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 TWO: MIDDLE EAST & SOUTH ASIA
Arrivals | July 31
As the first buses of delegations rolled into Camp today, a heavy rain storm abated and there was a sunny break in the clouds. That gave us the chance to welcome the campers, who passed through a “tunnel” of sheltering arms into a crowd of excited staff members. Successive buses unloaded every few hours. At this writing, we are awaiting the arrival of the final bus at 1 a.m.
Our tradition is to have Seeds of Peace co-founder Bobbie Gottschalk welcome the new campers by explaining that Camp is “the way life could be” (not “the way life should be,” as the State of Maine proclaims about itself). “Could” means it is possible—”should”, well, not necessarily.
As soon as the campers were welcomed, we provided them with anonymous surveys to fill out so we can track their progress by the end of the session. This surveys, designed by University of Chicago researchers, helps us assess the impact of our Camp program.
Once all the delegations have arrived, we will have over 200 campers and delegation leaders, most of whom are educators. One of these delegation leaders is a Seed who last came to Camp 15 years ago. She was astonished at how small the Dining Hall seemed now that she is seeing it as an adult.
The morning wake-up bell rings first at 7 a.m. Then there is a “snooze alarm” bell at 7:15 a.m. If you don’t get out of bed and dressed after that bell, you will not have a chance to be on time for line up.
Wil Smith, our associate camp director, usually greets each morning by reminding us of the beautiful place we live in. The scene spread out in front of the campers at line up is really beautiful. Some days it looks misty with rising fog. Other days it looks clear as a mirror. It is devoid of human activity, save for our own. It feels like it is all ours.
This first day is usually filled with “housekeeping” activities, including swim tests, check-ins with the medical staff, name button-making and most important, phone calls home to anxious families. Campers were outfitted with our standard green Seeds of Peace t-shirts, along with sweatshirts for colder parts of the day.
The Peer Support campers began their program today. There are 29 of them, which is a large group. All of them have been to Camp once in the past two years. Before arriving in Maine, they took pictures of locations in their hometowns which are important to them. They will use these pictures to describe their daily lives at home to their peers, and then develop plans to rectify problems they identify in their communities.
Tonight, we had a meeting to bring together counselors and the adult delegation leaders. From now on, they will not hesitate to speak with each other if the need arises.
Tomorrow, the dialogue sessions will begin. We expect there to be a lot of serious discussion, both inside and outside the dialogue huts. We cannot live in a bubble here in Maine while death and destruction mount at home.
Here we are in the woods of Maine on a beautiful lake, in sharp contrast to warfare and the specter of sudden injuries and death. While it is true that our campers live side by side with people who are or have been their mortal enemies, the total environment is safe and friendly.
Tonight when the counselors presented their show, the audience of campers and delegation leaders responded with joyful appreciation of the music and skits about camp activities. At the dinner line up, the whole Camp sang the Seeds of Peace anthem together. If you had seen how wary they were of each other on the first day, you would not believe that they would be singing a song about peace together and laughing at the same skits, just one day later. It may be that this peaceful and supportive environment is something they really crave.
Our flagraising ceremony takes place in the beginning of international Camp sessions. It gives each delegation a chance to honor their own flag and anthem. We must be sensitive to the emotional response many people have to the sound of their enemy’s anthem and the sight of their enemy’s flag. On top of that, there are some ethnic groups within nations which are in a minority status and therefore may not feel any allegiance to their anthem.
The flagraising ceremony is held right outside the Camp gates. Once all the flags are raised, our gate has the look of the United Nations. It is very likely to be the only place where the Israeli and Palestinian flags stand side by side. Each bunk group walks together to the ceremony and stands together in front of the flag poles. The members of each delegation sing their anthems and watch their flags being raised as part of their bunk group.
Yesterday, the Peer Support campers chose a speaker from each delegation to address the entire Camp, as well as visitors and reporters from local media. It was obvious that a great deal of thought and practice had gone into preparing the Peer Support speeches. The Palestinians were represented by a camper from Gaza. The Israelis chose to have both a Jewish and an Arab speaker who coordinated their remarks. There were also speakers from Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Egypt, Jordan, and the United States. These speeches were creative, thoughtful, reality-based, and hopeful.
