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Humans of Nablus 39

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If I could give my younger self one piece of advice, it would be to just do what you want to do, and study what you want to study, no one can force you to do anything different. Try hard to achieve your goals because, if nothing else, at least you’re trying

اذا استطعت  اعطاء  نصيحه صغيرة ستكون فقط اعمل ما تريد وادرس ما تريد دراسته ولا احد يستطيع اجبارك على عمل شيء مختلف.ابذل كل ما بوسعك للوصول الى هدفك لانك ان لم تبلغ مبتغاه عالاقل كان لك شرف المحاولة

 

Saffanah is a volunteer at TYO with the After-School Academic Program.

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A Fleeting Return

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The TYO Team and the Fall 2017 International Interns pose for a photo on Niamh’s departure day.

It is easy for recollections of a place to fade almost as soon as your feet leave its soil. Indeed, as I adjusted back to life in mainland Europe, the problems and accuracy of past events begin to be dominated by new people, fresh adventures and daily quandaries. Unfortunately, my abysmal level of Arabic also returned to its original non-existent state.

Of course, there are some elements which I could not forget even with distance and time. The children, teens and adults with whom I worked left a marked impression on me; their smiles, sadness and frustrations were all part of our time together in the classroom and on the football pitch. Despite the many great experiences, I had during my first internship, it is the people that I met here that I remember most fondly.

I think this explains why, as we drove to Nablus after an excessively long journey from Dublin, it felt like I was returning home again. The prospect of continuing friendships beyond a laptop screen, exploring the rolling landscape and forging new memories was exciting and inviting. And reuniting with the staff and volunteers of TYO did not disappoint. There were new stories of motherhood, engagements and summer adventures in the three months that I had been gone. It was great to reacquaint and hear updates from everyone, to smile and laugh and to see familiar faces. There is a sense of community here that is similar to my village at home; a diversity in personalities but a collective mentality and sense of unity.

However, there was not much time chit chat. The hustle and bustle at the center was indicative of the Fall session already being underway as women conversed on their way to class and children ran through the corridors while volunteers attempted to catch them. The return of the sonorous swell of everyday life at TYO has been like music to my ears, the positivity and excitement palpable in the air for the upcoming activities. Seeing local people engaged in TYO and the work that we do is such a satisfying feeling, that we are facilitating personal growth and learning despite the difficult living conditions here.

And although I must leave TYO this week, much sooner than I had hoped or anticipated, I am thankful for my short time here. In my final blog of the Spring session in May, I felt a deep sense of sadness to be leaving the organisation and those I met while here. I imagined that I would not see many, if any, of those with whom I worked again once we drove out the front gates. However, unexpectedly I returned not even four months later, straight back into the madness. This time, saying goodbye to the organisation, I feel both disappointed and hopeful; dissatisfied at being unable to stay in Nablus but hopeful that TYO will continue to grow, teach and empower those who come through the doors. I cannot say when I will be in TYO again after I leave on Wednesday but this time I am sure that it won’t be the last time I pass through those green front gates. Until next time Nablus!

 

Niamh, Fall 2017 International Intern

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What Lies Beyond My Comfort Zone

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International Intern Katherine practices the ukulele.

In three short weeks, the teachers, staff, and students at TYO have helped me to discover a new confidence that I did not know I had. That confidence has come to me through playing music. Whether singing for staff, learning to play the ukulele for children, drinking tea and playing music with the guard, or simply strumming a guitar on the balcony overlooking the valley, music has unlocked both the culture of Nablus and my own sense of identity and purpose.

Music first began to shape my experience while I was singing for staff. The day before classes began, I was petrified to sing and play music in front of people. I grew up singing and playing different instruments, but always suffered from terrible stage fright. I finally overcame my fear while lesson-planning at TYO and invited others to listen to me practice a “Hello” song that I wrote on the ukulele. Their support gave me confidence to play the song for the children.

All of my students were enthralled by the ukulele. Even when I made mistakes in week one, they still clapped and requested that I include their names in the verses. In the second week, one third grader even started dancing. Students also began to sing and do hand gestures while I played. The music has inspired an atmosphere of love and community. It means everything to me that my students enjoy learning and that our class is a safe space for them to express themselves.

International Intern Katherine sings with her Core Early Childhood education class.

