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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
TYO students go swimming for the first time
TYO students go swimming for the first time

Growing up in Southern Illinois, swimming was a central part of summer activities. Each spring was spent in anticipation of the time when days would become warm enough to jump into water and play with friends. In this region of the United States, the high number of lakes, rivers, and ponds also make swimming skills necessary for safety. My parents made it their mission to ensure I participated in swim lessons from a young age. Although it took a long time for me to put my face underwater, I learned to count on swimming as an enjoyable and key element to my summer adventures.

As an adult, swimming became more than child’s play. The ability to float freely gives the body complete freedom of movement without the weight of one’s own body. The freedom of picking up my feet and feeling the water support me is an important part of my mental and emotional health as it is a place where I feel joy, comfort, and stress wash away. For me, being in water is as important as it is enjoyable.

As an American learning about the lives of local Palestinians and families living in refugee camps, I was shocked to learn that the majority of the children who participate in TYO programs have never had the opportunity to be immersed in water. It was hard for me to process this information. The children had never been immersed in water? Ever? No bathtub? No swimming pool? No trips to the sea 60 miles from where they live? How was it possible that such a central part of my childhood didn’t exist for these kids?

While it seemed unbelievable, there are clear reasons the students don’t spend time playing in water. Homes in the refugee camps don’t have the luxury of a bathtub and in the heat of the summer, families hope there will be enough water to both shower and do laundry. While there is a swimming pool in Nablus, the cost of transportation to reach the location and the price of entry is much more than what refugee families have to spend on entertainment. The city of Nablus is within an hour from the Mediterranean Sea, but obstacles including the ability to travel and financial limitations drastically decrease, if not completely remove, the children’s exposure to places outside their immediate neighborhoods. My heart broke as I recognized these children had never known the joy of swimming with friends on a hot day or freedom of floating freely without the weight of the world on their shoulders.

This summer, many children at TYO got to experience this freedom for the first time in their lives. Through the support of a group of Americans who recognized the need for children to have simple fun, TYO was able to take the students to a swimming pool for the first time. I watched as a group of 5 year old girls slowly made their way into the shallow end of the pool. For several minutes, they stood still with only slight hand movements as they walked further into the pool. After a short time, they started to slow move their bodies more. They began to jump to create waves and splash each other. Some adults held the students as they showed them how to float. As I dodged splashes on the edge of the pool, I listened to the laughing and shouts coming from the kids experiencing the freedom of water for the first time. It was an exhilarating moment for everyone. I watched the children laugh and play with complete abandon and grinned as the kids were able to just be kids for awhile.

For me, I am constantly reminded of the privileged life I experienced growing up in Southern Illinois. My childhood is filled with memories that seem common place for youth from my region and I have always been thankful for the happy and curious childhood I experienced. As an adult, I am thankful for the opportunity to witness children who deserve much more than circumstances allow having their own adventures that I so often took for granted. I am thankful for people who seek to give kids the chance to float free for the first time in their lives. I am thankful for their laughter and splashes, for their bravery to try something new, and for the joy they so freely shared with me from the water.

A student smiles as another dives below the water.
A student smiles as another dives below the water.
Young students splish & splash for the first time
Young students splish & splash for the first time
A student gently explores the water
A student gently explores the water
The joys of childhood!
The joys of childhood!
The smiles of children bring joy to everyone!
The smiles of children bring joy to everyone!
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TYO student Yoseph holds his water balloon.
TYO student Yoseph holds his water balloon.

Summer is finally here! Students are wrapping up their exams at school and kids too young for school will finally get to spend more time with their siblings as students exchange classrooms and school books for playtime and soccer balls.

The beginning of summer also signifies the end of a very successful Spring session here at TYO! During our Spring program, TYO’s team of 6 local teachers, 4 international interns, and 62 local volunteers provided early childhood and afterschool educational programming for 264 children! During the 13 week program (February 20- May 18), students had the opportunity to learn, play, and grow together.

As the weather turned from Spring to Summer at the end of the session, one of the students’ favorite activities always involves cooling off with a bit of water. TYO teacher Ahmad developed water activities to help the students increase their teamwork, improve motor skills, and embrace the needs to move and play outside. The sound of the children’s laughter filled the center as they splashed and cheered their teammates toward victory!

At TYO, a child’s right to a childhood is front and center of the educational experience. The joy of feeling cool water splash while filling a bottle using only a small cup or the anticipation of catching a water balloon as your partner steps further away are simple activities that bring smiles to the children’s faces. As each class cheered for their teammates, the freedom of full volume laughs and frequency of high fives being handed out was contagious. The teachers and volunteers laughed, splashed, and cheered right along with their students.

