Welcoming Our Fall 2016 Fellows!

Fall 2016 Fellows Mecca, Mike, Marina, Ronaldo, Catalina, and Leah.

Fall 2016 Fellows Mecca, Mike, Marina, Ronaldo, Catalina, and Leah.

Introducing the Fall 2016 Fellow class! 6 fellows from the United States and Canada have been selected to teach intensive English as a Foreign Language classes and assist with program development at TYO. Read all about them!


Mecca Abney was born and raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She obtained a dual degree in Communications and African-American Studies from Temple University. Upon graduating, she immediately began her career in advocacy as a labor union organizer with AFSCME International. Through her organizing career that spanned over a decade, she has worked on a combination of both public and private sector trade union campaigns as well as a host of political campaigns to address labor related legislation. In 2012, she took a leave of absence to study abroad in Costa Rica to learn Spanish and to become TEFL certified to teach English internationally. From 2014 - 2016 Mecca worked as a Youth Asset Builder in southeastern Morocco with the United States Peace Corps. The majority of her time there was spent working with young adults at local youth centers teaching English, implementing community projects, and working closely with the local artisan community developing product and marketing strategies to enhance private business.

In her free time Mecca enjoys the usual simple pleasures like getting to know new people, discovering cool new music, and dancing.


Michael Avanzato, from southern Rhode Island, is a recent graduate of the University of Massachusetts Amherst having obtained degrees in Legal Studies and Middle Eastern Studies. He attended the American University of Beirut in Beirut, Lebanon during the spring semester of his junior year, where he studied conflict resolution, Arabic, and social inequality.  Following AUB, he worked as an English teacher at a refugee camp in South Lebanon.  After he returned to Umass, Michael focused on writing his thesis concerning the relationship between state refugee policy and conflict in the Middle East.

Having worked with Palestinian students in the past, and having a love of the Middle East from his time spent in Lebanon, Michael is thrilled to return to the region.  Though his passions are activism and policy-based advocacy, he is probably more well-defined as someone who enjoys telling stories, goofing around, and drinking copious amounts of coffee.  He looks forward to serving the Nablus community to the best of his ability, and working both with TYO's staff and the people of Nablus.


Marina Santilli will be joining the TYO team from Ottawa, the capital of Canada (where Justin Trudeau lives). She completed a Bachelor of Arts in Human Rights, Law and Gender Studies from Carleton University and a Master of Arts in conflict studies from the University of Ottawa and Saint Paul University. She has held several student positions with the Government of Canada as a junior policy and research analyst. She also has considerable experience in the non-profit sector, think tanks, and NGOs. During her gap year before starting graduate school, she obtained her TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) certificate and taught English to Syrian refugees residing in Istanbul, Turkey. Marina has previously led three voluntary programs in West Bank. She is a social butterfly that fits in wherever she lands, who loves to travel and try new cuisines. She spent the summer backpacking across Europe and is now looking forward to her next adventure in the Middle East.


Ronaldo Ribeiro is a native of Minneapolis who grew up playing soccer and the guitar in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. After spending a year in France and later a few months travelling in Latin America, Ronaldo obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication Studies and Literature and a graduate degree in Literature and Theater. Teaching opportunities at UW Madison, Middlebury College, and the Wharton School at UPenn taught him how to value each and every students’ perspectives, knowledge, and life experiences. Ronaldo values friendship, empathy and compassion. He looks forward to working at TYO and to learning from his students and his colleagues.


Catalina, born and raised in New York City, recently obtained her Bachelors of Arts in International Studies with Minors in Arabic Language and Culture, and Islamic World Studies from Loyola University Chicago. Throughout her undergraduate years, Catalina traveled to underserved communities in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Mexico to learn about the realities of underrepresented persons, to develop her own understanding of solidarity, and to become a well-informed global citizen. These immersions, her study abroad, and independent travel experiences have inspired Catalina to pursue human rights work - especially for the protection and just treatment of refugees and undocumented migrants - in organizations such as the United Nations and Amnesty International.

In her spare time, Catalina likes to learn languages (Arabic is her 5th), practice aerial yoga and martial arts, read, and journal. Catalina awaits the opportunity to grow, learn, and contribute to TYO's community.


Leah Passauer was born in Bowie, Maryland. During high school her family moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil which gave her the opportunity to volunteer in the slums working on projects focused on health and development. After three years in Brazil her family moved to Miami and then to Northern Virginia. She received a Bachelors of Science degree from Virginia Tech in Design and Management. After spending a few years working in management and human resources she began volunteering during her spare time with a group that participated in farmer to farmer activities with Haiti. The focus was on bringing farmers from Haiti to America to educate them on sustainable practices that they could take home with them. This experience ultimately led her to apply to the Peace Corps. She spent two years working in Guizhou, China as a University TEFL Instructor, teaching around 500 different university students while also working with teachers from several rural communities. Other projects she developed involved women’s wellness by teaching health classes and yoga to hundreds of female students from her university. Her passions are traveling the world, running marathons, yoga, teaching, and learning about new cultures. She is really looking forward to her time spent learning and developing at TYO.

Welcome to the TYO Team!