The rest of the day was more typical of Camp life. Two of our veteran counselors taught them all the “Rattlin’Bog” song, an old favorite. Tonight, there was a digital scavenger hunt organized by competing bunks. Each group had a digital camera and a list of objectives which kept them running all over Camp looking for things on the list. Whenever they couldn’t find what they were supposed to be looking for, they became creative.
There were several important meetings today, in addition to the daily dialogue sessions the campers participate in.
While the delegation leaders met with their respective national delegations, all the counselors and facilitators met to discuss how the session is going and what needs to be improved. On the calendar it has only been four days since Camp began, but it feels like four weeks because so much happens in any given day here.
Before every meal we have line up, a gathering of everyone in Camp so we can all find out about scheduling changes, introduce visitors, learn new songs and perform short skits. One of the boys’ bunks like to stand up to announce a “deep thought.” For example, yesterday they cited the fact that it takes about eight minutes for the light from the sun to reach the earth. When you look up at the sun, you are already looking at history, since the actual light occurred eight minutes before you looked.
The Peer Support campers are charged with teaching the new campers traditional cheers and songs. Today they taught everyone a song written by Ahmad, a Seed who was a music counselor a few years ago. It is called “Everybody Like Hummus!”
The daily dialogue sessions are definitely heating up. It isn’t easy to be confronted by your peers for actions taken by your government. That is one thing campers will learn: none of the teenagers at Camp is responsible for the violence back home. And they will find out that they really do have the strength inside to deal with the conflicting narratives held by themselves and their counterparts on the “other side.” They really can relate to people in other delegations the way they relate to their own, but this will take time.
Concurrent with the dialogue sessions are group challenge activities. Members of each dialogue group take on physical challenges led by counselors with specialized training. Many of the challenges appear impossible to achieve until the campers work together to find creative solutions. Groups and individuals gain confidence in their problem-solving abilities as they move through the successively more difficult objectives. This carries over to their dialogue sessions, making it easier for the campers to grapple with the difficult choices they will consider.
The energy level generated by 182 teenagers, plus 55 young adult counselors, is incredible sometimes. Evening activities often help the campers let off some steam before bedtime. At some point in each session of Camp we have an evening program called World Cup GaGa—a variation of dodgeball—easily learned and fast-paced. This game puts their high energy levels to good use. The campers are divided into four teams: Germany, Argentina, Brazil, and the Netherlands. In fact, it is so fast-paced and noisy that two of the girls from Afghanistan sat and watched, hands over their ears to stifle the noise. Other girls enjoyed being able to challenge the boys for once.
It only takes one enthusiastic person to get teenagers interested in trying something new. Here at Camp we have many counselors who are non-stop engaged with the campers and one another. When their enthusiasm is focused on something they really love, the campers get hooked too. Cricket, Aussie Football, and water skiing are among the activities which stand out as camper-magnets. Learning a new sport or skill builds confidence which can carry over into other areas of Camp life.
We want them to build confidence for the dialogue sessions, especially. At this point, many campers are still making well-rehearsed comments and not thinking critically about what others are saying. But, soon they will tire of saying the same things again and again. Then we will probably see them take some intelligent risks, even in dialogue sessions. They will risk remaining quiet while others are speaking. They will listen and let the other person’s points sink in. There will be more “I” statements and fewer “you people” statements. Their vocabulary will expand beyond “terrorists” and “murderers.”
In an art class today, campers were paired with others who do not speak the same native language. Each person listened to the other person’s description of home, in English, and then painted it, according to what was understood. At the end of the class, each camper explained his or her painting, demonstrating careful listening to the partner’s description. All of them asked to bring their paintings home. At least one pair exchanged paintings. They were quite proud of what they had accomplished.
The Peer Support campers spent the afternoon at St. Joseph’s College, where they grow their own vegetables and raise farm animals. Afterwards, the PSs were taken to a Food Pantry where they learned how to provide food to needy families without making them feel degraded because they can’t support themselves. The secret: they are treated like customers instead of charity cases.
