Blog

Playing to Learn at TYO

Tweet
Children in Jade's class learn through play

Children in Jade’s class learn through play

Five of my students stand upon the stage. One is holding a guitar, another is dressed up in a fake mustache, and two of them are having a tug-of-war match over a paper television remote. It’s all fiction of course. My after-school psychosocial class through TYO’s International Internship program is performing skits that they wrote about resolving family issues and by the end of the play, the two “siblings” involved in the argument come to an agreement, devising a way to share the remote.  The kids think that they’re just playing: I know, however, that these activities are encouraging them to think critically about important concepts including self-confidence, cooperation, respect, and problem-solving.

Play is critically important in a child’s life. Through play children utilize all senses, interacting with the world not just through books and academic lessons but also through taking on agency in their learning – creating, imagining, and facilitating games and activities on their own.TYO works with the most at-risk youth in Nablus, most of which come from the refugee camps in the area. The cramped conditions, lack of playgrounds or safe spaces to simply fulfill the child’s inclination to play furthers the stress and anxiety already present due to conditions of military occupation.

At Tomorrow’s Youth Organization, we aim to provide spaces in which kids can be kids. Bright classrooms, outdoor play areas, and ample space to move around make a world of difference in the lives of these children. In this environment, their leadership skills flourish and they learn to collaborate with classmates on ideas and strategies to further their aims in the classroom. Over the course of the past four weeks I have seen my students become more comfortable in a new environment of classmates from different refugee camps and neighborhoods, a foreign teacher, and a psychosocial curriculum that challenges them to grow beyond just academics. Whether it’s an English language art project, a team game, or drama activity, I am always impressed and inspired by the ingenuity displayed by my students and the clear gains that they are making at TYO.

TYO’s after-school program engages children through fun, safe activities that allow them to develop as individuals and community members. By incorporating English language activities as well, we are furthering this objective to foster a sense of global citizenship that will prepare our students for success in university and the professional sphere later on. In this way, we seek to empower the next generation of Palestinians by providing them with the tools necessary to be the leaders and change-makers of the future.TYO’s commitment to serving youth is rooted in the belief that positive change can and will come for Palestine. All it takes is belief in our children and youth, a commitment to serving them, and a bit of play.

-Jade is a Fall 2014 International Intern at TYO

Related posts:

Youth in Focus: An interview with Eyad Odeh

Tweet

Eyad Odeh is from Salfeet. He is a third year student at An-Najah National University studying Law.

Eyad leads a group of students in a trash collection activity

Eyad leads a group of students in a community service activity

What made you apply for STEP!?

There were several reasons I opted to apply for STEP! I felt it would be a good opportunity to improve my personal and professional skills, particularly my communication skills as I knew I’d be working with a wide variety of people – both young children and foreigners. Additionally, I liked the idea of being able to help children in my community. I think it is important that young and able youth like myself direct their energy at causes that will improve their communities.

What new skills have your learned through the program?

Since joining the program I’ve improved my ability to work with both children and adults- varying my method of communication depending on who I’m speaking to. I’ve also developed my time management skills- an improvement that I’ve noticed has carried over to other facets of my life as I’ve become more organized. Through leading groups of children at TYO I’ve also improved my leadership and teamwork skills.  Regarding teamwork, it’s particularly helpful that we work with the same group of students and volunteers throughout the session as this gives us the opportunity to learn how to collaborate effectively with our peers.

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

Though I haven’t completely decided, I am considering an additional 2 years of law training so I can work as a lawyer, or I may continue my current work at the Department of Land and Real Estate, as I’ve been working there as a legal aide for the last 6 months. TYO has helped to bridge the gap between academic life and the real job market. The trainings we receive help to put our work as volunteers into perspective as to how we are impacting the community at large. Additionally, the professional development trainings at TYO have been really beneficial in preparing us for the job market.

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

I think the biggest challenge facing youth entering the labor market is that there is a big gap between academic life and the job market.  Recent graduates don’t have the needed job skills since such skills are not addressed in studies. University is spent discussing theories and concepts, rather than teaching students hard skills that can be applied to the real world. This is why the volunteer opportunities are so important, as they provide one of the few chances for youth in Palestine to be exposed to real world activities before officially entering the workforce.

