MumbaiBlueRibbonM

Indian Seeds, peers take part in leadership session

MUMBAI | Eleven Indian Seeds and their friends took part in a leadership session at the Bombay International School on September 18 led by Abhishek Thakore, the founder of The Blue Ribbon Movement.

The Blue Ribbon Movement is a social organization that creates and nurtures young social leaders across borders through various leadership programs.

Thakore challenged participants to seek a life created by their own struggle and efforts, rather than a life that society finds acceptable and that conforms to the boxes that are approved by society.

“I was surprised when one of the Seeds said that they would work to create their own life and not fit into the boxes which are readily available,” said Sagar Gangurde, Director of Indian Programs.

Using his own story of change, Thakore explained how privilege can provide an opportunity to take chances and make this world a better place.

Small Hall

Small Hall Program reconnects US Seeds after Camp

NEW YORK | Fifteen new American Seeds met in New York on September 9 to check in after Camp, discuss their return home, and talk about post-camp programming.

The day-long program started with a reflection dialogue during which the Seeds shared their experiences after Camp and returning to school. Many shared similar frustrations upon their return, including difficulty communicating messages learned at Camp with their relatives and friends.

They also examined Changemaker Projects, looked at past examples of these projects, and explored the possibility of future participation. American Seed and Breaking Borders founder Carter Hirschhorn and Director Jacob Kern gave a presentation with Q&A about their project to generate dialogue on race, religion, and socioeconomic status between students from the Riverdale Country School and the Marble Hill School.

The last part of the program centered on this year’s upcoming Seeds of Peace program calendar. The Seeds shared their feedback on the calendar and proposed a day of service and fundraising initiatives including a 5K race.

Bunk-Picture

Seeds of Peace: Where Learning Happens
Huffington Post

Fifteen of us, from Israel, Palestine, Egypt, Jordan, and the U.S., sat in a circle on the grass under the shade of a large oak tree. Warring nations and divided people had come together in the form of teenagers at the Seeds of Peace Camp in Otisfield, Maine.

As I prepared for Camp, I wanted to believe that everyone would become a family, but that seemed pretty lofty considering the tensions in the Middle East. I thought, maybe as an American I could feel that sense of unity, as I am less directly engaged in the conflict. But would Israelis and Palestinians be able to let go of their deeply held views and losses for the sake of a friendship? I had my own fears as well—as an American, how would I be able to contribute? Did I know enough about the conflict? Was my role to be a mediator, represent my country? Sure, I come from a diverse family—a Lebanese grandfather, a Jewish grandmother, and an Italian Catholic “Nona.” But where did that put me?

I was told, “Trust the process,” one of the mottos of Seeds of Peace. Now looking back, I am glad I did. The process began and ended with the buses that brought us all together … and returned at the end.

As we arrived on the first day, we were led under a tunnel of interlocking arms. Each arriving delegation was welcomed. Our first interactions were polite and jovial, albeit a bit cautious. We introduced ourselves with smiles, handshakes and some hugs. Although there was some initial hesitancy and anxiety, I was surprised to see how well we were all getting along. New signs of commonality began to appear. Emerging from our bunks on the first day, we all wore the same green Seeds of Peace t-shirts and navy sweatshirts, our uniform for the next few weeks. As we progressed further into the program, friendships even began to develop.

However, as we entered our second week, there was a noticeable tonal shift, particularly during Dialogue Sessions, where the difficult discussions surrounding history, religion, and personal experiences began to take place. Dialogues, each consisting of 15 people, included discussions about checkpoints, the Gaza Strip, rival military groups, and past events leading up to the conflict. Initially, the sessions, two hours per day, had been name games and icebreakers, but it wasn’t long before tensions, passions, emotions, and insecurities became evident. At first, I was impatient with the icebreakers, wanting to get directly into real dialogue. But as the discussions became emotionally charged, there were times I wished we were participating in icebreakers. We ripped off the Band-Aids of surface level discussions and dove into the real issues, discussing the Arab-Israeli conflict ― sometimes from a broader perspective and other times at a more personal, intimate level. There were days we felt like we had to defend our countries, even if we didn’t in our hearts. Or we felt like we had to take sides, and the “us versus them” mentality took over. At times, we felt attacked or personally insulted. Small details often became the center of conversations. We engaged fully in tough issues, which resulted in pain, emotion, and exhaustion.

But we made large strides. As we entered the third week, a deeper level of understanding and empathy emerged. We began accepting each other’s truths. We realized that a person’s knowledge is his or her truth, not just a perspective. We would say things like, “I’m so sorry you have to go through that,” or “Wow, I didn’t know you had to deal with that every day.” We tried to make compromises and adjust our own thinking. People weren’t talking over each other as much. We began to look at each other as individuals and also found parts of ourselves in each other. We were able to identify transcending commonalities of religious and ethnic characteristics. When we attended religious services together, we saw a shared objective of “goodness” emerge. Geographic, religious, ethnic, familial, and rhetorical dividing lines began to fade.

I cannot say that in the end, we developed a comprehensive plan for the Middle-East that can be implemented tomorrow. But we made progress in a different way. By meeting each other and hearing each other’s stories, we were making change. By getting to know adversaries face-to-face, we found friends. We found compassion and, yes, love. We saw “the way life could be” (another Seeds of Peace motto). That is the change. We will share each other’s stories in our hometowns. Because we had a taste of peace, we will chase it for the rest of our lives and work to have whole nations live it.

