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Singing and Dancing My Way Through Nablus

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On my third day at TYO I spotted a guitar in the corner of an office. I could feel my heart beating faster with excitement as I asked if I could use the instrument and was delighted with the positive response. It was a small acoustic guitar that was perpetually out of tune, but simply having it brought me too much joy to care about the slightly off sound.

 My happiness from finding the guitar didn’t stem from my direct love for playing music. Instead, the excitement was rooted in what the guitar could create. Music and dancing have always been the most important ways that I connect and identify with my own culture and with other cultures. When traveling to a place that presents a significant language barrier for me, I have found that music allows us to facilitate a connection that may have been thought impossible. Sometimes this connection can be even stronger than ones formed only with words. Finding the guitar meant more than music, it meant community.

Connor blog

I began writing silly little songs to sing to the children in order to help them remember words in English. Quickly, I noticed how these little five and six year olds went from shy and standoffish around me, to jumping, singing, dancing machines.

It didn’t take long for the children to tell their mothers in my women’s group to see how much I enjoyed music, and the ladies became eager to show me how to sing and dance the Palestinian way. No matter the age, all it took was a little bit of music to spark an infectious lively spirit inside the room each day. They would cheer and clap along as we danced around the room.

Yalla! Sing like me!

Slowly, someone would teach me a few lines of a song. I would try to emulate the vibrant and dynamic words coming from their mouths, but the Arabic was heavy and rough in my throat, making everyone laugh at my attempt to speak their language. But just like the out of tune guitar, it was okay that my words were a little out of tune as well.

Over the course of my time at TYO I sang with people who didn’t know my songs, and I didn’t know theirs. I danced with people who didn’t know my language, and I didn’t know theirs. All that mattered was the music and the people. My gratitude to those that I met during my time in Nablus is undying. I have never been to a place where I have been so quickly and warmly accepted into. Thank you for sharing your city, your culture, and your music with me.

 

Connor, Spring 2017 International Intern

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From the TV Screen Straight to the Heart

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Core student Mohammad smiles as he works on a project during art class.

Core student Mohammad smiles as he works on a project during art class.

Over the past two years, the term refugee has moved from humanitarian development circles into living rooms around the world as international crisis and crisis force men, women, and children to flee their homes for safety. From the flicker of the television screen and cultural, linguistic, political, and religious divides, it can be difficult to process the lives of those living as refugees. Palestinian American poet, songwriter, and novelist Naomi Shihab Nye stated, “You know, those of us who leave our homes in the morning and expect to find them there when we go back- it’s hard for us to understand what the experience of a refugee might be like.”

As with any unfamiliar situation, education is vital to understanding what we personally do not experience. According to The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), there are 21.3 million refugees in 2017, including 5.2 million Palestinian refugees registered by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). Statistics from UNHCR also show that out of 21.3 million refugees, over half are under the age of 18.

Refugee children have their lives disrupted in such a way that the impact runs deep into their core. Being a child and finding your place in a large world is challenging and requires innocent bravery and acts of courage. This transition through childhood to adulthood is eased for those with familial support and strong roots of community. Knowing who you are and where you come from is a key part of the foundation of identity that everyone experiences.

For children growing up in a refugee camp, the journey of recognizing identity can be especially challenging as they seek to learn who they are in a location seemingly temporary. The refugee camps of Ein, Balata, and Old and New Askar within the city of Nablus have existed for generations, resulting in children whose have difficulties recognizing who they are beyond the singular experience of being a refugee. Without opportunities to try new activities, space to play, and safety to meet other children from different parts of the city, kids cannot grow through use of their imagination in a healthy way.

The struggle of identity, disruption of education, and loss of security and safety in their lives are common experience of students of TYO’s Core program. TYO approach of comprehensive development, sustainable impact, and cultural diplomacy, as well as the method of using non-traditional holistic educational techniques seeks to provide a space for children to learn, play, and grow. Children from different areas of the city and all the refugee camps come to TYO and have a safe space to learn, but also to explore who they are and what makes them special. The freedom to try different activities, sing, dance, and play with adults who meet the students where they are mentally and emotionally is vital for refugee children’s development. Whether time is spent painting a masterpiece, singing a song, or practicing the ABCs, time spent with children to help them find self-worth and hope is always time well spent.

As adults, the responsibility to support and encourage children is one that cannot be forsaken. As the world focuses on the impersonal facts of refugee movement such economic and political impacts, let us not forget the people, especially the children, that make up the figures and numbers. Join us today, June 20, in celebrating World Refugee Day and the amazing children we are fortunate to know.

