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Bring Refugee Children Education and a Smile

by Tomorrow's Youth Organization
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Bring Refugee Children Education and a Smile
Bring Refugee Children Education and a Smile
Bring Refugee Children Education and a Smile
Bring Refugee Children Education and a Smile
Bring Refugee Children Education and a Smile
Bring Refugee Children Education and a Smile
Bring Refugee Children Education and a Smile
Bring Refugee Children Education and a Smile
Bring Refugee Children Education and a Smile
Bring Refugee Children Education and a Smile
Bring Refugee Children Education and a Smile
Bring Refugee Children Education and a Smile
Bring Refugee Children Education and a Smile
Bring Refugee Children Education and a Smile
Bring Refugee Children Education and a Smile
Bring Refugee Children Education and a Smile
Bring Refugee Children Education and a Smile
Bring Refugee Children Education and a Smile
Bring Refugee Children Education and a Smile
Bring Refugee Children Education and a Smile
Bring Refugee Children Education and a Smile
Bring Refugee Children Education and a Smile
Bring Refugee Children Education and a Smile
Bring Refugee Children Education and a Smile
Bring Refugee Children Education and a Smile
Bring Refugee Children Education and a Smile
Bring Refugee Children Education and a Smile
Bring Refugee Children Education and a Smile
Bring Refugee Children Education and a Smile
Bring Refugee Children Education and a Smile
Bring Refugee Children Education and a Smile
Bring Refugee Children Education and a Smile
Bring Refugee Children Education and a Smile
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! 

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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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Elisa's students shower her with hugs
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

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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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Yazan & Tala are so excited on their first day!
Yazan & Tala are so excited on their first day!

In our spring 2019 session, we are excited to be offering 2 morning programs for children – the Early Childhood Education (ECE) Program for children between the ages of 2-4 and the Core Early Childhood Program for children ages 4-5. Our session kicked off on Monday, February 11th with a great morning here at TYO!

Children participating in our Core Early Childhood Program were the first to arrive. From the moment they set foot in the center, they filled it with laughter, enthusiasm, and lots of hugs! TYO’s staff and volunteers welcomed the children and accompanied them to their classrooms. The classes started with various introduction activities to help the teachers and children get to know one another. During the day, each of the 4 classes rotated between the sports, art, imagination, sensory, and computer rooms. As of week 2 of the program, Core students are getting to know all about friendship and the importance of cooperation. In the upcoming weeks, children in our Core Early Childhood Program will learn all about clothes, careers, seasons, recycling, plants, animals, transportation, colors, and science.

The second group to arrive to the center was children between the ages of 2-4 participating in our ECE Program. They arrived with their mothers, who are enrolled in the Women’s Empowerment and Parenting Program (WEPP). TYO’s ECE teachers and volunteers greeted them as they entered and led each child and mother to their specific classroom. Mothers joined their children in the classrooms on the first day. This made the first day easier for the children because they had a familiar face beside them. They loved spending quality time playing and learning together. Throughout the week, as the children became more comfortable around teachers and volunteers and more acquainted with the center, it was time for mothers to leave their children and attend their own program. This made the separation process healthier as it was done gradually, giving children the time they needed to adjust to their environment. In the upcoming weeks, children in our ECE Program will develop skills in naming, throwing/catching, dressing, identifying objects, drawing/copying playing with others, sorting/building, listening/repeating, jumping/balancing, following instructions, and sharing/taking turns.

We would not be able to offer such enriching programming to our children, youth, and women if it weren't for our donors - we appreciate you all so much. We look forward to witnessing the growth of our children throughout this spring!

Teacher Ahmad is happy to see his students again!
Teacher Ahmad is happy to see his students again!
Mothers and children enjoy playing together!
Mothers and children enjoy playing together!
Kids loved posing behind the frame!
Kids loved posing behind the frame!
Mo'men & Yara are all giggles showing their signs!
Mo'men & Yara are all giggles showing their signs!
Friends show off their FRIENDSHIP tree!
Friends show off their FRIENDSHIP tree!
Oday and Karm race to win during sports class!
Oday and Karm race to win during sports class!

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Organization Information

Tomorrow's Youth Organization

Location: McLean, VA - USA
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @tomorrowsyouth
Project Leader:
Suhad Jabi
Director, Tomorrow's Youth Organization
McLean, VA United States
$28,802 raised of $35,000 goal
 
444 donations
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