Bring Refugee Children Education and a Smile

by Tomorrow's Youth Organization
Core Teacher Fawz and her students at TYO
Core Teacher Fawz and her students at TYO

We're excited to bring you this update from the field! Our Spring session is in full-swing and at the end of week two, the TYO teachers reflected on the beginning of the program and how TYO compared to their previous work and classroom experiences. Fawz, having previously taught in a private Nablus preschool, offered great insights on the differences between her previous teaching experience and her first two weeks at TYO. We hope Fawz's story gives you more insight into Nablus and to TYO's work. Thank you again for all your support - we couldn't do it without you!

Since you have taught in Nablus preschools before — what do you find different about TYO’s Core Child Program?

When I taught in a Nablus preschool, you didn’t hear the word “child” as much when we talked about our work. The focus was on what we were teaching, not who. Our conversations as teachers centered around the content of our lessons, for example writing skills, reading the Quran, and basic math and counting skills.

Here at TYO, the word “child” is the center of every conversation. When we talk about planning lessons, we talk about how each activity helps the child grow, how it promotes his or her physical and mental well-being, and how it helps us understand the root causes of the child’s behavior.

The work environment is also very unique. At TYO, I have access to people coming from different backgrounds in both education and psychology, and everyone is involved in sharing classroom ideas and techniques. There is so much input behind every activity, that you can’t help but to feel confident when you finally have a chance to give that lesson.

What has been the most rewarding part of your first two weeks teaching in TYO’s Core program?

The more rewarding – and I would say surprising – experience has been teaching hands-on Arabic lessons. Because I have taught Arabic for this age before, that is where I can clearly see the contrast between my previous work and TYO.

At the preschool where I previously taught, we followed rigid lesson plans that did not invite creativity from the kids or from us as teachers. At TYO, I worked with Ahmad [another TYO Core teacher] to develop an art-based lesson plan for teaching the first few letters of the alphabet. I enjoyed teaching the lesson, but the most rewarding part was the day after, when the kids returned remembering everything we had taught the day before.

Do you see any difference in the kids in TYO’s Core program versus those you taught previously?

The children are not fundamentally different, especially not at such a young age. However, the environment at TYO is very different than a traditional preschool, and it brings out a different side of the kids.

I taught in a well-known private preschool, so all of our children had their basic material needs met. Additionally, their parents were willing to invest financially in their education. However, that financial commitment did not mean that the parents were truly engaged in their child’s development; on the contrary, I saw how the parents’ focus on investing [financially] in academics caused them to neglect other aspects of the their child’s life, like the importance of play and creativity.

At TYO, our children come in at very different levels of academic abilities, reading and letter/word recognition, speaking abilities, etc. Additionally, most of our kids come from a difficult home environment that does not offer options outside of the norm of frustration and violence. What amazes me is that that background does not limit their capacity to learn. For example, because of their restrictive home and neighborhood environments, many of the boys in our program struggle with hyperactivity. However, as teachers we learn how to embrace their energy and encourage them to put it towards something positive; we learn how to turn their energy and hunger for new experiences into curiosity to learn. It is much more challenging for me as a teacher, but it is also more rewarding.

Core teachers Fawz and Ahmad plan an Arabic lesson
Core teachers Fawz and Ahmad plan an Arabic lesson
Sisters Shahd (left) and Bara
Sisters Shahd (left) and Bara'a (right)

We're so excited to bring you this interview from the field! Meet Bara'a and Shahd - two sisters who have been attending TYO programs since we first opened our doors! Bara'a and Shahd are both from Khallet al-Amood, the neighborhood where the TYO Center is located. Read on to hear why these sisters keep attending TYO's programming and why their lives have been changed for the better. 

This interview is conducted by Suhad Jabi, TYO's Psychosocial Program Coordinator.


Suhad: Tell me your name and a little bit about yourself.

Bara’a: My name is Bara’a, I am 11 years old and I’m in the fifth grade.

Shahd: My name is Shahd. I’m 8 years old - almost 9 - and I’m in the third grade.


Suhad: And when did you first come to TYO?

Bara’a: I’ve always been coming, every day since I was in preschool.

Shahd: Same, since I was 5 years old.


Suhad: And what do you remember most about your first experience at TYO?

Bara’a: Even now, I always think about Amo Youssef [a TYO Core Program volunteer]. I remember I loved coming to TYO to see Amo Youssef. He was the first person to really support me, and he taught me many things I didn’t know before. He was always smiling and available to help us. The best part of his classes was playing games.

Suhad: What did you enjoy so much about the games?

Bara’a: In the beginning when I came to TYO, I always felt angry and sad during the games because I always lost against my peers, and all I could think about was winning. It was so frustrating that it could ruin my day. With time, Amo Youssef helped me to learn that winning wasn’t the most important thing and that my sadness about winning or losing made me lose out on everything else that day, which I didn’t want.


Suhad: And what about you, Shahd? What do you remember most about your first experience at TYO?

Shahd: Everything I learned with Amo Samer [a TYO Core Program volunteer]. Amo Samer always gave me hints and support on how to succeed in sports, especially the hula-hoop activity. It was the first time someone gave me attention and noticed what I was good at.


