• Over 25 hours of facilitated dialogue for every Seed.
• 21 consecutive summers of Seeds of Peace programming.
Orientation Week 2012 | June 17-23
A huge thunderclap, followed by a magnificent double rainbow punctuated the culmination of a week of staff orientation here at Seeds of Peace International Camp in Maine.
Symbolically, it reminded us that although this is our 21st summer and our 39th session of Camp, there will be many surprises ahead; some may shake the foundations of long-held beliefs and others might feel like a glowing embrace from the universe.
Counselors and facilitators have simultaneously been trained as responsible adults while also being put into positions not unlike what the campers will experience for the next few weeks. They have experienced Group Challenge, dialogue sessions, cold nights in the bunks, camp cuisine, sudden thunderstorms, swim tests, their own talent show, among other things the new campers will also experience.
We expect our staff to teach by example and create an atmosphere of safety, creativity and purpose, in a camp community so supportive that the need for discipline will be very low.
We have had extensive conversations about the developmental capabilities of adolescents, safety procedures, medical protocol and staff roles at Camp. We want the campers and the staff to be confident enough to take personal risks, but only intelligent, informed initiatives. We want everyone to have fun, but not at the expense of other people or of safety. And we know they will learn best within the context of positive relationships, a reassuring structure, and mutual respect.
Many on the staff have come from far-away places and many are new to each other, while others have worked at Camp for years. We have all gathered together in this remote area of Maine to begin creating a whole new community which will exist intact for just 3½ weeks. Yet, we know it will exist in our hearts and memories for many years to come. In some ways, it will resemble the 38 other sessions we have had in the past 20 years, but it will also be uniquely Session One, 2013.
All the campers aboard flights from the Middle East, South Asia and the United States will soon arrive in Maine, where thousands before them have discovered what it would be like if they could live together in peace with their enemies.
They will live in bunks of eight or more teens, sleep next to enemies, and share meals, dialogues and activities with people they have been prepared to hate. Each bunk will have two counselors who will create a safe, homey atmosphere for every camper. The campers will try to master many new skills while they are with us, gaining increased confidence to become the kind of leaders they hope to be at Camp and in the years ahead.
About a third of the staff came to Seeds of Peace as campers themselves 10 or more years ago. Now they are trained facilitators and counselors, demonstrating the deep and lasting impact of the Seeds of Peace experiential educational environment for the new campers and for the rest of the staff. These former campers have played a big role this week explaining what the new staff needs to keep in mind. The more experienced counselors and facilitators will be paired with those who are new, so mentors will always be close at hand.
The buildings are clean, the beds are made, the tables are set and the playing fields are weeded and lined. The boats are set to go, the kitchen is ready to cook three to four meals a day for 300 people and Pleasant Lake is full to brimming with cool, fresh mountain water.
Those of us who have lived at Camp for many summers often refer to the phenomenon of a new Camp session as Brigadoon or Groundhog Day. We have been this way before, but each time there are new chances to be more successful with familiar challenges.
Arrival Day is like no other day at Camp. To the new campers from the Middle East and South Asia, it must feel like being dropped onto another planet.
Camp stretches over 44 acres, bounded on one long side by Pleasant Lake and the opposite side by a country road. Nestled among the tall trees are over 50 buildings, most of them bunks for the campers, Delegation Leaders and staff. Unlike the summers most of the campers are used to back home, Maine can have hot sun, cool breezes and thunderstorms, all in the same day. That is exactly what happened today.
Just as counselors were putting the finishing touches on bunk signs and other preparations, the first buses began to roll into Camp. Each busload was welcomed by those who had already arrived. Half of the Palestinian Delegation arrived first, followed by the Americans, Israelis, Pakistanis, Afghans, Indians, Egyptians, Jordanians, and finally the other half of the Palestinians.
The level of welcoming music and drumming increased with each bus. Although everyone was sleep-deprived, the campers all joined in with the enthusiastic celebration of each new arrival.
Seeds of Peace Co-Founder Bobbie Gottschalk welcomed each delegation by pointing out that Pleasant Lake can be a good friend, always available, sometimes serene and other times more turbulent. Campers will be able to see the lake at all times as each bunk sits next to the lake. Bobbie stressed that everyone at Camp is equal to everyone else, reflected by the Seeds of Peace take on the Maine State greeting: “Welcome to Seeds of Peace—the way life could be!”
All the campers have been assigned to bunks, dining table groups, and dialogue groups, with different people in each group. Tonight they are sleeping next to their traditional enemies. Their bunks will become their Camp homes. This year, there is a “Beach House,” a “Dirty Thirty,” and a “Land of Oz.”
Tomorrow, they will find out their table and dialogue groups. The Delegation Leaders will also share living quarters with traditional enemies. All of us will be jarred awake by the Camp bell at 7 a.m. There is no time to waste! Three and a half weeks will fly by quickly.
The first day of Camp is what we often call our “housekeeping day.” This is when we lay the groundwork for our everyday camp life and prepare to form a temporary, but real, community. We don’t exist in a bubble, as skeptics often suggest—this is a real place, with real consequences, standards, safeguards, and structure.
Our first priority is the safety of the campers living here. To this end, everyone was seen by the doctor or nurse, who examined each person for potentially contagious or chronic conditions, as well as relatively minor discomforts. Often campers come here not knowing that they have medical problems. Some of them are sent with medication which needs to be removed from the bunks and safely stored in the infirmary. A list of allergens needs to be conveyed to the kitchen staff and table counselors. And everyone needs to restore the hydration they lost en route to Camp.