On the last day, the buses arrived to take us back to the airport and home, apart from each other. Was it really already time to leave? I had a pounding headache by the end of the day from crying. As I watched my new family members drive off in the buses, I kept thinking, “When will we see each other again?” And there was no guarantee that we would. But I realized that the depth of our bond would keep us together in our hearts. As Seeds, we will work together to grow peace by planting ourselves in countries thousands of miles apart.

Read Alexa D’Ambrosio’s op-ed in The Huffington Post »

Cyprus2

29 Seeds attend advanced leadership program in Cyprus

KAMPOS, CYPRUS | Seeds from the Middle East, South Asia, the United Kingdom, and the United States took part in an eight-day advanced leadership program held in a village in the Troodos Mountains on the island of Cyprus.

This is the first time this program, which is also held every summer at the Seeds of Peace Camp in Maine, has been held outside of Camp for all delegations.

The 29 high-school age Seeds who attended the August 20-28 Paradigm Shifters program took part in advanced leadership and “Unleashing Change” sessions that integrate dialogue and workshops. The Seeds covered topics including active and applied leadership and leadership styles, active listening, collaborative problem solving, and peer support and understanding. Nine facilitators from around the world helped lead the program.

During the Unleashing Change sessions, Seeds took part in dialogue and workshops dedicated to the exploration of identities, communities, and global issues and concepts. They also gave presentations on issues affecting their communities and shared ways to engage them effectively. Seeds also received tools to better understand cultural modes of communication, community action, and organizing within their local context.

“It was incredible to see how engaged and challenged the kids were in discussing community issues from around the world,” said Seeds of Peace’s Orlando Arellano, who organized the Paradigm Shifters program.

“Jumping from Brexit, to Black Lives Matter, to occupation, to Kashmir, to the refugee crisis, the diversity of this group really provided a next-level, mature dialogue that allowed Seeds to both connect and confront the most pressing issues of our time.”

In addition to the dialogue session, the Seeds took part in the Unleashing Change program, which explores a range of topics including community action and organizing as well as issues around community and identity. Participants also acquired tools and skills for action-oriented thinking and communication.

“We witnessed tremendous discussions and growth that not only stimulated hope, but a call to action,” said Arellano.

Seeds from every delegation represented at Camp the last few summers took part in the program, including Maine and Syracuse. For many of the Americans, it was their first time outside the United States.

The program was held at a school in the village of Kampos, and participants spent time learning about the conflict in Cyprus, touring the divided city of Nicosia and the United Nations buffer zone. The Seeds were hosted by the Home for Cooperation, an organization that builds bridges between the north and south sides of the island. They also took part in workshops led by the Cyprus Association for Historical Dialogue and Research. Cypriot Seeds helped organize much of the week’s logistics and local partnerships.
 
CYPRUS PROGRAM PHOTOS

Carwash-Fundraiser-2016[4]

Egyptian Seeds hold car wash, raise funds for Seeds of Peace

CAIRO | Twenty Egyptian Seeds got their hands soapy for this year’s 7th Annual Seeds of Peace Carwash Fundraiser on August 19 and 20.

For two days, the Seeds washed over 80 cars in the parking lot of a sports club.

“It’s kind of an invitation to join the Egyptian Seeds Community, said Egyptian Seed Habeeba who helped organize the fundraiser.

“Instead of going out and talking, we get together and do the carwash. It’s a chance to bond with each other, contribute to the community and a nice way for new Seeds to integrate without any awkwardness.”

The Seeds’ good spirits and efforts succeeded as they raised E£ 2,350 ($250), double the amount of money than in previous years. A small portion of the funds will go to charity, and the rest to support Seeds of Peace programs in Egypt.

“This year there were a lot more signs and they were more colorful which grabbed the interest of people; many ended up donating more than the fee charged,” said Hashem.
 
CARWASH FUNDRAISER PHOTOS

DVC

US Consulates in Mumbai, Lahore host presidential elections video conference

NEW YORK | Twenty-seven Seeds and their friends took part in a video conference across the India-Pakistan border to discuss this year’s US presidential election.

The conference took place on August 12 at the US Consulates in Mumbai and Lahore.

“The key moment was witnessing the happiness on the faces of Seeds from both sides when they saw each other, virtually,” said Sagar Gangurde, Director of Indian Programs. “This was a priceless moment and the folks at the US Consulate were surprised to see such degree of bonding between them.”

Seeds from both countries got a better understanding of the US electoral system. In addition, they watched a video on entrepreneurship followed by a discussion about issues in education, climate change, and women’s empowerment in their own countries. Officers from both consulates urged the Seeds to take action on issues the Seeds identify as pressing.

Rana

Afghan Seeds attend program on civic education and violent extremism

KABUL | Eighty participants including five Afghan Seeds attended a program at Rana University in Kabul on August 12 about civic education and how it can counter violent extremism.

The program opened with remarks from Ramiz Bakhtiar and Zohra Mousavi. During group activities, participants divided into groups share and discuss their experiences with extremism.

“During the group discussions, one of the female members shared her story of facing extremism,” said Seeds of Peace Afghan Program Coordinator Bahman Shahi. “She talked about how her family members due to their conservative believes didn’t allow her to pursue her studies in a school abroad.”