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Youth in focus: An interview with Sahar I.

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

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

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

What made you apply for STEP?!

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

What new skills have your learned through the program?

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

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

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

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

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

-Interview conducted by Volunteer Coordinator, Ruba Hafayda

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

 

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Addressing the ‘Why?’

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Haithem helps a child in Core AM to plant seeds.

Haithem helps a child in Core AM to plant seeds.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Children marked their seeds with a name-tag.

Children marked their seeds with a name-tag.

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

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

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Departing Palestine: It’s Only Goodbye for Now

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Jade leads an English class with children in Core AM.

Jade leads  English class with children in Core AM.

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

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

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

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

-Jade is a Fall 2014 International Intern at TYO

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Youth in Focus: An Interview with Shorooq A.

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

Shorooq models respectful behavior for children in Core AM.

Shorooq models respectful behavior for children in Core AM.

What made you apply for STEP?!

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

What new skills have your learned through the program?

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

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

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

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

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

-Interview conducted by Volunteer Coordinator, Ruba Hafayda

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

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Until Next Time

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

Every day in my Core English course, my students left the classroom yelling, “Goodbye! Goodbye!” They waved furiously, ecstatic at the opportunity to demonstrate their new English skills. I smiled and laughed at their enthusiasm, giving them countless high-fives in return for their hard work.

Now, that word takes on a new meaning to me as my internship with TYO comes to an end and I prepare to leave Nablus. Though my time here was relatively short, the mutual impact that my students and I had on each other is palpable. As my first time in Palestine and the Middle East, I had an incredible amount of knowledge to gain from this experience. Through the relationships I’ve built with TYO staff, volunteers, and, of course, the community members we serve, I’ve undoubtedly grown to know Palestine. But, even more apparent to me is how much more I have to learn about this place, its history, people, culture, and future. Though my internship ends, this was the first step for me in establishing my role as an advocate for this community.

TYO serves at-risk youth in Nablus. At-risk: what does that mean exactly? I’ve taught students who have witnessed violence in their homes and students who are restrained by the physical space of refugee camps. Certain students lack basic nutrition, access to clean water, and sanitation. Where you are born should in no way determine your access to a healthy and happy life. But, in a place where conflict is reality and violence is normal, Palestinian children face these obstacles.

I’ve learned that all they need is an opportunity. They need someone to cheer for them. When your world is filled with hopelessness, you need hope. I feel extremely grateful to have contributed to fostering that hope at TYO. Though I now have a greater understanding of the reality of my students’ lives here, I’ve also had the chance to see them grow as individuals and thrive in an environment that gives them the support they need to develop.

I was humbled on my last day of class when I looked at my students and saw how much of a difference TYO makes in this community. After six weeks, I saw tangible changes taking place in my students’ attitudes. One student, Imad, raised his hand to share with the class that he considers TYO his family, and he expressed how important this program was to him. I was touched by the honesty and self-awareness he demonstrated at only 10 years old. Though I am sad to leave, especially when I know that my students are at a crucial point in their after-school program, I leave with hope. If I saw such significant change after just six weeks, imagine the difference that these children will make in their communities after continuing to enroll in TYO’s programs.

From afar, it is difficult, and some may say impossible, to conceptualize the reality of Palestine. My own preconceptions have changed drastically since living in Nablus, and I look forward to sharing my experience with others back home. From dancing dabke and playing football in a mixed-gender setting to Palestinian meals and laughing with my students, I will keep these memories close to me. Most importantly, I can’t wait to share the stories and voices of my Palestinian friends with my friends and family in the US.

Because I was aware that my time here was coming to an end, I started to teach, “See you tomorrow!” to my 4 and 5 year old students. I’m grateful that they’ve been able to retain “See you!” I don’t believe in goodbyes – I believe that there will be an opportunity to see the people and places you care about again. So, officially, “See you later, Palestine!”