By the time “lights out” came around, every camper had his or her allotted Seeds of Peace green shirts and sweatshirts. They all designed name buttons so everyone can begin to learn each other’s first names. This is especially important when everyone is dressed similarly.
The official Seeds of Peace Camp song had to be learned today because tomorrow we will have our official flagraising ceremony. The campers and counselors also sat at their permanent dining tables and learned how we organize the chaos in the dining hall. How the food is served and how the table is cleared after meals are based on standards of efficiency and fairness. A heartfelt message of gratitude is recited just before the food is served. Care is taken to avoid foods that would be offensive to any of the religions represented by campers. Campers need to be reassured that they will be provided with the nourishment they need.
Every camper had the opportunity to phone home to announce their safe arrival. They know they will be able to make calls twice a week during a daily rest hour. Parents have phone numbers to call during meal times. Many families will have a hard time coping with this phone policy after getting used to cellphones at home, but we wouldn’t be able to conduct our program if campers were getting phone messages during activities or dialogue. Even the adults at Camp stay off their cellphones. Our focus is on the here and now.
Tonight the campers met with Wil Smith, the Associate Camp Director. He introduced the subjects of homesickness, the safety aspects of living in the woods beside a lake, the consequences of any type of inappropriate behavior. Wil’s demeanor connotes parental wisdom, understanding, and firm expectations.
Finally, the facilitators took their dialogue groups to the locations where they will meet for 110 minutes a day and gave them a taste of what dialogue sessions will entail.
As the night descended, most campers felt more comfortable than they did yesterday and are eager to wake up to another “beautiful Seeds of Peace day!”
Before we can become a real community, we need to recognize the dignity of the larger communities represented by each delegation at Camp.
At our Flagraising Ceremony, delegations sing their national anthems while their flags are raised on a pole outside the Camp gate. The campers, counselors, facilitators, and Delegation Leaders gather together and listen respectfully to speeches presented by the returning campers, who explain why the Camp experience is important to them.
Each time this happens, we are inspired by and in awe of the depth of their understanding. Having had two years to digest and practice the communication tools they learned at Camp, these older campers seem wise beyond their years.
Seeds of Peace Executive Director Leslie Lewin welcomed the many visitors and longtime supporters to the Ceremony. This was her first opportunity of the session to express her goals for the campers. She spoke to them about the journey they had embarked on when they left their homes just a few days ago, and the accelerated journey they will have at Camp.
We also heard from our charismatic former Camp Director and Director of the Maine Seeds Program, Tim Wilson.
At the very end of the ceremony, everyone sang the Seeds of Peace Camp song and entered the gates of the Camp, leaving all the national flags waving in the wind, outside the gates. The only flag that flies at Camp is the Seeds of Peace flag.
Following the Ceremony, we took the Big Picture! The result is a panoramic photo of everyone in Camp. Each Seed will receive a copy of the photo at the end of the session. To keep themselves entertained while everyone was getting into position, the campers sang many verses of the “Pizza Man” song.
The first dialogue sessions began today. Many dialogue groups experienced a variety of emotions brought out by Flagraising.
This part of Camp is very difficult. Most of the Group Challenge activities are designed to support the dialogue process. In fact, every part of Camp supports the difficult tasks of speaking in ways that allow others to hear what you are trying to convey, and listening even when you don’t like what others are telling you.
We have a very talented staff. One way we take full advantage of their talents is by inviting them to create and lead their own activities for an hour every morning. Campers can then choose which of these special activities in which they wish to participate.
Jake’s waterski lessons always get the most takers. Jake actually gives these lessons at other times as well, since this activity is rather scarce in the Middle East and South Asia. Waterskiing is one of many activities at Camp in which most campers start on a level playing field—almost everyone is new to it. The only way to learn is to take a calculated risk by trying it out with an expert.
Swim lessons and water games allow the non-swimmers catch up with everyone else. There are also boating activities which help campers feel more comfortable in canoes, kayaks and small sailboats.
Another special activity is called, “Seeds of Peace Top Models.” Campers learn how to enter a room with poise and grace. They have fun with the concept by adding accessories to our standard t-shirt-and-jeans fashion at Camp. Later on, they will entertain us with a fashion show.
Other special activities include creative writing, body building and gardening. There are quiet areas for writing within view of the lake. The body builders use the perimeter road around Camp as their running track. And we are seriously engaged in maintaining a small kitchen garden, as well as achieving almost “zero waste” and composting.
This is a rainy week, but we were able to use the fields for sports, particularly softball and cricket. Indoors, we have art classes in which teams of campers creatively construct “machines” for solving a variety of problems.
Some of the Dialogue groups are engaged in Group Challenge activities attuned with the beginning level of dialogue. Theoretically, we try to increase the level of difficulty of the challenges, which are physical, in accordance with the rising intensity of the Dialogue sessions.
However, facilitators have less control over what happens in Dialogue sessions because the campers take the lead and often go straight to the hot button topics. Sometimes the Group Challenge activities have to be modified to help individuals gain skills, like active listening, and confidence.
Today was a camp activity scheduler’s nightmare. Just when Eric thought he had a complete day of activities mapped out for our 212 campers, heavy rain and cold air moved in, staying with us for several hours. That eliminated all the outdoor activities—the majority of activities at Camp.
All the special activities had to move inside, and then all the outdoor activity groups had to move inside as well. All the line ups were held in the dining hall.
Wil reminded us that here at Camp, we make our own weather. He led us all in a rendition of “You Are My Sunshine,” and then declared this to be another beautiful Seeds of Peace day. And indeed it was!
