Meet TYO's Psychosocial Program Manager

This week, we interviewed Suhad Jabi, TYO’s Psychosocial Program Manager.  With a strong commitment to serving others, especially the most disadvantaged members of her community, she ensures that TYO meets the psychosocial needs of the women, children, and youth in our programs. How did you end up at TYO?

When I was a child, I noticed that my culture treated boys differently than girls.   Internally, I knew these norms were not correct and rejected them.  After a formative experience working with blind people, I decided that I wanted to pursue psychology.  I will never forget the satisfaction I felt in helping those people.  I felt like the reason I was here in this life was to support people and to help them to realize that they were capable individuals.\

After receiving my B.A. in Psychology from An-Najah University, I began to work at the Palestinian Working Women’s Society for Development as a psychologist.  I worked there for seven years, but felt like something was missing.  I worked predominantly with women and children, but never with the father figure.  I decided to study family therapy so that I could help support the client by affecting the whole family structure.

In 2004, I received a scholarship to pursue my M.A. in Marriage and Family Therapy at the University of Rochester.  Meanwhile, I had also pursued an M.A. in Expressive Art Therapy through European University.   After completing my degree at University of Rochester and working in the United States for one year, I returned to Nablus.  I worked briefly with an international organization, but didn’t feel like I was implementing what I had learned in the United States. Then, I found TYO.

Why did you decide to work at TYO?

I knew that I could offer a lot to TYO and to the populations we serve.  I had worked in the refugee camps previously, implementing art therapy among young children, women, dropouts, and mothers who had lost children during the second intifada.  I also understand what it is like to be a girl in this society, and to constantly feel t

he need to seek approval; I know that if you are not strong you will sacrifice your opportunities.   Moreover, I lived through both the first and second intifadas.  During the first intifada, as a 9-year old girl, I lost my friends, saw people killed, lived under curfew, and was prevented from going to school for two years.  It is because I missed out on my own childhood that I want to create an environment at TYO where children can experience childhood.

I am also part of Palestinian society and I know the struggles that people face here.  There are few opportunities to dream or to have independence.  I want to change that.  I want to encourage people to dream; I want them to see the light through the darkness; I want them to trust themselves; I want them to look to their strengths and not to their weaknesses; and I want to show them that education can make a change.  I want to be the hand that guides them to make that change.

What does your job at TYO entail?

I do not only work as a psychologist at TYO.  More broadly, my job is to enable everyone coming to TYO to learn psychosocial skills.  I try to provide people in this community with a clear message about early childhood and human rights.  On a day to day basis, I work with teachers, interns, staff, women, and stakeholders to help them to incorporate psychosocial skills into their lessons, programs, and lifestyles.  We teach people to respect their children and to treat them like human beings.  With the teachers, I work to help them to reject the societal norms and to think deeper about behavior.

Why is it important for TYO to exist in this community?

Although Palestinian society is aware of human rights, we often struggle with implementing them.  What is missing is the belief system that teaches people to be serious in their jobs, to appreciate themselves, and to give themselves credit for challenging themselves.  At TYO, we focus primarily on prevention programs.  We work with children to give them the skills to enable them to appreciate themselves and to open their hearts and mind to life.

What are some of the challenges presented by this community?

TYO works to encourage people to take initiative, to question societal norms, and eventually to challenge those norms.  We want people to put in effort and to try harder.  However, motivating the community to do this is difficult.  The current generation of parents grew up without positive early childhood experiences because of the violence of Occupation, deep poverty, and a lack of play opportunities for children.

Moreover, TYO works with the most disadvantaged people, and therefore with those who have been stigmatized by society.  One of my jobs at TYO is to help parents to realize their own strengths and weakness, so that they can learn how not to project themselves and their feelings of hopelessness onto their children.  I work to empower them with psychosocial techniques to adapt and incorporate into their lifestyles.

What is your vision for TYO?

My vision for TYO is that it serves as a reference for early childhood education in the Middle East.  I hope to see it spread to every village in Palestine and to see the revolution in thinking that would come from that. I would also love to see it expand to include psychosocial treatment as well as prevention services.

I would like to see more programs fostering women’s economic independence, encouraging all women to be skilled in their careers.  I want children to see their mothers as producers, not consumers.   I would also like to see scholarships for girls offered to support their higher education.  Speaking from personal experience, education is the best way to make a change in women’s lives.  Nothing is more valued in this society than education.  Education is the way to empower self and community.

Suhad speaks with a child in TYO's Core Child Program