Looking at the many pictures taken daily at Camp, an observer new to Seeds of Peace might infer that campers mostly have fun and play games together. But that is not the case. All the fun activities revolve around supporting the 110-minute dialogue sessions that campers participate in every day. Building confidence outside the dialogue huts enhances the probability that confidence will build inside the dialogue huts as well.
Today was Arts Day. Dialogue groups were assigned to certain areas of the arts, such as dance, visual art, film, instrumental music, wearable art, chalk sidewalk art and drama. The groups all shared the common goal of exploring the ways the arts promote transformation in groups and individuals. The materials available to work with were limited objects generally found in the trash. The dancers were not able to use music. Each dialogue group had about 90 minutes to create something to present at a show in the evening. It was amazing what they were able to put together in such a short time and with limited resources.
Tonight some very tall people arrived at Camp. They are the National Basketball Association players who visit Camp almost every year. The campers will have the chance to explain their conflicts to the famous or soon-to-be famous basketball stars. This will strengthen the campers’ confidence because athletes they look up to are going to listen to their explanation. And these players will give master classes to the campers for most of the day so that their skill levels will rise—just in time for Sports Day on Sunday!
Today was definitely a special day. We took a one-day break from dialogue and devoted most of our time to the five National Basketball Association players who volunteered to give master classes all day. The players were Steven Adams, Marcus Smart, Joel Embiid, Jerami Grant and of course Brian Scalabrine, who has been here many times. Joel is recovering from a foot surgery but he came anyway and patiently gave instructions on the court.
All day the campers shot baskets and ran around the courts performing various basketball drills until they could do them well. It was fun to see how these professional players with their love for the game were able to motivate some campers who normally don’t like to participate in sports. The shy Afghan girls who were afraid to play Ga-Ga the other night were out on the court with everyone else, making baskets and running around with the rest of the campers.
For the past few days, there has been a raft constructing special activity involving eight campers from several delegations. They used big empty water bottles for flotation and found pieces of wood and rope to create three rafts. Today they tested their boats in an area of shallow water in the lake. All the rafts floated when no one was on them. But once the campers hopped on board, they became slightly submerged.
Religious services were held for Muslims in the afternoon and for Jewish campers in the evening. This time the Camp allowed other campers to come to the services to observe what happens and to view their fellow campers in a different light—as worshipers who also pray to God for peace. Tomorrow morning there will be an hour devoted to interfaith dialogue.
This morning, the counselors met with small groups of campers to discuss faith. First the campers self-identified regarding their religious designation, including all the religions represented at Camp as well as non-believers and agnostics. It was a beautiful day, so most groups met outdoors. In every direction, you could see small groups having serious discussions. The campers and counselors spoke about their religious upbringing and their personal beliefs.
The Boston Demons, a co-ed Aussie Football team, gave master classes and played an actual game with our campers and counselors. The way we play the game, it is not a contact sport. The Boston team gave all the members of the Seeds of Peace team medals, which they promptly wore around their necks and will soon be decorating their bedroom walls at home, no doubt.
Later in the day, a big yellow school bus and several cars drove in with about 80 Maine Seeds, many of whom had just been to Camp for the first session this summer. They found most of their favorite counselors and could barely contain their excitement at being back. It was quite a scene when we gathered for dinner line up. Many of the Camp songs and cheers were done in unison, making it all the more endearing.
It was easy for the current campers and the Maine Seeds to bond because they could readily see how similar their Camp experience has been. We all had a dinner based on a recipe from one of the delegation leaders, picnic-style. The Maine Seeds wanted to support the international campers and in many cases it was appreciated.
Sports Day is a competition with other youth camps in Maine. Today we challenged them to girls’ softball, girls’ basketball, and boys soccer. Basketball and soccer are familiar to our international campers, so they were able to win those games. But softball is really a brand new sport for most our campers. Even so, they tried hard and only lost by two runs.