-Claire is a Fall 2014 International Intern at TYO

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Core Children Learn Core Values

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It is important in any context to equip young children with a strong sense of self-worth. Children who do not see themselves as valuable are less likely to achieve their full potential in schools. When an individual’s internal life is damaged, it dictates how they interact with the world around them as behavior is a result of what an individual is are feeling. That being said, in Palestine’s hyper-militarized environment where a disproportionate amount of physical and psychological violence is inflicted on children, helping children to overcome personal trauma and build resiliency, is not only a challenge, but is also paramount to ensuring later academic success and a more peaceful future.

TYO’s carefully designed psychosocial curriculum aims to address these issues by teaching children concepts related to the value of respect. From the first day of classes children are taught to practice respect for themselves, their siblings, and their communities. By mid- session of the program the shifts to exclusively addressing core values like listening, respect, and peaceful problem solving. Activities center around building tolerance for diversity, learning to appreciate differences between people, and building empathy for other people’s needs. Coming from rather homogenous communities, children in Nablus are not generally exposed to outside ideas until much later in life. As such, TYO provides a truly unique environment for young children by enabling them to interact with foreigners from such a young age. Core Child Teacher Rola shares some of her experiences with her Core AM children:

This has been a very important week for the children in my class as my kids have been very rambunctious all session and have particularly struggled with keeping respectful boundaries. As a class we’ve been working on keeping our hands to ourselves and participating in activities in an orderly fashion. While this has been an ongoing struggle for the class, the children have really responded well to the use of new vocabulary in the classroom. I formerly introduced the concept of respect at the beginning of the week and have been using the word ‘respect’ to reenforce positive behavior throughout the week- recognizing children when they behave in a way that is respectful to their peers.  Despite the fact that children have been struggling with physical issues related to respect, there are other indications- such as their openness to accepting foreigners in the classroom- that the deeper issues of respect are being rooted with the children. I have no doubt that through continued reenforcement of these values, the children in our programs will be able to overcome the many hardships they face in their home lives and be successful well adjusted children in school.

-- Rola Joudeh, Core Child Teacher and Jessica Dargiel, Deputy Director

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

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Great Gains in TYO’s After-School Program

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Jade engages children through a drama activity

Jade engages children through a drama activity

On the first day of my After-School ESL and Psychosocial class with TYO’s International Internship program, I remember being incredibly nervous. Having worked with 6th & 7th graders in different capacities back in the United States, I knew that it could be challenging to engage this age group and I felt some anxiety over ensuring that their time in my class would be positive and beneficial to their learning. Now, I know that such feelings were misplaced as I have witnessed the growth of my students over our six weeks together at TYO.

In the beginning students were often shy to participate in activities, especially English classes in which they significantly lacked confidence. Both in large group brainstorming sessions and in one-on-one discussion, my students expressed a lack of self-confidence, not feeling like part of a community, and stress as factors that impacted their participation and enthusiasm for class activities. Studies have shown that heightened levels of stress, such as those often present in refugee communities in Palestine, can impact student academic participation and performance. Therefore, our psychosocial and ESL curriculums work off of each other to address the emotional development of students while building skills in the English language as well.

Through our psychosocial curriculum students are able to engage in activities that spark dialogue on topics of self and community, challenging them to critically consider such topics as self-worth, identity, family relationships, community engagement, and global awareness. Each week we explore a theme through play and learning, whether it’s creating drama skits about solving family problems, using technology to research information about a different country’s culture, or using music to express feelings and ideas about community and nationhood. The ingenuity my students have expressed as well as the maturity in which they have articulated their thoughts and feelings regarding these themes has often surprised and inspired me.

I believe that the confidence students have developed particularly through psychosocial activities have impacted their participation in the English classroom, as well. A joint study by a Korean and Canadian university has shown that a higher level of self confidence can positively impact oral proficiency in a second language. I have seen an increased willingness by students to provide answers to questions in the language and to speak English with volunteers and myself. Their increased openness to simply trying and feeling comfortable enough to be silly in our class means that learning English is entertaining for them and for the adults in the room. I have seen great gains in verbal and written communication, and I look forward to their continued progress in the language.

In all, the Fall Session has been an opportunity for growth for students, volunteers, and me. Together we have created a classroom community that is open, fun, and asks critical questions that will shape the future as these students move forward to make an impact in the world. I am hopeful for what they will achieve, and am excited to see these future leaders of Palestinian society thrive.

