Throughout the summer of 2014, we will be posting daily reports and photos to keep everyone informed of what is happening at Camp. We know many of you wish you could be at Camp to experience and observe and we hope these reports can be the next best thing!
• Over 25 hours of facilitated dialogue for every Seed.
• 22 consecutive summers of Seeds of Peace programming.
SESSION ONE: MAINE AND SYRACUSE CAMPERS
Pre-Camp Report | July 6
Some of us have been waiting since last August for this wonderfully anticipatory moment—the night before the campers arrive! Preparation for Camp takes place all year long, but the week prior to the campers’ arrival is a concentrated effort to prepare the new staff for what they are likely to encounter, and to support experienced staff members in their more senior roles.
It has been a week of orientation for the entire group of counselors, facilitators and administrative staff. We review all the protocols for safety, especially water safety, since we have a quarter of a mile of shoreline on Pleasant Lake. By the end of the week, the whole staff pulls together as a wonderful team.
Rain or shine, almost 129 campers from across the state of Maine and from Syracuse, New York, will arrive full of adolescent energy, wanting to be creative and challenged. As a staff, it is our job to make sure the campers can safely try new activities, meet new people unlike themselves, demonstrate their talents, and live together peacefully with people they have been taught to hate and fear.
They will live with complete strangers, as if they were family and friends. It will not be easy for anyone. In the beginning, some will hold back and be afraid to fully engage in the program, but the supportive environment of our Camp will allow them to take intelligent risks—whether it be to speak with someone who seems threatening, pass the salt to someone who seems weird, or sing with someone who seems very shy and quiet.
This will be the 22nd summer of the Seeds of Peace International Camp. It is the common and shared experience for all Seeds—the jumping-off point—and although we have altered the way we carry out our mission, we have not altered our mission.
We remain true to the belief that peace is possible. We maintain hope for peaceful outcomes—even for ever-erupting generational conflicts—especially if the next generation of leaders is courageous, wise and compassionate. To that end, we begin anew.
This year the first session of Camp will be for Maine Seeds and Syracuse Seeds. They will have two and a half weeks together. It seems like a long time right now, but they will be amazed at how quickly their time here will fly by.
Their buses rolled into Camp just three hours apart. First came the Maine Seeds, who will be close to home, although they will experience Camp as a far-away place. The campers from Syracuse spent six hours on their bus, so they really are far from home.
An enthusiastic band, made up of counselors playing horns and all sorts of drums and other percussion instruments, greeted both delegations. Those who weren’t in the band were dancing and singing. There was a time when we didn’t make such a big party out of their arrivals, but several years ago we found out that singing and dancing were the best way to put their excitement, nervousness and pent-up energy to work, helping them feel like they have arrived at an enjoyable and safe place.
As has become a tradition, Sarah Rubin, Wil Smith and Bobbie Gottschalk welcomed the campers. They were also introduced to Seeds of Peace Executive Director Leslie Lewin and our Camp medical staff. The campers unpacked their suitcases in their bunks, met their bunk mates and counselors, and ate dinner at the same table they will dine with for their entire stay at Camp. They also were greeted by Sarah Brajtbord, who runs programs for American Seeds and who will be working with them going forward after Camp ends.
After dinner, the new campers had a private conversation with Wil and then met the group of campers and facilitators who will form their dialogue groups. The returning campers, known as Peer Supports, held their own meeting with their facilitators. Wil and Bobbie also dropped in on their meeting to talk about their roles at Camp.
When we woke up this morning, the Camp was quiet with subdued anticipation of 140 new people joining us soon. We erupted with enthusiasm when the campers arrived. Then the bunks were buzzing with unpacking and talking. And in the space of a day, the Camp is no longer just waiting to be filled with campers. It is full and it feels terrific!
We hear a wake-up bell at 7 a.m., a snooze alarm bell at 7:15 a.m. and we should all be walking out the door to line up as the bell rings for the third time at 7:30 a.m. Not only does the bell (an old church bell) ring, but we also hear Wil Smith calling out, “All up! First bell!” Then we hear “All up! Second bell!” Finally we hear, “Line up! All campers, all counselors, line up!”
