MIDDLE EAST, SOUTH ASIA, UNITED STATES, UNITED KINGDOM
The way life could be! | August 13
As I woke up in the morning, this uneasiness settled into me. I realized that this is my last morning in this welcoming place, who I now consider my home. I went outside my bunk and looked around. I saw that field, where so many Seeds had stepped on and learned something so valuable from this camp. Three weeks–in only three weeks I have become so close to these people who were strangers for me with different backgrounds and identities.
As I started my walk on the field, my group song played in my head, “We are family, we are one …” The cool breeze kissed my face and the chirps of the birds rang in my ears as I thought about my experience. I vividly remembered my first day here. How baffled I was to see so enthusiastic people welcoming me with their open hearts and I was actually scared to return that welcoming smile to others. I came here as a person for whom nothing more mattered than his personal life and the people associated with it. I came here as a human who wanted to explode with all the anger that he had been fed from his society against India. I came here as a person who was so narrow minded and wanted to inflict his opinions over others.
But here I am now standing on this field, having changed in so many ways that I never imagined would be possible in just 21 days.
When I came here, I had so many questions inside my head which I hoped to be answered in this camp, but this camp gave me something far more valuable than just answers to my questions, it gave me new perspectives to look at things which I didn’t think was possible. But again, now I am going back with more questions and uncertainties about the countless things that I learned from here.
I have always had conflicts, not with others but within myself. I have been confused and frustrated yet I have kept going on not because I wanted to but maybe cause I had to. I had to ignore those inner conflicts so that I don’t change. I was afraid to bring a change in myself because I thought myself to be perfect the way I was. Not for me, but for people who mattered to me and I was happy living for those people and not for myself. As I continued my walk I felt the wet grass under my opentoed shoes. I realized that I have grown up in so many ways and I like it, this imperfection in me, I need to accept it. I have changed and maybe that’s fine too.
I have relished this place and have made so many memories here that it feels so difficult to say a final goodbye to this camp. Each day, every person I have met here, would always stay with me as a memory that I would always cherish. I remembered the hard dialogues I have had and what I have learned from those. I learnt to respect people and their opinions, I learnt to accept those who differed from me in countless ways. I learnt to live with that complexity of facing people who might not always appreciate you. I remembered the moments I was alone and I felt like that star in the sky which represented hope for me. That star was surrounded by darkness yet it kept fighting it and never let the darkness engulf it’s light. I remember the personal stories people have told me and how many of them had held me through hard times. Has all of it just become a memory? I questioned myself. I knew the answer but I denied it. It pained me to accept the reality. The reality that this is finished. I held my tears back, telling myself, “Not yet.”
I have tried to learn as much as I could from my camp experience and I want to bring a change about so many issues in my community but I am stuck on “HOW?” But someone very wise told me once, ” You’ll figure it out Samir. I know you will.” And maybe I will but to figure it out, I’ll always have to keep finding it, and that’s the spirit I want myself to have.
We are humans, we cross limits to thrive happiness for ourselves forgetting that what consequences can our actions have on others. We are selfish. We are greedy. We are lustful. We are disrespectful.
But aren’t We amazing too? Aren’t we loving too? Aren’t we humble too?
If it’s us who wrecked our societies so bad, so it has to be us who will bring a change in it. It has to be us who would do something to bring peace in it.
As that thought settled into me, I felt a spark of energy inside me, to do something for my community, to bring a change. And that’s when the song played again in my head and I felt that line deep in my heart, “We may be leaving but we’re not done.” A smile emerged on my face and I decided to never let it falter. I glanced at the lush green field stretching out to the pickle ball court, I decided to run in this field for the last time. I felt the fresh air settling into me as my heart thumped faster. I felt the air brushing through my hair. I ran wildly and formed a smile on my face. I ran.
Samir (Pakistani Delegation)
Talent | August 12
Our talent show, two nights ago, was outstanding as usual. We never know before the show the extent of the talent living among us at Camp until we see it performed on stage. The singing, dancing, artwork, and piano performances were really quite professional. Our piano could use some tuning, but even that didn’t mask the mastery displayed by the campers.
At the end of the talent show, the counselors burst into the Big Hall with glow sticks while the lights were turned off and it was announced that Color Games would begin right then! The counselors accompanied the campers to our line-up area by the lake. All the coaches were introduced in creative ways before the campers were assigned to either the Blue or the Green Team. In the midst of all this excitement, it began to rain, but we carried on anyway.
The first morning of Color Games always starts with an all-Camp rope-pull. There are three teams, one for male-identifying campers, one for female-identifying campers, and one for everyone. Campers ate breakfast seated with their respective teams. All their meals will be with their teams for the duration of Color Games. The second morning before breakfast, there was a canoe race from one end of the Camp to the other. This was followed by a relay race all around the perimeter road of Camp. Then, it was time for pancakes!
