Bring Refugee Children Education and a Smile

by Tomorrow's Youth Organization
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.   


Malak, 5 years old, with her teacher Fawz.
Malak, 5 years old, with her teacher Fawz.

Sonia, is the mother of Malak (5 years old) who is entering her 3rd session in TYO’s Core early childhood education program. Sonia has four children, Moath, Mina, Malak, and Moatez, and lives in Balata refugee camp. She studied Sociology at An-Najah University and she first learned about Tomorrow’s Youth Organization eight years ago at an outreach event, which occurred in Balata’s Yafa Cultural Center.


Sonia, can you tell me about any changes you have seen in your daughter Malak since she joined TYO’s Core early childhood program? How was she before, during, and after?

Malak has had the pleasure of participating in two Core Early Childhood Programsessions and this summer will be entering her third. Before joining TYO, she was very shy, would run away from strangers, and refused to talk to anyone who was not in our immediate family. She was afraid of most people and if someone came to our door, she would run and hide. She was also very sensitive—simple questions would make her run away and cry. Now she loves to sing and dance in front of anyone and is just a ball of energy and enthusiasm! We didn’t see much of a difference after her first session with TYO, but following her second session, we began to see incredible changes in her behavior and personality. She began to make friends in class, talk about those friends at home, and still asks me if she can invite them to our house to play. She also speaks in a loud voice, she explains and defends herself more, and has more overall confidence. As her mother, it is important that my daughter have the confidence to make friends in school and engage with people in our community with confidence and without fear. The ways in which Malak has developed at TYO will carry her throughout the rest of her childhood, adolescence, and adulthood and I could not be more grateful. Malak has begun to find her voice.

What do you think Malak enjoys most about  her classes at TYO? What does she talk to you about at home?

I am incredibly proud of the progress my daughter has made. Malak loves sports and art classes. She was never able to properly hold a crayon to draw and color until coming to TYO. When TYO was in session, she would come home and tell her siblings what she had learned that day. She likes to announce when she is going to wash her hands before mealtime, she proudly puts her toys away, and she makes sure the entire family knows she learned these habits from her TYO teacher Fawz. Right now, she constantly asks me when she is going to come back for a third session and says that she misses the TYO community, her friends, and the delicious meal she is always fed.

Are there other centers in Nablus that offer similar Early Childhood programming? What do you find unique about this program?    

Personally, I love the energy here. I love the beautiful building and the sunshine that streams through the windows. My family has a long-standing and positive relationship with TYO—my older children attended TYO and now Malak and I are both actively involved. I have not sent my children to any other organization as my family is seeing countless positive outcomes.  When my older son Moath started with the organization, he had similar problems as Malak— he was very shy and unable to speak up and defend himself. Moath used to only walk close to our house and wouldn’t confidently walk in the street like the rest of the boys his age. The longer he stayed at TYO, the more confident he became. As I saw positive outcomes in my children, I decided not only to keep them at the organization but to also join TYO myself. We live in Balata refugee camp, which is not a safe place for our children. TYO offers them a safe space to play, to breathe and to be who they are: children.

Have you noticed a change in your children's academic performance? Have you noticed a change in their attitude towards school or behavior in their school environment? 

Malak has not yet started school but I undoubtedly saw an improvement in my son Moath’s academic performance. Moath is more confident, earns better grades, and looks forward to school. Before starting at TYO, he hardly had any friends. Soon after, he developed relationships with his school classmates at TYO. TYO allowed him to develop relationships with his classmates he had known for years but never befriended.  TYO teaches the importance of friendship, relationship-building, and respect; my children have greatly benefitted from these lessons. I always speak positively about TYO and encourage all of my friends, neighbors, and family members to register themselves and their children. I tell them about the TYO approach of “learning through play” and the positive impact it has had on my family. I also encourage young mothers to join the Women’s Group and tell them all about the amazing seminars and educational classes I participate in and how beneficial they are for me.

What have you learned in TYO's Women's Group that has impacted the way you engage with you children? How has it impacted your relationship with your children?

I really enjoyed the educational parenting seminars with Suhad Jabi-Masri, TYO’s family therapist. By attending her sessions, I learned that I got very angry, very quickly and that my anger outbursts were negatively impacting my family in a serious way. Suhad taught me and the other participants that the first step to addressing negative family dynamics was to take responsibility for our role in perpetuating them. One time, my youngest daughter was imitating me and she acted like she was angry and resentful. Seeing myself reflected in my daughter’s imitation was such an important wake up call. Suhad’s sessions provided me with the tools to help me begin to change my behavior as a mother.

I also learned that I must take time for myself in order to be a better mother and better person overall. Now, I take my children to my parents’ house occasionally and either go out alone or relax at home alone. I am now more social, have strengthened my relationships with my friends, and am a more patient and loving mother. 

Mariam, Abdul Aziz & Shahd read in the TYO library
Mariam, Abdul Aziz & Shahd read in the TYO library

TYO is pleased to announce the newest addition to its programming for school-aged children. 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, this spring we launched a pilot after-school academic tutoring program for students in grades 4, 5 and 6. Focusing on math, English and Arabic, the children’s’ commitment has been remarkably high. Led by a group of 51 university youth volunteers, over 100 students attend the TYO Center four days a week for our academic tutoring program. The students have voiced that the program has helped them tremendously. We interviewed Mariam, Abudl Aziz and Shahd, to learn more about how the program has benefitted them.