In the old days, campers lined up in formation by table group on the lawn. But many years ago, we decided to build benches close to the lake where everyone could sit in bunk groups instead. Line up times also occur before lunch and dinner. Three times a day, we know where everyone is and what we expect the schedule to be. It is also a time for announcements and general instructions, as well as a time to recognize birthdays and play amusing games, sing funny songs and enjoy original skits.
Today a counselor (and Seed) named George taught the new campers the Pizza Man song, an old favorite that can have multiple verses. It is a “repeat after me” song so it is very easy for new people to join in. A few hours later, when we were assembling for an all-Camp photo, the whole Camp sang the song again.
All of the campers have their supply of t-shirts and sweatshirts, have been seen by the doctor or nurse, taken swim tests, learned the Seeds of Peace song, made name buttons, had their first dialogue sessions and last, but not least, have phoned home.
Today we had “tea” at 5 p.m. so that everyone could break the fast with the campers who are fasting for Ramadan with an Iftar dinner at 8:30 p.m. Five campers and a counselor explained Ramadan to their peers, which was very helpful. Our chefs prepared a delicious dinner for the entire Camp.
Dinner was followed by a wonderful staf show during which counselors showed the campers the kinds of activities they can look forward to, from canoeing to basketball. It also became a showcase for the impressive talent the counselors possess. Now that they know many of the counselors, the campers thoroughly enjoyed watching them perform.
This being a normal day, everyone straightened up the bunks after breakfast and then went to special activities. The rest of a normal day is structured around a process including dialogue, sports, the arts, and shared responsibilities for taking care of their Camp home.
Most of the activities are organized according to dialogue groups. This allows the campers to experience the people with whom they have regular dialogue as musicians, athletes, and artists. They also have group challenge activities with their dialogue groups, which increases the comfort level and understanding of the personalities in their group.
The Dining Hall, where dinners are served “family style,” is another place for campers from different ethnic and religious groups to get to know each other. The Dining Hall is a noisy place, with campers yelling table cheers, but it is so full of fun that the noise level doesn’t really bother anyone.
Tonight we had a lovely campfire, organized by the Peer Support campers (PSs) and their facilitators. These returning campers have been Seeds for one or two years, actively improving their communities and making an impact statewide as well. By speaking with the new campers about what Seeds of Peace has meant to them, they inspire those who have only arrived two days ago and are probably still trying to get used to being here.
Counselors sang a particularly meaningful song called Home at the end of the campfire. The song’s theme is about making this place a home.
It is only the second day, but we are already beginning to feel like a friendly community.
Tonight, at the end of a long day, our campers headed off to take showers and go to sleep. We could not help thinking about the millions of children growing up in conflict areas around the world who won’t be lulled to sleep by the water gently lapping against the shores of Pleasant Lake.
For all those who must live day and night with bombs and sirens, who never know who among friends or family will be bombed tomorrow, we hope with all our hearts that peace will come to your homes soon.
As Leslie reminded us tonight, today is the anniversary of Seeds of Peace founder John Wallach’s passing 14 years ago. His death occurred while Camp was in session. We knew then, as we do now, that Camp must go on.
Campers met for almost two hours of dialogue today, as they do six days a week. They also participated in some great activities. There was a fantastic dance class for boys, which got so heated that they had to move outdoors. They really got into the Wobble, a Seeds of Peace favorite for years. There also seemed to be a canoe lesson that turned out to be mostly a singing session.
During an art class, campers told each other stories, either true or made up. Some very serious poetry-writing took place in the shade of our tall trees, while other campers zoomed by on water-skis. Swim lessons are an hour every day for everyone.
We capped off the day with the GaGa World Cup competition. This game is similar to dodgeball, so previous experience is not required. The Camp was divided into four countries: Brazil, Argentina, Costa Rica, and this year’s surprise entry, Djibouti. Brazil and Djibouti made it to the final round with Brazil the victor (unlike another World Cup competition this summer).