The competitive spirit is apparent during all the sports and arts competitions, but so is the friendship formed earlier in this session. You see the fierce competition on the playing fields, but not along the paths and in the bunks. In between the spirited competition on the field and in the lake, friendships are rekindled. Dividing the Camp into two teams tosses friendships in the air for three days, but there will be lots of reuniting once Color Games end with a run into the lake.
Tonight, there will be a variety show, including a group dance, a group musical instrument performance, a comedy skit about Camp life, Spoken Word original statements, and an original team song. There isn’t a lot of time to compose music and choreograph a dance, but they will produce a wonderful show, considering all the talent we have in our midst.
Climbing! | August 10
This summer, we were able to restore our climbing wall and zip line to what it had been before the pandemic, thanks to Amy, a teacher from Maine. Before anyone gets to the level of these elements, they go through a series of lower level elements, designed to give them confidence and promote support between the campers in each dialogue group.
When campers first try to master the climbing wall, they often lose their confidence right at the beginning. They are convinced that this task is going to be impossible for them. Although they are on belay and therefore safe from falling to the ground, it still feels awkward and unsteady when they reach for the handholds and try to move up the wall. The belay counselors keep encouraging the climbing campers until, low and behold, they reach the top!
The zip line requires less skill but it is still a little scary to fly high above the ground attached to a high wire. Both the zip line and the climbing wall are done during the same time period, giving campers a giant boost in confidence.
Senator Angus King (I-Maine) visited Camp yesterday and had the chance to watch campers play American football, basketball, and overcome their fears on the zip line.
Last night was multicultural night. Everyone was encouraged to wear traditional clothing from their country and the delegation leaders prepared traditional food to share. After dinner, each delegation performed music and dancing that are typical of their culture.
Some presentations ignored the tradition to not display national flags inside the Camp gates. Only the Seeds of Peace flag flies at Camp. There were some people who disregarded this, causing upset for other campers. The campers discussed this in their delegation meetings and dialogue sessions; our newly-formed community will now move on.
Wet weather | August 8
One of the special activities this summer is called Spider-Man 101. Wahid, a counselor and parkour instructor from Kashmir, could easily play Spider-Man in the movies: he seems to be in full command of his body. By the third day of this activity, many participants were able to do a back flip from a standing position. Wahid is very cautious about safety, but also very encouraging. Some of us are just waiting for him to appear in his Spider-Man costume!
The delegations from India, Pakistan, Israel, Palestine, US/UK, Egypt, and Jordan met separately today to share their experiences with each other. On Wednesday, they will all have to share the kitchen and dining areas when they cook our traditional International Dinner. It is a wonderful sight.
Like the entire United States East Coast, we are being drenched with heavy rains. It rained all night and shows no sign of letting up. When this happens at Camp, we try to make accommodations so that the schedule remains mostly intact. However, every summer, despite the list of must-have items on the clothing list, campers refuse to believe that they will likely need rain gear. For this reason, we keep boxes of rain ponchos.
We had line-up in the dining hall due to the heavy rain. One of our staff who was a camper many years ago reminded everyone that life here at Camp is like being in a race with yourself and time. Time marches on, no matter what you choose to do. The race with oneself is a bit more challenging. It requires self-knowledge and motivation.
Gaining Confidence | August 5
We have had a lot of rain this summer, so a sunny day like today was most welcome. It was truly a beautiful Seeds of Peace day!
Still, the weather doesn’t do the work we all have to do to make living together possible. We still have to take the needs of everyone else here into consideration. We still have to listen to one another and speak in ways that allow others to hear us.
Some campers have learned to swim and to paddle a kayak or canoe. Some have even learned to waterski. All of their achievements promote confidence, which helps them in the other parts of Camp life.
Tonight, Vishnu, our Chief Operating Officer, offered everyone who was interested an educational Hindu service. He explained the meaning of the prayers and the beliefs that support Hindus in India.
We have two daily line-ups for the whole Camp. In the morning, we get a preview of the day’s activities, as well as a weather report. Before dinner, there is another line-up when we hear the scores for bunk clean-up and find out what the evening activity will be. We also have a dance performance by campers from one of the dialogue groups.
We have nine days left of this Camp session. We have many more hurdles to overcome. The campers are already talking about feeling happy and sad about their time here. They explained that they don’t want to leave Camp, but there really want to be back home again as well.
