Growing Up at TYO: Fostering Critical Thinking and Improving Communication

Jenan and her son Salim enjoy their time together at Tomorrow’s Youth Organization.

Jenan and her son Salim enjoy their time together at Tomorrow’s Youth Organization.

TYO has been a staple in the Nablus community since its onset in 2008 and many children have grown up as beneficiaries of our multilevel programming. In order to learn about the long-term impact(s) of TYO programming on development, we must take the time so speak with our most senior program recipients. This week we had the opportunity to meet with Jenan and her son Salim, who have both been involved with TYO since the beginning, to hear about their experiences. Salim joined the academic support program for the first time this fall session and Jenan is in the wrap up phase of the Advancing Palestinian Women Entrepreneurs program.

Welcome Jenan! Can you tell me about yourself and how your family got involved with TYO programs?

I am 40 years old and married with one son named Salim, who is in the academic support services program at TYO. I live in Khallet al Amood, so TYO has been my neighbor since it opened eight years ago. I have been a program recipient since the beginning, as I was in the first cohort of mothers to join The Women’s Group and I enrolled Salem in the Core Child Program when he was four years old. I am now part of the Advancing Palestinian Women Entrepreneurs program that is helping to foster my start-up business that produces traditional Palestinian embroidery called tatreez in Arabic. Salim is now nine years old and in the fourth grade. He graduated from the Core Child Program and has gone on to join the academic support program for homework assistance and language instruction.

Why did you decide to enroll your son at TYO?

I decided to register Salim at TYO because it is a safe place for him to be social and interact with children his age. Palestinians are known for their large families, but unlike many of his peers, Salim is an only child. As such, he would spend a lot of time at home alone. I wanted him to have the opportunity to make friends and play, while receiving educational support. Salim does well in school, but he could benefit from additional instruction in Arabic grammar and English speaking. Now that my business is starting to take off, I have less time to assist him with his homework. The academic support program is where he can come to study and participate in recreational activities outside the home.

What are you expectations for the academic support program?

This program will give him the opportunity to use English in his day-to-day life. The public education system is heavily oriented toward memorization-based learning. There is minimal verbal communication in English at school, and he needs to hear and speak the language in order to become proficient. English classes at school are also instructed in Arabic, whereas at TYO he will get more immersive exposure to the language, especially from the native English teachers onsite. In addition to the academic skills he can gain from the program, the structured environment, community values, and psycho-social support that TYO offers are some of the main reasons why I continue to send him here.

You are both involved in TYO programs; how do you think this has impacted your relationship?

Programming for children and women at TYO both aim to develop communication skills. I have attended seminars and training on how to improve relationships and to communicate effectively, which is also taught to students in the Core Child Program and the academic support program. I help him in his studies and we strive for open communication. He is comfortable expressing himself and I know how to listen better and respond. I am also more attentive to his specific needs and he has the ability to communicate any challenges he is experiencing with clarity. We equally benefit from the TYO’s focus on developing and improving communication skills.

Salim, a student in the academic support program, is all smiles on the playground at TYO.

Salim, a student in the academic support program, is all smiles on the playground at TYO.

What has Salim described as being his favorite part of the academic program so far?

His favorite game is called “Inspector,” which is an English game to learn new vocabulary that is similar to charades. He always tells me about different words he learned in English at home that he recalls from memory, which demonstrates the effectiveness of the game in registering new vocabulary. He also loves drama class and having the opportunity to be imaginative while developing and acting out scenes. He is now doing short plays in English, which is giving him more confidence speaking and he is learning new vocabulary.

Have you noticed any changes in Salim that you think are a direct result from TYO programming?

Salim was a shy boy growing up and he was very attached to me because he was an only child. In my absence, he would experience extreme separation anxiety and I believe I contributed to this over-dependence because I was extra protective. Although we are still working on it, he is becoming more confident and independent. It takes time to advance these skills, it does not happen overnight. Another major development I have noticed as of recently is how much his mind has broadened. His questions have considerably more depth and he will challenge different positions and beliefs that he does not agree with. He wants answers and his capacity for critical thinking has significantly improved. Even though he is questioning more, he is still extremely polite and respectful of boundaries. I truly believe that growing up at TYO in a structured environment conducive to learning through creative play is why he has become such a well-adjusted individual.

Can you think of any specific examples that demonstrate how his critical thinking has improved?

Salim has two pet fish and one of them died this morning. He was questioning what he did wrong and thought deeply about the consequences of his actions. He took the responsibility of caring for his fish very seriously; he cleaned the tank regularly and fed them everyday. He could not find a reason why the fish died! The only unusual occurrence was that it rained for the first time in a long time today, and he wondered if this had anything to do with the fish dying. It might sound silly to us as adults, but he was tying to make connections between his actions and his surroundings. The man at the pet shop told him that the fish might not make it through the winter because of the change in the temperature, and in Palestine rain is the first sign that winter is coming. After all this speculation, perhaps the most important lesson he learned is that in life sometimes things happen that are beyond our control.

Salim is a participant in the After-School Academic Support Program sponsored by Relief International. Jenan is a participant in Advancing Palestinian Women Entrepreneurs. 

Interview conducted by Marina, Fall 2016 Teaching and M&E Fellow, and translated by Futoon, TYO Outreach Coordinator.