The other campers joined ours at line up and for lunch. Our counselors taught the other campers two of our favorite songs, Pizza Man and What is Love? We also had a three-camp game of Ga-Ga to close out the day.
Tonight the campers had “Table Talk” with their Dining Hall groups. Normally at meal times, the Dining Hall is so noisy and active, that the campers rarely have a chance to really get to know their table mates. So they sat in their table groups and gave everyone a chance to respond to general questions, which helped them know much more about the people with whom they eat breakfast, lunch and dinner daily.
We remembered Seeds of Peace founder John Wallach as we always do, with a video from his memorial service at the United Nations. This year we were honored to have John’s wife, Janet, talk about how and why John made Seeds of Peace a reality.
The evening concluded with Café Night, led by the PSs. A visiting musician, John Michael Parker, performed a beautiful song and the Peer Support campers introduced the idea behind Café Night. Each camper paired with another who was as yet not a close friend. The PSs decorated the Dining Hall and rearranged the tables and chairs to allow for maximum conversations. They also served chocolate desserts.
The room was filled with the sounds of talking among the pairs. Many campers were seen leaning in toward the people they were talking with to hear better. John Wallach always used to ask the campers to make one friend. If he had lived to see how that advice has played out at Café Night, he would have been amazed.
Susanna, an acting instructor, is spending two days coaching the campers on improvisational humor. The Peer Support campers took her classes today and the first year campers will do it tomorrow. Humor is a uniting factor. Developing the ability to stand on stage and make an audience laugh can help the speakers win over an audience. Susanna led many warm-up routines, after which the campers were encouraged to get on stage and rant about one of their pet peeves.
One of the special activities is about getting in good shape physically. The campers in this group are not all in optimal condition. It was wonderful to watch some of the older campers in the group give support to the new campers. In fact, after one PS finished jogging down the road which rings the field, he grabbed the hands of two struggling campers and guided them to the finish line.
At this point in the session, we are usually developing into a well-functioning community. There are strong signs that indicate that we are on-track for the most part. Some dialogue groups have found ways to build relationships while others struggle with what could happen in the future. “Would you ever shoot me?” is a hard question to ask a new friend, and harder still to answer.
The three daily line up assemblies serve as a way to check the pulse of the community. Shared “traditions” bind us to one another. Some bunk groups come up with “deep thoughts,” or “shallow thoughts,” or “lame jokes” to share with everyone. Wil Smith, our associate camp director, uses the morning line up many days to identify where we are in the process of becoming Seeds of Peace. Yesterday Wil told the campers that they had reached the half-way point—time to focus on what they can do at Camp to become independent thinkers and courageous actors.
One of the ways campers feel equal at Camp is by learning how to play a new sport together. Cricket is well-known in Pakistan, India and Afghanistan, but isn’t played by girls, usually. Here at Camp, the girls get the opportunity to learn this popular sport because one of the counselors is an enthusiastic cricket expert. He applauds their every attempt to throw and hit the ball the right way.
Tomorrow we were planning to go to the Sea Dogs baseball game in Portland, but the weather forecast is 98 percent chance of rain. We will save that for another day.
A deluge of rain and wind in New England is making it seem more like winter than summer today. All the colorful raincoats, boots and umbrellas came out of the suitcases, but some campers evidently didn’t believe us when we said it could rain hard in the summer here. A friend with a wide umbrella is a friend indeed! This might be another way to share experiences.
We celebrated a Hindu holiday a few days late. This gave the Hindus at Camp a chance to enjoy their traditions, as well an opportunity for others to observe their religious practices. The Indians and Pakistanis wore colorful traditional clothing, adding richness to the otherwise plain setting.
Tonight we had a “Bestest” challenge between bunks. Inside the Big Hall, they tried to prove that their bunk had the best singer or dancer. Tomorrow if the storm moves on, we will get the chance to join other camps in Maine at the Sea Dogs baseball game.
From a culinary standpoint, we went from one extreme to another today. We had lunch at the Sea Dogs’ baseball stadium after standing in line to get slices of pizza, hot dogs, an ice cream “sea biscuits,” fried chicken, french fries and soda.