Getting Comfortable | August 3
Halfway through Camp, we have reached a level of comfort with one another that might have seemed impossible before the session started. Young people are generally interested in preparing for a better future than what they might have if they do nothing to change it. Their enormous energy and openness to new ideas makes reaching a higher comfort level, while living together here at Camp achievable.
A couple of days after their arrival at Camp, three campers from three different countries tested positive for COVID-19. The entire Camp community was tested and no one else was infected. The campers who tested positive were only mildly sick but we have kept them in the health center to avoid contagion. Now they are ready to rejoin us. Their three separate bunks were kept to themselves for a few days and now everyone is back to being part of the total community. We are fortunate to have good medical care right here at Camp.
Last night we had our traditional lip sync competition. Campers were divided into their table groups and then each group chose their own song to create coordinated dances. Their table groups are composed of people from all the delegations. They had so much fun! It was a pleasure to watch them.
Today, every delegation is meeting again. They will be discussing their experiences at Camp and preparing for after-Camp programs at home.
Running a Camp is always complicated, with so many moving parts. We have had some ups and downs with our kitchen staff this summer, but our new Chief Operating Officer, Vishnu, is with us and has taken over the management of food services. His friendliness and expertise have made the meals very popular and the kitchen staff function very well together.
The Group Challenge program is progressing very well, with our expert, Amy, leading the way. Gradually, the campers have gained skills and confidence. Soon they will go from low ropes to the climbing wall and high ropes.
Tonight, we will have another traditional activity called, “The Mostest.” Groups of campers will compete to see who can do various prompts the best. This always produces a lot of good-natured laughter. It is a bonding experience.
Special Activities | August 1
The Camp schedule is not exactly set in stone: we have to be ready to adjust our plans when we have heavy downpours of rain or even distant thunder. So, for example, we might have to postpone swimming and boating to a time when there is no threat of stormy weather. The first few days of Camp have been stormy, but now we are told that no rain is in the forecast.
We started our Special Activities yesterday. They are unique offerings by the Camp staff that include kayaking, swimming, Bollywood dancing, Spiderman 101, “rest hour,” Frisbee, volleyball, mural paintings, and storytelling. The campers were able to choose the activity they preferred.
The Storytelling activity is led by Bobbie, co-founder of Seeds of Peace. The participants are making up creative stories or telling actual stories, in pairs and in groups. They are also discussing the role of true stories in promoting empathy. Stories about what has happened at Camp over the years are told by Bobbie, as well.
Last night, the campers experienced a traditional Camp activity called World Cup Ga-Ga. Most of them had never played this American school game. We filled the big hall with players and fans; everyone cheering and jumping up and down like it was a really important sports event.
Today all the delegations are meeting with their country directors to talk about their experiences so far and to begin preparing for the programs they will have after Camp has ended.
Arrivals! | July 29
Two nights ago, our Camp once more was filled, now with 137 campers from the Middle East, United States, and South Asia. Among the staff are Seeds of Peace country directors who are working alongside other professionals from their respective countries. The campers all arrived during the night, making it a challenge to welcome them as we usually do with lively music and dancing. We did a human tunnel at the door of the bus, which got longer as each bus delivered an additional cohort of campers. Some had been traveling for more than a whole day.
Given that everyone was tired from travel, we extended the sleeping time by one hour. In the morning, the sun was shining and a warm, hearty breakfast revived the travelers. Campers made name buttons, had their photos taken, learned the Seeds of Peace song, and took their swim tests. They also found out which bunk group, table group and dialogue group they would be part of for the whole session.
We are also having a heavy rain today. Happily, the official weather prediction is that after today, we should have very pleasant conditions. The rain knocked out some of our electric power in the kitchen but our crew was able to make pizza and it was delivered to all the bunks, along with board games for this evening. With the rain, UnPleasant Lake on our playing field is back again, making rain boots a necessity.
Dear Self | July 26
For most, leaving Camp is wrenching. Not only have campers lived together with their bunkmates through all manner of challenges, but they have also completed Color Games, which must have seemed near impossible before they actually did it.
Those two solid days and nights of competition in boating, swimming, soccer, kickball, art, drama and dance, basketball, volleyball, pickleball, etc. drew them closer to the people outside their bunks, dialogue groups and tablemates. They are mostly torn between wanting to go home to their families and wanting to stay just one more day at Camp. We make every effort to help them cope with their competing feelings through their final dialogue meetings, bunk meetings, a Quaker meeting, and music composed by Seeds who have dealt with this grief before them.
One of the campers shared the following entry from his journal at one of the last line-ups. It is safe to say that he was speaking for most of the campers.
If you believe packing for this camp is hard, wait ‘til you’re with people you considered brothers all pack up knowing tomorrow we all have a chance of never seeing one another again.