“Your legacy will not be based on how much money you made, or how famous you were, but on how you have treated other people.”
That was the theme of Tim Wilson’s talk with the campers at morning line up today. The campers paid close attention to Tim’s words as he gave them his personal history with this Camp. Later on, Tim was the honorary bunk inspector, which significantly lowered the cumulative scores of most bunks!
One of the most important experiences at Camp is the Interfaith Dialogue session. It was held tonight, just before an all-Camp Iftar dinner with Muslim campers and staff. Religious differences can make campers apprehensive; it is often very helpful to have a frank conversation about the differences. But this kind of conversation might not ever happen without prompting, so tonight, Muslim, Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, agnostic, and non-religious campers met in a small groups in the fields around the Big Hall.
Picture-taking is generally a good gauge of how comfortable the campers are with one another. Only yesterday, the boys’ bunk pictures looked stiff and formal. But today, the pictures of the table groups were full of good humor and special jokes. Campers are definitely feeling at home, even though they have been here only five full days.
Counselors organized tryouts for Seeds of Peace’s soccer, basketball and soccer teams today. Campers who made the teams will now practice a few times before taking on other camps next week. It was nice to see that those trying out included campers with a range of athletic abilities.
Other campers received a comprehensive lesson in canoeing from Emma, a former camper who has been a counselor for a few years. She taught them how to paddle and steer, how to climb in and out of a canoe safely, and how to carry the boat into and out of the water.
Many former campers visit Camp throughout the summer, reliving fond memories. We had about ten of them with us today. We are always glad to see them, literally welcoming them with open arms.
There is a mixture of different kinds of learning at Camp. It can be physical, like a new sport or improving one’s skill in a sport already known. Other learning is emotional, like getting past initial apprehension to try something new. Some is informational, like learning how others have fostered changes in their schools. Some is creative, like learning new ways to play music. Sometimes instruction happens way out in the middle of the lake, like with water skiing.
Some learning comes from one’s own experience and some comes from the experience of those who have gone before us. Today at morning line up, Amitai, an Israeli Seed who was at Camp in 2000 and 2001, imparted his learning at Camp for the benefit of the new campers.
He said that John Wallach used to ask campers to make one friend from the other side of their conflict. Amitai named the friends he made who were Palestinian, Egyptian and Jordanian. Ever since that time, he hasn’t been able to separate in his own mind those countries from his friends. Each country is represented by the names of his friends from Camp, no longer faceless places on the map of the Middle East.
The water ski special activity was a lot of fun today. Most of the participants are now able to get up on their skis and enjoy the ride around the lake. Some started out very fearful of the water, but have now overcame their fear as they learn to ski.
This afternoon, the Peer Support (PS) campers prepared topics for the new campers to consider as they develop as better leaders. These topics included their experiences in bringing vital issues to the attention of school boards, making ethical choices to save other students’ lives, even if that would mean breaking school rules, learning how to speak effectively in public, and dealing with ethnic differences in a community with new immigrants.
The PSs lived up to their title by giving new campers guidance and hope for their futures. We are all learning a lot from them.
We finished our first week of Camp by holding a Café Night. This is an event we hold every session to honor John Wallach’s plea for each camper to make at least one friend from a group different from his/her own. Due to popular demand, we made a slight alteration, and showed the World Cup final between Germany and Argentina first.
Leslie introduced the memorial film of John Wallach’s life and talked about John’s belief that he could make anything happen. After the film, Bobbie talked about what it was like to work with John to build Seeds of Peace out of a dream, and have it operational in four months—without smart phones. She spoke about the power of a compelling idea, like Seeds of Peace. Who would turn down the chance to develop new, compassionate and courageous leadership for areas of conflict mired in generational wars?
Peer Support campers and their facilitators organized Café Night, along with the kitchen staff who provided lots of desserts. During the event, the campers find another camper they did not have a chance to talk with yet and then are asked to switch to another person every 20 minutes. The Dining Hall benches and tables are rearranged to promote optimum space for conversations. And to make it like a real café, we had live music provided by several members of our music staff.
