Bring Refugee Children Education and a Smile

by Tomorrow's Youth Organization Vetted since 2009 Site Visit Verified
Ali gives a thumbs-up for the first day at TYO!
Ali gives a thumbs-up for the first day at TYO!

After a wonderful session with the children at TYO, the end of the session brings the challenge of saying goodbye. Saying goodbye to the students is never easy, especially after creating such a unique bond with them. As the end of each session comes closer, students start to reveal different emotions from attachment to the place and people including sadness from not being able to see each other every day. These feelings are quickly reversed once the teachers inform their students that they will see each other next session!

During our Winter 2018 session, we were able to open two classrooms for returning Core students. The parents were excited because they knew how deeply their children were attached to TYO and the teachers and how eager the children were to return to TYO! As for the Core teachers, they were incredibly happy to know that they would be seeing so many familiar faces.

On the first day of the session, it was no surprise to see the returning four and five year olds with big smiles and opened arms! To celebrate the first day, TYO arranged a day full of fun by bringing in inflatable bouncy games! Upon seeing these games, the children were surprised, thrilled, and excited to start playing!

Core teacher Shireen shared her thoughts and feelings on having the students return for another session at TYO. Shireen stated, "One of the best experiences in life is being able to give to others and draw a smile on their faces, particularly children. Through numerous experiences with children you always discover that everyday gives you a chance to not only teach, but also learn from the children surrounding you. Children always start off feeling nervous and scared when coming to a new place they have never been exposed to. Day after day, they become more comfortable and connected as this new place becomes a part of their lives. It feels amazing when we have returning students as it allows you to see the impact you left on them. They come back following the same set of rules you taught them from the first encounter with them. I strongly believe that children constantly require strong mentors to guide them in a proper and healthy manner which allows them to strive."

As TYO is a safe space for children to learn, grow, and explore who they are and what makes them special. It is with no doubt that giving children a place that is steady and positive in their lives plays an essential and positive role on their mental and emotional wellness. That's why at TYO it never really is goodbye, it's see you later!

Futoon is reaching the top with TYO!
Futoon is reaching the top with TYO!
Teacher Mahmoud and students roar in lion masks.
Teacher Mahmoud and students roar in lion masks.

“There is no such thing as a mistake in art.” Even now, years later, I can still remember my elementary school art teacher encouraging me to embrace mistakes. She showed me how a misplaced line or extra paint splotch could become a new design. There is always a way to transform an accident into an opportunity. As a child pre-occupied with perfection, art gave me space to develop at my own pace. I enjoyed learning without worrying about making mistakes.  

My elementary teacher must have known that using art in education helps students to develop and become well-rounded individuals. In June 2017, The Arts Fund USA released a statement confirming that students who learn through art are well-equipped to express themselves, show empathy towards others, and collaborate and solve problems. They are also willing to take risks and are resilient in their learning. The California Alliance for Arts Education adds that students with exposure to the arts tend to have higher test scores, higher school attendance rates, and are more likely to continue their education beyond the secondary level than their counterparts. They grow into critical thinkers and innovators.

I have come to appreciate the truth of these findings while using art to teach English to students at TYO. Including daily art projects in my lesson plans has provided children with a critical sense of both structure and accomplishment. They feel prepared for class each day and they know that even if they make mistakes while learning English, they will always be able to take pride in their work. Art emboldens students to be creative and to make the mistakes that language learners must make in order to develop.                

Art also gives students freedom to make mistakes and take risks in their daily lives. Many of my students live in crowded homes and neighborhoods. Due to space and noise restrictions at home, they do not always have the ability to buzz around in bee wings, make a kite and then fly it, or roar while wearing lion masks. TYO is a place where they do not need to worry about being perfect, still, or quiet. They are free to complete an art project, take pride in their work, play with it, and simply enjoy being children. I have seen that freedom translate into an eagerness to continue learning and attending class at TYO.

Art has instilled my students with a new sense of self-esteem and motivation in their learning. It has also enabled them to build stronger relationships with one another and with me. In my two months at TYO, I have watched every single one of my students grow through art. Art has fueled their imaginations and their curiosity about themselves and the world around them. Even after our session together ends, I hope they will continue to approach their education with enthusiasm and a willingness to take risks.

Students show off their lion masks in EFL class.
Students show off their lion masks in EFL class.
A TYO student smiles in his bee wings.
A TYO student smiles in his bee wings.
A volunteer helps students with their art project.
A volunteer helps students with their art project.
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!
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.

Links:

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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Organization Information

Tomorrow's Youth Organization

Location: McLean, VA - USA
Website: http:/​/​www.tomorrowsyouth.org
Project Leader:
Suhad Jabi
Director, Tomorrow's Youth Organization
McLean, VA United States

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