Early Beginnings, Long Term Benefits
When we think of education around the world, why do we usually think about education beginning in primary school? Although we might not consider the first four to eight years of life as a crucial time of learning, research has shown the importance of investing in early childhood education. Early childhood education not only benefits the individual child, but also society as a whole, reaping long-term social and economic benefits. This holds true for both early childhood development programs in the United States, as well as the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and other developing areas. Although attending preschool is normal and indeed expected in the United States and other countries, here in Palestine that is far from the case. Public education here begins in the first-grade, and out of the very few kindergarten and preschool programs that do exist, the majority are privately run and prohibitively expensive. As a result, those crucial early years of learning important social, emotional, verbal, physical, and intellectual skills, are lost for many Palestinian children.
For our target population at TYO— Nabulsi women and children from the four refugee camps, the Old City, and our neighborhood of Khallet Al-Amood— teaching young children those important skills is essential not only for their long-term educational success, but for their own personal well-being. During the Summer II session, I have been co-teaching an Art & Health class with fellow intern Mary as a part of the Early Childhood Core Program at TYO. Although most of the children adapted to the unfamiliar and new environment of TYO within the first week, for one of our students, Doha, coming to TYO was an incredible change.
Doha lives with her father, young mother, and brother in a single room within some other family’s apartment. Although she is already four years old, coming to TYO was Doha’s first time out of the incredibly small room her family lives in; prior to our class, her entire life has been contained within those four walls. For the first few days, TYO’s open space and all the unfamiliar faces overwhelmed Doha. To start building up Doha’s social and emotional skills, Mary and I worked with TYO’s Psychosocial Program Manager, Suhad, and Doha’s mother to try and engage Doha in more individualized activities in the Imagination Room. On the fourth day working with her, we saw Doha smile for the first time as she played with the stuffed animals in the Imagination Room.
Although our Art & Health class is only the beginning of Doha’s experience at TYO, Mary and I hope that she will continue to be involved in the Core Program, so that she can continue to learn important social, emotional, verbal, physical, and intellectual skills, crucial to her long-term well-being and success.
Hannah is a Summer II intern in Nablus.