A kickball game became the focus of many campers and counselors today. This is an easy sport played on a baseball diamond. The only piece of equipment is a big ball. People of all ages and abilities can play this game together.
Our long streak of sunny days seems to be coming to an end. The sound of raindrops on the roof is lulling everyone to sleep tonight.
We have found that music connects the human heart to the rhythm of all hearts, be they kindred or foreign. That is why we use music to greet the new campers the second they arrive at Camp. We encourage musical expression at line ups, in the bunks and in many other creative ways. Campers who have musical talent often spend their free time practicing or putting together ensembles for the Talent Show later on this week.
Today, the a capella special activity group performed after lunch in the Dining Hall. They sang When I’m Gone, from Pitch Perfect, accompanied by their own plastic cups on a wooden table. It was so beautiful and they got a standing ovation from the other campers.
Tonight we had a lip sync contest between the bunks. They chose song titles and were given DVDs of the songs. In their bunks, they played the music while creating dance moves to perform in the competition. It was lovely to see how inclusive each bunk was, even with campers who were shy on stage or weren’t used to lip syncing.
Some of the campers seem to have avoided physical effort their whole lives and others are very athletic. Dance classes have helped to bridge that gap, but today some of the counselors tried to address these differences by teaching the campers warm-up and stretching routines. After all, everyone needs to prepare their bodies for exercise. Sometimes, the counselors add songs to the exercise routines to keep everyone interested.
All of the facilitators and most of the counselors met today during rest hour. The facilitators reported on the progress of each group of about ten campers, in terms of mutual trust, comfort levels and discussions about social problems at school. They do not discuss individual campers in such a large group. By meeting in this way, everyone gets a broad sense of how the Camp process is unfolding.
We had another warm, sunny day, but they say the rain is coming. Hopefully the rain will be gone in time for tomorrow’s sports day.
We have had sports days for years, but this year we are devoting a whole day each session to the arts for the first time. We spent the day focusing on visual art, spoken and written word, a capella, dance, drama, drumming, painting and drawing, photography, film making, and fashion. The theme for today’s arts day was healing and transformation. Each dialogue group worked as a team in one of the arts. All of them focused on healing and transformation through one or more forms of creative expression.
Each group worked with three or four counselors who were instructed to emphasize cooperation and maximum participation. All the teams were given throw-away materials—generally considered junk or trash—to create something admirable, beautiful, and useful from something that had little value at the start. Each dialogue group explored the process of healing and transformation individually.
One group was asked to transform a large hut at the entrance of Camp, which has had a quote hanging on a wall for years about Seeds of Peace from Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations. They painted the quote onto the top of the inside walls and then designed murals below the words for another group to paint later.
It rained in the morning and again later in the day. People brought out their colorful rain boots, jackets and umbrellas. Line up was held in the Dining Hall so we could stay dry. Leslie introduced many of the campers to her favorite rainy day camp song, You are My Sunshine. People from Maine and Syracuse don’t complain about rain, though. Several feet of snow and bitterly cold temperatures for months this past winter have made rain seem like a sunny day!
It rained on our Sports Day today. Instead of playing soccer with the other camps, we invited their campers to play Ga-Ga inside the Big Hall. Everyone loved it.
Basketball took place in the Field House. Our teams of campers are exceptional athletes, and were able to win games against Agawam, a boys’ camp, and Pinecliff, a girls’ camp. Competition runs very strong at Seeds of Peace. In fact, we have noted that for the campers who are selected to attend Seeds of Peace, “winning” seems to trump everything else.
About 25 former campers from Maine also visited us today. They got here in time to watch the sports competitions and stayed for dinner. Our kitchen staff is very accommodating and hosted the teams from the other camps for lunch.
