The Olive Harvest in Palestine: Teaching New Perspectives

In densely populated areas, it can be challenging for children and youth to find safe and open spaces to play freely. Many of TYO’s beneficiaries come from the Old City in Nablus and nearby refugee camps, which are heavily congested and offer limited prospects for healthy child development. In this week’s interview with Sabah from the Old City, she shares how her daughter Aya, who is in the academic support program, has had the opportunity to connect with nature and learn through play at TYO.

Sabah takes a break from her classes with The Women’s Group to enjoy the sunshine.

Sabah takes a break from her classes with The Women’s Group to enjoy the sunshine.

Welcome Sabah! Can you tell us about your family and how you got involved with TYO?

I am from the Old City in Nablus and I have been with my husband for twenty-eight years. I stopped attending school when I got married at fifteen years old and in grade nine.  I have eleven children, seven girls and four boys. My youngest child is six years old and the oldest is twenty-six years old. My children and I are both enrolled in TYO programs. I have two children in the Core Child Program and my daughter Aya is in the academic support program. Aya is nine years old and in the fourth grade. I am in my fourth session with The Women’s Group program that offers fitness and English classes.

Why did you decide to have your family join TYO?

I heard many positive things about TYO from different members of the Nablus community, so I decided to register my family approximately 2 years ago. In the Old City, there are not enough safe and open spaces for children to play freely and they need to expel their energy by running around. TYO is an environment where children can play, and of course, learn. TYO programs also provide the psychosocial and academic support that is necessary for healthy child development with their team of professional staff and volunteers. In addition to my children’s participation here, I needed a space for myself to unwind and focus on self-improvement. The idea of “girl time” varies by locality, and with eleven children and a husband, it can be hard to find time to be alone or to connect with other women. The fitness class is where I can escape from daily stressors to focus on my own strength and happiness. I have lost twenty-five kilograms so far and the health classes have taught me invaluable lessons about nutrition.

Congratulations Sabah on your fitness achievements! You mentioned that TYO provides necessary psychosocial and academic support for children. Can you elaborate?

My daughter Aya is finishing up her second session with the academic support program. She generally does well in school, but there is always room for improvement. She can benefit from additional support in English and Arabic. From my observations, the extremely large classroom sizes in the local schools make it challenging for teachers to be able to reach every student based on individual needs. In this setting, the strong students continue to excel and the weaker students run the risk of getting left behind. If certain material is too challenging for Aya, it may be difficult for her to receive the extra assistance to understand new concepts. TYO fills this gap by giving her the academic support she needs to succeed.

Sabah’s daughter Aya participates in the After-school Academic Support for Kids program.

Sabah’s daughter Aya participates in the After-school Academic Support for Kids program.

Have you noticed any changes in Aya’s academic performance since starting the program?

At the moment, she is concentrating on improving her Arabic through dictation and grammar exercises. The results are obvious as she is much more confident and her writing has improved tremendously. In addition to her academic performance, she also demonstrates superior leadership skills to her younger siblings. They all sit together at home and share what they did at TYO. Aya will teach them any new games she learned and facilitates different activities.

Are there any other similar organizations in the Old City, and if so, why did you choose TYO?

There is another center that provides similar services in the Old City, but the free transportation make TYO an ideal option.  My children have made new friends from different areas of Nablus by leaving the Old City. The teaching style at TYO is also an excellent alternative to the memorization-based learning students receive at school. TYO has more resources and games as well, and even just riding the bus here is exciting! It is a fun addition to their everyday routine.

Can you think of a time when you were able to recognize the impact TYO programming was having on you and your family?

There have been all around improvements in communication amongst my children and me. When Aya comes home, she shares many stories about TYO and all the exciting things she did and learned with the rest of the family. For example, it is now the olive harvest season in Palestine and her teacher took them olive picking. She brought home the olives she collected in a jar and was proud to show everyone what she accomplished. There are no trees in the Old City, so this gave her the opportunity to connect with nature. There is a big distinction between life in the villages and life in the city; therefore, this experience provided her with meaningful new perspectives. I am also one of the many mothers that advocated for the launch of the academic program. We are all really excited about it, as it is still relatively new, and is the perfect extension to the existing academic vision at TYO. We all asked for it and eventually it happened. Shukran [thank you]!

Aya is a participant in the After-School Academic Support Program sponsored by Relief International. Sabah is a participant in The Women's Group. 

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