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Dec 24, 2016

New Experiences, New Opportunities!

Muhaned and Shaima
Muhaned and Shaima

Participation in extracurricular activities for children and youth can be hard to come by in Nablus's refugee camps and underserved communities. TYO’s center provides children and youth with an open space to learn, play, and take part in activities that they otherwise would not have access to. The academic program offers students educational support in Arabic, English, and math. There is a free day each week where students have the option to attend different recreational activities at centers around the city, such as swimming pools, bowling lanes, and martial arts schools. These events are the only opportunities some students have to learn from new experiences outside of school and the home.

Below, Muhaned and Shaima, a brother and sister who participate together in the academic support program, share how they have gained confidence in both academic and social capacities from their time at TYO.

Welcome Shaima and Muhaned! Can you tell me about your family and how you are involved with TYO?

Shaima: I am twelve years old and in the sixth grade. I attend the United Nations Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) mixed boys and girls school in Nablus. I have nine siblings - six sisters and three brothers. I am the seventh oldest in my family. I started at TYO in the Core early childhood program when I was in the second grade and now I am in the academic support program for older students. My dad also works at TYO as a guard, so I really feel like we are part of a family here.

Muhaned: I am ten years old and in the fifth grade. I attend the UNRWA school for boys in Nablus. I started at TYO in the Core early childhood program when I was in first grade and now I am in the academic support program with my older sister.

What makes your experience at TYO unique?

Shaima: They teach very differently here than at school because we learn by playing games and having fun. I have the hardest time in math and the weaker students do not get enough attention at school. Before I started the academic program, I would try to get my older sister to help me, but it is very hard because she is busy with her own homework. At TYO, the teachers take the time to explain new ideas in a way that we all can understand and there are many volunteers that are happy to help if I have any problems. I can already see my grades getting better. I have more trust in myself and I participate more in class.

Muhaned: I like coming here because we get to play games and we have space to run around.  At school, there are too many students and sometimes we get angry and hit each other. There is also a lot of yelling and I always feel lost inside the classroom. Only the strong students get attention and sometimes I feel left behind. Discipline is also done differently at TYO than at school because we talk about problems and try to find solutions. I realize now that violence does not solve problems. Hitting each other at the boys’ school is common, and even if a boy hits me, I will not hit him back anymore. I learned at TYO that I can solve the problem in other ways and ask adults for help.

Have you noticed any changes in your academic performance since starting the program?

Shaima: We play a lot of grammar games that teach us new vocabulary and sentence structures in a fun way. Last week we played a game where we had to talk about our dreams for the future and I felt really comfortable presenting to the class. Sometimes I repeat the TYO activities at home for extra practice or just for fun. At TYO, they build my confidence and encourage all students in the class to participate. It turns out that most of the time at school I had the correct answers to questions the teacher would ask us, but I used to be scared to say it in case I was wrong. Now I am not so scared. If I am right, that's great, and if I am wrong, that is how I can learn. I learned at TYO that is is okay to make mistakes, and that that is how I can learn and grow. 

Muhaned: The hardest subject for me is Arabic - I cannot even write! Math and English are easier for me, even though I speak Arabic at home. I do not even know the basics, and I am not getting better yet but I hope I will. In Math, I am doing well and the extra help that I get from the academic program is making my grades even better.

What has been your most memorable experience at TYO?

Shaima: I love the karate class the most. I never had the chance to do martial arts before coming to TYO. It teaches discipline in a fun way and I get to work on becoming physically stronger.  Also, I do not get to dress up often and at school there are uniforms. Here at TYO, I get to wear all my favorite outfits!

Muhaned: I love counting games with balloons and going to the pool on Thursdays, which is our free day!  We do not have many public swimming pools in Palestine, and the private ones are often too much to afford, but TYO makes sure that we get to experience new things. I love being in the water! 

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Nov 3, 2016

Safaa's Path to Business Success

My name is Safa’a. I was born and raised in Attara, a village outside of Jenin which is one of the largest cities in the northern West Bank. I have a Bachelor’s degrees in English and for years I have working  as a teacher in a pre-school. I love my work; every day I see it as reclaiming what a fun, adventure- and color-filled childhood should be and what so many Palestinian children have not had.