For some reason, most campers and their families from the Middle East and South Asia ignore the part of the packing list that suggests bringing rain gear. For many of them, it rarely rains in the summertime. But Maine wouldn’t be covered in forests and dotted with hundreds of lakes if it didn’t rain in the summer.
The charm will wear off even for those of us with rain gear if the wet weather does abate pretty soon.
Today, the Seeds of Peace newspaper staff interviewed Bobbie about the beginning of Seeds of Peace, its goals, and all the ups and downs over the last 20 years. John Wallach, the founder of Seeds of Peace and also a journalist, would have been very impressed by the interviewers’ insightful questions.
Our last camper arrived today from East Jerusalem. Although he didn’t have the kind of raucous welcome we gave the campers who arrived with their delegations on Monday, his fellow Peer Supports made a huge welcome banner for the dining hall and gave him lots of hugs. Now we have our final number: a record 212!
By the fifth day of Camp, just about everyone has relaxed and seems open to enjoying humor and surprises. So this was a good time to hold an evening activity lip sync contest between the bunks.
Every night, the last thing we do is bring all the campers together for shared entertainment, usually of their making. Their days can be stressful if dialogue sessions or other discussions have made them rethink “facts” and opinions. Half the campers have dialogue sessions right after dinner so they don’t have the same amount of time the campers in the morning sessions have to cool off or apologize. It is best to shake loose some of that stress before trying to fall asleep in their bunks.
The special activities in the morning continue to be very creative. One activity is called “MythBusters.” This group is investigating Camp-related myths, interviewing people about them and producing a short video based on their research.
Maine is a place where talking about the weather is commonplace, due to days like today. We woke up to “Seattle weather,” drizzly with fog. Then the sun came out and a cool breeze started to dry everything, except the playing fields—we almost have a second lake on the main field. Many of us were able to enjoy dinner outside. While we were having evening activity, however, the rain returned with a vengeance!
Well before the Peer Support campers (PSs) boarded their flights to Maine, they were asked to research reputable non-governmental organizations in their hometowns. Their assignment included gaining an in-depth knowledge of the organization, its objectives, strategies, methodologies and major challenges.
Now that they are back at Camp, the PSs are sharing and comparing their findings. Some of these young leaders are already working with the NGOs they have studied. Others are hoping to be able to volunteer when they return home. The types of NGOs run the gamut, from shelters for street children abandoned by their parents to a soccer club which combines community service with athletics. Not surprisingly, the PSs were usually drawn to NGOs for youth.
PSs walk a fine line at Camp with regard to their role. On the one hand, they are two years older and more experienced than the new campers. On the other hand, they are several years younger and less experienced than the Counselors. Counselors spend the most time with the new campers as live-in supervisors of the bunks and activity leaders. They are responsible for the safety and comfort of the campers all the time, every day, all day. But, as the name implies, the PSs also have a role to play with regard to the new campers.
Preparation for new campers in their home countries falls largely on the PSs’ shoulders. They describe Camp life to the nervous newcomers and calm their fears about living with the enemy many thousands of miles from their families and friends. They promise to be available to the new campers when needed. Yet, once they arrive at Camp, the PSs go one way while the campers go another—they see each other infrequently.
As Wil Smith suggested to the PSs tonight in a chat he arranged, no one can go through the eye-opening process at Seeds of Peace Camp for anyone else. The sooner the new campers can take responsibility for their own experience, the better it will be. Protecting the new campers from hurt feelings or trying to tell them how to respond to others in their dialogue sessions are futile efforts. They need to grow on their own. At the end of the first week, it is not too soon to let the campers find their own way. PSs need to be supportive, but not directive.
The Delegation Leaders had their weekly meetings with their respective delegations today. These meetings give the campers a comfortable space to speak in their native language and talk about their experiences at Camp with adults from home.
Over the course of the last few years, Camp has become more conscious of environmental sustainability, gardening and nutrition. Given the limited Camp season, gardening here is limited. Still, we are able to grow some herbs and lettuce in a small patch near the kitchen.
Pouring delicious maple syrup on our pancakes, we rarely stop to think about all the hard work that goes into making that syrup. Today, the gardening special activity went to a sugar shack where local people boil down 40 gallons of raw tree sap, gathered from miles of tubing tapped into the maple trees, to make one gallon of edible maple syrup. In general, it is gravity which pulls the raw sap through the pipes on the hillsides. Our guide was none other but our own Camp Grounds and Maintenance Director, Glenn, who lives near the Camp. Several of the maple trees in Camp, as well as many on his neighbors’ land, are tapped by Glenn.
The campers were able to see for themselves how a natural resource can be used in a sustainable manner for the benefit of several participating neighbors. Whoever allows Glenn to tap their trees gets free 100 percent maple syrup for their blueberry pancakes!
Another special activity group is “unleashing creativity” by allowing campers to creatively express themselves. They began by making a sign thanking the kitchen staff. These hard-working people will see the sign every time they leave the dining hall. This type of effort can be made at home; it is not limited to the Camp environment.
Today we held tryouts for teams which will play against a visiting camp on Sports Day at the end of the week. We know our campers are strong soccer and basketball players, but softball is another story. Most of them are not familiar with baseball rules. However, the day before Sports Day, the whole Camp will see a real baseball game in Portland.
Tonight we had our own World Cup Ga-Ga tournament. Campers were divided into four national teams not represented at Camp, like Norway and Brazil. The noise was deafening from all the cheering and energetic music. They had a great time before heading back to their bunks for showers. A sprinkling of rain cooled them off as they left the Big Hall.
