Constructing identity in the Core Child Program
'Children are like little scientists. They gather evidence by observing and exploring the world.'
But what happens when they, their parents, guardians, and teachers don’t have control over their world? What happens when their ability to explore is limited by outside factors? For most of the children attending TYO’s Core Child Program, ‘exploring’ their world- even their country- is not an option. Given the barriers to movement created by checkpoints throughout the West Bank, Palestinian communities have become highly fragmented, with many families choosing to remain stationary.
Given the complex political environment in which TYO’s beneficiaries develop, most arrive at TYO having never previously left their neighborhoods or camps. TYO offers an exciting opportunity for these children to have new experiences in a safe and controlled environment. In order to help these children adjust and understand their relation to the world outside their isolated communities, the focus of the first half of the session for children in the Core AM program is community. Each week, they learn about different elements of community- starting with themselves, and then expanding outwards to incorporate their families, neighborhoods, cities, and-finally- country. In the week of ‘My Country’, children learn about different aspects of ‘country’. For example, a country is made of many cities and villages. A flag is used to symbolize a country- and each country has a unique flag. A country can be found on a map. While it is logical that the concepts become more complex as the weeks progress, the challenge of teaching ‘my country’ in Palestine is particularly marked.
Core Child Teacher, Haithem highlighted some of the issues he faced during this week. For starters, having never traveled outside Nablus, the idea of ‘country’ and what makes a country different from a city is rather abstract for young children. Second, none of the children in his class were able to recognize the Palestinian flag as a symbol of their country prior to this week of the program. Previously children in his class had associated the flag with funerals- saying that they’d seen the image before in the street processions. It’s important that the teacher and volunteers guide children to instead create positive associations with the flag, as it becomes a critical part of their own cultural identity. Finally, Haithem explained that maps arouse children’s natural curiosity. Even through the children in his class are only 4 and 5 years old, several of them had asked after seeing a map of the region if they’re so close to water (the Mediterranean Sea), why have they never seen it? Haithem explained this is an extremely emotional week as a teacher, as he must address children’s questions in a forthright and pragmatic way, ensuring he doesn’t impart his own impressions developed as a Palestinian growing up under Occupation.
While there are significant challenges presented in the classroom, ultimately this is a positive week for children in the Core Child Program as they uncover another layer of their complex identities.
- Haithem Okeh, Core Child Teacher and Jessica Dargiel, Deputy Director