Interns' First Week Reflections from Nablus
This week was an eye opener in regard to the home lives of the students who have behavior issues in the classroom. Having worked with Special Education students in the States, I’m familiar with behavior patterns that arise because of neglect/abuse/poverty/poor parenting/etc., but it’s more difficult to grasp these same issues in the context of another culture. And harder still to recognize the signs of a struggling student when I am unable to understand Arabic. Seeing the living conditions in the Balata camp made me more aware of the environment my students come from and how it has an impact on their behavior. These kids aren’t leaving class and going to the comfort of the 6th floor at TYO, they’re going home to a small living space with little or no privacy. Add to that the trauma of occupation and the possibility that basic needs are not being met. When a child is in the classroom causing a disruption, the reaction is to reestablish order, not necessarily to think holistically about that child and the build-up of circumstances that created a specific emotional response. These students are hungry for affirmation. After two weeks of classes, it’s amazing to see just how far a bit of encouragement and individualized attention will go.
Balata. My first time in a Refugee Camp:
We climb out of the taxi into what looks like a back alleyway but is actually a street in Balata. The buildings are tall structures of concrete; the air is heavy, stagnant and hot. Everything is gray and light brown until we reach the Yaffa Cultural Center where colorful Graffiti covers all of the visible walls. From the roof we can see the entire camp that looks more like a small city and is home to around 30,000 people.
As I walk through Balata, the alleyways become tighter and tighter. I look up and see a small sliver of blue sky far above; the concrete jungle covers all else. Its like a maze, I am thankful for our local guide who directs us this way and that. Over-crowding, un-healthy water and sanitation are all evident as we walk over small pools of liquid and duck as something is dumped from above onto the concrete street. We look up at the building only about four stories high it is home to almost 100 people.
Imagine growing up in this grid -lock, where do you play? There is no space. This is home to a majority of our students.
I am hit by the significance of this. Of my role at TYO teaching these children in a place that gives them space. It is a place where they can kick a soccer ball and run around. A place to learn in an un-crowded environment; where they are recognized as individuals. A place where they can just be kids.
I am more than motivated to be their teacher, their coach and their friend.
It's been an amazing couple of weeks, so much has happened and i've learned so much. It can be a little daunting at first whenever starting afresh in a new workplace, however the existing staff (both local and international), have really supported me in planning and delivering my lessons. Through the experience of these staff members and visits to the refugee camps here in Nablus I feel like I have already learned so much about the general life situation of the children we work with.
The knowledge I've gained about some of the difficulties the children here face has really motivated me to help the children express themselves through drama. The drama classes have been incredible so far, and although we've been laughing a lot, the children have had the opportunity to explore the importance of serious topics like respect and understanding feelings. It has been brilliant to see even the shyest children being willing to act alongside their friends in small groups and to see their smiles when they receive a big round of applause! Although I've worked in a variety of youth and community work settings previously, this is my first major placement outside the UK, therefore it's fascinating to observe the sometimes subtle cutural differences at play in the classroom. I have however discovered that despite some differences, generally the cliche rings true that kids are kids no matter where you go!
I have also been truly touched by the kindness and warmth of all the locals here, including the young adults to whom I'm teaching English. They have been so respectful and willing to learn which makes it a real pleasure to teach them! It's been a challenging yet inspiring start to this internship and I'm really excited to see what the next few weeks will bring! Thank you everyone for helping us newbies to find our feet here in Nablus!
Three weeks in, there's so much I could reflect on, but to cut it down, there are four things that have struck me since my first lesson.
Many of the children we're teaching here are astonishingly small. From what I presume is a combination of malnutrition, underdevelopment and emotional deprivation, the majority of the children in my class look nothing like their age (11 and 12 years old). Several of the boys are smaller than my nephew back in England, who's 6. I have to say I've found this really shocking and so hard to deal with.
A lot of my kids, as well as being shy in general, appear to have extremely low self-esteem. Coming from cramped, stressed homes where parental attention is divided amongst myriad siblings, it is quite understandable when thinking about it. Yet (as with everything), witnessing it first-hand, through a girl's insistence that she "cannot draw" and her consequent decision to throw her scrunched up picture of her favorite instrument into the trash rather than let me see it, was deeply upsetting. (I determined later to salvage the discarded pictures, and they're now nicely mounted on the wall alongside everybody else's...)
Without our translators we are nothing! In contrast to some of the interns here, I was fortunate to have already had experience teaching through translators prior to TYO from when I was in Hong Kong, yet it feels like an even bigger challenge here - partly because the children's level of English is mostly very low. In a way, it is actually a great experience to enhance skills as a teacher, because you are forced to develop a heightened awareness of the children's moods. Having said that, I see it as sound evidence that a high proportion of human communication is non-verbal, if I can teach a classroom of children without speaking their language!
Music is such a transcendent gift. There is barely anything more beautiful than seeing a child's face illuminate with a radiant giggling grin in response to hearing the sounds they themselves have just created.