Tonight, we tried something new. Up until now, all the wonderful things that happened in special activities stayed with the people who were part of those groups. Tonight, we showcased the accomplishments of the various special activities, including an original three-act drama, four kinds of dancing, clowning, a capella, improvisational acting, poetry, and photography. The audience was very supportive and enthusiastic, which allowed the actors and poets to express their concerns and challenges openly.
It is clear that this camp experience is already having a big impact on campers from Maine and Syracuse. The inclusiveness, humor, respect and mindfulness of all campers is visible in all of the showcased performances.
The real challenge in both the immediate and long-term future is whether these campers will be able to carry their new ways of interacting with people into the outside world. First, they will try to take their new social skills to the Camp family outside their dialogue groups. If they can sustain the same level of trust and confidence throughout their Camp experience, there will be a better chance that they will be able to apply all they have learned in the outside world.
This is the time in our program when we uncover the talents of modest people and the courage of reticent people. With only five days left, campers are getting closer to their counselors and facilitators, and especially their fellow campers. They also seem to be taking advantage of everything that is offered, such as juggling—the new rage during free time.
Auditions for Saturday’s Talent Show took place today. Lovely dancing and singing filled the Big Hall for two hours as campers showed the directors what they could do. The range of talent is remarkable, from Celtic clogging, rap songs, beat boxing, interpretive dance, instrumental music, and skits.
One that blew us away at the audition was a 14-year-old soprano, with a gloriously vibrant voice that filled the Big Hall and field around it. Other campers waiting outside broke into applause and the judges were in tears.
There were so many talented campers auditioning today that the directors asked each auditioning camper if they could team up with some of the others.
All the dialogue groups are ready to climb to the high ropes course. They have gradually been working toward this final stage by doing trust exercises and creative problem solving. Still, some people lose their courage when they are asked to climb as high as the tree tops. Yet, there are campers who are so trusting that they climb blindfolded. In fact, today, both paired campers used blindfolds as they ascended the telephone poles, walked across the horizontal ropes high in the air, passed each other in the middle and made it safely to the opposite poles.
The evening activity with the whole Camp was a new one, called “Besties.” The dining table groups competed on the basis of having the best joke-teller, singer, rapper, beat-boxer, camper with an unusual skill and imitation of a counselor. At the end of the evening, everyone was reminded that Friday is laundry day. Actually, after piling up a week’s worth of well-used clothing, nobody needed a reminder.
Congratulations to our kitchen staff for not only serving dinner to the usual 220 of us today, but also for hosting the visiting families of almost all the Maine campers. Roughly speaking, that doubled the amount of food which had to be prepared for our Iftar dinner, marking the end of today’s fasting for the many Muslim campers.
Before the Iftar, a large group gathered to help our two Jewish campers mark Shabbat as the sun went down.
Family Day turned out to be a wonderful event. The families of the Maine campers joined those from Syracuse to either observe or play sports, including kick ball, Frisbee, soccer or Ga-Ga. Little brothers and sisters were eager to join in the kick ball game, which is a familiar game in elementary schools.
Normally, everyone in Camp wears a green t-shirt. But for Family Day dinner, we encouraged everyone to wear whatever they wanted. Wil introduced the senior staff who are responsible for Maine and Syracuse Seeds at the dinner line up. We also sang the Seeds of Peace song and did a round of Show me how you S-O-P. The families even joined in that contest and won!
Before we went to dinner, we had a moment of silence to remember all our fellow human beings around the world who are currently in harm’s way, who have escaped from conflicts, or who have relatives in danger of being caught up in violence beyond their control or making.
What a day! Maine Seeds were thrilled to have the principals and teachers from their schools come to visit in the morning as part of Maine Day. The visit showed the campers that their schools support them as Seeds, and are expecting them to take this Camp experience and “run with it” when school resumes.
Everyone performing in the Talent Show found little snippets of time in their sports schedules to practice, practice, practice. The operatic voice of one camper could be heard all over Camp, even though she was trying to be discreet, and the guitarists were strumming under every tree.
We held the Talent Show before the Iftar dinner and an open Shabbat service, which many campers attended. All of the religious services are open to everyone this week.
