, backgrounds, and cultures. Recent Nobel Prize laureate Bob Dylan, Adele, Ravi Shankar, Edith Piaf, Tom Jobim, and Sakamoto, among so many others, have enchanted audiences around the world regardless of their ethnicity, race, and native language. “Music is the universal language of mankind,” once said American poet Henry Longfellow.

One of my first questions to those I meet in Nablus and to my students in the STEP! II EFL program is, “What kind of music do you like to listen to?”

“Fairuz in the morning, Om Koultoum in the evening.”

I have heard this answer countless times. I have witnessed it and enjoyed the talent of both artists while eating breakfast or having dinner. When I played Frank Sinatra’s “I Won’t Dance” for my students and asked them to compare and contrast the song’s mood and lyrics with Fairuz’s “Dabke Lebanon,” some of them vehemently replied, “You can’t compare Fairuz and Om Koultoum to Frank Sinatra.” The comment sparked an interesting conversation about those artists and about how social traditions are experienced in different cultures. The group concluded that besides its entertainment qualities, music carries and communicates the values of a given culture.

It’s true that students who remarked the “impossibility” of comparing Fairuz and Om Koultoum to Frank Sinatra did appreciate the upbeat and flippant atmosphere of Sinatra’s “I Won’t Dance.” Their comments seemed to suggest how the value of artists in Palestinian culture has a lot to do with tradition and social bonding rather than aesthetic or entertainment qualities. “My grandparents listened to Fairuz and my grandson will listen to Fairuz,” as one of my students put it. Though I love Frank Sinatra, I’m not sure my grandfather listened to him and I can’t predict whether or not my grandson will have the slightest interest in Sinatra.

When trying to immerse myself in Palestinian culture, I’m slowly getting acquainted with musicians loved by Palestinians. For that purpose, I too have been listening to Fairuz in the morning and Om Koultoum in the evening. At the same time, in my EFL class, lyrics by Dylan and Adele serve not only as text to teach my students new vocabulary and sentence structure, but also as a tool for intercultural learning of ideas, values, and references from English speaking countries. Inshallah [hopefully], very soon my students will be listening to Fairuz in the morning and Frank Sinatra in the evening.

– Ronaldo, Fall 2016 EFL Fellow


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

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Work, Surf, and Learn


TYO provides students with access to technology and educational resources that are not commonly found in local public schools. Technology-based learning is an invaluable tool in the digital age which has the capacity to transform how students use their time online. In this week’s interview with Mo-ayyed Maklouf, a longtime employee of TYO, he shares how the computer went from being a distraction to a learning exercise in his home. He has two children currently enrolled in the academic support program that offers after-school instruction in math, English and Arabic. abu-rami-and-kids

Welcome Mo-ayyed! Can you tell us about yourself and your family’s involvement with TYO?

My name is Mo-ayyed Makhlouf and I am from the Old Ciy of Nablus. I am forty-five years old and I have ten children, seven girls and three boys. I also work as a guard at the TYO building, providing maintenance and security services. My oldest child is twenty-two years old and my youngest child is two weeks old. Most of my children have been enrolled in TYO programming at different points in their lives. When TYO started ten years ago, my wife Husnya was enrolled in the Women’s Empowerment Program and my twins were enrolled in Core Child Program. We were amongst the first cohort of participants involved in TYO programs. My wife was the key point of contact for recruiting new TYO members from the Old City in collaboration with the Outreach Coordinator. She facilitated trust building activities with the community and took the time to connect with local families. My daughter Shaima, who is twelve years old and in grade six, and my son Muhaned, who is ten years old and in grade five, both graduated from the Core Child Program and are currently enrolled in the academic support program. My older children also completed the Student Training and Employment Program (STEP!I) that offered intensive language courses with native English teachers.

Mabrook [congratulations] on the new addition to your family and shukran [thank you] for your hardwork at TYO! Have you noticed any improvements in Shaima and Muhaned’s performance at school since starting the academic support program?

Muhaned is weaker academically than Shaima and benefits greatly from all three lessons in English, math and Arabic. His improvements in math are especially significant. He is currently learning how to do multiplication and responds well to the diversified pedagogical approaches he receives at TYO. The interactive and creative teaching methods used make it easier for him to understand new concepts. TYO has become a second home to my children and me; it is a safe space for us free of the abuse and violence present in this region. There is also a lot of attention to each individual student and his or her specific educational needs. It is difficult for schools to provide this one-on-one support because of overwhelming classroom sizes and persistent lack of resources. The disciplinary approach at TYO also teaches children important lessons about their behavior and how to treat others that is not punitive, but rather educational.