The support provided by donors impact the students, the local volunteers, the local teachers, and the international interns as they share moments of freedom together. As the summer continues and water becomes the vehicle of relief, think of us and imagine hearing students’ laughter and cheers through your windows and relish the feeling of water on your toes. The simple joys in life and childhood in the summer unites us all.

Students Hoor &Yasmine smile with their balloons.
Students Hoor &Yasmine smile with their balloons.
Teacher Ahmad plays balloon toss with his students
Teacher Ahmad plays balloon toss with his students
Water relay races are challenging, but fun!
Water relay races are challenging, but fun!
Student Zain smiles as he runs to fill the bottle.
Student Zain smiles as he runs to fill the bottle.

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Abdulhamdan, 5th grade student
Abdulhamdan, 5th grade student

Abdulhamdan is 10 years old. He is in 5th grade and lives in Khallet El Amoud, the immediate neighborhood of Tomorrow’s Youth Organization. Many of the neighborhood’s families suffer from very difficult socio-economic conditions and few community resources, but the neighborhood also boasts a very friendly and welcoming community.

Abdulhamdan, along with his older brother Rayeq, were both in dire need of academic support to stay in school. Last year, both enrolled in Tomorrow’s Youth Organization’s Academic Support Program for children from refugee campus and other highly vulnerable neighborhoods of Nablus, and both remained committed throughout the year. Below, Abdulhamdan shares how the academic support program changed his outlook towards school and his future.

Tell us about your first session in the Academic Support Program.

Yes, I was enrolled in the program for the first time last Spring and I loved it! I liked it because every day was fun, no matter what. Of course I knew that class was not only about having fun but learning in the process, and I knew that while I was playing games and enjoying my time at TYO I was also learning so much that would help me in school. In the first session last Spring, I improved in math, Arabic, and English. I think I improved the most in English. I had never been comfortable in school in English class, and I would get so nervous with reading, writing, and speaking in English. Now I feel comfortable in English class, which is great!

Why do you think you improved the most in English? Tell us more about your previous experiences learning English.

For me, I feel like I improved the most in English because the Academic Support Program teachers and volunteers were always so willing to help us and they gave us each attention as individuals, which is often missing in school. In school, there are so many students in class that it’s impossible for the teacher to really give individual attention and answer our  questions. But at TYO, I feel like I can ask anything and get help – and so now I do! I’m so happy now that I’m improving in English.

What is your favorite part of the Academic Support Program?

Last summer, I was in Ms. Mahfuza’s class and it was so much fun! My favorite part of the day is the ice-breaker activity. One student goes out of the classroom, and when they do the rest of us in class stand in a circle and choose someone to be the “leader.” The leader then leads the class in some kind of movement like clapping or snapping and all of us do it in unison. The student outside comes in and has to guess who the leader is. We laugh so much when we play this game and I think we all get better at it every day, so we just keep playing! I feel like after that we’re in such a good mood and I feel good to start working on my homework, even if it’s difficult. I have made a lot of new friends at TYO doing fun activities like this. Most of all, I’ve become a lot closer with other students in my class who go to my public school. Before joining TYO, I’d see them in the hallways but I didn’t know them well and didn’t know how to ask them to be my friends. But last fall, I saw them all the time at school and we always said hi and spent time together! Having friends makes me feel a lot better about being in school.

The volunteers who help Ms. Mahfuza are great too. Most of all I love Waed who always tutors me. She is so kind and patient, and she never gets angry no matter how many times she has to explain and re-explain new lessons to us. Even if we ask her a hundred questions, she answers them with a smile and never gets frustrated like others do. She is the best!

What do you hope to work on in upcoming sessions of the Academic Support Program? 

Right now, I hope to improve my math skills the most next session. Most of all, I want to understand division better and work on a lot of division problems with the tutors. In the program, our teacher and the tutors give us so much time and freedom to practice what we want to work on, so I know with time I will get better at division and become stronger at math. This session I’m also excited to work on my soccer skills in TYO’s after-school sports program! Doing both, I know by the summer I’ll be better at math, English, Arabic, and soccer!

I love coming to TYO and learning through the games here. I know if I keep coming I’ll become a great student. I am still having trouble in some subjects at school now, but I know if I keep coming to the program I’ll become much better. I can’t wait to get started again this Spring!

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

Tomorrow's Youth Organization

Location: McLean, VA - USA
Website:
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Twitter: @tomorrowsyouth
Project Leader:
Suhad Jabi
Director, Tomorrow's Youth Organization
McLean, VA United States
$28,687 raised of $35,000 goal
 
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