I quickly learned that music also builds community in Nabulsi culture. I sat one night for nearly two hours drinking tea and playing the guitar with TYO’s guard. We passed the guitar and took turns playing traditional songs from our cultures. It was a beautiful expression of tolerance and reaffirmed the welcoming spirit that I witness on a daily basis from local staff. Once again, the experience required me to challenge my comfort zone and play music in front of others.

On a personal level, music has given me peace and helped me to feel at home. I often sing and play the guitar on the balcony overlooking the valley. When I do, locals living nearby will sometimes stand on their balconies to watch and listen. I am no longer afraid of anyone listening to me sing or play. On the contrary, the music has become a way for me to introduce myself to locals and break down any linguistic or cultural barriers that might otherwise divide us.

Music has shaped my first impressions of Nablus in every way. I came here to serve the children to the best of my ability. Playing music is allowing me to accomplish that goal while also helping me to recognize my own identity and potential. I have calluses on my fingers and a small bump on my thumb from where I have been strumming the ukulele and guitar. I hope those marks remain as a lasting reminder of this experience and the healing that music can bring.

 

Katherine, Fall 2017 International Intern

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The Heart of Palestine

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International Intern Sally and TYO students smile for a photo after classes wrap up for the day.

Before arriving in Palestine, I had read and heard many stories of the warmth of the people, and the beauty of its landscapes. I expected that I would be met with the friendly faces of the people working at TYO, and that I would enjoy taking in my new surroundings. I thought that these expectations put me in good stead for my 3 months here. Yet, after just two weeks of the internship, I am still often overwhelmed by the reality of my experiences in Nablus. While I expected that I would meet good people, I was not prepared for the great warmth and compassion of the staff at TYO. I learn something new each day from working alongside the incredible teachers here, and the support that the staff provide both for the children and each other is unlike anything I have experienced before. Daily experiences with the teachers, staff, and children, reveal more and more that it is the people, and their heart, that is driving this organisation.

The Nablus skyline in the evening from the TYO Center.

Another reality of life in Nablus that I was under-prepared for is the endless, stunning, scenery. Again, before arriving in Palestine, I thought I had a good idea of what to expect from what I’d seen online and in books. I expected that the landscape would be beautiful, with the sun shining over rolling hills. But being able to sit in amongst these sun-kissed hills evokes particular emotions that you cannot feel when simply looking at a picture on Google Images. I sit here reflecting on my first two weeks on a balcony in the TYO building, which is set up in the hills, with the valley lying below. I moved here straight from the urban north of England, and being able to look out over miles of undulating hills simply takes my breath away.

Delicious knafeh in the heart of the Old City of Nablus.

As well as getting to know compassionate individuals, and admiring the beautiful hills of Palestine, there is also some time to sample the local cuisine. Whenever I go somewhere new, discovering the local delicacy often plays a big part in assessing how well I am going to fit in to my new surroundings. Considering I am vegetarian, and a staple here is falafel, we were off to a good start. Add to that copious amounts of hummus and yogurt, and you have one very happy vegetarian. The cherry on the top came during a visit to Nablus’ Old City, where we were introduced to knafeh; a delicious combination of melted cheese and syrup. The first time I tried this dish, I wasn’t quite sold. However, I have since tried it a few more times, and it is fast becoming a staple in my diet.

The minaret of the Great Mosque in Old City of Nablus.

Inevitably, these first few weeks have involved a lot of learning, and adjusting to a new environment that can sometimes be overwhelming. Considering this, I could not be more excited to see what the next 2 months hold. I look forward to spending more time getting to know people, and learning from the incredible teachers here. I am eager to explore more; to walk in the hills, and float in the Dead Sea. And, of course, I look forward to another 2 months of a knafeh-based diet.

In the meantime, I think it is safe to say that we are off to a very good start, Nablus.

 

– Sally, Fall 2017 International Intern

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Who Says Grey Isn’t a Warm Color?

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Before I had even formally arrived at the TYO building, I was introduced to the hospitality of Nablus. I arrived in the early hours of the morning when few reasonable people are awake, yet I was greeted by one of the school’s security guards when I drove through the gate. As I unloaded by bags and was led upstairs to my new home, it was explained to me that the guard had voluntarily stayed after his shift in order to welcome and greet the new intern for the session. This unbelievable thoughtful and kind gesture soon proved to be the rule, and not the exception for Nablus.