Suhad: Imagine your daily life without TYO – what would it be like?

Shahd: I would have nothing to do and nothing to learn. It would be so boring. If there is anything in the world I wish not to happen, it’s that! If there were no TYO, I would have to keep myself distracted with friends in order not to think about it.


Suhad: At home in your neighborhood, you play with other kids in the streets. How is playing with your friends at home different than coming to TYO?

Bara’a: At home, I only see people who I’ve always known and most are my family. Coming to TYO allowed me to meet new people and learn how to make friends. Without TYO, that would never happen for me at home.

Shahd: I'm the same. When I see people at home they are my relatives and it is forced. There’s no option to see them or not. There are no boundaries at home so I have to see them. At TYO, you can choose to meet new people from new and different neighborhoods around the city. Sometimes, someone might not want to meet you. I learned to accept that and how to respect what others want.


Suhad: Who are the friends you have made at TYO?

Bara’a: My best friend is Reem from Balata Refugee Camp and I’m also friends with Raghad from Askar Refugee Camp.

Shahd: Everyone, they’re all my friends!


Suhad: What does everyone at home say about talking to those from the refugee camps?

Bara’a: They tell us not to talk to them. Our families say they are impolite and use bad words, so our parents do not want us to get to know kids from the refugee camps and learn those bad things.

Suhad: Did TYO change your ideas about that?

Bara’a: Yes of course. That kind of thinking isn’t allowed. But TYO didn’t just change how I think about others, it changed how they act towards me. I remember children here used to push me and hit me and insult me because they are from a different neighborhood. But with time, they changed their ideas towards me and my neighborhood, and that gave me the chance to become friends with them.


Suhad: And what about your friends, Reem and Raghad?

Bara’a: When I found out my classmate Raghad was from a refugee camp, I learned that I shouldn’t judge people. Now she is my friend.

Shahd: TYO has helped me at home, too. My best friend used to pick on me and fight to always be ahead of me when we were standing in lines. We used to compete all of the time. But after coming to TYO, I learned that I could talk to her or make an agreement with her so we can both be happy and get what we want.


Suhad: Your schools are separated by gender but at TYO, we mix boys and girls in the same class. Have your experiences at TYO changed your ideas about interacting with boys? Do you fear them?

Bara’a: Yes, now I know boys can be smart and nice sometimes, and at TYO I know that I don’t need to have any fear towards the boys in my class.

Shahd: Any person who grew up with fear will continue to have a feeling of fear, so I should not feel fear towards the boys at all. This is what I learned.


Suhad: We bring many interns from the United States to teach English classes and run other activities. Who do you remember most of those interns?

Bara’a: I loved Claire. She taught me a lot of new words and always helped me with my homework. Before, I had an extremely difficult time reading English in class, but Claire helped me to increase my confidence at school in front of my teacher and classmates.

Suhad: What did you find most interesting about the classes?

Bara’a: I never had the chance before to learn about another culture until our class with Claire. Claire talked a lot about the USA and different activities and games there. I feel that I got familiar with the culture.

Suhad: Do you think learning English is important? Why?

Bara’a: Yes. With Claire I learned to communicate with new people which will help me when I travel to new cities and places in the future.


Suhad: Do you think you’ll travel to many places in the future?

Bara’a: Of course I can travel. Remember you taught us “you can can”? [A lot of laughing.] I learned at TYO that if you want something just do it. Because of TYO I don’t have fear of doing what I want.

Bara'a in sports class in 2012
A five-year-old Shahd makes a new friend at TYO!
A five-year-old Shahd makes a new friend at TYO!
The girls come to register for TYO classes in 2011
The girls come to register for TYO classes in 2011
Volunteer Fatima helps facilitate imaginative play
Volunteer Fatima helps facilitate imaginative play

"Children are great imitators. So give them something great to imitate."              - Annonymous

At TYO, we strive to provide children and youth with a safe space to learn and grow. In order to help facilitate this learning, we rely heavily on the university-aged youth volunteers to support the work done by our teachers and international interns. These volunteers become real role models in the classrooms for the children who come to TYO and therefore, we aim to pick some of the most outstanding volunteers to join our program. Over the last year, we have been interviewing volunteers as part of our Youth In Focus series on our blog. We want to share some highlights from these interviews as a reminder of the people on-the-ground who help us bring smiles to our children: 

"My interest in volunteering at TYO stemmed from my positive experiences as a child beneficiary at TYO. When I was younger I used to attend classes at TYO. I was in a bad situation and frustrated at that time, but TYO opened new doors for me to have my hope in life back again. At the time I really appreciated that TYO accepted me as a girl. I just wanted to be able to play the same as boys, and was so thankful to find TYO in a culture that doesn’t allow the girls to play out of the homes as boys do" - Mayyada

"I’ve been volunteering at TYO since 2008 and keep coming back because I feel the program really adds to my skills. Aside from gaining skills to benefit my own future, I also really enjoy volunteering at TYO because it gives me the opportunity to serve my community." - Rakan

"What really caught my eye about [the program] was the chance to work with disadvantaged children from within my community. I like the idea of being able to make a positive impact on my community while at the same time being able to train myself for the future to be a good father." - Sameer

Prior to coming to TYO, I’d only been exposed to academic life and had never taken on a real leadership role, but being at TYO I was able to see that not only was I contributing, but I was surrounded by many other women who were working hard to improve their community. Through this, I really began to see how important my role is as a woman and that I can make a difference." - Mari

Stay tuned for next report, and on behalf of refugee children and youth of Nablus, thanks for your continued support!