After several days of rainy weather, we started to behave as if it wasn’t raining. Besides, it didn’t rain very hard today—it just never stopped. Cold, wet feet and soggy sweatshirts are becoming the norm, so we decided to stick to our schedule and took cover inside only when the rain was heavier.
At breakfast, Wil Smith broke out in song: “The sun will come out tomorrow/Bet your bottom dollar.” We’ll be very happy if this prediction comes true.
In keeping with our indifference to rain, we took all the bunk and table group pictures outside. It is always fun to see how the different groups arrange themselves. Some had two or three different alternative poses. Some were quiet. Some were jumping with energy. No one even noticed the weather.
We’d like to give a shout out to a camper who was the only boy brave enough to go into the lake today. Since the beginning of Camp, he has been determined to learn to swim. Every day he has been given instruction. Today, all alone with Clarke, the head of our waterfront, he jumped into the lake and swam the required distance to become a Level 3 swimmer! Good for you, Amjad!
The crowning achievement of the day was a 90-minute period completely planned and executed by the Peer Supports. The PSs directed their creativity toward helping the new campers articulate their impressions of Camp so far, get closer to each other by sharing everyday expressions in their native languages and play games to foster interaction.
One project to be hung in the Big Hall is a huge paper quilt made up of individual thoughts and feelings about Camp, signed only with campers’ painted hand prints. The intent is for this quilt to become a point of reference for each camper each time he or she enters the Big Hall. Not only did the PSs get a small taste of what the counselors normally do all day, but the rest of the camp realized the extraordinary level of talent the PSs bring to our community.
The sun returned and stayed with us all day! Although the lake and the stream are very high—right up to the level of the docks—and “un-Pleasant Lake” is still in the playing field, one doesn’t have to keep boots on to stay dry. A breeze gently pushed the small sailboats along, although three of them had to be “swum in” with human energy.
The dialogue sessions are becoming more difficult, as many campers are working up the courage to say things that are hurtful to their peers on the other side of their conflict. They haven’t yet learned how to get their ideas across in a way that allows others to listen with an open mind. The campers are more likely to achieve that level of understanding and compassion next week. In the meantime, we do our best to support all of them through the hard times they may be now facing.
Shouq, a Jordanian Seed, once said, “In order to make peace with your enemy you must first go to war with yourself.” That is the other part of the process going on this week at Camp. The quest for peace is not just directed toward other people. Much of it is internal. Many older Seeds have told us that the journey they took inside themselves is what has made them feel like better human beings. It is something that happened to them over the course of many years, admittedly, but it began at Camp where friendship and understanding helped break down the attitudinal barriers that initially got in the way of compassion.
Relationships are forming in twos, threes and more. Campers are asking to have pictures taken with their buddies. They are laughing at the same jokes and creating their own “traditions” for this particular session. They are also trying to go around Camp rules and test boundaries, but they are finding the adult/child ratio too high for getting away with not showing up on time or not paying attention to instructions. After one dialogue group wasted their time at Group Challenge today, the counselors asked if they felt ready to go on the high ropes next time. They admitted that the time they wasted today put them at a disadvantage for tackling the high ropes. Maybe they learned something even more important—time is too precious to waste, especially here.
The Peer Supports and Delegation Leaders represented Seeds of Peace at a local town parade in celebration of America’s Independence Day. The parade, held the sparsely-populated rural town of Otisfield, was small, but it had a lot of positive spirit. Seeds of Peace added to that energy with songs, drumming and dancing.
In the 90° heat, watermelon slices and multi-colored water fountains from fire hoses were welcome relief. Almost everyone dashed through the sprayed water to cool off. We have a supportive relationship with Otisfield, which is proud to have Seeds of Peace as part of the community. Our local volunteer first responders have been especially helpful over the years.
This afternoon, the whole Camp packed into five giant buses and two vans to get to the Sea Dogs minor league baseball game in Portland. The campers had been able to rest, play land and water sports and hold dialogue sessions earlier in the day.
The baseball stadium was fairly full, since the Sea Dogs been on a winning streak, but no section of the stadium was louder than ours. As usual, very few campers paid any attention to the game. Instead they concentrated on the food and each other. Many new friendships are obviously taking hold. At the end, there was a big fireworks display. It was a great way to end the day.
Sports Day is a regular event at Seeds of Peace. It is an opportunity for the campers to use their personal and team skills. Additionally, it is a chance for them to put aside their differences and go for the “win” together. Another camp was invited to challenge our campers in soccer (girls and boys), softball (girls), and basketball (boys).
It was such a hot day that the sunset on Pleasant Lake was spectacularly red, blue and violet. Water was poured in mouths and on heads all day, as the players and the cheering campers tried to stay hydrated. Predictably, our boys’ soccer team dominated that sport, but both the girls’ soccer and softball teams tried in vain to win. The boys’ basketball game ended with a 19 to 4 win.
Throughout the day, the campers who were not actually playing the sport became the cheering squads, drumming and chanting with lots of team spirit. There was a break for a cookout lunch and for the Muslim prayer service. When it was all over, everyone jumped into the lake.
After dinner, there was a Shabbat service for Jewish campers. This weekend we are inviting everyone to all the religious services to give them the chance to witness for themselves what they are like and what is said. There usually are many assumptions about the others’ religious practices and beliefs, which may or may not be true.
Tonight was bunk night, held mostly outside in the cool evening air. One bunk met in dyads to gain deeper knowledge of their bunkmates. Another bunk tried out the zip-line to conquer some challenges as a group. Other bunks had campfires and grilled S’mores.