The Talent Show was really over the top in talent and hard work. The directors of the show had wisely combined several acts, which really enriched the final delivery of the messages in song, verse and dance. We are always so amazed at the talent the campers bring with them and the creations they produce cooperatively while at Camp.
Then, all of a sudden, it was Color Games! Just at the moment when we would ordinarily dismiss the campers for the night, the excitement of Color Games was the icing on the cake. Campers were split into two teams, Blue and Green. Their color will be their identity for two and a half days.
Tomorrow the competition will begin at 7:15 a.m. with an all-Camp rope pull. Stay tuned for updates!
The first day of Color Games always starts with an all-Camp rope pull, the heavy, thick rope stretched along the road which separates the playing fields from the bunks. The Blue Team lines up on one half of the rope while the Green Team faces them on the other side. In the middle of the rope stands the marshal, Wil Smith, who blows the whistle and makes sure the rules are followed. There is also a White Team made up of all the staff not otherwise engaged as coaches for each of the teams which officiates at all of the Color Games competitions.
Today’s winner of the rope pull was the Green Team. Typically, the winner of the rope pull gets a head start on the score and is buoyed in spirit as well. The team which loses the rope pull usually needs the better part of a day or more to catch up, especially in spirit. They are at a disadvantage when the competitions are packed into two days, as is the case this session, because the human spirit needs time to recover lost confidence. But perhaps the Blue Team will rise to the occasion.
Tomorrow will be the second and last day of Color Games. We shall wake up to a canoe race using a big wood canoe, fitting ten team members in so they can synchronize the paddling for maximum speed and control. After breakfast there will be some all-star competitions and lunch.
Early afternoon we will start the biggest event in Color Games: Message to Hajime! Each team will have a relay race to accomplish 75 goals, ending with a message which someone on each team must memorize and recite to Bobbie or Wil exactly as written. By 4:30 p.m., we should have our winner.
A familiar phenomenon occurred on the second day of Color Games. The team which had fallen way behind on the first day began gaining ground on the second day. In fact, by lunch time, the Blue and Green Teams weren’t far apart at all. Both teams had victory within their grasp.
By 2 p.m., Message to Hajime, the culminating portion of Color Games, began. The teams assign people to run relay races between dozens of points at Camp. At each of these points there are tasks which need to be accomplished before the team can move on to the next point. Today, there were 74 tasks ranging from a swim race, math problem, tennis serves, soccer goals, jump rope, peanut butter and jelly sandwich making, to an Internet scavenger hunt, kayaking, and table cheers.
The last part of Hajime is the message—usually a rare quote from a famous person attached to a plate covered in whipped cream. Each team selects someone to memorize the quote. Once memorized, the messengers go to Wil Smith or Bobbie Gottschalk to be checked for accuracy and timing. The cumulative time it takes the teams to finish the previous 74 tasks has an impact on the outcome, but so does the amount of time the messenger needs to memorize the quote. And of course it is possible for a team to win Hajime, but not have enough points to win Color Games.
This time, the Green Team won both the Message to Hajime and Color Games, but the scores were not far apart. Into the lake went the members of the Green team, followed by the Blue and then the White Teams. As the entire Camp splashed around in the lake, all differences dissolved and the Seeds of Peace family of 2014, Session I, was truly formed. Making a circle in the lake, they sang the Seeds of Peace Camp song and everyone felt victorious.
In the evening, the campers were given scrapbooks, soon to be filled with notes from other campers and staff. These books will be a blessing during times of trouble in their future lives, as they return home.
Each session, we hold a memorial service for Asel Asleh, the only Seed who has been killed in conflict, and the 12 other Seeds who have passed away from illnesses, accidents, or domestic violence. This time we had beautiful music and readings in our Peace Garden. Later on, we brought everyone to the fire pit for reflections by the Color Games coaches and traditional camp songs. Thanks to the creativity of an older Maine Seed, Chris, we have a great repetitive song to help people sleep.
Tomorrow will be the last full day of this session.