By dinner time, we were dining on fancy Middle East and South Asian food at our International Night. The delegation leaders had worked closely with our chef for days to prepare dishes like Mansaf, Maqloubeh, and Pakistani, Afghan, and Indian chicken. It was so good!
For International Night, traditional dress is encouraged. Suddenly, the sea of green t-shirts to which we have become accustomed turned into an array of colors and fabrics that was truly dazzling. Everyone enjoyed and admired all the different traditional costumes. There was a lot of photography going on—old and new friends, Camp groups, and delegations kept forming and re-forming for the cameras. The Camp session has become a respectful community.
In an effort to stay a few steps ahead of the campers, we are bringing Seeds of Peace’s regional program directors to Camp to help prepare campers for re-entry into their communities. Seeds of Peace is the way life could be, not the way it is for them at home.
While the regional program directors are meeting, the campers will continue with their Camp experience. Today dialogue groups started to master the high ropes course, climbing up the seemingly impossible poles and the vertical playpen. They work in pairs because cooperation is generally the best way to achieve their objectives. Short people are at a disadvantage on the vertical playpen, so the taller one usually has to give a boost to their shorter partner. Upper body strength, balance, and risk aversion all vary between individuals, but not between delegations.
Some campers are asked to do the ropes course, 40 feet in the air, while blindfolded. Their partner has to guide them safely. Trust between delegations was a scarce commodity when the campers arrived two weeks ago. Now it is taking hold, one Camp friend at a time.
Improvisational drama has been very successful at Camp. The scenes chosen by the campers to act out spontaneously are universal ones, like a job interview or negotiating for a higher grade with a teacher. Their imagination, cleverness, and humor draw the campers together.
Today was a big day for picture-taking. We went out on the field and grouped and re-grouped until all the bunk, table, and dialogue pictures were taken. From the perspective of the photographer, it is always interesting to see how the groups assemble themselves and pose. People who park themselves in the middle, off to the side, or in the back row behind a tall person, or who make funny faces, or hold their bodies in unusual ways all do these things for good reason. But you would have to know the individual and group dynamics to know why.
During the afternoon, while all the campers were either enjoying sports or preparing for the Talent Show at night, 14 counselors were secretly getting ready to coach Color Games.
The talent show was a huge success. Magnificent dancing, singing and instrumental performances were showcases for superior talent. The Jordanian, Indian, Pakistani, and Afghan Delegations performed traditional dances. Meanwhile, the poetry was magnificent. One poet at first read from scribbles on an envelope, but then dropped the paper and finished the poem from memory.
At the end of the talent show, the theater lights went out and counselors dashed through the Big Hall with colored lights to signal the beginning of Color Games! The younger campers are always surprised when Color Games begin because they are too caught up in the talent show to think about anything else.
Now the Camp will be divided for the next three days into two teams: Green and Blue. This is the final stretch for Camp. Only four days are left.
Color Games always begins with rope pulls. First to compete are the girls from both teams. Then the boys face off. And finally, the girls and boys from both teams all take up the huge rope in an all-Camp tug. Wil Smith stands in the middle of the two sides and decides when one team has won as indicated by chalk marks on the ground and ribbons on the rope. Today he did the whole contest with little Molly, age three, holding onto his hand.
One of the boys at the far end of the rope was heard to say, “Let’s pull this thing all the way to the Dining Hall!” Apparently, this was the kind of encouragement his team needed. They won!
When the rope pull was over, we all went to a Sunday pancake breakfast.
The only spaces in Camp not taken over by Color Games are the bunks. Color Games stops at the door. This space is meant to be a haven, a safe place for everyone. Heavy competition would ruin that safe environment.
Everything the campers have done in the past two weeks can be used in Color Games events. All land and water sports, art, cooking, dancing, instrumental music, singing, poetry, and more, are part of the three-day competition. Today, most competitions were between bunks. Tomorrow that will change as each team will select their best competitors for each event.