Since there are many Egyptians not only among the campers but within our staff as well, the Associated Press wire service came to Camp to interview some of the Egyptian Seeds and counselors. However, they didn’t just finish the interviews and leave—they stayed to film what was happening on our playing fields. Only a photographer from the AP could have stood behind the pitcher on the field during a game and get away with it!
We like to think that most of our days at Camp are normal, but the truth is that there is a basic pattern for most days—and some days we actually stick to it. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served at regularly scheduled times. And we almost always hear the first wake-up bell at 7 a.m., followed by the “snooze alarm” bell at 7:15 a.m. and then the “hurry to line-up” bell at 7:30 a.m.
Two hundred and twelve teenagers saunter down the Camp road to line-up in various stages of waking up. Fortunately, they do not have to choose an outfit, since we all wear the same thing every day. They sit in rows of benches, waiting for Wil Smith to say, “Good morning Seeds!” In unison, they respond, “Good morning Wil!” Then Wil looks to the left and right, assessing the sky, and pronounces it “a beautiful Seeds of Peace Day!” Everyone has a panoramic view of Pleasant Lake while listening to announcements about the day’s schedule. Often there are humorous songs or cheers by individual bunks.
Breakfast lasts only 30 minutes. It is followed by bunk clean-up, which is graded by a senior staff member. Today that staff member was accompanied by his own mother, who was visiting. She told the campers that she would never have imagined her son would have this job, considering what his own room used to look like at their age.
Special activities and regular sports or arts activities fill the morning, except for half the campers who are in dialogue for 110 minutes. Campers have 15 minutes of free time before we have line-up for the second time. Again this is for announcements, including lost items, found items, and recognition of achievements such as raising swim levels or learning to water ski. Then we head to the dining hall for lunch. Parents usually try to call during lunch because the phones are close by. Then campers take a rest hour in their bunks. The afternoons are filled with general swim, boating, land sports, group challenge, dance or projects in the art shack.
Another 15-minute period of free time precedes the dinner line-up. This line-up is usually devoted to forecasting the evening activity, following another 110-minute dialogue session for the other half of the campers. An all-Camp activity helps to bring the community together before the campers retire for the night. Somewhere in the midst of a packed schedule, they have to shower, change clothes and phone home.
Tonight there are several campers feeling good about what they were able to do today. Two girls, Shaked and Razan, climbed up telephone poles to the high ropes. Shaked decided to challenge herself even more by using a blindfold. Razan gave her verbal cues as she walked across the ropes, 40 feet up. Both were secured from falling with ropes and harnesses, but it never feels very secure when you are the one up in the air. They had reason to be proud, and their smiles and hugs showed it!
One of our counselors introduced Australian Football to Camp. He was on the Australian Peace Team, consisting of Israelis and Arabs. Koda convinced one of the Aussie professional teams to donate official balls, goals and uniforms to Seeds of Peace. This morning Koda screened a documentary explaining the game to his special activity group. They found out that Aussie rules football is a relatively new, exciting game which has taken some of the best parts of soccer, rugby and basketball and combined them into a fast-paced, compelling sport.
Aussie rules football gives the campers a chance to learn something that builds on what they know from other sports, while stretching them to master a new game combining old themes with new rules. For instance, you cannot tackle or even touch a player on his/her back. If you are going to block a player, you have to do it from the side. And the football has to be bounced or punched. It is a game for people with excess energy –players are constantly running!
Tonight, we remembered John Wallach, the founder of Seeds of Peace, who passed away during Camp in 2002, by screening the video shown at his United Nations memorial service. Eleven years have passed since then, and there are only five people still at Camp who actually worked with him. We spoke about his vision for Seeds, emphasizing the seriousness of our work both at Camp and beyond.
John Wallach used to challenge the new campers to form one true friendship with someone from the other side of their conflict while at Camp. He believed that having even one friend on the other side would cause a person to show more empathy and restraint toward enemies. In honor of this challenge, Café Night was created. Each session of Camp, the Peer Supports rearrange the dining hall to be more conducive to conversation. As the hosts, they dress up in formal attire. They explain that everyone is free to choose another camper who is a stranger to them. They then encourage campers to share about their respective lives while sipping tea and eating desserts.
Campers always love this evening activity. For one thing, introducing them to John Wallach tends to ground them in the history of Seeds of Peace. They were so touched by the video that they arose to a standing ovation at the end. This gave the Café Night a more serious tone than it might have had otherwise. Looking around the dining hall, one could see the intensity of the private conversations.
Café Night and Aussie rules football might not seem like they have much in common. But, in both cases, something the campers already knew how to do was given a new twist.
After living together for 2½ weeks, most of us know each other at least a little, and many are quite knowledgeable about the people we eat with, share a bunk with, have dialogue with and enjoy activities with every day. A whole “tradition” of songs, chants, jokes and catch-phrases unwittingly now bind us together as the First Session of 2013. Shared experiences, be they fun or difficult, move us closer toward recognizing the essential common humanity of everyone here with us.
For many years, the Peer Supports have climbed a small mountain together. At the top, looking out on the countryside, they share about themselves with each other. Although this particular group seems to have reached that point ahead of time, the mountain top allowed them to develop an even deeper understanding and trust. When they returned to Camp today, they seemed to be happier and more comfortable than ever before.
