Reflecting on a New Home
As I sit on the balcony overlooking Nablus writing this blog post, I am in awe at the fact that I came back to the land that my grandfather fled from 66 years ago during the 1948 War and was never permitted to return to. Before coming to Palestine, I rarely identified myself as a Palestinian. Since both my parents were born in Lebanon and because I was born and raised in the United States, I tended to see myself solely as American-Lebanese. Throughout my time here in Palestine, however, I have felt a connection to a part of my heritage which I never embraced before. My 7 weeks at Tomorrow’s Youth Organization, teaching English to 4-8 year-olds and a professional competency class to college students at An-Najah University allowed me to connect with bright Palestinian youth who serve as the future of Palestine. As I reflect on my experiences here at TYO, all of the strong, resilient, kind, and compassionate people I have met come to mind. Despite the struggles of every day life in Palestine, including home invasions, arrests, poverty, and domestic violence, the children, women, and university students always managed to keep their infectious smiles and positive attitudes with their heads held high.
I was amazed to see the way that my students were able to forget about whatever hardships they faced the night or day before and truly engage in class and the activities. For instance, in my morning English class the day after home invasions in the neighborhood where TYO is located, students who were usually very responsive were tiredly rubbing their eyes and struggling to stay awake. I went over to of my most approachable and active students from the neighborhood who could barely keep his eyes open and asked him what letter we were working on. He tried so hard to answer the question with a big smile on his face, but could simply not focus on what we were learning because of his fatigue. This interaction affected me because it served to summarize the sad truth that the occupation affects children in unimaginable ways. Children are not only hindered psychologically, but also academically. Nonetheless, my students still came to TYO everyday prepared to learn, play, and grow.
Not only have I had the chance to engage with the warm and welcoming students, volunteers, and local staff and discover an indispensable part of my background, I have also had the opportunity to refine my professional skills and learn about the field of development in the Middle East. As an international relations and Middle East studies double major, I aspire to empower women and children in the Middle East through education. My experience at TYO has given me hands-on experience, allowing me to translate my emotions from the struggles I have witnessed into hard work and fun activities for my students. I have also learned about important practices, such as moderating and evaluating, and about NGO work in the Middle East as a whole. After I complete my studies, I hope to return to Palestine and continue the work that TYO and other organizations have begun. Therefore, instead of saying goodbye, I will say “See you later!” to everyone here because as we say in Palestine, Inch’Allah I will return one day soon.
-Zahi Khouri Fellow, Michelle