What Wondrous Women

Cynthia and Rachel  Having only what you might call a passing interest in health and exercise, we were both a little nervous about not only upping our weekly workouts, but also teaching about fifty women dance moves, yoga, the My Plate system, and cardio routines. We were warned that we should keep them entertained, and that they could be very blunt. The last part turned out to be an understatement, but nevertheless, interacting with our ladies has become one of our absolute favorite parts of this session. Despite all the time that we spend working with kids, our workouts with The Women’s Group (TWG) are often the most fun part of our days. They are chatty, sassy, sweet, and full of life, and they always want to talk to us about their lives, their families, and most of all, their health problems. Their faith in us and the simple advice that we are able to give them - “drink more water, try to stretch more”- is heartwarming, but it also illustrates the fact that these women have had very little access to quality information about their health or that of their children. The kind of things that we learned in middle school health classes already give us more information than our women have, many of whom are old enough to be our mothers. However, their desire to improve their knowledge and their health is inspiring, and as is so often the case, simply showing up and starting to move is often the hardest part. They’ve grumbled quite a bit, but in every class they’ve pushed through innumerable crunches, high knees, and laps around our conference room. They chide us if we go too easy on them, and at the end they always leave with a huge smile and an enthusiastic English thank-you. About halfway through the session, we also began to suspect that they were not-so-secretly trying to get back at us for the work we’d been putting them through, as homemade food and invitations to dinner began to make regular appearances. It’s obvious how grateful they are to be in our class, but when we start our days with a roomful of giggling women telling us how much they love us, we’re the ones who feel lucky.

Woman from Cynthia and Rachel’s fitness class race to the finish during a fun day at the park


Arriving in Nablus seven weeks ago, I expected all of my excitement and frustration to stem from TYO’s youngest group of beneficiaries. What I came to learn almost immediately, however, was the Women’s Group classes we teach would provide their fair share of moments to both appreciate and endure. Along with my Drama class, I teach Women’s Advanced IT four days a week. While experience-level connoting “Advanced” varies from knowing how to turn on a computer to working with the MS Office Suite on a daily basis, the learning atmosphere in class ensures that everyone is on the same page. Students help one another, building a sense of community unique to TYO’s approach to non-formal education. The importance of information technology is obvious to even the casual observer, as knowledge of computers is essential to communicating in today’s technologically-literate world. However, an IT class at TYO is not merely about learning new skills, it is about creating an atmosphere where individuals feel comfortable expressing their frustrations and proud to share their successes.

Seeing student’s interactions with technology has changed the way I see modern social media. As a student of Anthropology, I’ve read countless texts condemning social media for its role in virtualizing our daily lives by replacing moments of human connection with distant cyber-communication. For someone who knew Facebook as a way to see what high-school friends were up to or mindlessly look at pictures, this has always been a winning argument. But for someone like Hadeel, a student of mine who had not seen her daughter since she moved to Malaysia four years ago, Facebook is a way to see pictures of a granddaughter she has never held. Hadeel is just one of many students to have an emotional reaction to technologies many deem banal, demonstrating the real importance of these classes.

Some of the participants in the woman’s group compete for who is the fastest typist as part of Noah’s advanced IT class


Throughout my time here at TYO I have had the privilege of working with The Women’s Group teaching a fitness class. What I have seen is that these women really just need a release from the daily routine of being a woman in Nablus. Although the fitness class and educational lectures they receive here are things that they really want to be a part of, mainly (or at least it seems to me) the women come here for an outlet. It is a chance to spend two hours away from their home, with friends, and in the mean time they are becoming more aware and improving their health. They laugh, joke, chat, and giggle like little girls. They express themselves.

For the last few lessons of fitness the women and I have been learning different dances from around the world. They love to dance, and they really are amazing at it. The first time I saw them pull out some Arabic dance moves I was shocked, and I was in awe. It was beautiful to me that these women learn how to dance from their mothers, who learned from their mothers, and now they are teaching their own children, sons and daughters alike. It is in these small and often disregarded things that the best parts of a culture are preserved.

In turn I have also been teaching them various dances, from a slow Nepalese dance, to a lively Scottish Ceilidh and a fast pace Zumba routine. Through these mediums the women find that they have the ability to get fit, express themselves and gain awareness about the global community that they live in. Moreover, it allows them to tap into their inner child and remember that they too deserve to have fun and be their own carefree person.

Cynthia, Rachel, Noah and Rosie are Fall 2013 interns at TYO in Nablus.