-Interview conducted by Volunteer Coordinator, Ruba Hafayda

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

Related posts:

Play to Grow: TYO’s Experiential Learning Model

Tweet
Children in Claire's class learn through play

Children in Claire’s class learn through play

The act of play is an instinctual and fundamental part of childhood. When the fourth and fifth grade students in my afternoon intern classes rush into TYO, full of enthusiasm, it is clear that these students not only want to play, but they also need play as an outlet for this uncontainable energy. Throughout my first few weeks teaching in Nablus, I quickly learned that play is the most productive and beneficial means for this age group to learn, develop, and explore.

In addition to the immediate pleasure children get from playing, there are also long-term emotional, cognitive, and physical benefits to unrestrained play. Stuart Brown, president of the National Institute for Play discusses these benefits in his TED talk, Play is more than just fun, arguing that it is crucial to integrate play into our lives to promote healthy development. Play encourages the natural curiosity that children possess, which positively reinforces curiosity in other environments such as the classroom. Students are encouraged to think creatively when they play, promoting innovative problem solving when they are challenged in math, science, or art class. Finally, social play is central to creating a sense of belonging and community among classmates.

The curriculum for the afternoon intern classes covers similar topics of identity, belonging, and community, and I’ve utilized play as a tool for students to explore these complex subjects in an experiential way. Students have played tag, participated in treasure hunts and obstacle courses, raced each other, and played different team sports. Students are consistently engaged and enthusiastic during these classes. For many students, being at TYO is one of the only opportunities they have to play in an open, safe environment. The majority of TYO’s beneficiaries are residents of Nablus’ refugee camps, where physical space is constrained and population growth continues to impede upon children’s freedom to play. Besides the positive association my students have developed between outdoor play and learning, students also have the opportunity to develop social relationships with new peers. Due to the insular nature of the refugee camps, students have little opportunity to interact with peers from other communities. By learning through play, students are breaking down social barriers while simultaneously developing behavioral skills like teamwork and communication.

This type of experiential learning has been particularly effective in our afternoon English classes. Because language use is inherently social, the most effective means to learn a foreign language is through social interactions. Using play as a means to engage all the senses, the students are learning alternative ways to engage with English rather than just through a textbook. English has become more accessible and less intimidating to students whose strengths may lie outside of classic learning models. One of the greatest challenges to language learning is a lack of self-confidence while speaking. By giving students the opportunity to play without the fear of making mistakes, their confidence in English soars and so does the level of classroom participation. This confidence is transferrable to both academic and personal settings, yet another benefit of learning a foreign language.

At TYO, we foster students’ imaginations and channel their energy into positive learning environments. Rather than stifle the natural predisposition that my students have to play, we will jump, climb, explore, and run as a means to learning about subjects ranging from family relations to the English alphabet. Students will develop optimism, creativity, and openness through play, but, most importantly, they will have fun!

-Claire is a Fall 2014 International Intern at TYO

Related posts:

Teaching collaboration to build a stronger community

Tweet
Children in Shreen's Core PM class show off their projects.

Children in Shreen’s Core PM class show off their projects.

Human nature dictates that a child’s first instinct is to satisfy his or her own needs before developing an awareness of the needs of those around them. It isn’t until roughly the age of three that children are developmentally prepared to start thinking about and sharing with others. At this point, in a healthy environment, a child’s perception begins to slowly mature as they observe the concept of collaboration being modeled in front of them by family members. This constant spirit of sharing and support helps to root the idea of collaboration as a value within children, consequently enabling them to grow to become responsible and contributing members of society.

