Overcoming Expectations (Transgressing Arbitrarily Enforced Limitations on Capacity)


Almost every day something new at TYO surprises me. One of the biggest and best surprises this week was when I asked a volunteer to read the students a story in my art class. We have been asked to include reading in our classes every week, to get the students interested in books. Many of the schools in Nablus lack exciting and age appropriate libraries, so reading a picture book is a unique opportunity for many of our kids.

The volunteer who I asked to lead the story is always wonderful with my students, but somewhat quiet. When I gave her a book and asked her to read, I was nervous. Judging from the time I have spent in classrooms in the U.S., it can be hard to hold the attention of a group of kids through the span of a story. However, I was pleasantly surprised when my volunteer turned out be a beautiful reader and an excellent performer. She moved around the circle, asking questions and easily getting the kids involved. Even more surprising, every single student was absolutely enthralled by the book. It was as though they were watching some incredible movie. This was true even of the kids that are usually difficult and rambunctious. I think it was a combination of my volunteers skillful reading, and the fact that story time is something of a novelty for the students. Regardless of the cause, it was a lovely surprise and I will definitely be less hesitant to include story time in my curriculum in the future.



“It’s too hard,” one of my volunteers said, concerned that the students would have problems with the lesson. To me, music notation seemed simple, but I had also been doing it for fifteen years. I began to worry. Was I setting my kids up for failure?

Class began with a discussion about pitch, notes, and sound, and then we moved on to writing notation. On the board, there was a music staff and a drawing of an octave on the piano. I drew middle C on the treble clef, explaining that the notes are drawn line, space, line, space. Next, I drew the same note on the piano, showing that when one sees C on the staff, they play C on the piano. Each student copied down C on his or her own piece of staff paper and piano printout. After this, I just called students up to the board and asked them to write in the next note. In no time, we had finished learning basic notation, and the students were writing their own songs.

It was so exciting and surprising to see how quickly everyone had caught on. Each one of my volunteers was engaged, going from table to table, checking to see that all the notes were labeled correctly. Several of the students would call me over, showing me their songs and demonstrating how to play the notes on their piano printouts. In less than an hour, all of the students knew the notes on the piano and could understand and write at least one octave on the music staff. I was surprised with how successful the lesson went. After this, I will not be underestimating my students again.


While there are many displaced people in Nablus, everyone seems to be grounded in profound ways.  Some may consider refugees helpless and hopeless, but this most certainly indicates that they have not met the strong and resilient youth at TYO.

For World Refugee Day, on June 20, our students in the summer program came together to discuss what it means to be a refugee.  They shared stories not just learned from books, but rather from their direct family experience.  While not all of our students are refugees, each one understood the importance of honoring fellow struggles.

In my Music and Drama class we explore art as a creative form of expression to build community and a better world.  That day, we shared and sang about our dreams for refugees.  With our voices in unison, a power emerged in the room–the power of fun and support for one another.  A power making us all fortunate that these youth will affect our world tomorrow.

In my course at An-Najah University we also discussed World Refugee Day.  The date was June 19, so I stimulated thought by posing the question, “What does tomorrow mean to you?”  My students spoke passionately not just about the courage of Palestinian refugees, but also the courage of refugees all around the globe.  While people are displaced for many reasons, they explained that we all share a common aim: peace.

I noticed one student had yet to participate in the discussion.  While she sometimes has difficulty formulating her thoughts in English, I know she always has brilliance inside.  I eagerly asked for her to contribute. She paused, contemplated, and shared her wisdom, “Refugees are more than victims.”  A smile came to my face.  Indeed, indeed.  Refugees are not just acted upon in this world.  They do not demand our pity, but rather efforts in solidarity.  Refugees themselves are actors in history.

While June 20 has passed, the question about tomorrow still remains.  As my students conveyed, both at An-Najah and at TYO, tomorrow is not yesterday.  Its story is unwritten.  The people of Nablus, even if they may also call another town their true home, will shape how tomorrow is remembered.