The campers, on the other hand, had a full day of finding inner strength, especially on the high ropes course. The “vertical playpen” was especially hard for one pair, who were probably paired to give them a chance to build empathy. They were told to guide each other up through the vertical structure, getting no other help from counselors and fellow campers on the ground below. Many times it seemed like the goal of climbing to the top was going to elude them. It was going to require taking risks that were beyond their normal comfort level. Both of them were frozen with fear at various points. They were strapped into harnesses and ropes, so there was absolutely no way they could hurt themselves.
It took an hour for them to achieve a goal that ordinarily takes half the time, but one can’t be brave unless there is fear first. Eventually, they did what seemed impossible, and reached the top as a team.
Not surprisingly, many evening dialogue groups showed signs of direct confrontation and hurt feelings. We anticipate that breakthroughs on the Group Challenge will lead to breakthroughs in dialogue as well. The campers take more intelligent risks when they have already had success at taking risks on the ropes course or in other physical activities. Dialogue only becomes more than just a heated conversation when honesty is present in the discussion.
The “Choose Your Own Adventure” evening activity presented the campers with a variety of unusual choices, including a hair salon run by Delegation Leaders, card tricks, drawing and sketching techniques, board games and Frisbee in the field house. All the campers were allowed to choose the way they would wind down from the intensity of the day.
Every year, one of the highlights of Camp is the International Dinner. The adult Delegation Leaders plus our own chef, Earl, work together in the kitchen—which is a feat in itself—to produce a feast fit for several kings. They produce favorite meat and vegetable dishes, with all the right spices, as well as delicious desserts, in abundance. The aromas bring back warm feelings of home.
The joy of sharing one’s favorite food with friends is something wonderful. It fosters appreciation and uncovers similarities in a basic way—through the senses. Add music and dancing, and you really have an international party.
We invited everyone at Camp to wear traditional clothing reflective of their own cultural background. The colors and fabrics created a feast for the eyes and inspired much picture-taking. This is a night no one ever wants to forget.
Later on, we had “table talk.” Because our Dining Hall is so noisy during meals, tablemates might not get the chance to know one another in depth. So tonight, we used the relatively quiet spaces of the Big Hall and the Field House to spread out in table groups. The campers and counselors found out a lot more about the individuals they sit with three times a day; this time their conversations were not limited by the din of table cheers and the clatter of dishes.
This morning, the Hindu and Zoroastrian campers made presentations about their beliefs and practices. They explained that it is not customary for them to have formal worship services, but they have many kinds of chants and prayers, some of which they shared with us. Many of us left with a traditional red dot on our brows.
With Ramadan starting tomorrow, we will go on an adjusted schedule. We are doing all we can to keep everyone who is fasting safe from the threat of dehydration. From now on, dinner will be served at 8:30 p.m. An early breakfast will be available, as well, for those who are fasting. Everyone will wake up one hour later, at 8 a.m. Our evening activities will be held before dinner instead of after dinner. Evening dialogue sessions will take place in the afternoon. We are hopeful that these accommodations will keep the Camp functioning like a community, despite the different religions present.
We have always wondered how we would be able hold Camp during Ramadan, given that so many of our campers are Muslim. So far, the changes—both big and small—that we have made to keep everyone healthy, while not creating a divided Camp, are working. But, this being the first day, we have a ways to go.
Those campers who are fasting wake up at 2:30 a.m. to eat breakfast and drink lots of water. Then they can go right back to bed. Everyone sleeps until 8 a.m. and line-up is at 8:30 a.m., one hour later than usual. While the rest of the campers go to breakfast in the dining hall, the ones who are fasting can return to their bunks. Those who are fasting are required to attend line-up and dialogue sessions with everyone else. Otherwise, they can either decide to participate in activities or take a rest. Today, many of them rehearsed for the talent show, which was held before dinner, served at 8:30 p.m.
This was a good day to have the interfaith dialogue session in the morning. The steady rain stopped long enough for small groups of campers, Peer Supports and Counselors sitting in circles all over Camp. Each group had a prescribed set of questions designed to keep the group focused and inclusive. One technique used was having everyone in each group give a one-word response to the question before the individuals elaborated on their answers. That approach gave each person a chance to weigh in on the question and think about what the other members of the group had on their minds.
Tonight’s talent show was the culmination of many hours of practice yesterday and today, but none of the practice sessions could hold a candle to the actual performances in costume tonight. Some were solos, some duets. Some were large groups from delegations primarily doing folk dances. Nobody looked tired or unenthusiastic, even though a hundred campers fasted all day. High energy and dedication to music, singing, dancing and drama were on display as we enjoyed almost three hours of entertainment. Then, everyone came together for an Iftar dinner. It was another beautiful Seeds of Peace day!
The start of Color Games, a tradition since 1993, is supposed to be a surprise, but, since we have done it the same way for many years, it has become more of an expectation. The expectation was that it would begin right at the end of the talent show.
This session, we changed things around.
The Peer Supports were truly dumbfounded last night when the talent show ended and nothing else happened, except “lights out and good night.” We warned them that things would be different this year, but they didn’t believe us. After all, a tradition is a tradition. But sometimes, change is good.
We were able to surprise everyone by having a Movie Night. We had two different movies. One was a short Oscar-nominated movie made in Kabul, co-starring one of our campers. It is a story about two boys who want to change the expected trajectories of their lives. One lived alone on the streets and the other worked all day for his father as a blacksmith. Our camper who co-starred in the movie received a standing ovation at the end.
The second movie was a documentary about the Camp memories of our staff members who once were campers. It started out on a serious note and then began to get more humorous with each successive interview. It was in black and white until they began to discuss all the code names for Color Games that the counselors have used in order to hide the time of the event from the campers. Then all of a sudden the Seeds in the movie put on blue or green t-shirts as the whole movie changed to a color. By this time, the Peer Supports knew that Color Games was imminent. And it was! So much excitement!
