All Good Things Must Come to an End

As our Fall 2011 Interns prepare to leave Nablus, they reflect on their experiences in Palestine and with TYO. It's been a great session and we're incredibly thankful to our dedicated and hardworking interns!


People have recently been asking me "is Palestine different to what you expected?", but whenever I hear that question it's been really difficult to answer because I genuinely had no idea what to expect before I arrived. I knew it was a region of conflict, I knew there were people who were poor and displaced. I knew enough to know that it was a big deal - and that I should care about what was going on here - but my knowledge was not grounded in experience, and this is the fundamental change that interning at TYO has given me. Now when I hear the words "Palestine", "refugee", "West Bank", and so on, I won't think of the images of warfare I've watched on the news or the bumper sticker I saw once and didn't comprehend. I'll think of Qusay in his Real Madrid shirt and Salam decorating her homemade shaker, of Ahmad's face when we opened up the inside of a piano and little Ikhlas greeting me with a hug when she arrived for Open Day. Of brightly-colored mosaics, of welcoming homes, and of thirty children singing in unison in front of a receptive audience. I've lived with Palestinians, I've eaten with Palestinians, I've sung and danced and wept with Palestinians. Hearing real stories and witnessing real events always transforms your outlook in ways that reading another newspaper article can never come close to, because these experiences engage the heart - as one human being listens to another human being.

Whilst being here, I've been challenged in ways I really didn't anticipate - and other adjustments I anticipated as being large challenges have turned out to feel far more natural than I expected. Relating to women dressed in abaya and hijab is one example of the latter. However, developing friendships with some of these women (especially when they are my peers) whilst never making any physical contact with them - not even so much as shaking their hand - has been an unusual cultural practice for me to grow accustom to. Such an adjustment has prompted me to reflect on the way I interact with friends back home, and on a personal level how much value or importance I place on physical affection in the context of developing friendships.

Finally, what my time at TYO has most definitely affirmed is my belief in children and their ability to deeply enrich the lives of all other generations above them, no matter the society. Children are vulnerable, yes, but they are also uninhibited, energetic, quick to trust, curious, and simple in their affection. And it is almost this vulnerability that sits at the core of these other traits. When we 'grow up', our personalities develop layers and complexities which are wonderfully absent in children. There is a wealth of life-lessons to learn from children (which makes the term 'teacher' quite paradoxical). Indeed, I believe that everyone should surround themselves with kids for at least an hour a week just for mental and spiritual well-being! I'd like to thank TYO for this teaching opportunity and thank Palestine for sharing with me their beautiful children. Here's to tomorrow's youth!


As I clean out a semester's worth of art projects and supplies from my classroom, I'm reminded of the many high points and challenging moments of my teaching experience at TYO. The kites on the walls remind me of the difficulty the students had initially when working together in small groups, but also of how much fun they had running around the 5th floor terrace, desperately trying to make their kites fly without the aid of a steady breeze. Some of the final projects were also left behind, allowing me another glimpse into my students' dreams for the future. Salam and Eslam, the sisters from Balata, want to be English teachers. And Layal, who demonstrated her stage presence when introducing the Art and Music performance at the TYO Open Day, wants to be a singer. It's been a humbling experience to witness the children's growth just in these short three months.
This week, one of our beloved students from the Khallet al-Amood neighborhood came to visit as the interns were finishing up final reports. Throughout the semester, Fareeda presented a challenge in the classroom. She often provoked the other students, had a tendency to burst into the classrooms of other teachers during trasition time, and ignored the class rules. But Fareeda has her reasons for acting out; there is a lack of support and validation in her life. She clearly desires attention, but only knows how to attract the negative sort. It seems even her teachers have given up on her, sending her home instead of trying to figure out the underlying issues that cause her behaviors. I didn't want to be another person to reject Fareeda simply because she wasn't always compliant, so I developed a system in which she could track her positive behaviors. Instead of only acknowledging Fareeda when she caused a disruption, she was also given notice for showing kindness and cooperation with the other students. She kept track of those positive moments by putting a marble in her jar. The marble jar didn't exactly work miracles, but I could tell it was having an impact because Fareeda would ask to count her marbles each time she came to class.
In the last week of class, Fareeda reached her first goal (indicated by a line drawn on the marble jar). To recognize her achievement, Andrew and I wanted to get her something special. We decided on hair accessories because Fareeda often mentioned having insecurities about her hair. Watching her eyes light up as she tried on her new headband was priceless. I spent most of my afternoon with Fareeda that day. Without any other students around to demand attention, we sat together painting tiles and wandered around the building taking pictures with my camera. This was exactly the kind of moment I wanted to have with a student on the eve of my departure.
The walls of the classroom are now bare, awaiting a new teacher and students to fill the space with fresh creativity.


