Discovering (Ourselves) at Camp Discovery
This week, we reflect on our experiences at AMIDEAST’s Camp Discovery in Jenin at the UNRWA school, and its connection to our own work at TYO. Hannah
As I walked into the Camp Discovery classroom for art class, several nine and ten-year-old girls immediately surrounded me, rapidly asking me questions in English. Amongst other things, they were most curious about whether I was Hannah Montana and if I liked jeans better than dresses—they had just learned clothing vocabulary, and were in fact recycling used pairs of jeans for their art project. Already this was a marked change from my classes at TYO where the majority of my students—children, women, and university students—speak little to no English. I began to mentally take note of the differences between TYO and Camp Discovery, in order to help my own understanding of the benefits of each program, and what insights I could gain.
While English abilities were certainly one difference, I found that the most significant difference for me was the length of time and structure of the camp. Camp Discovery is an intensive thirteen-day program where students are exposed to English, art, drama, and science. On the day I visited, the girls in my class attended an English class in the morning for 90 minutes, followed by an Art class for 90 minutes, and finally a Drama class for 90 minutes. They follow the same schedule each day over the course of the thirteen days, rotating between different classes.
In contrast, our children’s classes at TYO this summer are six weeks long (usually ten weeks, but shortened due to Ramadan starting mid-July this year), and meet twice a week for the entire day. On these Summer Camp days, our children attend two different classes taught by interns, enjoy a healthy snack, and then go to the swimming pool together.
While I do not think that one structure or time length is necessarily better than the other—both offer their own benefits—I do think that both programs demonstrate the importance of building relationships during any time intensive experience. Whether only thirteen days at Camp Discovery, or six to ten weeks at TYO, teachers such as myself must quickly connect with and develop a repertoire with our students. We must foster trust amongst our students and with ourselves, and develop a safe, welcoming classroom for all. Only then can we, as teachers, fully engage with our students and help them succeed.
As I stood in the doorway waiting to enter the boys’ science class, I did not know what to expect. I knew that AMIDEAST's Camp Discovery is a two week program that offers science, drama, arts, and English language instruction to Palestinian youth, but I had no idea what activities we would be doing nor that my afternoon there would be immensely fun, enlightening, and inspiring in many of the ways that my month interning at TYO has been.
Upon entering the room and introducing myself to the class, Ustaz Ghazi, a man with a thick dark mustache and an enthusiastic smile, greeted me warmly before returning to his instructions for the day's projects. For our first activity, Ustaz Ghazi drew a picture of an animal on the chalkboard, which each small group of students attempted to depict using a combination of tiles cut in the shapes of squares, triangles, rhombi, and parallelograms. As I moved from group to group quizzing the students on the English names for these animals and geometrical shapes, I was happy to see how interested they were in this non-formal educational activity. Like many non-formal educational projects that I have witnessed at TYO, students arranged and rearranged the tiles with alacrity because the activity was to them both a novelty and mentally stimulating.
After the first activity wound down and transitioned into a brief lesson on English greetings, Ustaz Ghazi began a second project, which tested the students' knowledge of physics as well as their creativity. Giving each small group a balloon, a piece of cardboard, two wooden skewers, four perforated circular beads, and tape, Ustaz Ghazi challenged them to make a vehicle capable of moving itself a short distance. This activity was much more difficult than the first and, when the students became frustrated with their gradual progress, some began to inflate and pop the balloons with their skewers. However, Ustaz Ghazi immediately recaptured the class's attention with an impromptu lesson explaining this loud phenomenon in scientific terms. Then, following this spontaneous lesson, he motivated the students to continue with a sort of gentle paternal encouragement and maybe a few pointers.
Before lunch break, the students' balloon propelled cars were zooming across the classroom floor and I assumed the role of class photographer in order to capture their achievements. These pictures, like many others that I have taken at TYO, reiterate the need for increased non-formal education and dedicated educators in Palestine. In both Camp Discovery and TYO, these projects and people open up new educational avenues by introducing students to unfamiliar subjects and engaging, inspiring, and stimulating them in ways that their formal education does not.
Check out Khalid's attempt at his balloon car:
“What’s your naame? What’s yooour name? What’s your name? What is your name?”
The moment I entered the room I was swarmed by little girls asking me.... “What’s your name?”
I looked at the teacher for help. How old are these girls? Can they speak any English (it seems like regardless of their English level, every Palestinian can at least say “what’s your name” and “welcome!”)? The teacher looked busy constructing model greenhouses. I approached her and said, “How can I help?” She looked at me, blankly. “What’s your name?” she asked.
I had been brought into a room at the AMIDEAST’s Camp Discovery to help young ladies learn science, and then, later, drama. However, it appeared that these young ladies were more interested in discovering all of my personal information, instead of anything having to do with science. I quickly surveyed the room and compared it to my own classroom back at TYO- what nugget of wisdom can I bring back to Nablus? It seemed that some girls were working on a project, some girls were writing in notebooks, most girls wearing matching T-shirts and hats (a uniform of sorts) and most of all I noticed-- exclusively girls.
At TYO, we go through great lengths to mix students from different genders, classes, and neighborhoods, so that students are learning cooperation. This makes for a challenging classroom situation on occasion- some boys refuse to sit next to girls, some girls form cliques and leave out boys- all of the typical attitudes of children are magnified by the conservative lifestyle and stressful living situations of Nablus. However, at AMIDAEST, these girls seemed to be getting along just fine. Without boys around these girls seemed less nervous than the ones I have in my class. The appeal of a girls-only classroom began to grow.
However, this also made me reflect on the importance of empowering young women everywhere to be able to interact freely in front of both girls and boys. So, while AMIDEAST’s classroom model did seem to come off as more effortlessly organized, the girls were also not being pushed out of their comfort zone. Even more importantly, the boys at this camp were not experiencing all of the insights that the girls had to offer. When Mitch reported to me what their science class did- making balloon cars, discovering science in a hands on way- I was envious that Ustaz Ghazi could only be found in the boy’s classroom- since he himself was a man. TYO’s method of combining men and women challenges the narrow cultural mindset while stretching the available resources and encouraging all people- volunteers, students, interns, and staff to work together to create meaningful programming.