Mariam, 5th grade:

I registered for this program because I want to be better in English. I was so happy when this class was being offered because I know TYO is a safe place to learn. My teacher yells at me at school and I am scared to raise my hand or ask questions. At home, my mom has no time to help me study because she’s busy helping my younger brothers and sisters. I felt that I want somebody to help me. At TYO I have Khaltu Malak to help me understand what I’m reading and to teach me how to write correctly. She also has a lot of vocabulary. I feel excellent now because I learned new words and my handwriting is better. But I’m still scared of my tough teacher at school.

I really recommend this program to other kids! I have encouraged a lot of girls in my school to register because there are many who need help and who are always being sent to the principal’s office at school for not understanding assignments. If they get help at TYO, they don’t have to be punished at school, they develop their English and they will feel better about themselves. And my mom is very grateful because she feels that because of this program, I’ve gotten better at school. Please don’t stop this program. It should be continued because we’re doing better at school!

Abdul Aziz, 5th grade:

I like this program because of the academic focus. I feel like I’m good in Arabic and math but English is my struggle. I can read English but I don’t understand what I’m reading. I feel that I’m getting a bit better, but I wish the program would never end. I want to be better and smarter. At home they help me but here at TYO, I feel that I have more individual attention. My family is very happy to have me in this program because they see progress in me. I want to be a surgeon when I grow up and I heard that if you want to be a surgeon you need to read and write English. Also if there’s a group of foreigners visiting me in the hospital, I should be able to speak with them. I like the program because I’m learning but I’m a fast learner and so I also like helping other kids learn too. I like the volunteer teachers at TYO very much because they respect me a lot.

Shahd, 4th grade:

The academic program is very nice. I learned things I never learned at school. I’m getting better and smarter. The teachers at school are surprised when I answer questions correctly and one teacher was so proud and surprised, she asked the other students to clap for me. I like to come here every day and TYO has become part of my family. Last week when I get home after TYO, my mom asked me if I studied at TYO, and I said yes. She asked me if I understood what was being taught and then reviewed the material with me. When she found out that I have learned the material, she said, “TYO is really is great!” I’m so happy because I’m young and still in 4th grade and that means I can still keep coming for academic support next year when I’m in the 5th grade.

Week 7: A fun lesson on respect with team relays
Week 7: A fun lesson on respect with team relays

Last July, we shared with you some exciting news! We finalized our curricula - the first non-formal education curriculum designed specifically for children in Palestine. Our curricula was developed through The Student Training and Employment Program (STEP!), working in coordination with Columbia University’s School of Social Work.

Our curricula for children emphasizes two main themes of communication and community, building a sense of security, trust, and self-confidence. In our last report, we explained how we integrate community-building into our curricula for children ages 4-5 years old in weeks 1-6. Now, take a glimpse into how TYO implements activities that build communication skills in the final six weeks of programming (see week seven's photo above):

Week 8: Improving listening skills with fun games
Week 8: Improving listening skills with fun games
Week 9: Teaching logic & reasoning with volcanoes
Week 9: Teaching logic & reasoning with volcanoes
Week 10: The group collaborates on an art project
Week 10: The group collaborates on an art project
Week 11: Problem solving with puzzles
Week 11: Problem solving with puzzles
Week 12: Students review what they learned at TYO
Week 12: Students review what they learned at TYO
Friends head to the pool during summer camp
Friends head to the pool during summer camp

We had such an exciting summer here at TYO! We offered summer camp for youth in the Khallet Al Amood neighborhood, where our center is located, for boys and girls ages 9-14. The classes at summer camp included pyschosocial classes that fostered identity, communication, creativity and team building skills. And thanks to the generous support of donors like you, we were also able to offer karate, "dabke" (traditional Palestinian dance), swimming, and chorus classes - see the final performance of our fantastic singers. We were also honored to welcome Palestinian-American comedian Maysoon Zayid for a day full of fun, laughter, and reflection with TYO's kids on their greatest strengths, fears, and dreams.

We would not be able to offer such enriching programming to our children and youth if it weren't for our donors - we appreciate you all so much. Thank you for making the summer in Nablus absolutely fabulous!

Ro'aa shows off her karate skills
Dabke lessons were a hit for both boys and girls
Dabke lessons were a hit for both boys and girls
Chorus class was great - the kids love singing!
Chorus class was great - the kids love singing!
Our kids enjoy their time with Maysoon Zayid
Our kids enjoy their time with Maysoon Zayid
Our boys and volunteers equally loved the pool
Our boys and volunteers equally loved the pool

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Organization Information

Tomorrow's Youth Organization

Location: McLean, VA - USA
Website: http:/​/​
Project Leader:
Niralee Shah
Country Director, Tomorrow's Youth Organization
McLean, VA United States
$18,847 raised of $22,000 goal
327 donations
$3,153 to go
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