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COVID19: Education & Food for Palestinian Children

by Tomorrow's Youth Organization
COVID19: Education & Food for Palestinian Children
COVID19: Education & Food for Palestinian Children
COVID19: Education & Food for Palestinian Children
COVID19: Education & Food for Palestinian Children
COVID19: Education & Food for Palestinian Children
COVID19: Education & Food for Palestinian Children
COVID19: Education & Food for Palestinian Children
COVID19: Education & Food for Palestinian Children
COVID19: Education & Food for Palestinian Children
COVID19: Education & Food for Palestinian Children
COVID19: Education & Food for Palestinian Children
COVID19: Education & Food for Palestinian Children
COVID19: Education & Food for Palestinian Children
COVID19: Education & Food for Palestinian Children
COVID19: Education & Food for Palestinian Children
COVID19: Education & Food for Palestinian Children
COVID19: Education & Food for Palestinian Children
COVID19: Education & Food for Palestinian Children
COVID19: Education & Food for Palestinian Children
COVID19: Education & Food for Palestinian Children
COVID19: Education & Food for Palestinian Children
COVID19: Education & Food for Palestinian Children
COVID19: Education & Food for Palestinian Children
COVID19: Education & Food for Palestinian Children
COVID19: Education & Food for Palestinian Children
COVID19: Education & Food for Palestinian Children
COVID19: Education & Food for Palestinian Children
COVID19: Education & Food for Palestinian Children
COVID19: Education & Food for Palestinian Children
COVID19: Education & Food for Palestinian Children

"I miss seeing my friends and studying with them in the same class," Ghazal said when asked about what she missed most about TYO during COVID-19 lockdowns.

Ghazal is a 9 years old student in the Academic Program who lives in Balata Refugee Camp. Her mother attends the Women's Empowerment Program at TYO. Although Ghazal is naturally quiet, she is able to express herself at TYO and make many friends.

"Ghazal started becoming more confident when she joined the organization," said her mother. Her teacher Shireen also noticed how much her personality developed from shy to confident after three weeks in the program.

"I love math, and I love to learn English from international interns. They are so kind and I feel special when they teach me," Ghazal said. The program offers basic academic subjects for students aged 9-14. When all the programs stopped running in accordance with the COVID-19 lockdown, Ghazal kept asking, "Will we return soon?"

Our education classes are gradually returning with a strictly limited number of children and following World Health Organization's COVID-19 safety precautions, we're happy to see even a few of our amazing kids again. There’s still a long way to go, but together we can overcome this global crisis!

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Entrance to Balata Refugee camp.
Entrance to Balata Refugee camp.

“I've been married for 6 years. I have 3 girls and I’m currently 9 months pregnant. My daughters are 5, 4 and 2 years old. Since the beginning of my marriage I lived with my in-laws in the same house in Balata Refugee camp, where we experienced many hardships from being poor, not enough food, and too many people living under the same roof. It was very challenging and my father-in-law gave me a very hard time. Five months ago we moved to a room on the rooftop of my in-laws house. It has a bedroom, bathroom and small kitchen. The bathroom and kitchen are still not ready to be used so whenever we need to use the bathroom we have to go to my sister-in-laws room.”

TYO social workers have been in touch with Sara* and her family during the COVID-19 crisis. When asked about their current situation, she explained:

"Our situation is very difficult right now, it's the hardest time I’ve ever been through in my life.

My husband worked in the vegetable market at night where he would transfer vegetables. But ever since the Coronavirus crisis he hasn't been able to work in anything at all. It's been a whole month since he lost his job. This Coronavirus is ruining everything. Even before this situation we used to only eat once a day when my in-laws would bring something at night, but now there is absolutely nothing. For the past 2 weeks, there hasn't been any money or food in the house. My mother-in-law and brother-in-law also used to work but with the current situation they also lost their employment. So right now we have no source of income.

There’s an organization that gives us 3 kilos of bread every other day for the whole family, but we're 9 adults and 6 children in the house. We feed the children bread with vegetable oil, some days we add a little bit of thyme. The children cry a lot because they’re hungry, but I swear there isn't any food. Because they cry so much, my sister-in-law and I give them plenty of water to drink so they feel full and can go to sleep. Two days ago the children cried so much that we went to ask for food from other relatives. We came back with a little bit of rice and made them a plate. They all sat around it and ate together, every last bit. They were so happy, as if they were having a feast.

To tell you the truth, I’m exhausted. I haven't been able to rest or sleep properly as I’m always thinking of our situation, throughout the entire pregnancy I barely ate anything. I’m so worried that this lockdown might be extended longer. I’m scared of my upcoming due date in the middle of this month (April), especially since I can't afford the fees for giving birth; the clinic in the camp gave me a referral to a hospital but it would cost 130 NIS which I don't have. I also haven’t prepared for me or the baby and this is making me very anxious. We don't have cleaning supplies at home so I won't be able to clean and sanitize the house. I’m afraid my girls might catch something from me after I come back from the hospital.”