What would you describe as the most valuable impact(s) that TYO has on your family?

Shaima is continuing to meet and exceed the academic expectation for her grade level, whereas Muhaned needs more time. He is easily distracted by computer games and television. Shaima and Muhaned both benefit from having access to TYO’s computer lab and technology-based learning is one of their favorite activities. When they come home from TYO, they research the online games they discovered and show their siblings how to play them. Using the computer to advance academic objectives is very useful since they both like technology and now are using it as a tool to learn, not simply to waste time. On the psychosocial and behavioral level, my two children were very shy and had limited interactions with children from other areas. At first, they would stick to me like glue in my office at TYO, but now they are out socializing with other children that come from all over Nablus and surrounding villages. In the Old City, there is no space for children to play and there are many security considerations. The open space in the building and in the yard are great for children, especially the energetic ones, as they can run around all they want. This makes it less chaotic when they get home because they are tired. Remember, there are twelve people living in my house, so the less chaos the better. Insahllah [hopefully], my younger children will join the Core Child Program when they are old enough.


Mo-ayyaed Makhlouf has been a guard at TYO since 2013. Shaima and Muhaned are participants in the After-School Academic Support Program sponsored by Relief International.  

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

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Humans of Nablus 34


Ameera Sulaiman

I love to work with children, especially in the most under-served communities. I want to be there to support those in need when I can. Working with children is a beautiful thing. You can teach children many things and work with so many different personalities. I believe that we can solve so many problems in our society by starting with them. This to me is a wonderful process.

احب العمل مع الاطفال وخاصة هؤلاء  الذين يعيشون في المناطق المهمشة والاقل حظا, اريد ان اتواجد هناك لمساندة من هم بحاجة لمساعدة كيفما استطعت. العمل مع الاطفال شئ جميل ويمكنك تعليم الاطفال الشئ الكثير وخاصة بشخصياتهم المختلفة واعتقد باننا نستطيع حل العديد من المشكلات في مجتمعنا عندما نبدأ بهم . بالنسبة الي هذه عملية رائعه


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

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Meeting People Where They Are: The Success Story of Sujood Bani Odeh


Sujood Bani Odeh

Sujood Bani Odeh is from Tamoun, a village near Jenin. Sujood graduated from Hisham Hijjawi College in 2015 with a degree in Office Administration and enjoys writing poetry and short stories in her free time. Before becoming a volunteer, Sujood would accompany her sister while she volunteered. Having enjoyed the experience and the work TYO was doing, so Sujood decided to become a volunteer herself. She has been a volunteer with the After-school Academic Support for Kids program for one session.

What has your professional experience been like outside of TYO?

I trained with a Palestinian telecommunication company for 6 months while I was studying at university. The training was in the finance department and I worked on databases to fill in information for customers. After the training was finished, I applied for a job with the company, but I am still waiting for a response.

I also volunteered at summer camps in my village where I was in charge art activities for youth. I enjoy participating in volunteer based programs because I have free time and enjoy helping people, especially where I can share my skills.

What is your career plan?

I hope to get a job with a telecommunication company in the future. Work schedules are convenient for my life and I can gain new experiences, be financially independent, and improve skills from working with others. Working at a telecommunication company will let me use my degree depending on which department of the company I work in. I can work in the office, promotions, or field research. I am not particular about what type of daily work I do, but I would like to work for a good company.

What do you look for in a work environment?

I would like a work environment that is a comfortable environment in regards to time, my own space, and clear responsibilities. I would like for it to be quiet and calm without much noise. I am also accepting of feedback, both negative and positive, as this will help me to do my best and improve my skills. I want to feel respected at my place of work.

I wouldn’t mind working with children if the opportunity with a telecommunication company doesn’t work out. I would enjoy working at a kindergarten, but the salary does concern me. However, if a job involved working with children and a good salary, I would be happy to do that work.

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

After volunteering, I understand children. The class I volunteered with was weak in academic skills and was a mix of different grade levels in the same class. I was able to share my ability of writing with the children and helped them improve their writing skills. I also improved my ability to work with students based on their academic abilities and skills. I learned how to use proper methods with each student based on their need and academic level instead of teaching everyone in the same way.