Staff holding torches lined the path from the Big Hall to the line up area, where counselors had built a bonfire. Not knowing if you are on the Blue or Green Team is very stressful. Campers had to wait for the 14 coaches to be introduced. Then the bunks were summoned to the front to be told by Wil which team each person would be playing on. Great excitement greets each new member of both teams. After a short team meeting, everyone went to bed, with much anticipation of the next three days of competition.
Sometimes we have to do many things at once. This is one of those times. Seeds of Peace is much more than a summer camp. The Camp was our first venture in 1993, and is still the eye-opening initiation from which all Seeds and educators graduate. But Camp it is only the beginning of a long journey to courageous, effective, compassionate leadership for the next generations living in conflict areas of the world.
With this in mind, it makes sense for Camp to host a meeting of our international Board of Directors, together with Seeds of Peace staff from around the world and graduate Seeds. Those who were unable to attend in person joined us online, but had to contend with poor Internet and power conditions on our end in the woods of Maine and on their end in regions of conflict.
After several hours of intense discussions, the Board, along with Leslie and Wil Smith, met on the softball field for a game against the Counselors. The matchup ended in a tie—no one wanted to play extra innings!
One of the topics discussed at the Board Meeting concerned the on-going Educators’ Programs. For the past decade, Daniel Moses has been developing and expanding the reach of the Delegation Leaders and Educators who come to Camp each summer. They not only explain their work with Seeds of Peace in their respective home countries, but also organize summer camps for young children. Two of these took place this summer in Gaza and Jenin in the West Bank. Delegation Leaders supervised older Seeds who served as counselors for the small children. In the second session of Camp in Maine this summer, Daniel will bring 32 educators from the Middle East and South Asia to examine how history is taught.
Last but not least, we had the first full day of Color Games today. A glorious sunny day made the sports activities very pleasant for both the players and the spectators. Those of us who are not players or coaches are neither on the Blue or the Green Team. We have our own team–White. White Team members support the players and coaches by judging sports, dance and art competitions and making sure there is plenty of water available.
So far, the bunk rotations through many sports have yielded a score of 600 for the Green Team and 375 for the Blue Team. Tonight, the campers rehearsed for the Variety Show, which will happen tomorrow evening. Stay tuned!
After sleeping all the way to 8 a.m., we awoke to the sounds of people preparing for a relay running race around the Camp loop road. The fastest runners on the Blue and Green Teams competed with all their might. The Green Team won both the boys’ and girls’ races.
While the Seeds of Peace Board of Directors and the Young Leadership Committee held meetings all morning, the campers continued to compete on the fields in every sport, as well as in cooking, climbing and creative writing.
The Board focused on the Seeds of Peace Facilitation and Conflict Transformation program in Jerusalem, which graduates experienced and certified dialogue facilitators, many of whom are Seeds. In fact, quite a few have been campers, Peer Supports and Counselors before joining the course. Graduates of the program facilitate dialogue at Camp, as well Seeds of Peace (and non-Seeds of Peace) groups in the Middle East. Farhat and Danny have been running this training course for many years.
The Board listened to a general description of the role of facilitators at Camp, how they relate to the other Camp staff, and the limitations they put upon themselves in order to protect the privacy of each camper. For example, the facilitators have only one-way conversations with counselors. They receive information but they don’t share what is discussed in the dialogue sessions. If they were to share the information brought to light in their dialogue sessions with people not in the dialogue group, they would be violating their own code of confidentiality.
The campers prepared for this evening’s Variety Show for several hours, with time out for the Peace Canoe race. About ten campers paddled an old “Indian war canoe” from the boys’ dock past the dining hall and into the Pines area on the other side of Camp. The Green Team again won the girls’ and boys’ competitions, with amazing speed.
The Variety Show was spectacular in every respect. The teams competed in dance, a capella, instrumental music, a comedy skit about Camp life, and a serious mime. The finale was an original song performed by all members of the team. We came together in the end by singing our regular Camp song, which becomes more poignant the closer we get to the final day of Camp.
Our adjusted schedule—waking up at 8 a.m. and eating a late dinner—is turning out to have some benefits. We have been able to spread out the most vigorous portions of Color Games over more time, giving everyone a chance to recuperate.
This morning we wrapped up all the remaining all-star sports and activities. Campers played Frisbee, ga-ga, basketball, steal the bacon, and performed music and dance, at a very high skill level.
Behind the scenes, the coaches were deciding which campers would be runners and which would be doing 112 different tasks for the all-camp relay race we call Message to Hajime. Many of the tasks, positioned all over our 40-acre Camp, require skill and experience. Others are just fun. Between all the tasks there are runners carrying a baton to pass onto the next person to accomplish a task. The objective is to finish all 112 tasks before the other team, so you can deliver the message (which has to be memorized word-for-word in English by someone who is not a native English speaker) before the messenger from the other team can do so.
The many tasks included doing 40 sit-ups, making a bed, heading a soccer ball back and forth 16 consecutive times, doing 30 push-ups, making a bubble with bubble gum, painting the flags of all eight delegations at Camp, setting a table for eight, making 10 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, performing an Internet scavenger hunt, and jumping rope 50 jumps in a row. Other members of the team run the baton to the next station after each task is completed. The runners were constantly crisscrossing Camp, with other teammates and coaches running alongside them to help maintain the pace and show them the best route.