Thanks to your donations and support, Tomorrow’s Youth Organization staff are on the ground in Balata Refugee Camp, Nablus’s other refugee camps and it’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods, providing healthy food, medicine and basic supplies like baby formula and diapers to Sara’s* family and as many others as possible.

Sara delivered a healthy baby girl in the hospital in April via C-section. Our social workers were able to advocate for Sara and her situation to the hospital management, resulting in the hospital treating Sara and delivering her baby for free, without any fees. We were also able to provide Sara with a care-package of newborn baby supplies, to ensure her and her new daughter had everything they needed at home.

TYO staff delivering food to families in need.
TYO staff delivering food to families in need.
TYO's food deliveries to families in need.
TYO's food deliveries to families in need.
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Dana and her mom are loving Lego time!
Dana and her mom are loving Lego time!

Hello, my name is Dana. I am 4 years old. My mom is from Russia and my dad is from Palestine. I live in Askar, a small village in Nablus. I started coming to TYO three months ago, and I come to class every Monday and Wednesday. My mom comes with me on the bus and she is supposed to leave me in class until I finish at 11:30. Then she picks me up and we go home by bus again.   

When I first started, I cried hard when it was time to leave my mother. I did not like when she left the classroom and left me alone with other children and the new teacher and four volunteers. They were kind to me and tried to make me smile and play with other children and engage in the different activities, but I struggled. I couldn’t imagine being there alone away from my mama. We never leave each other. We are always together and we spend our time together at home - she cooks and I’m beside her, she visits her friends and I’m with her, she teaches sports in the gym and I also go with her. She never leaves me alone or with someone new. I am the one who never leaves her. Yes, I can’t leave her, you know why? Because I love my mom and can’t stay away from her.  

My mom is an amazing woman. She has been through some challenges since she moved from Russia to Palestine, when she married my father. Her life has changed. She lives far away from her family. We still visit them, but Russia is not close to Palestine, so we have to wait a long time to go there. She is from a different culture. She also looks different than most people who live in Palestine because she is blond with blue eyes. I look like her, too

My mom didn’t have a lot of friends when she came to Palestine. She also didn’t speak Arabic well. She speaks Russian and she had to learn Arabic in order to communicate with people, especially when my dad leaves for work and she stays alone at home.

My mom loves me and my sister Sabrina so much. She gives us everything we want and tries to make us feel happy and comfortable. She also spends most of her time at home with us. She used to work as a sports instructor at one of Nablus’ gyms, but not anymore. My mom said it was hard for her to take me with her all the time to the gym whenever she had a class to teach. I understand why. I’ve been there and I have seen how huge those machines are. I was scared to get close to them. But what can I do? I can’t leave her there alone; I miss her if she stays away from me for a short time, how about an hour?

At TYO, I have fun - great fun. The teacher is nice and understanding and the classes are full of toys and great materials. There is even an imagination room! It’s full of beautiful costumes I can try out and pretend to be someone! There is also a sensory room where we can try different sounds and lights of different colors. I enjoy my time there, but I cry when my mom is not around. My mom stayed with me in class for 1 month. She volunteered in class like the other volunteers. I wouldn’t leave my mother even if she stayed in the same room and left her chair or grabbed something over the shelf. I would follow her and cry her name out loud and cry, “don’t leave me!” My mother was so stressed when she noticed how stressed I was, and how I would spend the whole day nervous thinking about her leaving me anytime during the day. My mom approached my teacher, Marah, and talked to her about my situation. She said I’m not used to being left alone with so many strangers and that I’m so attached to her. I need a longer time to adapt to the new situation and to the staff. My teacher and my mom agreed on letting my mother stay in class for longer periods. She volunteered to stay in class as a volunteer, not as a mother, in order to make the classroom environment smoother.

My teacher and mother also helped me by giving me a special volunteer all to myself. She always said hello to me at the door and played with me during class. I became so calm and active at the same time. I also became more engaged in activities and even more social. I made friends through the session and showed empathy towards them in many situations. After a few weeks, I could stay in class all by myself without my mom! My parents at home and my sister Sabrina are so happy and grateful to finally be able to leave me in a good mood and not have to worry about me while my mom is not available. We can’t wait to be back next session. We miss everyone already! 

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During my time at TYO I have learnt a lot; and I learnt the most during the craft activities in my classes. Teaching grade 1 during the summer camp meant I was able to dedicate lots of the time to simple activities that would help the children engage with the topics we were discussing. Whether that was basic English words or the life cycle of butterflies, drawing activities and songs were the activities the students would throw themselves into and enjoy the most.

