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.