 

Lindsey, International Internship & Fellowship Coordinator

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Nablus: A Hidden Paradise

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One of my favorite new Arabic words that I’ve learned in Nablus is bejannan. A local staff member at TYO translated this word to me as a descriptor for something so overwhelmingly beautiful that it incites madness in onlookers. When I think of Nablus, I think, “Bejannan.” There is so much beauty in this city— in its people, in its landscape, in the rich culture of Palestinians—and TYO will always hold a special place in my heart for giving me the opportunity to be here.

Haya poses with the Palestinian flag on a sunny day in Sebastia, a village on the outskirts of Nablus

Haya poses with the Palestinian flag on a sunny day in Sebastia, a village on the outskirts of Nablus

As I enter into my last week at TYO, my eyes well up with tears at the thought of leaving Nablus, and I feel myself trying to savor and grasp every moment I have here, like someone fumbling in the dark, trying to find her way. The majestic Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal. The iconic olive trees. Glowing minarets. The obedient calls to prayer. The birds singing outside all day. And this is of the place alone, so what of the people who live here? Perhaps poet and Palestinian national icon Mahmoud Darwish said it best when he stated, “Palestinian people are in love with life.” Dignified and resilient, passionately open and generous, Palestinians are a joy to be with. As I’ve joked with fellow interns and volunteers, Palestinians can turn any occasion into a party with by simply turning on some music and dancing along.

Haya and her Core AM students and volunteers smile for a photo together

Haya and her Core AM students and volunteers smile for a photo together

Here in Nablus, everyone has been my teacher, teaching me Arabic and about Palestinian culture and daily life. My students— 4 to 5 year-olds and the future of Nablus— have been my greatest teachers for showing me how to cultivate joy in the mundane. As I mentioned in my earlier blog post, I struggled with easing into the flow of teaching during my first few weeks of their internship program, because I’d get so stuck in my head while lesson-planning that I’d unknowingly over-complicate my lessons and activities. After being around kids for long enough, you start to be a kid again, re-calibrating one’s ability to view life through a lens of simplicity. Sure enough, as I simplified my lesson plans, I learned that it was the most easy and straight-forward activities that lit up my students the most. Life in Nablus has been like this: simple, yet full of unimaginable joy.

Haya's favorite view from her room in Nablus

Haya’s favorite view from her room in Nablus

Each morning I try to etch the beauty of Nablus into my memory by opening my window and gazing at the beautiful view from my room that includes the tree-covered mountains and a lone olive tree. American poet E.E. Cummings famously wrote the line, “I carry you in my heart,” and this is how I feel about Nablus. Nablus is a place I will always remember and carry in my heart for all that that this beautiful city and its people have taught me.

 

Haya, Spring 2017 International Intern

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Celebrate Kids on International Children’s Day!

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Happy International Children’s Day! In 1925, The World Conference for the Well-Being of Children in Geneva, Switzerland declared June 1st as International Children’s Day in an effort to raise awareness about the unique issues children face as they learn and grow in an adult world.

Fred Rogers, American television personality and creator and host of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, stated, “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” Here at TYO, we couldn’t agree more!

Core students hold their water balloons as they prepare for a balloon toss.

Core students Minna and Yoseph hold their water balloons as they prepare for a balloon toss.

Two Core students progress to the next round of the water balloon toss while their classmates watch the contest.

Two Core students Hoor and Yasmine progress to the next round of the water balloon toss while their classmates watch the contest.

Core teacher Ahmad plays with his students during the water balloon toss.

Core teacher Ahmad plays with his students during the water balloon toss.

A Core class participates in a relay race. Each team must carefully fill a bottle with water using only a small cup. Challenges can be fun!

A Core class participates in a relay race. Each team must carefully fill a bottle with water using only a small cup. Challenges can be fun!

Core student smiles as he rushes to fill the bottle to help his team win the race.

Core student Zain smiles as he rushes to fill the bottle to help his team win the race.

For the children of TYO, of Nablus, and Palestine, the freedom to be child- to play, run, sing, create, learn, and laugh- is vital to growth and happiness. We welcome you to play and celebrate International Children’s Day!

