From Camp to the Classroom: Core Teacher's Reflection on Work With Refugees
When I finished university, I dreamt of finding a job that allowed me to both serve my community, and expand my horizons. Working at TYO was that dream job- and also a turning point in my life. Three years ago, I started as a volunteer here, and now I’m a full-time employee as a Core Program teacher. In the beginning of my time at TYO, the idea of working with refugee kids was very challenging to me because of the stereotype of violence and bad behavior that exists around refugee camps in Nablus. Yet my first day at TYO was remarkable- I loved the kids in my classroom, and the stigma of refugee camps changed entirely for me. As I taught, I realized that I was learning, too- and I realized that I shouldn’t have any presumptions or prejudices. Moreover, I recognized the hard, difficult situations that impact the lives of refugee kids, and the need to respect and treat them equally regardless of where they live.
Some people have long thought of refugees as unwanted intruders- and as I saw just how untrue it was, I wanted to change that idea and empower kids from refugee camp backgrounds. For the health class that I teach, which aims to promote safety, physical, and psychological health, I enter many houses within the camps, and speak with families. Each time, I gain new stories about what life is like as a refugee, and see a bit more of the trying circumstances that kids many kids grow up around. This is more important than ever, in many ways- a report from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees released last week announced that the global population of refugees had reached it's highest point since 1994, and 47% are children. It's imperative as a teacher that I understand where my students are coming from, and some of the situations that they face.
My goal is to help refugee children by providing them with the tools for a better future, and giving them a place to express themselves. I also want them to be aware of their rights. At the start of my work at TYO, I wasn’t totally convinced that we could make a difference in the lives of refugee kids, as our 9-12 week sessions seemed like such a short time to truly help a child improve their behavior. But I soon discovered that our sessions were filled with miracles- for example, one of my students from Balata Camp had a mental disability, and couldn’t speak very well when he first came to us. After just one week, I noticed that he was beginning to pronounce a few sounds a bit better. After three weeks, he was able to pronounce a full word- and that word was my name. Since then, this story has motivated me in all my work.
TYO fulfilled my dream, and also helps me fulfill dreams of local refugee kids. These are the sort of experiences that will stay with me always, just as I hope our children’s experience at TYO will stay forever with them.
Shireen Issa is a Core Program teacher at TYO. Above, in light of last week's World Refugee Day, she reflects on her time working with children from Nablus's refugee population.