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Aug 7, 2019

The Universal Language of Children

Elisa's students shower her with hugs

Since I was little, I have been fascinated by languages and the thousands of combinations of sounds and symbols that human beings have developed to communicate. Whenever I have been travelling, I’ve always loved to hear people speaking their own language and to try to imitate the sounds of their words. When I found out I had been accepted for an internship in Palestine, I was really excited about the idea of living in an Arabic-speaking country. I still didn’t know that I would learn another language during these months: the language of children.

I remember that my main concern when I started teaching at TYO was the language barrier. How will I communicate with my students? Will I be able to understand their needs and to provide them with the right support? What if the lack of communication between me and them will affect their learning process?But after the first time I saw my students entering the classroom one by one with their contagious smiles, proudly greeting me with a loud “Good morning!” and an energetic high five, I remembered something precious I learned from my previous working experiences with kids abroad: there is no linguistic or cultural barrier children can’t break.

Over the years, I’ve come to know that kids have this magic inside them. They live in their own pure world, made of imagination, games and exploration. It’s the same world in which we used to live as well, before we “grew up,” and children can lead us there, if we are open to it.  It doesn’t matter what language you speak: kids have this incredible skill of communicating by easily creating an emotional connection with others.

As soon as we grow up, we tend to hide our feelings and we are ashamed of showing them. Children, on the other hand, through their pureness and spontaneity, seem to have much more emotional awareness and empathy than adults.They actually don’t need many words. Children know how to reach out to people and how to connect with them by using a wide range of spontaneous facial expressions, body language, and eye and body contact to express their emotions and feelings. They can easily show happiness and excitement or show genuine pride when they succeed in things. They can make you understand when they are sad or disappointed. They know how to ask for help and how to communicate their needs, as well as to show their gratitude. The only thing you have to do is listen to them.

During these months, I learned from my students that what children really need and expect from us is to put our heart and passion in what we do, to create a safe place for them where they can feel listened to, understood and loved. There is no need to share the same language or culture to create a meeting point with kids. Little simple actions like sitting with them, teaching them a song, miming things, making them smile, and sharing laughs are enough.

Working with children at TYO reminded me every day of the importance of expressing and identifying emotions in our daily life as a precious component of connecting and communicating with others. Sometimes, what we need to do is forget about the rationality of adults and listen more to the little child inside us.

Core class shows their handmade Mother Day cards
Core class shows their handmade Mother Day cards


Jul 8, 2019

When Traditional and Modern-Day Taste Meet!

Alaa and Rawan during TYO trainings
Alaa and Rawan during TYO trainings

Our names are Alaa Omar and Rawan Rawajbi and we are business partners. We heard about the Youth Rehabilitation Through Entrepreneurship Program (YREP) through the announcement that was made on TYO’s Facebook page. We benefited a lot from the trainings by learning how to create a business plan from A to Z. We also learned the importance of market study, SWOT analysis, and second market research. We were able to identify the vision and mission of our business.

In addition, we realized how to determine a budget and profit margin ratio for our business. We now have a strong ground and greater confidence in our business and products after completing the required analysis for them, the market, targeted customers, and all its different aspects.  We are happy to say that we were able to establish a clear-cut 3-year business plan.

We have a business where we create handmade Palestinian embroidery products. We insert the Palestinian embroidery on modern clothes and accessories in currently trendy colors. Basically, we combine tradition with modern-day taste. We sell our products by participating in exhibitions that are held in different cities in the West Bank. In addition, we use our Facebook and Instagram pages to sell online. Our products are sold mostly to women of any age from 10 to 60 years old.

We benefited from the program through understanding where we are in the market and where we want to reach. We identified our ambitions and the needed steps to achieve our goals and vision. We realized the risks that we should avoid and the ones we should accumulate in our favor in order to achieve business progress and success. We used the award money that we won at the end of the program for two main purposes: We bought an advanced sewing machine that is very necessary for our business and we participated in a training to improve our sewing and embroidery skills and techniques.

By doing so, we were able to expand and add new products to our business. We will always be grateful to QFFD and TYO for their constant trust and belief in us throughout this journey.