 

Lindsey, International Internship and Fellowship Coordinator

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Goodbye Nablus, at Least for Now

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Being assigned to write a blog regarding my experiences here in Palestine is something which I find to be deceiving in its façade of simplicity. How to encapsulate three busy and complex months’ worth of adventures and thoughts so abstract from my daily life at home in a way that conveys the true process and learning that I have had is difficult. Reflecting on being an intern at TYO is like rapidly flicking through a photo album without a pause for thought. There are so many emotions and details to ponder, but an insufficient amount of time in which to do so. Do I talk about the uniqueness of the TYO centre, the culture and cuisine, or the beauty of the land here?

Chilling by the sea

Chilling by the sea

Given that it’s my last week here, I have been processing my departure every now and then: What will I miss? What can I do in the final days before I leave? How do I feel about glimpsing into lives here before being jerked back into my reality of home in Western Europe? What history will unfold here in the next few months and years? Some of these questions are easier to answer than others. The latter is something which I cannot explore here, but I hope it involves the white dove of peace.

Playing at the park with Mo'ayyad, Elya and Ahmad

Playing at the park with Mo’ayyad, Elya and Ahmad

For me, it is clear what I will miss most. As I outlined in my first blog, the people are always the center of my lasting memory when I travel. Indeed, sites, cuisine, culture, and climate all contribute to this but overwhelmingly, it is those I meet who will stay imprinted in my mind. It would be false for me to assert that every encounter I had here was positive. Naturally, there are bad interactions as there are good. What strikes me here though is the number of warm, welcoming, and friendly people I have found here in Palestine. It is them, their laughter, their ideas, and the light that shone from them that I will miss most.

Clowning around with soccer volunteers Samer and Mohammad

Clowning around with soccer volunteers Samer and Mohammad

It is sad to be counting down the days until the end but, alas, it cannot be avoided at this point. Not knowing what the future will hold for Palestine is not a reassuring or exciting prospect for me, but it is something which I try not to focus on. Instead of being unhappy and worried about what may happen, I prefer to think about how thankful I am for having had this opportunity. Being upset at leaving this place demonstrates to me that I enjoyed my time here, that I made the most of my experiences and that I did the right thing by coming to Nablus. For that I am truly grateful and who knows, maybe one day soon I can come back. In the meantime, I will take a small piece of Palestine with me in my heart. I hope that I can return here at some point to learn, grow, and laugh some more.

Inshallah (God willing).

Beautiful Palestine

Good bye, beautiful Palestine

 

 

Niamh, Spring 2017 International Intern

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Lonely No More: An Interview With Minna

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Minna_ Core

Minna is 3rd grade student from the neighborhood of Khallet al Amood. She heard about TYO from her friends at school. The students were enrolled in the Core program and told Minna about the activities they do and how fun they have at TYO. After hearing about the opportunity to play with other kids her age, Minna decided to register for the Core Child Program. This is Minna’s first session at TYO.

Hi, Minna! Why did you decide to enroll in the Core Child Program at TYO?

The main reason I decided to join TYO is there is no one to play with at home. There is a large age gap between my sister and me. She comes home after 5 pm because of work, so I spent a lot of time at home without someone to play with. I want to be in a place where I am safe and can play with other children. I always want to come to TYO. I have perfect attendance because there is someone to help me with my homework, especially in English and Arabic, and we do fun activities in the classroom.

How are your experiences at TYO difference than school?

At school, there are many girls in the classroom and they shout to be heard over each other. At TYO, everything is very organized and disciplined. The teachers at TYO respect children and they respect us. I want to be a doctor when I grow up because I learned at TYO that we need to help others. I can help others, especially poor people, by contributing my time to help those in need.

What have you learned at TYO?

We are learning how to be responsible inside the classroom and how to be a leader. The two best students chosen by the teacher will take responsibility and lead the class for the day. Last week, while we were playing outside, we learned about cooperation and sharing. While we are playing, we shouldn’t fight and should play in a peaceful way. We should play for fun, not as a competition.

Have you noticed any particular changes in yourself since starting the Core Child Program?

I used to be lonely and wouldn’t talk much because there was no one to talk to at home. My sister is older than I am and comes home late from work, so I spent a lot of time alone. Now I have started to be more social and to play with more kids. Core classes are only 2 hours, but this is time for me to play with other kids.

I also used to be bullied by other kids and they would hit me. I think I had a weak personality that would attract other kids to bother me. Now I think I have a stronger personality. I can find support and can find someone to help me if something happens in the street.

What has been your favorite experience at TYO?

