Interview with Dedicated TYO Student - Bara’a Abu Salha

Bara’a Abu Salha, 11 years old, is from Nablus, Palestine, in the northern part of the West Bank. The only daughter, Bara’s has a 5 year-old brother named Saleem.

When did you first start participating in TYO’s programs?

I was eight years old when I first came to TYO with my mom to register for classes. I was so scared when I registered in the photography class with Doris. I had never been in any program before. I used to just go to school and my grades were never that great. I spent all day by myself. I was not allowed to leave the house, not even to visit my neighbors. My mom and dad tried to protect me and always said outside is not a safe place. They did not encourage me to interact with people.

When I was seven, I had a weak personality and hesitated to share my opinions with other children in the class. I never spoke with boys and I blushed when I talked. I remember that I keep saying, “I do not know” or “I don’t know how do it.”

Why did your parents allow you to come to TYO?

My mom came many times to the center and spoke with Futoon, the Outreach Coordinator. Because the center is very close to my house and all of TYO’s programs are free, my mom said it was a safe place. I felt the same after a while. TYO is place where I felt secure. They never judged me based on my grades. And the organization has given me so many opportunities.

What kind of opportunities have they given you?

I remember when TYO chose me to go the computer camp in Amra on Rafidia street. Rafidia is in Nablus but it is so far from my house. At TYO, I met children from the refugee camps; I met foreigners in the center. And I realized that foreigners are different from Israelis. I’ve learned not to generalize.

I have also discovered talents I didn’t know I had. Now I can draw and enjoy art. I did not know that I love taking pictures. I had a dream to swim, but TYO made my dream a reality. They took me to the pool for the first time in my life. Today, I know what I love to do. And I also learned that I am so good at downloading pictures on the computer. I feel that I have many things to share with others my age. I always talk to my cousin and share what I’ve been learning but also, that it’s good to be different. I also noticed a big change in my family.

What changes have you seen in your family?

My mom participated in the My Arabic Library program at TYO and because of it, my mom and I have become closer. Before she used to be so frustrated with my weak study skills. Through this program, my mom had better techniques to help me study. We learned how to read together and to summarize things properly. Studying with her has become more fun!

My dad dropped out of school in the 6th grade and is illiterate. My mother I and started to teach him the letters in fun ways that we’ve learned. And now, he can read Arabic! I feel like now he loves me more. Not just because I helped him learn read, but also because he had the chance to meet with my American teachers at TYO. My teachers visited my house, and made connections with my family, making my father very proud of himself, his culture, and me.

Saleem, my younger brother, was attached to my mom. He drove us crazy. He was glued to us and my mom used to get frustrated and she never felt free. And a lot of times, my mom asked me to babysit him which was something I hate doing. When Saleem started attending the Core Morning Program, I remembered he cried wanting to leave TYO and he was running around the hall. After just two weeks at TYO, my family’s life was changed. He stopped nagging, he shared with us activities he learned, he smiled more and the most important change was he stopped crying when we left the house. I started teaching him English letters using the computer skills I developed in TYO.

What is your dream?

My dream is to travel and to see people’s cultures.  I would like to visit at least one place in the world and stay there for awhile. Learning about new cultures makes me so proud to be a Palestinian and what we should change about ourselves as a culture. Every culture has good things and bad things. I would like to learn new things and to teach my friends what I’ve learned. This dream was created when I began meeting a lot of foreigners at TYO and I wish to be like them.

Do you think that dream can come true? Is it close or is it a far away dream?

No, I see it so close because I am here at TYO. My experience with TYO makes me feel that I can do anything. I had no idea that I could go on a bus with my classmates to Ramallah and participate in a photography exhibit. I never thought my name would be written in a photography book. When my grandfather saw my name in the book, he almost cried and showed it to my uncles. My whole family kept talking about it for weeks. I also had the chance to go to Jerusalem with my friends that I made through TYO. And now, I am going to the pool twice a week, a luxury I never thought I’d have.

What do you want to be when you grew up?

My first choice would to be a lawyer to defend Palestinians and to show the world that we’re not terrorists and we are kind people. My second choice would be to become a doctor, to help injured children. I hope that we never have another intifada so that the number of sick and injured children can go down.

What message do you have for children your age?

To not be frustrated and to stay hopeful. I encourage them to meet people, and travel and to discover new things. They shouldn’t hesitate to ask questions and learn more. Also, I would like to tell them that education is very important and through education, they can do anything they want.


Suhad Jabi is the Psychosocial Program Manager at TYO.