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Feb 3, 2020

Here's to New Beginnings

Dana and her mom are loving Lego time!
Dana and her mom are loving Lego time!

Hello, my name is Dana. I am 4 years old. My mom is from Russia and my dad is from Palestine. I live in Askar, a small village in Nablus. I started coming to TYO three months ago, and I come to class every Monday and Wednesday. My mom comes with me on the bus and she is supposed to leave me in class until I finish at 11:30. Then she picks me up and we go home by bus again.   

When I first started, I cried hard when it was time to leave my mother. I did not like when she left the classroom and left me alone with other children and the new teacher and four volunteers. They were kind to me and tried to make me smile and play with other children and engage in the different activities, but I struggled. I couldn’t imagine being there alone away from my mama. We never leave each other. We are always together and we spend our time together at home - she cooks and I’m beside her, she visits her friends and I’m with her, she teaches sports in the gym and I also go with her. She never leaves me alone or with someone new. I am the one who never leaves her. Yes, I can’t leave her, you know why? Because I love my mom and can’t stay away from her.  

My mom is an amazing woman. She has been through some challenges since she moved from Russia to Palestine, when she married my father. Her life has changed. She lives far away from her family. We still visit them, but Russia is not close to Palestine, so we have to wait a long time to go there. She is from a different culture. She also looks different than most people who live in Palestine because she is blond with blue eyes. I look like her, too

My mom didn’t have a lot of friends when she came to Palestine. She also didn’t speak Arabic well. She speaks Russian and she had to learn Arabic in order to communicate with people, especially when my dad leaves for work and she stays alone at home.

My mom loves me and my sister Sabrina so much. She gives us everything we want and tries to make us feel happy and comfortable. She also spends most of her time at home with us. She used to work as a sports instructor at one of Nablus’ gyms, but not anymore. My mom said it was hard for her to take me with her all the time to the gym whenever she had a class to teach. I understand why. I’ve been there and I have seen how huge those machines are. I was scared to get close to them. But what can I do? I can’t leave her there alone; I miss her if she stays away from me for a short time, how about an hour?

At TYO, I have fun - great fun. The teacher is nice and understanding and the classes are full of toys and great materials. There is even an imagination room! It’s full of beautiful costumes I can try out and pretend to be someone! There is also a sensory room where we can try different sounds and lights of different colors. I enjoy my time there, but I cry when my mom is not around. My mom stayed with me in class for 1 month. She volunteered in class like the other volunteers. I wouldn’t leave my mother even if she stayed in the same room and left her chair or grabbed something over the shelf. I would follow her and cry her name out loud and cry, “don’t leave me!” My mother was so stressed when she noticed how stressed I was, and how I would spend the whole day nervous thinking about her leaving me anytime during the day. My mom approached my teacher, Marah, and talked to her about my situation. She said I’m not used to being left alone with so many strangers and that I’m so attached to her. I need a longer time to adapt to the new situation and to the staff. My teacher and my mom agreed on letting my mother stay in class for longer periods. She volunteered to stay in class as a volunteer, not as a mother, in order to make the classroom environment smoother.

My teacher and mother also helped me by giving me a special volunteer all to myself. She always said hello to me at the door and played with me during class. I became so calm and active at the same time. I also became more engaged in activities and even more social. I made friends through the session and showed empathy towards them in many situations. After a few weeks, I could stay in class all by myself without my mom! My parents at home and my sister Sabrina are so happy and grateful to finally be able to leave me in a good mood and not have to worry about me while my mom is not available. We can’t wait to be back next session. We miss everyone already! 

Dec 31, 2019

With More Than a Little Help From My Friends

Work, pastries, and coffee at Bait Al Dyafa
Work, pastries, and coffee at Bait Al Dyafa

“I didn’t have anyone by my side. I didn’t have enough money to enrol my kids in university. I never had emotional support to overcome challenging moments in life. I felt like I was letting my children down. But now, all of that has changed.” 

Maysoon struggled to make ends meet, being the sole economic provider for her seven children. In order to protect her children from a deteriorating quality of life, she was determined not to let this be a defining struggle. 

In the winter of 2018, she rented a small property in the old city of Nablus with the hope of turning it into a café. Her dream was to operate her own business and earn a stable income. When she rented the property, she realised it needed renovating since the doors and the windows were broken, the floor was unstable and there was no handrail for the stairs. Her goal was to work from home, selling pastries and sweets until she had enough money to buy kitchen supplies and hire professionals to renovate the café. 

“How was I supposed to support my 7 children?”

Maysoon understood the risk that renting this property conveyed for her and her family. In the summer of 2019, she realised that she was still very far away from achieving her goal. Maysoon was struggling to come to terms with being unable to register her daughter in university due to the tuition costs. She got in touch with Yusra Sama’neh, the case manager at TYO, to take part in the Mental Health Program. 

This is something that’s often neglected in Palestine- the need for access to mental health services. Lone parents with unstable incomes and a large family are often in desperate need of emotional support. However, due to misconceptions regarding the nature of mental health disorders, seeking professional help is uncommon. Maysoon was brave enough to ask for help.

“I realised I needed psychological support. I was positive I could make it but it would take me 2 to 3 years to open the café. How was I supposed to support my seven children until I managed to open the café and start making a profit?” Maysoon said. 

