The Journey Ahead

Upon receiving my acceptance into TYO’s intern program, I immediately began to prepare myself. I’d never had as much as a layover in the Middle East, let alone any prior cultural experience, and with zero Arabic it was clear there were going to be some exciting challenges ahead.  Without so much as an idea of what to pack, I made my decision; I was going to Nablus. Prior to any research, Palestine was a place I could only point out on a map and recite some information about that I had read in newspapers. For the record, my parents read the same newspapers that reported alarming news of violence and unrest, and were not thrilled about the idea of their daughter in Palestine. To assuage my parents fears and to build my excitement, I sought information anywhere I could find it: books, friends, a wide variety news media, but I accepted that nothing would truly prepare me for what I was about to experience. Sarah Youssef

Upon arriving, I was taken by the level of security and surveillance I observed, from the airport terminals to the drive to Jerusalem and Ramallah.  The beautiful, mountainous landscape here provides for amazing vistas of the cities forged in valleys and on the tops of mountains, but it also provides a clear view of the military checkpoints and surveillance towers. One of the most striking experiences I had on my first day was glimpsing a small section of the massive 25-foot wall—two times the height and four times the length of the Berlin wall—that divides the West Bank from Israel. I did not fully comprehend at the moment, nor do I now, what this barrier means for Palestinians.

What I do know—or have come to learn through these first couple of weeks in Nablus—is the many ways in which TYO helps to break down other nonphysical barriers, even if as difficult and pervasive, between us as humans. I have come to understand that the energy extended by TYO to educate and secure the women and children of the Nabulsi refugee camps, the Old City, and Khallet el Amoud neighborhood is a restorative force designed to break down some of society’s most detrimental walls. By making the center easily accessible and an inviting place, the TYO staff have created a safe, educational environment, consequently fostering positive growth and societal change.  Through TYO’s mixed gender, mixed neighborhood classrooms, students are exposed to the diversity right here in Nablus, challenging any negative, preconceived notions about one another. Similarly, the women participating in the Women’s Empowerment program are exposed to the same diversity, and invited to learn new skills and stay healthy.  TYO also stretches into the northern West Bank, inviting female entrepreneurs to incubate their businesses at TYO, drawing more awareness to the work done here.  The emphasis on psychosocial support and intergenerational participation allows for the learning and growth achieved to spread into the local community.

While many of the details are not reported in mainstream news media, recent events in the West Bank have spurred more walls, barriers, and unrest. It is exceedingly important now to see how TYO acts as an important catalyst for social change. So, while I didn’t exactly know what I was in for upon my arrival, everything I have experienced thus far has exceeded any expectation I had.  I am eager to become a part of this positive outreach movement as an intern here at TYO. I came to teach, but I have a feeling I’m going to learn a whole lot more.

- TYO Fall 2015 Intern, Sarah