I love the Fishing Game the most! All the students move around the classroom like they are in water. Two kids have small balls that they toss at the moving students. If a ball taps a student, they are caught like a fish. We must be quiet and concentrate on how to stay away from the balls to stay in the game. The purpose of the game is to help us learn to be patient and practice our discipline. The students catching the fish must concentrate. It is a very fun game!

Will you keep coming to TYO in the future?

Yes, I will keep coming to TYO forever.

 

Minna is a participant in the Core Child Program

– Interview conducted by Lindsey, International Internship & Fellowship Coordinator, and translated by Futoon, TYO Outreach Coordinator.

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From Head to Heart: A Journey into Nablus

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In her acclaimed Ted Talk on the power of vulnerability, Brene Brown, explains that the human experiences of courage, authenticity, empathy, and connection are deeply interconnected to vulnerability and shame. In short, courage and authenticity are born from the willingness to lay our guards down and step into our vulnerabilities, essentially opening our hearts and expressing how we feel, instead of numbing ourselves from the dark, messy aspects of our lives that make us feel shame. Unfortunately, when we shut ourselves away from the “bad,” we also miss out on the “good” and the best experiences that life has to offer, such as love and joy.

On a communal level, when individuals allow themselves to live from a place of vulnerability and authenticity, communities grounded in empathy and connection are brought to life. I’m grateful to witness this wholehearted way of living in Nablus and particularly at TYO where the local staff and volunteers radiate warmth, love, joy, and openness. Despite the plethora of challenges that can deter them, the staff and volunteers continue to show up and do their part to foster a space for current and future generations of youth and women to be themselves and envision a more hopeful future. As an intern, I’ve also felt graciously welcomed at TYO as a part of the community here. I will always remember the thoughtful gifts I’ve received from locals-from my favorite dessert to scarves and flowers–as reminders of the warmth and generosity I’ve experienced in Nablus.

TYO Core Teacher Fawz and Haya spend time together in a Core classroom.

TYO Core Teacher Fawz and Haya spend time together in a Core classroom.

Before coming to Nablus, I knew that I was in store for a challenging but rewarding experience at TYO, and surely enough, I’ve found myself growing and being challenged in unprecedented ways since my arrival. Here at TYO, the educational programming provided for youth and women is centered around empowerment and holistic well-being, which includes mental and emotional health education. While children and youth here learn about concepts such as respect and cooperation, they are also taught how to acknowledge, understand, and embrace their emotions. While watching my students learn about emotion, I’ve also been re-learning how to connect with myself and feel safe with my emotions, an inner landscape that had previously been uncomfortable territory for me. Being surrounded by the wonderful staff here has also been teaching me to be open with myself and to not let the daily stresses of work and life get in the way of finding joy in the small things. There is so much more that I have been gaining from my experience at TYO than I could ever imagine.

It is said that the longest distance one will ever journey in the world is the 18 inches between one’s head and heart. I’m grateful for my time at TYO for teaching me how to ease into my heart and practice a more mindful, joyful way of life.

 

Haya, Spring 2017 International Intern

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Oh, the Knafeh!

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The view of Nablus from the TYO Center on a beautiful day.

The view of Nablus from the TYO Center on a beautiful day.

I have lived in this region before, but moved back to America for about two years.  In that time, I hadn’t returned, but coming to TYO I felt like I was returning to a second home.  Though I have visited Nablus and lived in the region before, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  Two years is just long enough for everything and nothing to change at the same time.

Upon arrival, I was greeted by the overwhelming familiarity of Palestinian hospitality.  Everyone was excited to meet the ajnabi (foreigner), welcoming me to Palestine and making sure I had everything I needed.  The kids I am to teach English to flash me broad smiles and big, curious eyes.  They speak whatever English they know to make me feel welcomed in their classrooms.  However, I also notice some changes in the community.  American food chains had now found their way into the traditional city with not one, but two KFCs.  Buildings and scenery had changed over the past two years.  Some changes noting positive progress, while some of the growth I had hoped to see, never materialized.

Delicious Nabulsi knafeh.

Delicious Nabulsi knafeh.

Feelings of happiness quickly shared space with those of confusion and sadness.  I wrestled to process everything I was feeling.  At this time, we took a trip into the old city of Nablus and went to eat some of the famous Nabulsi knafeh.  When I sat down and took a bite of that knafeh, I was flooded with happiness (probably due to the large amount of sugar in the knafeh) and memories of the last time I ate Nabulsi knafeh.  At that point, I realized this is Nablus.  It is a beautiful, living city.  Some things change when you do not want them to, while others remain stagnant when you want them to progress forward.  Frustration is inevitable, but so is joy, because two things will always remain the same in Nablus: the delicious knafeh, sure to bring a smile to anyone who eats it, and the warmth of its people.