However, I always knew that working as a pre-school teacher was not enough. I had dreams for something bigger. My dream has always been to own and operate my own business as a way to do something I enjoy while also supporting my family financially and being economically independent. This dream became even more important to me when my husband endured a workplace injury and became disabled and unable to continue his work.

The idea of starting a business of medicinal soaps and lotions came to me after a relative of mine developed terrible eczema. She visited a doctor who provided her with a cream that only made her condition worse. I immediately saw an opportunity for me to provide her and the wider community with something better, and I started by soap business. The majority of my products are made with goat milk, given there is an abundance of it in my village.

At first, my customers were primarily people from Attara and other near-by villages. Many of them purchase products from me repeatedly, not only once! Through trainings, individualized coaching, and regular support from Tomorrow’s Youth Organization, I learned how to market my products to wider markets, and now I have my products in local pharmacies and beauty salons.

Tomorrow’s Youth Organization also gave me the opportunity to participate in a Branding and Marketing training with a branding expert, and then work side-by-side with a graphic designer to design more beautiful packaging for my products.

When I heard about the support TYO offers to women entrepreneurs, I knew I had to join. I was most excited for the branding and marketing support, but everything I have participated in so far has helped, including the business development trainings, psychosocial support, English and IT intensives, and networking with banks and microfinance institutions. I have learned far more than I expected especially in regards to improving my bookkeeping and accounting practices. I have established a stronger network with other women micro-enterprise  owners in Palestine through meeting TYO’s other participants.  That network also helped me to recently apply for funding for my business through the Counseling Committee in Jenin.

TYO also helped me to open a checking account with a local bank, which was an excellent decision. During a financial literacy and awareness day, I was able to meet with multiple banks and understand how their services could help my business. The Bank of Palestine representative helped me understand the importance of saving money to either purchase more raw materials or keep it for any unforeseen personal or professional emergency, and protect my business from being impacting by that emergency. If and when  I decide to take a loan for my business, having a bank account and history of working with that bank will help my application a lot.

Before joining TYO, I also did not know the importance of registering with the local Chamber of Commerce. Through TYO’s business registration session, I learned that registering my business could help me export my products internationally. My brother lives in Sweden, and I would love to be able to send him my products through official channels in order for him to sell them to Europeans. I took the first step and registered with the Palestinian Ministry of Economics, and I now have a merchant license. Now I am just a few steps away from registering with the Chamber of Commerce, and I could not be more excited for the next phase of my business.

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Sep 26, 2016

Back to School! Providing Fun Summer-time Academic Support

Maha, mother of Ro
Maha, mother of Ro'a and Malik.

Academic instruction in public schools in Nablus is very weak and there is a great need for additional academic support. The education system, from primary to higher education, stresses rote learning and educators are often ill equipped and unable to provide additional support outside the classroom. To increase our support to children, last spring TYO launched a pilot after-school academic tutoring program for students in grades 4-7.  In its pilot stage, the program was available to children in the immediate neighborhood of TYO. However, the incredible success last spring allowed TYO to expand the program’s reach to the larger community of Nablus and the four refugee camps around the city. This past summer, four classes for grades 4, 5, 6, and 7 offered math, English, and Arabic support through one-on-one tutoring;an additional fifth class offered remedial support to illiterate children across grades 4-7. An integral aspect of the program is also psychosocial support for adolescents whose academic performance is impacted by poverty, political instability, and wider family and community trauma. In total, over 120 children received critical academic and psychosocial support before heading into the 2016 school year.

Below, we hear from a parent of one of the children enrolled in the program from the start. Maha lives in El Ein refugee camp with her children, and the youngest two — Ro'a and Malik — are both enrolled in TYO’s educational programming.

Can you tell me why you decided to enroll Ro'a in the Summer 2016 Academic Support program?

As a mother, I want my children to get out of the house, get out of the camp, see new things and meet new people. In particular, I care that Ro'a does this as a girl, because many girls are not able to explore and experience the world when they live in the camps. By sending Ro'a to TYO, specifically the Academic Support program, I knew she would see the city outside of El Ein and meet new and caring people. Further, I believe TYO provides holistic support for her studies and education. Their non-formal approach would complement her more formal studies in school; she would be able to play and laugh, but also learn.