However, children exposed to violence, trauma, or otherwise oppressive environments at a young age tend to retreat back into themselves and become more selfish in order to ensure their basic needs are fulfilled. Further, ongoing exposure to traumatic events triggers the release of stress hormones, which in young children, can be harmful not only to a child’s physical well-being, but can also have a lasting impact on a child’s emotional development. There is ‘a concern is that these changes may affect the way traumatized children and adolescents respond to danger and future stresses in their lives.’ Children growing up in such environments are at risk of not fully advancing through the normal stages of development. This can have lasting consequences not only on their own mental and physical well-being, but also on the health and efficacy of the community to which they belong, as children never learn how to build trust and work together in order make positive contributions to their community

Given that many of TYO’s beneficiaries come from the UNRWA administered refugee camps in Nablus, most have been exposed to the harsh realities of a tense political situation in which night military raids are common and arrests of family members- including at times young siblings- are ongoing. As such, TYO’s psychosocial curriculum aims to addresses the developmental needs of children that most often go unmet in homes because of the complex environment in which they are growing up. Week 4 of the Core Child Program thus focuses on communication and collaboration.

Teachers in the Core Child Program report that this tends to be a challenging week as they are met with resistance from children to the idea of sharing. One activity during the week places children in small groups in which they collaborate to develop imagined communities. They work together to create and environment, establish which characters are present in the environment, and create roles for each of the characters. Initially children were reluctant to work together- which came across both through words – ‘this is mine’- and actions. However, by mid-week, children showed some improvement in their willingness to collaborate. By the end of the week, children proudly showed off their creations. It is this sense of pride in accomplishment obtained through group work that helps to slowly build the value of collaboration.

While lasting behavioral changes can not be made in a week alone, as teachers continue to build on the concepts and reward positive behavior, it is the goal that by the end of the session children will have incorporated these lessons and make positive gains towards their cognitive, emotional, and physical development.

 

Children in Mahmoud's Core PM class work together

Children in Mahmoud’s Core PM class work together

- Shireen Issa, Core Child Teacher and Jessica Dargiel, Deputy Director

Related posts:

Stress Tests: Looking Beyond Exams

Tweet

 

Jade leads a professional development seminar

Jade leads a professional development seminar

It’s that time again: midterm exams at An-Najah University. Many of TYO’s STEP! volunteers are current students, and in recent days the dark circles under their eyes have not gone unnoticed. Balancing university and volunteer commitments can be challenging, especially with a university culture that values high exam marks over everything. Many students in Palestine are painfully aware of the emphasis placed on their test scores before they ever enter university; the university application process does not consider extracurricular activities or outside talents. In the last year of high school, the Tawjihe exam determines a students’ fate, and this exam-heavy academic culture continues throughout their university years.

Each Sunday and Thursday Claire and I facilitate discussion in a Leadership Development course at An Najah National University with topics covering everything from communication and teamwork to interview preparedness. During these sessions, we have the opportunity to engage with university students on issues that are important to them, and the challenges they face in preparing for life after they earn their degree. Time and time again, students have voiced the competitive nature of the exams in university and the anxiety caused by these tests. Because the pressure surrounding these tests is so high, they must dedicate as much time as possible to ensuring that they can get the right answers, impeding on time and incentive to engage in activities and opportunities beyond the university classroom. This fosters a university culture that does little to support activities through which students can gain significant experience and benefit including volunteer programs, internships, and clubs or organizations.

In a discussion I had with a university student last week she stated, “The exams cater to only the highest-ranking students. Everyone studies so hard simply to compete, but almost everyone is very qualified and does well on the exam. Some of the marks just come down to chance – and yet we do not know how to apply this knowledge outside of the classroom.”

TYO’s STEP! volunteers are challenged to take their knowledge and apply it outside of the box through direct engagement with the local community, developing practical skills that increase their professional capacities, and understanding how they can make an impact in Palestine. Their talents, real-world experience, and hard work could not possibly be captured by black-and-white exam marks. Sometimes referred to as the “tyranny of the quantifiable,” because numbers lend themselves to ranking students. Qualitative aspects of student ability like charisma, experience, ingenuity, and work ethic cannot be captured in such a way, and there are currently few means of capturing these very important factors through graded assessments. Human capital is more than just an exam mark, and the successes of volunteers display the efficacy of programs that take students out of the classroom to develop the professional skills that they will need to be successful.