But what struck me with each of these activities, whether in groups or solo projects, was the apparent fear the children felt about following their own ideas. They preferred to copy others or have someone else do it for them. Let me illustrate with two boys from my class: let’s call them Kareem and Zain. These two stuck out to me from early on, and both for very different reasons.

Kareem is small for his age, but what he lacks in stature he compensates for in his outgoing personality. He is memorable for me because of one craft activity I set the class. He seemed to be extra bold and was loudly proclaiming things to his table in his proudest voice. I asked my translator, who informed me he was telling his peers how amazing his drawing would be, and how it would be much better than all of the others. But after five, then ten minutes he still hadn’t made a mark on his paper.

When I asked, with help of my translator, why he hadn’t started his drawing, he boasted once more about how good it would be. I prompted him that I would really like to see his drawing. He seemed to deflate a little before whispering he didn’t know how to draw and didn’t want to mess it up. It touched me that despite all his showboating his confidence was so low, so I showed him some examples and thanked him for telling me how he felt.

Zain hardly smiled and never spoke during the first few weeks I knew him. He was reserved and disliked attention, nodding or only following instructions given if someone spoke with him individually. It was difficult seeing him come into class each morning with his sincere and quiet manner and not interact with anyone. Even during the morning singing and dancing, he would simply sit and observe. After much coaxing, his behaviour changed gradually but slowly. He would stand with the group and watch the others move, seemingly unsure of how to follow their actions and not wanting to get it wrong.

Despite the differences in character, both of them needed to hear that their effort was appreciated. When resources are low and with so many kids in the classroom, it can be very easy to be product-orientated and not acknowledge the process. Confidence and self-belief are essential to take the first steps.

Zain took those steps when he first stood with the group and repeated with a growing smile the moves he saw his peers doing. Kareem took those steps when learning to trust his own creativity and slowly accepting that the effort and time are just as praiseworthy as (if not more so than) the final drawing. I hope that my students learnt to be more confident during their time with me, because I have learnt from them how important confidence is.

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Elisa's students shower her with hugs
Elisa's students shower her with hugs

Since I was little, I have been fascinated by languages and the thousands of combinations of sounds and symbols that human beings have developed to communicate. Whenever I have been travelling, I’ve always loved to hear people speaking their own language and to try to imitate the sounds of their words. When I found out I had been accepted for an internship in Palestine, I was really excited about the idea of living in an Arabic-speaking country. I still didn’t know that I would learn another language during these months: the language of children.

I remember that my main concern when I started teaching at TYO was the language barrier. How will I communicate with my students? Will I be able to understand their needs and to provide them with the right support? What if the lack of communication between me and them will affect their learning process?But after the first time I saw my students entering the classroom one by one with their contagious smiles, proudly greeting me with a loud “Good morning!” and an energetic high five, I remembered something precious I learned from my previous working experiences with kids abroad: there is no linguistic or cultural barrier children can’t break.

Over the years, I’ve come to know that kids have this magic inside them. They live in their own pure world, made of imagination, games and exploration. It’s the same world in which we used to live as well, before we “grew up,” and children can lead us there, if we are open to it.  It doesn’t matter what language you speak: kids have this incredible skill of communicating by easily creating an emotional connection with others.

As soon as we grow up, we tend to hide our feelings and we are ashamed of showing them. Children, on the other hand, through their pureness and spontaneity, seem to have much more emotional awareness and empathy than adults.They actually don’t need many words. Children know how to reach out to people and how to connect with them by using a wide range of spontaneous facial expressions, body language, and eye and body contact to express their emotions and feelings. They can easily show happiness and excitement or show genuine pride when they succeed in things. They can make you understand when they are sad or disappointed. They know how to ask for help and how to communicate their needs, as well as to show their gratitude. The only thing you have to do is listen to them.

During these months, I learned from my students that what children really need and expect from us is to put our heart and passion in what we do, to create a safe place for them where they can feel listened to, understood and loved. There is no need to share the same language or culture to create a meeting point with kids. Little simple actions like sitting with them, teaching them a song, miming things, making them smile, and sharing laughs are enough.

Working with children at TYO reminded me every day of the importance of expressing and identifying emotions in our daily life as a precious component of connecting and communicating with others. Sometimes, what we need to do is forget about the rationality of adults and listen more to the little child inside us.

Core class shows their handmade Mother Day cards
Core class shows their handmade Mother Day cards

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Organization Information

Tomorrow's Youth Organization

Location: McLean, VA - USA
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @tomorrowsyouth
Project Leader:
Suhad Jabi
Director, Tomorrow's Youth Organization
McLean, VA United States

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