 

-Jade is a Fall 2014 International Intern at TYO

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Youth in focus: an interview with Hana Qut

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Hana Qut from is from Nablus. She graduated in 2009 from An-Najah National University with a degree in English Language and Literature and a degree in Rehabilitation from Al-Quds Open University in 2014.

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Hana participates in an activity designed to teach communication skills to children

What made you apply for STEP?!

I was interested in applying for STEP! primarily for the opportunity to work with children. From my experience as a teacher I understand that many of the children in Nablus need additional support. Additionally, I wanted to improve my own skills in working with children- particularly my leadership skills.

What new skills have your learned through the program?

Thus far I’ve improved in my ability to discipline children in a productive and positive manner. Being able to control children in the classroom is a skill that requires patience. It is important to be assertive to maintain control throughout the class and ensure all of the learning objectives are met. I have also improved my team-building and communication skills on account of having to coordinate with my fellow volunteers and Core teacher.

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

I would like to work as an English teacher while perusing my MA in translation. Eventually I would like to establish a language and translation center in Nablus, since there are so few options in Palestine for people interested in learning a foreign language.  TYO has been a great first step, giving me practice in a teaching role and allowing me to practice communication techniques with children. Next session I would like to volunteer in the intern classes so I can develop my English skills.

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

I think the biggest challenge facing Palestinian youth is the lack of knowledge as to how to market ourselves- particularly how to best highlight the skills that we have in order to get a job. Sometimes we do have the skills required but we cannot articulate them in an interview. TYO is really helpful in this regard, by providing job skills training seminars to the volunteers.

-Interview conducted by Volunteer Coordinator, Ruba Hafayda

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

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The Perfect Storm

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Claire smiles with girls from her afternoon class at TYO

Claire smiles with girls from her afternoon class at TYO

For the last six weeks as a TYO intern, I have been implementing an English and psychosocial curriculum for my class of 4th and 5th grade students who come from Nablus’ refugee camps and Old City. TYO aims to provide a safe and fun learning environment for its beneficiaries; our curriculum emphasizes creative thinking and non-formal approaches to education through experiential learning. The students, many of whom have been previously enrolled in TYO’s Core program, are at a critical age for social and emotional development. At the beginning of the session, I saw in theory how TYO’s psychosocial curricula would aid students’ development in this area. After weeks of building relationships with my students and watching them engage in activities, I witnessed a shift in my students. We have worked hard to construct a trusting class environment, and last week my students finally felt comfortable enough to test the strength of this new support system. When an activity I led gave students an outlet to express themselves, the students took the opportunity to do so. Through a facilitated discussion by our psychosocial director, Suhad, my students confronted their emotions in a constructive way. My class dove headfirst into the storming stage of group development, demonstrating their progression as individuals and as a group.

According to UNRWA, the majority of the refugee population in the West Bank suffers from moderate to severe reactions to trauma. Children are continually exposed to trauma due to “armed conflict and internal violence, as well as from…land confiscation, home demolitions and evictions and the construction of the Barrier and settlements” (2011). The strained mental health of the Nabulsi community prevents individuals from reaching their potential to be healthy and fully contributing community members. Children are the most vulnerable population to suffer from trauma, which is why TYO has created a safe environment in which children have access to the resources and education to support their personal development.

In my psychosocial class we have worked on building self-confidence, emotional intelligence, community identity, and a sense of global belonging, We have discussed the relationship between these topics and students’ emotional responses to them. However, we do so in a way that is interactive and fun. My students expressed their emotions by creating skits about how to resolve conflict with family members. Students pushed themselves to do an obstacle course while wearing a heavy backpack, symbolizing how harboring negative feelings can be burdensome. We have also focused on positive outlets for self-expression, including one of my favorite lessons this session where my students had the opportunity to teach me about Palestinian culture and, specifically, dabke. Students’ reactions to these activities have been positive, and they show little resistance because the activities are meant to engage them physically and mentally.