Personally, I became more confident and less shy. I have higher self-esteem and have the confidence to show my writing to others. The volunteer coordinator encouraged me to share some of my writing with others, so I have decided to share a poem with the academic program volunteers. I have more experience in life and am more able to self motivate and feel confidence grow. I am better prepared to deal with life as a result of my time with TYO.

How has TYO impacted your professional life?

I hope to look for more opportunities without concentrating on just getting work in just one type of company. I will widen the employment search area because maybe there will be more options for work in my future. I won’t give up hope and I can do anything in life if I put my mind to it. Volunteering at TYO improved my professional skills of how to work with people based on their personalities. Volunteering also broke the barriers between me and others. Before volunteering, I was shy and hesitant to share ideas, but now I will express myself and be confident that my ideas will be considered. Even if my idea is simple, I want to share it with others with the hope that at least one person will benefit from my idea.


The Youth Service Learning (YSL) program is part of STEP! II, a youth employability, empowerment, and community leadership initiative supported by Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation.
As a classroom volunteer, Sujood supports the After-School Academic Support for Kids program sponsored by Relief International.

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

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It’s Kanafah not Knefeh, bas tfaDal [But Help Yourself]

Local intern Bhsara, EFL Fellow Mike, and EFL student Rakan

EFL Fellow Mike spends time with his Arabic instuctor, Bshara, and his EFL student, Rakan, during a celebration for the STEP! II English as a Foreign Language program.

When my students ask, “What Palestinian foods have you eaten?” they always laugh at my response.  “No,” they tell me emphatically, “It’s kanafah, not knefeh.”  I pronounce the famous Nabulsi dessert in the Lebanese way, not the Palestinian.  And though there are obvious, clear differences between the cultures of the two countries, and even the culture of Palestinians living in Lebanon and Palestine, I cannot ignore the similarities of teaching in both.

In both Lebanon and Palestine, Palestinian refugees face myriad challengers, and in both countries, they face them admirably.  While, more often than not, those living in Palestine and Lebanon are prevented from ever seeing each other, they have much in common than perhaps they know.

Every single day in my class at TYO my students attempt to offer me some portion of the food they bring for a snack.  If a student only has one cookie, I will still invariably be offered half.  Though I obviously love cookies, and appreciate the gesture, I usually feel honor-bound to refuse the generous offer.

Each time this happens, I am transported back to the winding alleys of the Rashidieh camp of South Lebanon.  One of my students there leads me down the twists and turns to his parents’ house.  Three of the children in the family were actually my students, and to show their appreciation, their parents invited me and one of my fellow teachers over for falafel.

While the family had little to give, they would bankrupt themselves to welcome us if we allowed it.  Thankfully, we both knew better.  Easily we could have stayed for hours eating helping after helping of their truly amazing food, but after a sandwich, we knew we had to limit ourselves to the coffee.

Much like in Palestine, I also found my particular brand of Arabic helped me connect to the students.  Though my friend and fellow teacher there studied Arabic more intensely than I, and therefore spoke better fusHa (the formal Arabic), but I had been living in Lebanon, and had somewhat of a feel for the Amiyya (the colloquial).  While he used his fancy words to talk politics with the parents, I was able to comfortably speak in the language of the students.  Neither of us understood the other’s conversation very well.

I find myself remembering those dual conversations as I talk with the teachers, staff, and volunteers of TYO at the center.  While I largely understand them and they largely understand me, if the conversation leads to ‘high-brow’ topics such as politics or complicated discussions of work, I will quickly be lost.  However, everyone seems highly amused by my Lebanese accent.  I often have people ask me, “Say something in Lebanese.”  Or I hear hushed voices in Arabic whispering, “Yes he speaks Arabic, but he speaks Lebanese.”

The unyielding optimism, strength, and generosity of my students and the staff here in Nablus have only ever been matched by that of my students and coworkers in Lebanon.  Although I am gently teased here in Palestine both inside and outside of the classroom that ‘tHki mtl Lubnani’ [I speak like a Lebanese], I am extremely grateful that I have been able to experience both narratives.

– Mike, Fall 2016 EFL Fellow


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

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The Olive Harvest in Palestine: Teaching New Perspectives


In densely populated areas, it can be challenging for children and youth to find safe and open spaces to play freely. Many of TYO’s beneficiaries come from the Old City in Nablus and nearby refugee camps, which are heavily congested and offer limited prospects for healthy child development. In this week’s interview with Saba from the Old City, she shares how her daughter Aya, who is in the academic support program, has had the opportunity to connect with nature and learn through play at TYO.