The final task is the most critical, but any of the others can potentially slow the team down enough cost them the race. Each messenger is given the same passage to memorize and the first one to recite it perfectly to either Wil or Bobbie wins Message to Hajime.
This session, the Green Team led Color Games from the very beginning. Towards the end, Blue started to catch up, but needed to win more of the Variety Show performances in order to have a chance of passing Green.
Today, the Blue team pulled ahead in the Hajime race and its messenger was a whiz at memorizing passages. After the Variety Show scores were announced, Blue needed only 200 points to tie Green. But when it won Hajime, that gave it 250 points. So, Blue won both Hajime and Color Games!
What was the prize? Jumping into the lake first! Then the other team joined them and had a lot of fun splashing and hugging each other. After a while, all the campers and adults formed a circle and sang the Camp song.
Everyone was exhausted, so we changed back into green Seeds of Peace t-shirts, ate dinner and retired for the night. Only two more days are left before everyone goes back home. That’s what we have to prepare for next.
The dialogue groups met for the last time today. Each group assessed its dialogue meetings held daily for 110 minutes over the past three weeks. The way the campers might have felt about the people in their groups at the beginning of the session probably bears little resemblance to the way they feel today. In the beginning there was little or no trust. They were afraid to open up to each other. They only wanted to “win” their argument and convince each other that the opposite side is wrong.
The dialogue groups have a harder time reaching a high degree of trust than other groups because they don’t avoid divisive subjects. In fact, they meet them head-on. More feelings are hurt and more difficult questions are asked in dialogue groups. So trust is more difficult to achieve, although when it is achieved, it can be much deeper than with other Camp relationships.
Today one boy brought a picture of his grandfather and his friend, who had fought against each other in a war and then found a way to rekindle their friendship later in life. He was hoping his friends from Camp would come together in the same way now.
For the Peer Supports, the trust level is deeper still. For them, the dialogue process includes a therapeutic, safe space for introspection, emotional expression and critical discovery. Today, at the end of their final dialogue session, they focused on sharing their Camp experience with friends and family. Each one played the role of a friend or family member asking questions about their experience while another person in the group responded.
Each year when the Peer Supports complete their process, Bobbie always presents each of them with a turtle necklace to remind them to carry Seeds of Peace, their second home, with them like the turtle does wherever they may go.
The whole Camp received journals, which were quickly being filled with heartfelt messages. These albums will be a source of comfort after they leave for home on Wednesday.
We ended with a musical evening in the Big Hall and then with a bonfire at the line up area. One song which has become a tradition after it was composed by a camper especially for this kind of night was sung first by Jake, a counselor, and then by everyone as we walked to our bunks. “I’ll be thinking, I’ll be thinking of you …”
We have long days and short weeks here at Camp. Although it seems like each day has one activity after another, ending only at the point of exhaustion, the weeks seem to fly by! How can this possibly be the last night of Camp for Session One?
During every session we hold a memorial service for the 13 Seeds who have died over the years. One of them, Asel Asleh, was killed as a result of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He was a prolific writer; many of his letters were read out loud during the service. Tamer, who was a camper when Asel was a PS, and Bobbie spoke about Asel as a special person in their lives. Bobbie always puts pictures of Asel on the stone bench dedicated to his memory in the Peace Garden. Those who knew the other Seeds who have passed away read their names and shared their memories of them.
Beautiful music, some of it original, accompanied the memorial service. “Say Hello to the Field” was a song written by an Egyptian girl who wanted to come to Camp this summer, but was not able to join us. Asel always spoke about the field in Rumi’s poem: “Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” Written over 1,000 years ago, those words still mean a lot to us.
Several hours were spent going over with the campers what life might be like for them once they go home. They need to know that Seeds of Peace is ready to support them and help them make the transition back to their own communities. We also spoke with them about intelligent use of the Internet and social media.
Just before dinner, we held a Quaker silent meeting in the Field House. During the meeting, everyone formed a large circle. The campers came in silence, but it was not long before they began to speak respectfully to the rest of Camp about what they will take away from their experience. Even the call of the dinner bell couldn’t stop them.
The evening program was a slide show created by two counselors. Although it lasted 25 minutes, the slide show represents just a fraction of the number of photos taken.
Eventually, the campers retired to their bunks. The first bell will ring at 6:45 a.m.! Buses will roll in and out of Camp until everyone is gone by this afternoon. Session Two will begin in six days.
Line-up this morning was at 6:45 a.m., with a farewell talk by Wil Smith and another round of ?Say Hello to the Field From Me.? Then the buses rolled in one after the other, first for the Palestinians and then the Egyptians, Israelis, Jordanians, Americans, Afghans, Pakistanis and Indians. By 11 a.m., the campers were gone and Camp seemed almost bereft of its meaning.
The counselors and facilitators had one last lunch together, cleaned up the parts of the Camp which were their responsibility and packed for their break between sessions.
It is fair to say that every camper felt the pain of love. ?Parting is such sweet sorrow? has never been more appropriate. Some were holding one another at arms? length to get one more, good look their fellow Seeds. Others were clinging to each other in twos and threes. All the adults were trying to remain strong, but tears were unavoidable. The truth is that we don?t know if and when the people from this session will see each other again.
These campers now join the other nearly 5,000 Seeds out there in the world. They will have the support of our staff members in their home countries, with programming specially designed to help them mature as peacemakers. They were able to turn fear and hatred into trust and compassion; we hope their families and friends will hear what they have to say. We hope no one close to them will call them traitors. Inner strength and the support of fellow Seeds will help each of them remain true to their convictions.
As older Seeds have said, ?”We do not accept what is, when we know what can be.”?