While exams are necessary for measuring student retention and understanding of course material, they are not the end-all-be-all indicators of student ability. To meet the challenges and demands of the modern world, students must have access to programs that bring their lessons to life – through volunteering, internships, or practicums that apply their learning in a tangible setting. A recent study has revealed that an increasing amount of employers find new graduates to be unready for an ever-changing job market, citing lack of leadership, critical thinking, and organization as issues that bar students from being truly ready to enter their career fields In the modern day, one must have more than just a degree to be competitive in the job market. By fostering a university culture that encourages community and career engagement outside of the classroom, we can expose students to real-world problems in their fields of choice and instill them with the confidence to tackle these issues head-on.

In Khalil Gibran’s famous book The Prophet, he states, “A little knowledge that acts is worth infinitely more than much knowledge that is idle.” We must encourage university students to look beyond their exams and conceptualize ways in which they may activate their learning in their society. Through this mindset, we will see the fruits of their academic labors in the productivity and successes of their work.

-Jade is a Fall 2014 International Intern at TYO

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

Related posts:

Youth in Focus: An Interview with Sameer Adham

Tweet

Sameer Adham is from Nablus. He is a third year student at An Najah National University and is majoring in Finance.

Samer assists children in the IT lab

Samer assists children in the IT lab

What made you apply for STEP!?

I am always looking for new opportunities to better my skills, so when I saw the advertisement for STEP!, I was immediately interested. But what really caught my eye about the STEP! program was the chance to work with disadvantaged children from within my community. I like the idea of being able to make a positive impact on my community while at the same time being able to train myself for the future to be a good father.

What new skills have your learned through the program?

The two most important things I’ve learned thus far are patience and leadership. Working with young children requires an exceptional amount of patience- both with yourself and with the children. As I was learning the most effective techniques for interacting with children, I needed to be patient with myself when I wasn’t always successful. Additionally, working with children inherently requires patience, as they are very energetic and not always prone to following direction. Through this, I’ve also been developing my leadership skills as I’ve been learning how to control the class in a positive way. In general, I’m content with the progress I’ve been making in the classroom. The psycho-social trainings I have taken at TYO have been very helpful- not only in teaching me new skills to lead children, but also by challenging me to better understand myself and my own abilities.

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

I would like to continue on to a Masters program once I complete my undergraduate studies. Ultimately I would like to start my own company. The trainings I’m receiving at TYO are very helpful in preparing me for what to expect when I complete my studies- most particularly, how to write a CV and how to prepare for a job interview.

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

The biggest challenge facing today’s youth in Palestine is the lack of job opportunities. That being said, I believe that with hard work and a focus on self-improvement there is a chance to succeed. In terms of self-improvement, taking advantage of every professional development opportunity and getting as much experience as possible will really help to differentiate ourselves from other graduates; we’ll all have university certificates, but we won’t have all put in an equal amount of effort to improving ourselves. It’s that extra effort that should really make the difference when it comes to job opportunities- simply put, some people work harder and deserve the opportunities more than others.

-Interview conducted by Volunteer Coordinator, Ruba Hafayda

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

Related posts:

Expectations Versus Reality: Identifying Challenges for University Students in Palestine

Tweet
International Intern, Claire leads a professional development workshop for Palestinian youth.

International Intern, Claire leads a professional development workshop for Palestinian youth.

Last week in the TYO blog, I described the lack of preparedness that many Palestinian university students feel when they enter the labor market. This week, I asked current students at An-Najah University and recent graduates to identify what they believed were the greatest challenges they faced while attending university. Overwhelmingly, students identified a gap that exists between the expectations given to them by professors and the reality of what they are able to accomplish given the socioeconomic and political environment in which they live.

One of my volunteers and my translator, Amani, wants to be an English teacher in Palestine. In order to gain her qualifications, Amani’s university required a one-year practicum in teaching English. However, no school that Amani approached was willing to host her so that she could accomplish her training. Rather, the schools told her that they would sign the necessary documents that indicated that she had successfully completed her practicum when, in reality, she gained no experience. The reason for the schools’ refusals was that they were under pressure to implement a mandated curriculum, and they lacked the time and resources necessary to accommodate Amani. The immediate outcome of this gap is that Amani was not prepared or qualified to teach English upon graduation, and she had to seek additional qualifications after obtaining her degree. Amani’s experience is not an exceptional case, and it gives insight into the high rate of unemployment for university graduates. The financial constraints on graduates prevent many from seeking this additional, necessary training after having to bear the burden of high tuition fees for their education.