In my brief week here I have had people warmly smile at me, greet me in Arabic and English, wave to me, offer services, food, assistance and explanations, and even invite me to a wedding (which was absolutely phenomenal, and I strongly encourage anyone who has the opportunity to go).

While children are wise to be wary of strangers, the majority of students have warmed up to me quickly. To watch a child cautiously eyeing you from across the room and then resolutely walk over to you and offer you their colored pencil, it absolutely melts your heart. Children will often stare at the new interns in the hallways, especially me being the tallest of the four, but undoubtedly you will have one daring and bold child enthusiastically shriek, “Hello!” with an aggressively uncoordinated wave. This creates a domino effect and suddenly you have three and then seven little voices echoing the greeting as they march past on their way to snack or the playground.

One of the hardest things I’ve had to keep reminding myself is to be fun and friendly while still establishing cultural boundaries and reinforcing personal space. In one of the classes with my older students, a student wanted to see my multi-colored necklace and started to reach for it to simply touch it. I was quickly pulled to the side by the teacher and it was kindly explained to me that they discourage students from touching simply so students can learn boundaries and respect personal space. TYO tries hard to teach and establish the meaning of personal space in order to ensure that students have a healthy concept of autonomy and respect.

This was difficult for me to grasp since I naturally want to pat my students on the back encouragingly and let kids examine my necklace or let a student gently tug on my sleeve for my attention. Fairly innocuous physical interactions that happen just from being around children, but I suddenly had to constantly check myself and monitor my space and movements. If I happened to slip or let students get too comfortable physically getting my attention, it could create a bad precedent for how to respectful of others’ space.

It helped to contextualize for me that while Nablus is an overwhelming friendly and welcoming city, it nevertheless has its own unique cultural norms and traditions. This has meant that I’ve had to intertwine caution and restraint into my interactions, while still seeming open and approachable. The situation isn’t so simple as a black and white duality between friendly and distant, it exists in a respectful and warm grey. During the rest of my time here, I look forward to seeing all the shades that this colorful city has to offer.

 

Tallin, Fall 2017 International Intern

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Welcoming Our Fall 2017 Interns!

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International Interns Tallin, Niamh, Katherine, and Sally.

Introducing the Fall 2017 Intern team! 4 international interns from the United States, Ireland, and England have been selected to lead English classes with children and youth. Read all about them!

 

Tallin

Tallin grew up right outside of Washington D.C, in Takoma Park, Maryland. She obtained her undergraduate degree in Linguistics from the University of Alaska Fairbanks in a rather unorthodox fashion. While obtaining her university degree, Tallin lived in Nicaragua, Turkey, Chile and Slovenia. While in Nicaragua, Tallin discovered her passion for linguistics and learned Spanish. She then turned her love of languages into a career choice by teaching English in Istanbul, Turkey. After a year of teaching, she returned to school in Alaska for a year and then headed off to Slovenia for an internship and to complete her studies online.

Tallin joined the TYO intern team because it seemed like the perfect opportunity to use her past professional experience, gain new knowledge by working with a widely recognized NGO, and learn about a new culture and group of people.

 

Niamh

Niamh grew up in the west of Ireland. She moved to Dublin to complete an undergraduate degree in Medical Research and obtained a Master’s degree in Humanitarian Action in the Netherlands. Niamh became interested in Palestine at the age of 16 when she traveled to the area to attend a summer course on conflict resolution. The community-focused approach that TYO takes towards its work and the love and appreciation that is felt by local people really drew her towards TYO originally in Spring 2017 and again for the Fall session. She is excited to be back in such a positive environment and is really looking forward to working with the people of Nablus and the organization once more, doing some good work, and having a bit of fun in the process.

 

Katherine

Katherine is originally from the northern suburbs of Chicago. After earning her BA in Religion with focus on Middle Eastern Studies from St. Olaf College in 2012, she completed a two-year MA in Religion with focus on Women and Gender Studies at Yale University. She spent the next two years working at a women’s empowerment center in rural Morocco, doing foreign policy work in DC, teaching humanities and literature at an all-girls school in Jordan, and doing humanitarian work with Syrian, Iraqi, and Afghan refugees in Greece. Inspired by these experiences, she recently earned her Ed.M. in International Education Policy from Harvard University with a focus on child protection and education in crisis and conflict settings.

