Nesreen Hajaj is the coordinator for TYO’s new Women’s Empowerment and Parenting Program, made possible by Qatar Fund for Development (QFFD). Nesreen worked in Yafa Cultural Center in Balata refugee camp for 8 years providing mental health and counselling services for residents of the camp. She also volunteered as a social worker for the YMCA in Nablus for 4 years. Nesreen learned of TYO’s multi-generational and holistic approach toward empowerment and joined the TYO team to lead programs that work with mothers and the children at the same time. She is eager to see the impact the Women’s Empowerment and Parenting Program will impact mothers, their children, and their families in the future.
What is the new program with which you are working?
The new program is called the Women’s Empowerment and Parenting Program. TYO has been working with the mothers of children at TYO for years, but there was often a large number of women who wanted to join but couldn’t because they had children of a younger age who couldn’t be left for them to come to classes. With the support of QFFD, the new Women’s Empowerment and Parenting program has been created to meet the needs of mothers who have younger children that they want to bring with them to TYO. The Early Childhood Education Program has been created to support the development of these young children while the Women’s Empowerment and Parenting Program targets their mothers. TYO believes in a holistic approach and will be leading seminars and workshops for the mothers relating to parenting and how they can empower themselves in order to empower their children. Thanks to QFFD’s support, TYO has been able to create and implement a program that will allow women to focus on how they can improve themselves to also improve their relationship with their children with a focus on their psychosocial wellbeing and health.
What was the purpose of establishing this program at TYO?
The main purpose of this program is to work on the wellbeing of the mothers, as the mother has a great impact on her children. We aim to teach the mother how to work on herself to positively impact upon her family. We also seek to create a stronger relationship between the mother and child by working with the mothers and children at the same time to target the family as a whole. The program will teach the mother more about her child and herself, helping her to understand how she can create a strong family unit. For example, mothers will learn how they can handle discipline in the home in a proper manner and encourage them to think more deeply about how to manage their children’s behavior.
TYO always strives to work with the parents as well as the kids because you cannot work on improving the children’s behavior and expect the growth to continue by sending them back to an environment that doesn’t reflect the same positive change. The support of QFFD has allowed TYO to expand its services, delivering the Women’s Empowerment and Parenting Program in tandem with the new Early Childhood Education Program: For Children Ages 2-8. The material the young children will be learning throughout their program will also be the basis for what the mothers will be studying. This will help them to connect, grow together, and strengthen their relationship. The mother will also be able to use these skills with other children at home, as she will be able to better handle and improve her relationship with them.
What is the expected impact in the wider community?
We are a social community; one that likes to talk. The mothers who are part of the Women’s Empowerment and Parenting Program will tell their friends and other mothers in the community what they are learning at TYO. We are working with 160 women and while we can’t directly target the community as a whole, we hope that the knowledge shared in this informal manner will slowly reach the wider community.
When the younger children grow up, they will be going to school and the impact of TYO programs have had on their lives will be evident through their positive behavior. Other children at school, who may not have had the same exposure to TYO programs, will now be exposed to this positive behavior and can learn from it.
How is this program unique, compared to other programs in Nablus?
In the north of Palestine, there aren’t many NGOs that are working directly with mothers to positively impact their wellbeing and family relationships. It is important to empower these women by providing them with the information and tools to discover how they themselves are very strong women. Through this process of self-discovery and self-empowerment, a positive impact is anticipated for their children.
Second, many women we work with are from disadvantaged areas in Palestine and face trauma in their lives. Being in a safe, communal space where they can share and discuss their experiences will help them build a sense of community here at TYO. This will provide them with a vital support network to help them to positively live with, or adapt to, their circumstances.
Finally, we want to provide mothers with new concepts and new ideas child rearing that they may not have been previously exposed to. TYO will share information and knowledge so mothers will have the tools to support and discipline children in positive ways, which will play an important role in her process of self-empowerment. In doing so, TYO expects the entire family unit to be positively affected.
The most unique aspect of the program, therefore, is targeting the mother to improve her psycho-social well-being with the understanding that these improvements will be felt throughout the family as a whole.
How do you reassure women who may have some anxieties about being separated from their young child?
The program is going to be structured so that the mothers will be with their children in the classroom and not leave them at all in the first week. In the second week, we will start to have classes separate for the mothers and their children as the children become familiar with TYO. Even when separated, the mothers will be at the TYO Center and available should a child need assistance. If a child starts crying, it is very easy for the mother to go to the classroom and comfort her child. It is important for the children to learn to be independent and detached, but in a way that is not traumatic. This will also prepare them for when they begin school and are apart from their parents. The program is 2 hours a day, so the students will learn gradually how to be independent from their mothers, while also feeling safe in the knowledge that their mother is in the same building.
What are you looking forward to the most in the upcoming program?
I’m very much looking forward to the mothers giving positive feedback about a parenting technique they tried with their child with success. I’m also excited about the feeling of empowerment the women will experience because the more a mother values herself, the more support and love she has to give to her children and family. To witness the growth over the course of 8 weeks and the confidence and joy the women will develop is wonderful. You can hear from the joy in a woman’s voice when she is empowered; it’s very clear. I’m very much looking forward to that positive change.
What would you say to someone considering joining the program?
The first 5 years of a child’s life are the most crucial for their development. If you build a relationship with a child in that period, it will be easier for you to continue having this positive relationship.
TYO is a very safe place that strives to make its beneficiaries feel relaxed and supported. Here, women are free to ask any questions, and we will, to the best of our abilities, find an answer. We hope that through the Women’s Empowerment and Parenting Program, mothers will be empowered in their own lives and further empower their families through the development of positive, healthy relationships.
It’s one step to a brighter future, inshallah.
– The Women’s Empowerment and Parenting Program is supported by Qatar Fund for Development (QFFD).
– Interview conducted by Sally, Fall 2017 International Intern.