Additionally, there are no other available programs in the camp. I once enrolled Ro'a and Malik in an "academic program" during the teachers' strike [in 2015] when public school closed. However the program was a mess, the biggest issue being that there was no commitment from the teachers and no commitment from the students. The children felt it was a vacation.

Unfortunately, the alternative is children playing in the street and not learning, which is not good. I see this daily, because there are no programs in the camp. If a child is not sent to TYO they do nothing after school. They spend time in the streets, which is not safe, or at home where there is no one to support their studies.

Was there a particular moment or reason that made you want to enroll Ro'a in the Academic Support program?

There is not necessarily a moment — but more of a quality about TYO that motivated me to enroll Ro'a in the Academic Support program. The TYO staff and teachers are extremely caring. They show so much care for the children and I knew this would apply to the Academic Support program as well. Furthermore, the teachers and programs are goal-oriented. They set a goal — for example we will finish our homework — and then play. This goal-oriented thinking is important. The staff is always working towards a goal and seeing projects through. I knew this goal-oriented mindset would carry over to the Academic Support program, and I wanted Ro'a to experience and learn this way of thinking.

Your family has been coming to TYO for a long time. How has TYO’s educational programming helped Malik, and more specifically Ro'a in school and other formal educational settings?

For Malik, I know when he returns from TYO he is more relaxed and able to start his studies. TYO's homework help and Academic Support program includes not just academics but also time management. He has two hours at TYO — a definitive time frame — in which he plays, releases energy and does his work. He is much less hyperactive when he arrives at home. This benefits the whole family and his studies. Other mothers think studying must happen first and then play, but a child will be more easily distracted if they go from school to studying more without any time to release their energy.

I previously had a lot of stress about providing the academic support I know Roa needs and sometimes I cannot provide; but this summer, enrolling her in the Academic Support program significantly reduced that stress. Not only did the program support her academically, as I said before, it also allowed her to see the world outside of the camp, meet new people, and become a stronger more caring person. In fact, Ro'a and I have talked to mothers and children in El Ein camp, and explained how much this programs has helped us; we want other mothers to enroll their children at TYO.

These improvements you speak of, what are they? How has TYO improved your relationships with your children? How has the family improved overall?

In terms of my children, by enrolling them in TYO programs and surrounding them by people who are committed to their academic and personal goals, my children have become more caring, better people. They have also become more focused on their school work and less hyperactive in our home. I believe, because Malik and Ro'a have a place at TYO to productively release their energy, they no longer feel the need to run around the house, which creates stress for me. We all interact in more compassionate and calmer ways. Also, by involving myself in the TYO programs for women (specifically the fitness and nutrition course and the seminars on parenting) I have become closer with my children. I spent two years involved in TYO's women's programs. As a result, I am dedicated to devoting an hour every night to just spending time with them and hearing about their days. I also have bettered my health and the health of my family because of what I learned in the women's program. Overall, the approach of TYO, which is holistic and involves all family members, has been great for my family. 

It is wonderful to reflect on how TYO has helped your family over the last 8 years. Looking ahead to this fall, what are your expectations of the Academic Support program, both academically and personally, for Ro'a?

I expect there will be an outcome — even if it is small in her academic performance. I expect she will do better on her homework and exams in school this year if she is working on this material at TYO. On a more personal level, my goal is that the Academic Support program will continue to help her with her energy levels and time management. Ro'a has a lot of energy, which is not bad, but her energy can cause chaos in the home. The Academic Support program will continue helping her release her energy but also teach her life skills — for example, how to organize and divide time, and manage her work.

I remember this past June when Tawjihi test scores [the final high school exam in Palestine] were released, there were a number of young adults who took their lives because they did not do as well as they wanted and felt no hope for their future achievement and success. This is not okay. I want Ro'a to be strong and by enrolling her in the Academic Support program again this fall, I feel she will continue to build her confidence and trust that she can succeed. This confidence will not only help her perform better in the future but if challenges arise, she will realize there are more options and she can overcome these issues. She will be strong and she will keep going.   

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