Intern Journal: Things that Grow

In the last class before a week-long break my students set up beans for sprouting. All it takes is a wet cotton ball, some beans, and a small dish or Dixie cup. We set them near a window, and I added a little water throughout the break. By the time the kids returned, all of their beans had roots and a few green leaves were even poking through. So we transferred the sprouts from the small cups to larger plastic containers, which they decorated with crayons and constructed paper and filled with soil. When I checked on the sprouts I was delighted to see that one of the plants growing the fastest belongs to Mohammed, an 8-year-old whose motor skills and conceptual skills have been visibly “behind” the others in most of our activities. By speaking with Suhad, our psychosocial specialist, I had learned that Mohammed is the middle child between two brothers. In most Palestinian families, the oldest boy has a close relationship with the father. Additionally, in Mohammed’s family, the youngest boy has a heart problem, causing his mother to be away at a hospital in Jerusalem for long periods of time. Mohammed has been left to try to comprehend the world on his own since the age of three. Combined with the raids and violence that all of my students have seen, it’s no wonder Mohammed’s development has been stunted.

But it isn’t just Mohammed’s plant that is growing. In many classes I find him looking to the paper of the person next to him to copy their drawing. Sometimes his older brother, Sa’ed, simply does the work for him, particularly when it involves using scissors. On Thursday Mohammed came to class without Sa’ed, who was on an excursion with their father. When we began our creating flowers from recycled plastic bags, Mohammed sat focused on the materials in front of him. I held the rolled-up plastic bag while he wrapped a rubber band around it and then slowly crossed it to wrap it around again. “Yes, Mohammed, mumtaz!” I cried when he completed the task perfectly. I offered him the lone pair of large scissors we had and again held the plastic while he cut. Then he fluffed out the plastic to form the petals. He looked up at me expectantly, displaying his creation. “Helwa kiteer!” I exclaimed, meaning extremely beautiful, and referring to both the flower and the child. I could have done a dance to those words.


Kara is an intern at TYO Nablus and a participant in the Kalimatna Initiative.