Volunteer Ramsis is proud of his kids
Volunteer Ramsis is proud of his kids' projects
Volunteer Asmaa and the boys give a big thumbs up!
Volunteer Asmaa and the boys give a big thumbs up!
Volunteer Linda helps a child in the computer lab
Volunteer Linda helps a child in the computer lab
Intern Darializa hugs one of her students goodbye
Intern Darializa hugs one of her students goodbye

Tomorrow's Youth Organization wrapped up its summer programming with a splash as children in TYO's Core Child Program enjoyed an end-of-session outing at the pool. The pool provided welcome relief from the heat and was an excellent way for children to celebrate seven weeks of hard work! This session, alongside TYO's holistic psychosocial curriculum taught by TYO's highly qualified team of Core teachers, children were learning English through fun art and wellness activities facilitated by an energetic group of international interns and fellows from across the United States and England.

Darializa, one of TYO's all-star interns shared some thoughts from her expereince saying, 'On our last day of session at TYO, we took the children to the pool. Most of the kids could not contain their excitement and began splashing at the earliest possible moment. Ghazal didn’t follow suit. In the five weeks that I taught her English, she did not once smile. This was despite many efforts through group play and crafts that were meant to advance the kids’ English ability. But somehow, with the help of one of the Core AM teachers, we were able to get Ghazal to join the others in the pool. She only stuck her feet in at the edge but when she realized the fun that can be had there, there was no stopping her. She kicked and splashed to her little heart’s content and for the first time, I saw her laugh.

That is what childhood is about: learning and laughing. I am so grateful to have been able to work with TYO to give children the opportunity to learn and laugh in a safe and loving environment. Seeing the confidence with which they shout answers to questions asked and the excitement they brought to every English class made every minute of data collection and report writing worth it. Countless times over. It was also amazing to see the initiative each child took to make class their own safe space. Some asked to sing in front of the class and others asked for extra alphabet worksheets. It was inspiring to see the thrill with which my students devoured the opportunity to learn through shouting and playing and making a mess with glitter. This showed me how TYO succeeds in providing the opportunity for better childhoods.

I’m incredibly sad to be leaving because of the many beautiful moments I’ve had here. Seeing Ghazal so happy to be splashing in the pool reaffirmed the hope I have for Palestine. Yes, there is a mountain range that needs to be climbed in order for peace and equality to come. But I think that for every Palestinian child that is empowered through learning and a positive childhood, another mountain is claimed.'

Busy at work in the computer lab!
Busy at work in the computer lab!

At TYO we're celebrating the end of another successful session of programming. Children enrolled in the Core Child Program completed 12 weeks of classes that were devoted to addressing the themes of  Me & My Community, Communication, and Collaboration.

When asked to reflect on the session, TYO Core Teacher, Mufeeda explained that she is reminded of the challenges faced in the first weeks and the resulting sense of accomplishment she now feels for having helped her kids through those first few weeks. Initially children some were hard to engage, refusing to speak in class. For some of these children it was the first time in their lives that they left their refugee camps or neighborhoods. It took a while to build their trust with these children and show them through positive modeling that someone outside their homes can be a role model and care for them.

She went on to explain that nothing makes her more proud and excited than watching those silent children open up over the duration of the session. She reports having three particularly unengaged students but when they at last they smiled, and by week seven even asked to hold hands, she felt immense satisfaction. Teachers at TYO work hard to ensure children aren't only supported in the classroom, but also in the home. As such, teachers make frequent calls to follow-up with parents and relay the progress of their children, notifying parents of any potential issues flagged during class. Mufeeda attributes much of the success she was able to achieve with her children this session to the inclusive approach TYO takes to addressing the needs of children enrolled in the programming as well as the integration of new learning tools.

Of great help this session in engaging students was the inclusion of IT classes in the Core Child Program. Each day children were exposed to age appropriate educational content and games in the computer lab. According to a study by the Alliance for Childhood, for children over 3, ‘some exposure to thoughtfully constructed media content can promote pro-social behaviors and contribute to learning, especially when a caring adult is actively involved.’ IT activities were carefully selected to hone their small motor skills, logic and reasoning skills, and spatial awareness skills. Learning games from sources such as PBS Kids, National Geographic, and Sesame Street provide children with colorful and engaging games from trusted content providers.

We've been so happy to watch children at TYO develop their skills over the last session and with your generous support we can ensure that we have the  necessary resources to provide children in the Nablus community with the robust learning environment they deserve. 

Teachers work  to provide individualized support
Teachers work to provide individualized support



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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

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