Also weighing on Maysoon’s mind was the fact that she did not want to resort to other people for help. However, the situation she found herself in gave her no other option. Maysoon was not aware of TYO’s entrepreneurship initiatives and solely asked for psychological support. Consequently, Amal, a social worker at TYO, visited Maysoon and began carrying out regular counselling sessions with her and her family. Yusra visited the café and realised the potential this business had. 

“Maysoon was determined to make this project come true. It takes courage to take the leap but she did it anyway.” Yusra explained. “I believe in giving women the resources they need to stand on their own and become economically independent. Thus, I did everything in my hands to make her dream become a reality.”

In July 2019, Yusra registered Maysoon to receive entrepreneurship advice and training  from TYO in order to support the start of her business. With the assistance of the Social Development Ministry and UNRWA, TYO’s contracted engineers completely renovated Maysoon’s café in the space of one month. The priority was given to fixing the doors and windows due to security concerns. Consequently, the floor was fixed and countertops and cabinets were provided for the kitchen area. The Social Development Ministry then provided Maysoon with kitchen supplies, along with a freezer and a dough machine. 

“These are tears of happiness, tears of appreciation.”

The opening of the café took place on the 26 of August 2019, two years before what had been scheduled initially. For the past three months, Maysoon has been working in her café from 6am to 5pm- cooking pastries, preparing the upstairs area for customers and making home deliveries. All her hard work has paid off and she has managed to make enough profit to enrol her daughter in university, something she had not been able to do during the summer. 

“These are tears of happiness, tears of appreciation since I can’t actually express how grateful I feel towards Yusra and TYO,” she said, “I no longer need to ask my neighbour for money. I am solely dependent on myself and I am constantly moving forward.” 

Maysoon is currently aiming to expand her family business in two ways. Firstly, she wishes to hire employees outside her family, thus improving the economic situation of other families in her community. Secondly, she aspires to make enough money to buy an electric bike so her son can make food deliveries in an environmentally friendly manner. 

“I am so thankful to Yusra for coming into my world and telling me- I am with you, you’re not alone,” Maysoon explains. “No one has ever supported me like Yusra, she was like a waterfall, streaming with so much giving.” 

Maysoon has proven to be an incredibly brave, independent woman who was not afraid to face the risks and follow her dream. She was also capable of asking for psychological support, contributing to breaking down the stigma surrounding mental health in Palestine. Maysoon has become a role model for her kids and other women in her community.

“It’s only been three months since we opened the café but my life has changed for the better. My children are in university, I can pay the bills, and most importantly, my kids look up to me, they’re proud of me. I will be forever grateful.” 

Maysoon’s café is called the `House of Hospitality´(in Arabic: Bait Al Dyafa). This is the upstairs area where students can study for their exams, have a coffee or order a delicious piece of cake. 

Maysoon is incredibly media savvy and promotes her café through Facebook and Instagram.

Nov 5, 2019

Confidence is Key

During my time at TYO I have learnt a lot; and I learnt the most during the craft activities in my classes. Teaching grade 1 during the summer camp meant I was able to dedicate lots of the time to simple activities that would help the children engage with the topics we were discussing. Whether that was basic English words or the life cycle of butterflies, drawing activities and songs were the activities the students would throw themselves into and enjoy the most.

But what struck me with each of these activities, whether in groups or solo projects, was the apparent fear the children felt about following their own ideas. They preferred to copy others or have someone else do it for them. Let me illustrate with two boys from my class: let’s call them Kareem and Zain. These two stuck out to me from early on, and both for very different reasons.

Kareem is small for his age, but what he lacks in stature he compensates for in his outgoing personality. He is memorable for me because of one craft activity I set the class. He seemed to be extra bold and was loudly proclaiming things to his table in his proudest voice. I asked my translator, who informed me he was telling his peers how amazing his drawing would be, and how it would be much better than all of the others. But after five, then ten minutes he still hadn’t made a mark on his paper.

When I asked, with help of my translator, why he hadn’t started his drawing, he boasted once more about how good it would be. I prompted him that I would really like to see his drawing. He seemed to deflate a little before whispering he didn’t know how to draw and didn’t want to mess it up. It touched me that despite all his showboating his confidence was so low, so I showed him some examples and thanked him for telling me how he felt.

Zain hardly smiled and never spoke during the first few weeks I knew him. He was reserved and disliked attention, nodding or only following instructions given if someone spoke with him individually. It was difficult seeing him come into class each morning with his sincere and quiet manner and not interact with anyone. Even during the morning singing and dancing, he would simply sit and observe. After much coaxing, his behaviour changed gradually but slowly. He would stand with the group and watch the others move, seemingly unsure of how to follow their actions and not wanting to get it wrong.

Despite the differences in character, both of them needed to hear that their effort was appreciated. When resources are low and with so many kids in the classroom, it can be very easy to be product-orientated and not acknowledge the process. Confidence and self-belief are essential to take the first steps.

Zain took those steps when he first stood with the group and repeated with a growing smile the moves he saw his peers doing. Kareem took those steps when learning to trust his own creativity and slowly accepting that the effort and time are just as praiseworthy as (if not more so than) the final drawing. I hope that my students learnt to be more confident during their time with me, because I have learnt from them how important confidence is.

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