As of dinnertime, the Blue Team was ahead by 75 points, having won the the morning rope pull. In terms of talent and skill, the teams are evenly matched. It all comes down to spirit, determination, and luck.
Some very fast runners began the second day of Color Games before breakfast with a relay race around the road which encircles the Camp. Boys and girls ran separate races, while the rest of the campers and counselors cheered them on.
By breakfast time, the Green team had 975 points to the Blue team’s 1200. By dinner time, the Green team had 1225 points to the Blue team’s 1600. So, the issue for the Green Team is keeping morale up and for the Blue Team it is not letting their energy flag.
Tonight’s variety show had competitions in dance, instrumental music, a capella singing, a skit called “What Am I Doing Here?!,” and team songs. The outcome of the variety show will not be announced until the end of Color Games at about noon tomorrow.
This morning began with the Peace Canoe race under clear blue skies on a lake that reflected all the surrounding colors. Ten members of each team paddled the giant wood canoe from the boys dock to the sailing dock. The girls on the Green Team beat the times not only of the Blue girls, but also of both boys crews. The other teams kept steering the canoes off course.
The Message to Hajime, the final climactic event of Color Games, is a relay race between 107 stations at which a camper from each team has to meet some kind of objective. This includes almost all the activities at Camp, and then some. One is a chess game. Another is a math problem. There are all kinds of sports and art objectives as well. In the end, one person from each team has to memorize an unfamiliar passage and recite it to Wil Smith or Bobbie. The whole event is timed.
Yesterday, before Hajime began, the teams’ cumulative scores were only 25 points apart. At the end, the Blue Team won Color Games by less that a minute. So close!
We had a well-needed extended rest hour. After dinner, we held our usual memorial service in the peace garden. At this time we remember the 13 Seeds who have passed away, with a special focus on Asel Asleh, the only Seed who has died because of the conflict. The others have died from auto accidents, illness, or murder. Farah, an Egyptian camper, had written a song about the “field” in the Sufi Rumi’s poem. She sang it very beautifully. Then we held a candlelight vigil for those we mourn, both inside and outside the Seeds of Peace family.
During the last full day of Camp we try to help everyone deal with separation from people who have become family. In some cases, Seeds will be heading back to the sights and sounds of war, not the peacefulness of Pleasant Lake. Parting will be especially painful for those who see no possibility of meeting again anytime soon.
We began the process of leaving by cleaning up the Camp. We started to put away boats and musical instruments for the winter. Three people carrying a canoe upside-down looked like a six-legged boat creature. We had an all-Camp lost and found after gathering up a variety of clothing, shoes, and water bottles left all over the place during Color Games. And the campers packed.
As usual, we held a Quaker silent meeting for everyone who wished to partake in it. The whole Camp community assembled and we sat in silence for 30 minutes. Then, one by one, campers and counselors spoke about their initial misgivings about Camp and the way they have come to realize the value of the experience.
In the afternoon there were delegation meetings where the campers were given instructions about their trip home.
Tonight, the campers spent two hours meeting with Seeds of Peace staff and Peer Support campers in preparation for activities back home. Afterward, we had a slide show of photos and videos taken during this session of Camp.
The campers will be waking up very early, but it is unlikely that they will get very much sleep tonight.
Sounds of spirited music awakened us this morning. We all gravitated to its source on the porch of the Big Hall. Out in the field some of the campers formed a line weaving in and out of the crowd gathered there. This happy moment was our last celebration together.
Line up morphed into a circle instead of rows, thanks to the Peer Support campers who planned a short program about the South African word Ubuntu, which means, “I am who I am because of who all of us are.” Our common humanity helped formed a community in less than a month.
It is always difficult to part after such intense weeks of living together. The tears and hugs were in abundance. Some had to take a few more pictures or get one more hug. All of us were sad to see the summer end.
The campers and counselors will keep in touch through Facebook, email, and phone calls. In some cases, they will even meet again in a few weeks or months. But this magical space of equality, opportunity and kindness has come to an end today. It was a way to find out that peace is possible if young people are given some guidance and a chance. And, for everyone who was here or who knew about it, this Camp session restored hope.