The financial limitations under which Palestinian schools and universities operate lead to a deprivation of resources for their students. Due to funding shortages, An-Najah University has increased the number of registered students to financially support itself. Consequently, class sizes have grown and the quality of education suffers because students receive less individual attention. In our leadership course at An-Najah, I’ve witnessed how the class size inhibits a student’s capacity and motivation to reach his or her academic potential. The course typically has between 100 and 150 students, and when we have large group discussions, I can tell that students struggle to pay attention and understand the material, especially because we lead the class in English. When we work in small groups, however, I am consistently impressed by the students’ self-confidence in sharing their ideas and expressing themselves in English. Small class size is conducive to developing soft-skills such as confidence, teamwork, and leadership that are necessary to be a competitive candidate for employment.

Additionally, students told me that university courses do not train students for the hard-skills that employers in Palestine require. The students I spoke with especially emphasized the lack of training in English and IT. Apparently, all exams at An-Najah University are conducted in English, unless the exams are specifically for Arabic studies. Students struggle to succeed because even if they are knowledgeable about the material, they cannot communicate in English to demonstrate this knowledge. Additional courses in English and IT will not only make students more competitive to enter the labor market in Palestine, but these are also necessary skills to increase graduates’ access to the global job market. The most recent World Bank report on the Palestinian economy highlights how the Palestinian market has become increasingly fragmented, creating uncertainty and lower economic productivity. The restrictions on the movement of people and goods created by the occupation are overwhelming obstacles for Palestinian university graduates seeking employment. Universities need to focus on training such as IT and English so that graduates may have increased access to a larger labor market and, subsequently, a greater chance of success. The economic state of Palestine is a reality that students must face upon graduation, but it is not one that should deter them from pursuing their personal and professional goals.

-Claire is a Fall 2014 International Intern at TYO

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

Related posts:

Won’t you be my neighbor?

Tweet
A child in Core AM shows off her neighborhood

A child in Core AM shows off her neighborhood

TYO’s Core Child Program encourages creativity, allowing children to use their imaginations to re-imagine the world. The dynamic psychosocial program, which was recently enhanced in partnership with Columbia University, utilizes an array of methods within the primary spheres of development- cognitive, physical, and emotional- to train children to consider their experiences through multiple lenses. In doing so, TYO hopes to lay the groundwork for a more analytical and empathic generation of leaders.

The psychosocial curriculum is designed in what can be imagined as a series of concentric circles, with each week building upon the last. Following last week’s focus on family, this week children in the Core AM program are learning about neighborhoods. While seemingly straightforward, this can be a rather confusing concept for TYO’s youngest beneficiaries- most of whom are growing up in large extended families.  For these children, their families are also their neighbors and thus the main challenge for children in this week is to add a new lens through which to view members of their extended family- ‘neighbor.’ Core Child Teacher Ahmed explains that children in his class were surprised to learn that their neighbors could be a mix of both family and strangers. For most children, this revelation piqued their interest in learning more about their surroundings- wanting to learn about all of their neighbors- not just the family who happens to be neighbors.

As children learn about neighborhoods, they also learn how their own behaviors can impact others within the community- consequently learning about boundaries and acceptable behavior. Children growing up in large extended families are accustomed to being disciplined from multiple sources- parents, older siblings, older cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc. Ongoing feedback from such a variety of sources tends to overwhelm young children and makes it difficult for them to focus when first placed in a more structured environment- such as they will encounter in a formal academic setting. Given this fact, TYO places considerable emphasis on providing children with a predictable daily routine to help them develop the focus needed to excel in school. In doing so, TYO helps children to develop healthy boundaries, which in turn teaches children how to behave and interact in a broad range of life situations and relationships. That being said, establishing boundaries can not be effectively mastered in a week and as such this physical development goal is carried throughout the duration of the Core Child Program.