Katherine is excited to gain field experience working on refugee education programs with the TYO team. She sees this as a wonderful opportunity to learn more about education in conflict, further develop her Arabic and other professional skills, and deepen her understanding about the region’s culture, history, and people.

 

Sally

Sally grew up in Liverpool, England, before moving to Nottingham to complete her Bachelor’s degree in Management Studies and French. She spent a year in Bordeaux, France as part of her undergraduate degree, where she realized her love for learning about other cultures and the importance of this for both personal and community development. After graduating, she bought a one-way ticket to Martinique in the Caribbean, where she explored a new culture, made great friendships, and discovered her unwavering desire to work in development. A voluntary placement in Senegal with Y Care International, the international relief agency of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), left Sally with a strong commitment to do more. On her return to England she undertook a Master’s degree in International Development with emphasis on Development Management, in Manchester, which she finished in August 2017.

While in Manchester, Sally enjoyed Arabic lessons with a local non-profit organization that provides community support for Syrian people. She saw the difference language and culture exchange can make to overcome social barriers and build communities. Now that she has completed her studies, she can’t wait to take up the fantastic opportunity with TYO, and hopefully play a part in contributing to the Nablus community.

 

Welcome to TYO!

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Giggles and Splashes

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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.

 

Lindsey, International Internship & Fellowship Coordinator

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Singing and Dancing My Way Through Nablus

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On my third day at TYO I spotted a guitar in the corner of an office. I could feel my heart beating faster with excitement as I asked if I could use the instrument and was delighted with the positive response. It was a small acoustic guitar that was perpetually out of tune, but simply having it brought me too much joy to care about the slightly off sound.

 My happiness from finding the guitar didn’t stem from my direct love for playing music. Instead, the excitement was rooted in what the guitar could create. Music and dancing have always been the most important ways that I connect and identify with my own culture and with other cultures. When traveling to a place that presents a significant language barrier for me, I have found that music allows us to facilitate a connection that may have been thought impossible. Sometimes this connection can be even stronger than ones formed only with words. Finding the guitar meant more than music, it meant community.

Connor blog

I began writing silly little songs to sing to the children in order to help them remember words in English. Quickly, I noticed how these little five and six year olds went from shy and standoffish around me, to jumping, singing, dancing machines.

It didn’t take long for the children to tell their mothers in my women’s group to see how much I enjoyed music, and the ladies became eager to show me how to sing and dance the Palestinian way. No matter the age, all it took was a little bit of music to spark an infectious lively spirit inside the room each day. They would cheer and clap along as we danced around the room.

Yalla! Sing like me!

Slowly, someone would teach me a few lines of a song. I would try to emulate the vibrant and dynamic words coming from their mouths, but the Arabic was heavy and rough in my throat, making everyone laugh at my attempt to speak their language. But just like the out of tune guitar, it was okay that my words were a little out of tune as well.

Over the course of my time at TYO I sang with people who didn’t know my songs, and I didn’t know theirs. I danced with people who didn’t know my language, and I didn’t know theirs. All that mattered was the music and the people. My gratitude to those that I met during my time in Nablus is undying. I have never been to a place where I have been so quickly and warmly accepted into. Thank you for sharing your city, your culture, and your music with me.

 

Connor, Spring 2017 International Intern

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From the TV Screen Straight to the Heart

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Core student Mohammad smiles as he works on a project during art class.

Core student Mohammad smiles as he works on a project during art class.

Over the past two years, the term refugee has moved from humanitarian development circles into living rooms around the world as international crisis and crisis force men, women, and children to flee their homes for safety. From the flicker of the television screen and cultural, linguistic, political, and religious divides, it can be difficult to process the lives of those living as refugees. Palestinian American poet, songwriter, and novelist Naomi Shihab Nye stated, “You know, those of us who leave our homes in the morning and expect to find them there when we go back- it’s hard for us to understand what the experience of a refugee might be like.”

As with any unfamiliar situation, education is vital to understanding what we personally do not experience. According to The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), there are 21.3 million refugees in 2017, including 5.2 million Palestinian refugees registered by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). Statistics from UNHCR also show that out of 21.3 million refugees, over half are under the age of 18.