May 16, 2019

When a Hug Says it All

In my modest teaching career, one of the main problems I have run into is classroom management. With my 2nd grade here at TYO, I encountered my biggest challenge yet. My co-teacher informed me about different methods she tried and said she was open for any other suggestions. I was scared. One of my major concerns was the fact I didn't speak any Arabic and the students themselves had only limited knowledge of English. My fear proved to be right: two lessons in I was ready to quit. I am not qualified to do this. They are not going to learn anything... But then, I never quit a project before.But I also do not punish kids for bad behaviour. The good always wins, right? And so I began my research on the most effective reward systems. Having the above said in mind, it didn't take too long until I came across a reward system called “Birdie Buck.” It seemed to be worth a try. After adapting it here and there and with approval from my co-teacher, I was ready.

How it works:

Three boxes are set up as a small shop. Each box contains educational and useful rewards such as colouring books, a toothbrush, and play dough. At the beginning of the session, the class established four ground rules. Students who follow these rules and encourage their classmates do the same receive a play dollar in the next lesson. Doing extra tasks such as distributing worksheets earns them an extra dollar. When enough money is saved – 3, 5 or 8 play dollars – they have the chance to “buy” a prize of their desire. The other option is to save money for a more “expensive” reward,thus teaching responsibility and evaluating savings.

The DIY aspect of it all was very important. Students made their own wallets, which would literally have their own personal touch. Owning something that is entirely theirs, something they made with their own two hands – to top it off – makes it even more special.

When handing out the wallet templates, one student – let’s call him Husam – was not happy with the colour he received: grey, the colour the majority of the class received. He wanted yellow. I gave him the option to keep the colour he was given or not to have a wallet at all. This tendency to want to “choose-the-best-out-of-everything” I observed often in this class, be it pencils or chairs. Well, sometimes you need to compromise the small things to get what you want which is far more worthwhile.It is important to see the bigger picture. In this case, the grey, yellow or blue colour of the wallet would not affect its functionality, which is to keep valuable things safe and organised. Husam disagreed and crossed his arms. He was pouting and chose the option not to make a wallet at all unless it was yellow. He was determined to stay stubborn as usual until he got what he wanted. But so was I.

Engaged and eager, the class started folding their wallets step by step as instructed. Husam was still pouting, arms crossed, but observing the others. Five minutes into the folding process, the wallets being folded to a third, I offered Husam his grey template. His response was a cold shoulder shrug. He was still stubborn and so stayed I. The class carried on. Their faces glowing in excitement. Husam's observations of the others grew more intense. The wallets were nearly done and I offered Husam his grey template one last time. This time, with a determined and now also excited face, he nodded and grabbed his template, immediately starting to fold it. My stubbornness achieved what I wanted: Husam saw the result of the folding process; he realized that his stubbornness didn't get him anywhere and that it was not worth it. Unknowingly, he compromised for the bigger picture.

Within minutes, he had caught up with the rest of his classmates. I approached him, asking if he needed help with the last tricky bit. He nodded, pulling me down at one arm. I kneeled down to his height. Slowly and with his help, we folded the tricky part. His eyes never left my hands and the wallet. What happened next, I would never have imagined to happen: With the last folding touch, Husam realized that the wallet, HIS wallet, was done. Out of nowhere, he jumped up and hugged me. With the most sparkling eyes, he said, “Shukran! Thank you!” Then he quickly let me go to admire his work. His eyes wide open, smiling in disbelief. The hug surprised us both. This split second, however, in which the hug took place and seeing his proud face were enough for me to think: this was worth it.

At this point, it is important to mention my aim for implementing this reward system. Even though the children who receive play dollars for good behaviour might think that this is all that this system is for, the ultimate goal behind it all goes deeper. It is about learning how to be patient in order to achieve what you really want: Do I buy this toy because I have saved enough money or do I save some more for the toy I really want? It is about seeing the bigger picture: I want the wallet so I compromise for the grey colour even though I don't like it. It is about learning how to keep valuable things safe. In this case, it is play money. In life, it might be something more valuable. Seeing that Husam quickly understood one of these (life) lessons was a major reward for me already.

In the following week, the volunteers and I handed out the wallets, which now each contained a play dollar. Seeing the students' faces when they opened their handmade wallets and found their first dollar felt like a warm wave of genuine happiness that only children can radiate. Their expressions gave me the motivation I was lacking. We can and will make this work.

English classes at TYO are much more than teaching a new language. They are about teaching responsibility, manners, and what matters in life. They are about – pardon the corniness – believing in others and not forgetting to believe in yourself. Taking on this challenge taught me how not to give up and stop walking when the hill gets steep, but to lean forward and ascend. Seeing the bigger picture myself, I once more realized that great things are achieved taking it step by step. And also knowing when to give in. Making even one child grasp this important life lesson is the biggest reward I get.


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