Ahmed helps a child in Core AM construct his neighborhood

Ahmed helps a child in Core AM construct his neighborhood

- Ahmed Al Khateeb, Core Child Teacher and Jessica Dargiel, Deputy Director

Related posts:

FWEME Beneficiaries Celebrate the End of BLC, English, and IT Training Courses

Tweet
TYO-Lebanon FWEME entrepreneurs

TYO-Lebanon FWEME entrepreneurs

The value of  providing women’s empowerment programming to women in underdeveloped communities and in regions were they have traditionally been left behind in the workforce can not be overstated. It is clear by the level of investment globally from foundations, NGOs, governments, and the private sector that this idea is well accepted. With women making up half the potential workforce, successful economies truly depend on the contribution of women. Given the high level of female unemployment and the political instability of the Arab region, much effort has been made to encourage women to enter the labor market in an effort to boost and stabilize the local economies- with entrepreneurship being the foremost way to encourage women to take ownership over their own economic situations. Based on the experience of investors, female entrepreneurs see the world through a different lens, often bringing a more human touch to the businesses they start. However, regardless of the general atmosphere created in female run business, in order to be successful, entrepreneurs require access to training to help develop their skills- both hard skills (accounting, IT, language) and soft skills (creativity, confidence).

TYO-Lebanon has worked tirelessly to provide such training for women in the FWEME project. Opportunities provided include:

  • Training and support for business expansion, with particular focus on marketing, accounting, and distribution.
  • Promoting the participation of women in accessing to finance through loans.
  • Leading, following, and directing the development of the business.
  • Initial training and individual coaching.
  • BLC, English and IT training courses.

The TYO- Lebanon beneficiaries made great progress through the duration of the project and worked very hard to reach the final phase of the program. Working with their business coaches, the women developed unique business models and maintained a strong commitment to environmentally responsible business practices. TYO-L has always been dedicated to leading women entrepreneurs to create transformational innovation, growth, and impact.

 -TYO Lebanon

Related posts:

Youth Employment in Palestine: Stakes and Challenges

Tweet
International Intern class leads a professional development class at An Najah National University

International Intern Jade leads a professional development class at An Najah National University

The unemployment rate among youth is one of the most salient challenges facing Palestinians today, as young people struggle to effectively navigate an already unstable job market.  TYO seeks to tackle these issues head-on through critical engagement with youth in Nablus, from early childhood education to the Student Training & Employability Program (STEP!). TYO is committed to preparing young people to be leaders of the coming generation and to building a stronger future for Palestine.

Through TYO’s partnership with An-Najah National University, International Interns are invited to work with university students by facilitating lectures and workshops on leadership and professional development. In these sessions, students are challenged to look into the future beyond university and realistically assess the areas in which they need growth. Many students lack confidence in their ability to effectively network, apply, or interview for a job. TYO Interns plan weekly exercises to hone such skills and prepare students for life beyond their degree.

Last week, Claire and I asked students in an An-Najah course on Leadership Development to consider how their passions and motivations connected to their career plans. As I walked through the rows of students, I was beckoned by a young woman who responded to these inquiries with a question of her own.

“What if we are unable to follow our passions?” she asked me. “In some cases, students cannot study what they want because they must consider if there is money in it. Other times, their parents are pushing them to study medicine or engineering for family pride. Besides, most students here are not even thinking about the future – they are too focused on getting high marks now. That is where the pressure is.”

I was not only impressed by this student’s engagement with the material, but also by the fervor with which she spoke. Her concerns expressed a real issue faced by university students. More young Palestinians are attending university than ever before, finishing degrees with high marks. Despite this fact young people in Palestine are under-prepared to face the job market, especially in a volatile economic climate further complicated by military occupation.

In this context, it is not enough to depend on higher education alone to solve the youth unemployment problem. Institutions must invest in models that allow students to leverage their talents to be proactive and effective in seeking employment. In doing so, Palestine can ensure that talented individuals become young professionals ready for the workforce.

-Jade is a Fall 2014 International Intern at TYO

STEP! is funded by the Abdel Hameed Shoman Foundation (AHSF).

Related posts: