A TYO Family Joins the Academic Support program: The Story of Maha and Ro'a
Last week, we were trilled to start of the Summer 2016 Academic Support Program. The program, which caters to 9-14 year olds, piloted this past spring and was a major success. In its pilot stage, the program was available to children in the immediate neighborhood of TYO, Khallet El Amoud. However, its achievements allowed the organization to expand the program's reach to the larger community of Nablus including the four refugee camps in the city. As such, it is a great time to speak with a family who has been active in TYO since the beginning, and more specifically a mother whose daughter is about to begin the Summer 2016 Academic Support Program.
Maha, Ro'a's mother, is a committed TYO parent, who has been part of the TYO community from its culmination in 2008. She lives in El Ein refugee camp with her children, and the youngest two — Ro'a and Malik — are both enrolled in TYO programming. Ro'a, 12 years old, participated in the Core Early Childhood program until she graduated out at the age of 9 years old. Malik, began the Core Early Childhood Program at the age of 4 years old and will be entering his final year of the program this September. Maha first heard of TYO when the TYO Outreach Coordinator, Futoon Qadri, conducted outreach meetings at the UNWRA schools in El Ein camp.
Can you tell me why you decided to enroll Ro'a in the Summer 2016 Academic Support program?
As a mother, I want my children to get out of the house, get out of the camp, see new things and meet new people. In particular, I care that Ro'a does this as a girl, because many girls are not able to explore and experience the world when they live in the camps. By sending Ro'a to TYO, specifically the Academic Support program, she will see the city outside of El Ein and meet new and caring people. Further, I believe TYO will provide support for her studies and education. Their non-formal approach will complement her more formal studies in school. She will be able to play and laugh, but also learn.
Additionally, there are no other available programs in the camp. I once enrolled Ro'a and Malik in an "academic program" during the teachers' strike [in 2015] when public schools closed. However the program was a mess, the biggest issue being that there was no commitment from the teachers and no commitment from the students. The children felt it was a vacation.
Unfortunately, the alternative is children playing in the street and not learning, which is not good. I see this daily, because there are no programs in the camp. If a child is not sent to TYO they do nothing after school. They spend time in the streets, which is not safe, or at home where there is no one to support their studies.
Was there a particular moment or reason that made you want to enroll Ro'a in the Academic Support program?
There is not necessarily a moment — but more of a quality about TYO that motivated me to enroll Ro'a in the Academic Support program. The TYO staff and teachers are extremely caring. They show so much care for the children and I knew this would apply to the Academic Support program as well. Furthermore, the teachers and programs are goal-oriented. They set a goal — for example we will finish our homework — and then play. This goal-oriented thinking is important. The staff is always working towards a goal and seeing projects through. I believe this goal-oriented mindset will be present in the Academic Support program and I want Ro'a to experience and learn this way of thinking.
Although the academic program has not started yet, your family has been coming to TYO for a long time. How has TYO programming helped Malik, and more specifically Ro'a in school/formal educational settings?
For Malik, I know when he returns from TYO he will be more relaxed and able to start his studies. TYO's homework help and Academic Support program includes not just academics but also time management. He has two hours at TYO — a definitive time frame — in which he plays, releases energy and does his work. He is much less hyperactive when he arrives at home. This benefits the whole family and his studies. Other mothers think studying must happen first and then play, but a child will be more easily distracted if they go directly from school to studying without any time to release their energy. I know that once Ro'a enrolls this summer, her participation will relieve the stress I have about providing the academic support I know she needs and sometimes I cannot provide.
Not only will the program support her academically, as I said before, it will also allow her to see the world outside of the camp, meet new people, and become a stronger more caring person. In fact, Ro'a and I have talked to mothers and children in El Ein camp, and explained how much TYO's programs have given us and improved us; we want other mothers to enroll their children at TYO.
These improvements you speak of, what are they? How has TYO improved your relationships with your children? How has the family improved overall?
In terms of my children, by enrolling them in TYO programs and surrounding them by people who are committed to their academic and personal goals, my children have become more caring, better people. They have also become more focused on their school work and less hyperactive in our home. I believe, because Malik and Ro'a have a place at TYO to productively release their energy, they no longer feel the need to run around the house, which creates stress for me. We all interact in more compassionate and calmer ways. Also, by involving myself in the TYO programs for women (specifically the fitness and nutrition course and the seminars on parenting) I have become closer with my children. I spent two years involved in TYO's women's programs. As a result, I am dedicated to devoting an hour every night to just spending time with them and hearing about their days. I also have bettered my health and the health of my family because of what I learned in the women's program. Overall, the approach of TYO, which involves all family members, has been great for my family.
It is wonderful to reflect on how TYO has helped your family over the last 8 years. Now, looking forward, what are your expectations of the Academic Support program, both academically and personally, for Ro'a?
I expect there will be an outcome — even if it is small in her academic performance. I expect she will do better on her homework and exams in school if she is working on this material at TYO. However, the program is short so only so much can be achieved — which is why I plan to re-enroll Ro'a in the fall. On a more personal level, my goal is that the Academic Support program will help her with her energy levels and time management. Ro'a has a lot of energy, which is not bad, but her energy can cause chaos in the home. I expect the Academic Support program will help her release her energy but also teach her life skills — for example, how to organize and divide time, and manage her work. Also, with the recent announcement of Tawjihi test scores [the final high school exam in Palestine], there have been some young adults who have taken their lives because they did not do as well as they wanted and felt no hope for their future achievement and success. This is not good. I want Ro'a to be strong and by enrolling her in the Academic Support program I feel she will build her confidence. This confidence will not only help her perform better in the future but if challenges arise, she will realize there are more options and she can overcome these issues. She will be strong and she will keep going.
Maha’s family is from Balata refugee camp. She was enrolled in school through the 9th grade and completed the Metric exam, which at the time was the equivalent to the Tawjihi, or highest level of education. Her and her husband, Abdullah, have 4 children – the youngest are Ro'a and Malik.
The After-School Academic Support for Kids (AASK) program is supported by Relief International.
Kyra, Summer 2016 EFL and AASK Program Fellow