Saba takes a break from her classes with The Women’s Group to enjoy the sunshine.

 Welcome Saba! Can you tell us about your family and how you got involved with TYO?

I am from the Old City in Nablus and I have been with my husband for twenty-eight years. I stopped attending school when I got married at fifteen years old and in grade nine.  I have eleven children, seven girls and four boys. My youngest child is six years old and the oldest is twenty-six years old. My children and I are both enrolled in TYO programs. I have two children in the Core Child Program and my daughter Aya is in the academic support program. Aya is nine years old and in the fourth grade. I am in my fourth session with The Women’s Group program that offers fitness and English classes.

Why did you decide to have your family join TYO?

I heard many positive things about TYO from different members of the Nablus community, so I decided to register my family approximately 2 years ago. In the Old City, there are not enough safe and open spaces for children to play freely and they need to expel their energy by running around. TYO is an environment where children can play, and of course, learn. TYO programs also provide the psychosocial and academic support that is necessary for healthy child development with their team of professional staff and volunteers. In addition to my children’s participation here, I needed a space for myself to unwind and focus on self-improvement. The idea of “girl time” varies by locality, and with eleven children and a husband, it can be hard to find time to be alone or to connect with other women. The fitness class is where I can escape from daily stressors to focus on my own strength and happiness. I have lost twenty-five kilograms so far and the health classes have taught me invaluable lessons about nutrition.

Congratulations Saba on your fitness achievements! You mentioned that TYO provides necessary psychosocial and academic support for children. Can you elaborate?

My daughter Aya is finishing up her second session with the academic support program. She generally does well in school, but there is always room for improvement. She can benefit from additional support in English and Arabic. From my observations, the extremely large classroom sizes in the local schools make it challenging for teachers to be able to reach every student based on individual needs. In this setting, the strong students continue to excel and the weaker students run the risk of getting left behind. If certain material is too challenging for Aya, it may be difficult for her to receive the extra assistance to understand new concepts. TYO fills this gap by giving her the academic support she needs to succeed.


Saba’s daughter Aya participates in the After-school Academic Support for Kids program.

Have you noticed any changes in Aya’s academic performance since starting the program?

At the moment, she is concentrating on improving her Arabic through dictation and grammar exercises. The results are obvious as she is much more confident and her writing has improved tremendously. In addition to her academic performance, she also demonstrates superior leadership skills to her younger siblings. They all sit together at home and share what they did at TYO. Aya will teach them any new games she learned and facilitates different activities.

Are there any other similar organizations in the Old City, and if so, why did you choose TYO?

There is another center that provides similar services in the Old City, but the free transportation make TYO an ideal option.  My children have made new friends from different areas of Nablus by leaving the Old City. The teaching style at TYO is also an excellent alternative to the memorization-based learning students receive at school. TYO has more resources and games as well, and even just riding the bus here is exciting! It is a fun addition to their everyday routine.

Can you think of a time when you were able to recognize the impact TYO programming was having on you and your family?

There have been all around improvements in communication amongst my children and me. When Aya comes home, she shares many stories about TYO and all the exciting things she did and learned with the rest of the family. For example, it is now the olive harvest season in Palestine and her teacher took them olive picking. She brought home the olives she collected in a jar and was proud to show everyone what she accomplished. There are no trees in the Old City, so this gave her the opportunity to connect with nature. There is a big distinction between life in the villages and life in the city; therefore, this experience provided her with meaningful new perspectives. I am also one of the many mothers that advocated for the launch of the academic program. We are all really excited about it, as it is still relatively new, and is the perfect extension to the existing academic vision at TYO. We all asked for it and eventually it happened. Shukran [thank you]!


Aya is a participant in the After-School Academic Support Program sponsored by Relief International. Saba is a participant in The Women’s Group. 

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

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Humans of Nablus 33



I majored in IT for my degree at An-najah University and have since struggled to find a job. Last session I decided to volunteer at TYO and it was so much fun. I learned I love working with children because they are silly and make me smile. When I am here I am filled with so much happiness. Now I know that I enjoy my time working with children more than IT, so I hope to find a job where children are the focus.