Refugee children have their lives disrupted in such a way that the impact runs deep into their core. Being a child and finding your place in a large world is challenging and requires innocent bravery and acts of courage. This transition through childhood to adulthood is eased for those with familial support and strong roots of community. Knowing who you are and where you come from is a key part of the foundation of identity that everyone experiences.

For children growing up in a refugee camp, the journey of recognizing identity can be especially challenging as they seek to learn who they are in a location seemingly temporary. The refugee camps of Ein, Balata, and Old and New Askar within the city of Nablus have existed for generations, resulting in children whose have difficulties recognizing who they are beyond the singular experience of being a refugee. Without opportunities to try new activities, space to play, and safety to meet other children from different parts of the city, kids cannot grow through use of their imagination in a healthy way.

The struggle of identity, disruption of education, and loss of security and safety in their lives are common experience of students of TYO’s Core program. TYO approach of comprehensive development, sustainable impact, and cultural diplomacy, as well as the method of using non-traditional holistic educational techniques seeks to provide a space for children to learn, play, and grow. Children from different areas of the city and all the refugee camps come to TYO and have a safe space to learn, but also to explore who they are and what makes them special. The freedom to try different activities, sing, dance, and play with adults who meet the students where they are mentally and emotionally is vital for refugee children’s development. Whether time is spent painting a masterpiece, singing a song, or practicing the ABCs, time spent with children to help them find self-worth and hope is always time well spent.

As adults, the responsibility to support and encourage children is one that cannot be forsaken. As the world focuses on the impersonal facts of refugee movement such economic and political impacts, let us not forget the people, especially the children, that make up the figures and numbers. Join us today, June 20, in celebrating World Refugee Day and the amazing children we are fortunate to know.

 

Lindsey, International Internship & Fellowship Coordinator

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Nablus: A Hidden Paradise

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One of my favorite new Arabic words that I’ve learned in Nablus is bejannan. A local staff member at TYO translated this word to me as a descriptor for something so overwhelmingly beautiful that it incites madness in onlookers. When I think of Nablus, I think, “Bejannan.” There is so much beauty in this city— in its people, in its landscape, in the rich culture of Palestinians—and TYO will always hold a special place in my heart for giving me the opportunity to be here.

Haya poses with the Palestinian flag on a sunny day in Sebastia, a village on the outskirts of Nablus

Haya poses with the Palestinian flag on a sunny day in Sebastia, a village on the outskirts of Nablus

As I enter into my last week at TYO, my eyes well up with tears at the thought of leaving Nablus, and I feel myself trying to savor and grasp every moment I have here, like someone fumbling in the dark, trying to find her way. The majestic Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal. The iconic olive trees. Glowing minarets. The obedient calls to prayer. The birds singing outside all day. And this is of the place alone, so what of the people who live here? Perhaps poet and Palestinian national icon Mahmoud Darwish said it best when he stated, “Palestinian people are in love with life.” Dignified and resilient, passionately open and generous, Palestinians are a joy to be with. As I’ve joked with fellow interns and volunteers, Palestinians can turn any occasion into a party with by simply turning on some music and dancing along.

Haya and her Core AM students and volunteers smile for a photo together

Haya and her Core AM students and volunteers smile for a photo together

Here in Nablus, everyone has been my teacher, teaching me Arabic and about Palestinian culture and daily life. My students— 4 to 5 year-olds and the future of Nablus— have been my greatest teachers for showing me how to cultivate joy in the mundane. As I mentioned in my earlier blog post, I struggled with easing into the flow of teaching during my first few weeks of their internship program, because I’d get so stuck in my head while lesson-planning that I’d unknowingly over-complicate my lessons and activities. After being around kids for long enough, you start to be a kid again, re-calibrating one’s ability to view life through a lens of simplicity. Sure enough, as I simplified my lesson plans, I learned that it was the most easy and straight-forward activities that lit up my students the most. Life in Nablus has been like this: simple, yet full of unimaginable joy.

Haya's favorite view from her room in Nablus

Haya’s favorite view from her room in Nablus

Each morning I try to etch the beauty of Nablus into my memory by opening my window and gazing at the beautiful view from my room that includes the tree-covered mountains and a lone olive tree. American poet E.E. Cummings famously wrote the line, “I carry you in my heart,” and this is how I feel about Nablus. Nablus is a place I will always remember and carry in my heart for all that that this beautiful city and its people have taught me.

 

Haya, Spring 2017 International Intern

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