As the often overused cliche goes, all good things must come to an end.

Last week saw the end of an incredible three months teaching and learning from the children of Nablus. It was a pressured week in some ways, as we prepared for and took part in the TYO Open House and had the great field trips for all those kids who have had super attendance over the last few months. It was very interesting to see the kids responding to this pressure in different ways, with some becoming sad and even a little restless and others just enjoying our last week together and making it a really positive one! I have been reminded by how experiences such these can be very significant for children in their formative years and have been impressed with the maturity of a lot of them.

This week hasn't involved any teaching but has instead been one of reflection and farewells as I've packed up my classroom and began packing my bags, getting ready to leave Nablus. As I write this, I am surrounded by piles of things that are a reminder of how many things I have been fortunate enough to experience and learn here in Palestine. There is my folder of lesson plans and attendance sheets from my drama classes. These classes have by far been the highlight of my time here and I'll remember the kids and the joy that they brought to each drama activity for a long time to come. There are also the leaflets and jar of olive paste that I picked up during our visit to Canaan fairtrade co-operative in Jenin where we saw the innovative face of Palestinian business. Even the bars of Nablus-made soap tell a story, one of the strong-willed and warm locals who work hard to keep the traditions and commerce of this fantastic city alive. The pasta recipe that I used with the students during my last staff English class last week reminds me about the great experiences I had teaching Jawad, Haitham, Nehad, Inaas and Rimah. All the local and international staff have made me feel so welcome and supported, so thank you all for making this internship such a positive one. I would also like to thank Abi, Aimee and Andrew for being such a lovely and creative team and a big thank to Tala for supporting and guiding us along the way! As well as leaving Nablus with lots of souvenirs I am also taking away many happy memories!


As I write my last blog post as an intern I am struck by a feeling of deja vu. The sand colored city looks the same, the Palestinian flags I noticed when I first arrived still blow off the roof tops, sounds of kids playing still reverberate throughout the building and we are having hummus, falafel and babaganoosh for lunch. But something reminds me that it's goodbye, it is the feeling of normalcy. The food, jokes, Arabic language, laughter and friendships that surrounding me all feel normal. It makes me realize that I am at home in this community of hard working teachers, managers and interns. We all form a supportive community devoted to improving the live's of children here in Nablus.

Three months ago, my fellow interns and I did not know each other, the Staff at TYO, our students or Nablus. We were strangers, foreigner to Nablus and to TYO. Today I feel a part of this community, a part of Nablus and a part of TYO. After the Open House, we had to say farewell to our students. None of us realized that this was it, that class was over, that the "Lions, Kangaroos, Monkeys and Elephants" had to say goodbye to each other. I am not sad as I say goodbye because I believe that we accomplished something wonderful, that we became friends, that we became not only a class, but four different teams that supported each other. One of my volunteers came in today to say goodbye and told me something that re-enforced my faith in the work we do. On his way here, he ran into several students from our class that were playing "tic, tac, toc" in the street. The game that we often started class with, they were shouting out the English words of the day and trying to remember the actions that went with them. They were continuing the work that we started. This is why I am not sad, because I believe when you empower a child you are empowering an entire community.
I will never forget stepping out onto the balcony and being welcomed by entire soccer field of boys, shouting "Abi, yallah! Abi" Or watching the 'Elephants' class perform a step dance that they just learned a week before, in front of 400 people. Or that early morning walk through the neighborhood when I was greeted with "sabah alkheir"(good morning) by a student from every one of TYO's programs. For me, this experience has made me realize where change can happen - with the child - with that moment of happiness in a smile. With this there is hope. There is a community working to make lives better despite the hardships the people might face. I am proud to have been an intern with an organization that does this - with TYO. It has truly been a pleasure, thank you to the greater community for welcoming me into this city and to the community at TYO for this opportunity.