Staggering Strides


Summer camp is always a highlight of a child’s year. It’s a chance for children to unwind, relax, and have some fun doing and learning different activities each year while they are not in school. I believe TYO’s summer camp goes above and beyond that of any regular camp. The programs here are specifically tailored to one group of students – the refugees in the camps surrounding Nablus.

Emma, Jessica, and I teach the same 60 or so 9 and 10 year-old students every other day. Our students rotate between drama, arts & crafts, and sports & games classes. These children come from difficult backgrounds: many live in crowded neighborhoods and homes, suffer from abuse and neglect, and do not receive the unconditional care and support that every child deserves. We design our summer camp classes not to ensure that the students will leave and become renowned artists, actors, or soccer players, but rather that the students will learn about their own identities and express themselves.

In my sports & games class, the kids have absolutely LOVED playing with water balloons! While playing a version of “hot potato,” the students were able to step out of their comfort zones, both individually and as class, without even realizing what was happening. We all stood in a large circle, clapped, sang, and tried to avoid being that one person who ended up with the “hot potato”. The person who had the “hot potato” when the song stopped had to come into the middle of the circle and either dance, sing, or tell a joke. Everyone was cheering for each other as some of the boys (who are normally very mischievous!) danced, the typically shy girls sang famous Arabic songs, and the volunteers told jokes that had the whole circle laughing hysterically. It was an amazing moment for me, as I had never seen my class connect on this level before. There was no animosity, no sadness, and no insecurities; there was only encouragement, confidence, and happiness.

One student who I am trying to open up and reach out to is a quiet little girl named Doa’a. Doa’a is very calm and timid. In the last two weeks, I have probably heard a total of 20 words come out of her mouth. Despite this, Doa’a seems to be more composed than some of her fellow peers: she will volunteer in class, always participates, and will willingly work with students of the opposite gender. Maybe it is because she has a very supportive, loving older brother (Fahed, who is also a camper here at TYO). Last week at the swimming pool, I saw Doa’a struggling to get into the water. It was much too cold for her liking and it seemed that she didn’t know how to swim. I reassured her, and helped her to slowly come into the water and told her I would hold her as long as she needed me to. The next time we went swimming, Doa’a was jumping and splashing in the water! I was so happy to see her enjoying herself. I’m hoping that within the next two weeks of summer camp, Doa’a will continue to develop self-awareness and confidence that will, inshallah, open up the doors for her future.

Doa’a quietly observes Mahmoud making silly faces at the camera.


Over two successful weeks of TYO’s Summer Camp, we have had the pleasure of getting to know students from Nablus’ four refugee camps. Most of these students hadn’t known each other before camp began; they had been shy or distrustful with each other throughout the first week. It has been exciting to watch the students open up to each other and become friends.

The most rewarding exchange I’ve witnessed occurred during New Cultures week as the students designed and decorated Japanese woven kimonos. Each student was given a single sheet of construction paper to cut strips from. They had the opportunity, but were not required, to exchange their strips with classmates for a more colorful final project. As each student proudly displayed his or her completed kimono, I realized that all of them featured at least three different colors. This meant that the students had worked together to ensure that they all had at least one of each other’s strips. I was delighted to realize that they had worked together to disperse the colors evenly. If the kimono project is to serve as an example of Nablus’ next generation, Nabulsis will continue to connect and unite for a common purpose just as our students did in art class.

In the back center of my classroom sits a nine year-old boy named Mohammed. Mohammed is an active and energetic child that relishes in our summer camp activities. As much as he loves the activities, however, he can become distracted by outside sounds, other children or confusion over the next step in an art project. Once his attention is lost, Mohammed finds his own form of entertainment, often to the distraction of his classmates. Recently, Mohammed has become more focused and shows considerable improvement in his attention span and behavior. Highlighting his greatest attributes, he participates more often in discussions, works through his frustrations and even lends a helping hand in class clean up. In our last class, Mohammed was engulfed in a book being read aloud. Because he usually needs reminding to sit quietly in the circle while we hear a story, the volunteers and I praised his performance and watched Mohammed beam brightly at the turn of every page. During the book discussion, he eagerly presented information he had learned about - the yen, Japanese flag colors and the purpose of a kimono. Our discussion continued during a one-on-one conversation as I aided Mohammed in his tracing and cutting project. Focusing his energy solely on the project, Mohammed smiled and pointed continuously at his project and asked questions. After only six classes with Mohammed, I have already seen the shift from a child facing challenges with concentration and anger management to one full of potential and a desire to learn about the world and share with others around him. I look forward to seeing all the changes in Mohammed at the end of the session.

Mohammed smiles after being encouraged to participate in a class activity


I work to find something I genuinely love in each and every child I work with; this helps me remain patient and composed throughout arduous days of teaching and helps me remember the rewards of my work.  For some kids, this is simple and immediate, but for others, it requires more introspection and dedicated thought.  I was first introduced to my student Hashem when one of my volunteers came to me during our first week of class, and told me that she could not handle him.  She looked flushed, and was clearly losing her patience.  Hashem has a slew of behavioral and emotional problems and heavy baggage; he can persistently be found in the classroom wherever he shouldn’t be, struggles to sit still, and often inadvertently riles up his classmates.

Our first day together was frustrating for both of us; Hashem clearly wasn’t getting the individual attention he needed and deserved, and I had no idea how to give it to him, while still devoting sufficient time and energy to the rest of the class as a whole.  As I’ve gotten to know Hashem better over the past two weeks and altered my teaching to suit his individual needs, I’ve seen remarkable changes.  Hashem is easily overwhelmed by loud noises and disorganization, so I try to keep the class as ordered as possible, and have cut out activities, like drumming, that have proven too overwhelming.  He thrives on individual attention, and beams when picked to demonstrate activities.  Today, Hashem gave me a little paper spider from his art class, and sought me out several times throughout the day to tell me riddles.  This little boy, who puzzled me so much just a week ago, has adjusted extremely well to my classroom, as I adjusted my idea of a hard-working, shining student to include him.  I so appreciate his curiosity about the world, boundless energy, and strong sense of individuality, uninhibited by the opinions of others.

Hashem concentrates in class

Aside from getting to know my individual students, the best part of TYO summer camp thus far has been watching each class come together to form a distinctive, inclusive community.  The first couple of days of class, students entered the room and sat with other kids from their own communities and completely avoided working with classmates of the opposite gender; just two weeks later, the students feel much more comfortable around each other and are far less reluctant to work together with any person in their class.  Last week was New Cultures week, and it was so much fun to introduce the students to areas of the world they previously had no knowledge about.  On Kenya day, I sang a call-and-response song with my students, which, to my surprise, has become SO popular that the kids have continued to sing it days later on the bus, in line, and any other time they get the chance.  It has been astounding to me how much progress we have seen in the kids after just two weeks, and I can only hope that the next two weeks will continue to be as successful for my students and as fulfilling for me as their teacher.