Thank you to the knafeh and all of the wonderful people at TYO for welcoming me back to Nablus and Palestine.

 

Samantha, Spring 2017 Intern

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Earth Day Everyday

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Plastic bottle caps of different shapes and colors create the TYO logo.

Plastic bottle caps of different shapes and colors create the TYO logo.

Art is a universal method of communication that does not depend upon language or structure to share a message. At TYO, the importance of art as a form of expression and source of joy can  be viewed throughout the building through paintings, photographs, and creative projects. Participants across TYO’s programs have the opportunity to create and build their message through various art projects with special emphasis placed on using recycled materials. By using recycled materials, it becomes clear that something beautiful can be made with items other people might consider to be without value.

Children make flowers out of recycled paper towel rolls during their Core class.

Children make flowers out of recycled paper towel rolls during their Core class.

For the children in TYO’s early childhood education program, or Core, art is an important aspect of the classroom experience. It is through art that children learn shapes and colors, express their creativity, and bring their imaginations to life. Using recycled materials also allows children to recreate art projects, or develop projects of their own, from items found in their neighborhoods or homes without cost to their families. Diminishing the barriers to creative methods of expression gives children the tools needed to have their imaginations flourish while also taking care of the earth. For us here at TYO, every day is Earth day!

 

– Lindsey, International Internship & Fellowship Coordinator

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A Home Away From Home, But With More Hummus

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Spring 2017 interns hike along the edge of Wadi Qelt the first weekend after they arrived in Nablus.

Spring 2017 interns hike along the edge of Wadi Qelt near Jericho the first weekend after they arrived in Nablus.

So, where to start? Nablus, here I am. It’s almost as if I have been dropped here from the sky like the human icon from Google Maps is, straight from Western Europe but naturally without the dragging aspect. At first glance, Nablus is almost like a scene from a movie, a Hollywood blockbuster where white ajnabi (foreigners) visit a distant land in the East, shrouded in mystery which is heightened by a rich culture and unique attire. The dusty landscape rises and falls at every turn, with thousands of years of history etched into its surface. The cuisine is just as indescribably wonderful in how the flavours blend and contrast, completely overshadowing anything that I attempt to pass off as good food. And the language ties all of it together in the flow of the writings and the unfamiliarity of the foreign sounds.

Yet, despite these discernible features that diverge so distinctly from my normal life, the city already feels like somewhere I could call home. Because, for all the differences that exist between my country and this one that make them both so inimitable, my three weeks here has shown me that there are almost as many similarities between the two.

For one, the hospitality of the local people, and the TYO staff in particular, remind me the warmth of those back home in my community and places I have worked. Reflecting on the highlights to date, there are so many memories that I would like to share. However, there is a distinct common link between many of them; the people I’ve met. This cannot be overstated. I find that wherever I travel that the people I meet are always a huge deciding factor in how I feel about any place. Everyone working at the organisation has been so kind, welcoming us interns with open arms and many of the locals mirror this friendliness as we explore the city after work. Here is no different. From the smiling local shop owners who occasionally give us free food, to the groundskeeper who makes us tea and plays the guitar, the staff at TYO and the small family that has formed on the seventh floor, there are so many people who have contributed to my happiness here. It really feels like a new home.

Painted trees near the park in Nablus provide a colorful path for exploring.

Painted trees near the park in Nablus provide a colorful path for exploring.

Another key parallel to home I can see is in the children of all ages with whom we work. I have previously had the opportunity to volunteer with kids from a range of different countries including Ireland, South Africa and Germany in different activities. What is abundantly clear to me is that children are the same no matter where I go. They want to play, laugh and be loved just as any other kid does. The four year olds that I teach want to colour in pictures, they want to sing and dance, they want to high five. The boys and girls that I train for football are no different; one group wants to train to become the next Ronaldo or Messi and the other wants to giggle, socialise and, more increasingly, actually kick the ball.

What does stand out with these children versus others that I have worked with before is the resilience that they have in the face of their ever-changing situation and challenging conditions. I’m sure that this is something I will experience time and time again during my internship here, in my new home. I hope that I can bring a little happiness to them through my teaching as they already have brought to me.

 

Niamh, Spring 2017 Intern

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