تخصصت بمجال التكنولوجيا في جامعة النجاح الوطنية ومنذ ذلك الحين وانا اواجه تحديات لايجاد وظيفة . الفصل الماضي قررت ان اتطوع بمنظمة شباب الغد وبالفعل كان وقتا ممتعا لانني ادركت بانني احب العمل مع الاطفال لانهم يتصرفون بطريقة مضحكة وعفوية تجعنلي ابتسم دائما وعندما اتواجد في هذا المكان اشعر بان السعادة تغمرني . اصبحت الان متاكدة من انني احب العمل مع الاطفال واستمتع بوقتي معهم اكثر من العمل ضمن تخصصي لذا اتمنى ان اجد وظيفة الان حيث الاطفال هم اساس العمل

Amnah is a volunteer with the After-School Academic Support for Kids program sponsored by Relief International.

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Being Uniquely Me and the Curiosity of New Friends

Learning together can be fun! EFL Fellow Mecca and a student

Learning together can be fun! A Core AM student learns about animals while EFL Fellow Mecca assists with a maze.

I arrived in Nablus having lived in an Arabic-speaking country and having lived in a more conservative environment before. Whenever I am placed in the aforementioned environments, there is a tendency to want to conform. However, the most the liberating of options is to just be me and welcome all questions about my differences and individuality as a opportunity for an unique kind of cultural exchange.

Since my arrival to Nablus it has been clear to me that I sometimes stand out for a number of reasons and that is ok because I was raised in culture where I was taught to celebrate differences.

Sometimes when local folk comment on the differences in my appearance, it comes in the form of a compliment or in the form of genuine curiosity. My natural response to these comments is usually to engage in conversation about my culture and my identity and hopefully open the door to ask those same individuals about theirs. The result is that I am oft times in a very unique position to engage in an amazing cultural dialogue.

Last week, myself along with the other fellows were standing just outside of the old city of Jerusalem preparing to travel back to Nablus. We were all standing in line to buy crepes from a street vendor when a group of about 5 girls and boys much younger and much shorter than I began to form a semi circle around me and stare pensively at the top of my head.  I could tell that they were curious about my hair, not being accustomed to seeing someone with my specific hair style and texture.  I then saw 10 different little hands reaching to grab handfuls of my hair to do their own on the spot empirical research.  Having a good height advantage, I just took a slight step back to evade their curious grip. I then smiled and said, “Please tell me all of your names.”

One by one they proudly shouted out their names: Chaiyma, Huda, Rania, Mohamed and Ahmed.  After closer inspection I noticed that they were all holding some kind of certificate. I asked them all to see their certificates and them congratulated them each one at a time. At that moment, their little pensive faces relaxed into smiles of pride. I then decided to open up the conversation to them asking questions about me including my country of origin and the texture of my hair, but with every question they asked me I countered with a question I had about them. It was after all my first trip to Jerusalem and here were 5 natives of the city already involved in conversation.

After 20 minutes all the crepes for our team were purchased and we were ready to go. The cool thing for me was I now had 5 new friends. I was no longer just a person standing out looking different and that made them curious. I was somebody who knew all of their names and had congratulated them on their awards. They had offered to share their iced coffee with me and in the end didn’t care so much about my hair or the things that made us different. I felt lucky to have been able to make five new mini friends in Jerusalem.

Mecca and mustache

EFL Fellow Mecca plays with the children of a Core AM class before the lesson begins.

Upon returning to Nablus I had a very similar experience working with the Core Child program students at TYO. I was assigned to work with 20 plus students ages ranging from 4-5 among the youngest at TYO. I have to admit I was a bit nervous when I entered the class. I hoped that my presence wouldn’t disrupt the overall class chemistry or cohesion. After all, I am from a foreign place where we speak a different language and have a very different culture.

Upon joining the class just as they were finishing up snack, the youngest of them all, 4 year Husun, pointed to my hair and smiled. I looked back, pressed a piece of my hair on my top lip to form a makeshift mustache, smiled back at her and said, “Shu [What]?” She then erupted into laughter as her classmate Initisar mimicked me by pressing a few strands of her hair over her top lip as well, we all laughed and the ice was broken. I was so relieved in this moment and all of my initial nerves just melted away.  We went on have a great class where we studied animal names in Arabic and English and practiced all the sounds that they make.

Afterwards I reflected on both interactions in Jerusalem and Nablus and thought if we all looked exactly alike, we would never have engaged in conversation at all. So the best approach is to engage across cultures is always to embrace my individuality and see it as a unique way to connect with and learn from new people.

– Mecca, Fall 2016 EFL Fellow


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

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