In our final week of classes, however, I saw a different reaction from my students. We did an activity in which students sitting in a circle were given a piece of paper to start a drawing. After one minute of drawing to music, the students passed the paper to their peer, and this continued until everyone had contributed to each other’s original picture. My students got frustrated with one another, as some students were being disrespectful and scribbling on others’ papers. I could feel the tension rising and I saw that this activity, rather than being fun and creative, was stressful. The activity became a conduit for the underlying emotional and social dynamics of our classroom to emerge.

With Suhad’s help, my students opened up to one another. They expressed feelings of frustration they felt towards certain peers for their disrespectful actions. Certain students admitted they felt jealous of their peers for their drawing ability. Other students aired grievances from their personal lives that manifested themselves in the classroom. Suhad explained to me how now that my students feel comfortable and safe in our classroom; they are able to confront these emotions. After the intensity of what had happened, I took my students outside for a simple activity in which we tossed tennis balls to one another. I took a deep breath as I felt my students let go of the negative feelings they carried to class that day. I was happy to see that my students could once again be carefree and full of laughter. In an environment in which my students live under the constant mental strain of military occupation, TYO provides them the opportunity to regain part of their childhood.

This particular class was an enlightening experience for me. In theory, I am aware of the challenges facing refugee youth in Palestine. But during this class, I finally witnessed how much pressure my students are under and how little emotional support they receive. In an environment that stifles and hinders psychosocial development, TYO’s programs are an essential step towards fostering positive personal growth for Nabulsi youth. Though my time is coming to an end as a TYO intern, I take comfort knowing that TYO’s sustainable approach to youth development will continue to facilitate the growth my students. Now that the storm has passed, my students are more prepared to navigate the challenges of growing up.

-Claire is a Fall 2014 International Intern at TYO

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Lessons Learned in the Core Child Program

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Children are highly engaged in story time

Children are highly engaged in story time

Last week marked the second half of the Fall 2014 session, which means children in the Core Child PM program began the second rotation in the afternoon program. TYO’s afternoon curriculum was designed to teach children the major themes of self and communication through a holistic approach over a six week period. Each teacher focuses on a different medium through which to teach the overreaching themes- such as art, drama, sports, and health. The session is divided into two rotations, each emphasizing the same themes, but through a different medium.

As a former volunteer-turned Core Child Program Teacher, Mai reflects on her experiences and the changes she observed in children now that the session has reached the mid-way point:

The role of Core Child Teacher is much different then that of volunteer. As a volunteer, you are only really responsible for a small group of students. Even if the teacher is giving you time to practice leading the class, ultimately the teacher is there to regain control of the classroom should anything happen. But as a teacher, you need to change your perspective to include everyone in the class at all times- including the volunteers. You must learn how to balance engaging the children while ensuring the volunteers are doing their job in supporting you as a teacher.

This session has been an incredible learning process for me, but through my observations of the children, it’s clear they’ve also been taking in a lot as well. As this was my first week with a new group of students, already there’s been such a stark contrast from the very first week of the program. At the beginning, at least a quarter of my class was very shy and unwilling to participate. We worked very hard those first few weeks to develop their sense of self and comfort with their peers. This really helped in allowing the children to feel more comfortable in the classroom and open up to each other as peers. The rotation is the real test of how well the teacher has prepared the class during the previous six weeks. By fostering an environment in which children develop connections with one another and feel a sense of belonging to the group, the teacher is able to lay the groundwork for resilience, which is needed so students adjust easily to working with a new teacher in the next rotation. But beyond easing children’s adaptation to a new classroom and a new teacher, TYO’s children are particularly in need of resilience training. Living in an such an unstable environment as Palestine, where the political future is often unknown, in order to be well-adjusted adults, the concept of resilience must be rooted at an early age. Coping with uncertainty becomes an inherent part of life for Palestinians. Resilience ensures children (and adults are able to work through these hard times).  I wasn’t sure what to expect with my new group of students at the beginning of the second rotation- but it’s clear they’ve retained so much from their first six weeks- now I’m looking forward to another successful rotation where children can learn and grow together!

- Mai Masood, Core Child Teacher and Jessica Dargiel, Deputy Director

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