Dear Self: If you believe introducing yourself to absolute strangers is difficult, wait until you have to say goodbye to people that you consider family.
Dear Self: If you believe getting in bed on your first day at Camp will be hard, wait until you are getting ready to have your last night here at Camp.
Dear Self: I know you’ll not want to be here at first, but just wait as your time here creates the roots of what you will call home.
Dear Self: Days go so slow, but two weeks go by fast. So fast you’ll still have so much to so and so much to say to everyone here at Camp.
So, Dear Self, take this life opportunity as if it’s your last moment as this opens your eyes to different perspectives from life-styles to different languages.
Dear Self: This camp will comfort you, stretch you and even stress you out in ways you never thought you would be stressed.
Dear Self: Be ready to cry. Cry when saying goodbye to people you’ll forever see, as family. Cry when having the last line-up together. And cry when I see everyone for the last time at a Camp that I wish I could stay forever in.
Dear Self: I know you are lost right now. I know you’re in a spot where you don’t know what to do next but today as I put this pencil on paper I may not know exactly what to do but I damn well know this is the start of a new beginning.
And for all of you out there today isn’t the end. This is a new beginning for each of us as we grow from out newly planted seeds and bring what we have learned to our communities. So tomorrow morning when we all wake up we all won’t just be saying goodbye. But I ask all of you to do just one thing. Instead of saying goodbye, say “see you later,” as this camp has made me realize that when those roots were planted the were planted on the field. And if you need me, I’ll meet you there.
Written by and read at line-up by Cayden.
Color Games! | July 19
Special Activities are added to our weekly Camp schedule to enrich our program and give campers an opportunity learn something specific and useful. One such activity is storytelling, focused on the elements of sharing a compelling story. Two campers spoke about being terribly homesick and nervous the first week of Camp, so much so that both of them quietly cried themselves to sleep in the same bunk. What they didn’t realize at the time was that they had a lot in common. By the second week, they discovered each other as true friends.
Color Games began last night after an evening lip-sync activity. Each dialogue group chose music they enjoy and then performed on stage for the rest of the campers. At the end of the performances, the lights went out and Camp staff ran through the audience with glow sticks, inviting the campers to follow them to the line-up area. Color Games was announced and the excitement level reached new heights! The team coaches were introduced with much fanfare and then the team members were identified for the Blue and the Green Teams.
In the morning, the teams woke up early to get ready for the first challenge, a giant rope-pull. Three Seeds who are counselors—Jamie, Alex, and Ali—are the commissioners of Color Games. They are the people who must organize every challenging activity and make sure all the competitions are fair. The rest of the staff coach or serve as referees for the contests. There was also a synchronized swim competition, which included one of the girls who had told her story about crying herself to sleep the first week of Camp. She has found her inner strength!
On the Water | July 18
There is a huge gap between those campers who have learned to swim and those who have not. Our waterfront director, LeRoya, was a camper several years ago. She is doing her best to close that gap. Many campers have raised their swim levels and have made progress in water-skiing and boating, as well. Ali, an Egyptian Seed, is in charge of boating.
We are always amazed by the amount of talent we have at Camp! Tonight was the Talent Show which was packed with astonishing singing, dancing, poetry, and challenging contests. One contest was to name every country in Africa. A camper did this in less than three minutes! Many of the songs and poems were composed by the campers, who weren’t shy about their subject matter. They spoke about crossing borders and finding new places to live, deep love, the death of a family member. One very funny poem was all about the showers at Camp. Everyone could relate to that topic!
No doubt the second-year campers were expecting Color Games to start right after the Talent Show. But it will start tomorrow, as a surprise. As usual, there are many coaches (counselors) who are preparing for the culmination of the first session of Camp called Color Games. The Green and Blue Teams are carefully balanced in terms of skills and talent. It has always been a wonderful way to bond with more people and recognize the cohesion of community we have been able to build over the past two weeks.
Tonight, the campers will find out what Color Games team they will be on and will get special t-shirts to wear for the next two days. This ensures that Camp will end on a high note, even though the sadness of leaving Camp will be impossible to avoid.
Promoting Justice | July 17
Jared Fishman, a former Seeds of Peace counselor, visited Camp to speak with the returning campers about his work promoting more just decisions in the United States legal system. His book called, Fire on the Levee, provides the details of this work. His story details the way our legal system can be used to find justice and fair treatment for all citizens, not just those who are wealthy and powerful.
Jared proudly wore his 25-year-old staff shirt, riddled with holes. We gifted him a new one. His daughter, now a camper, was delighted to see him.
Last night was Bunk Night. All the bunk groups did something special together, like toasting some more’s over an open fire-pit, watching an old movie, etc.
Campers have been invited to sign up for the Talent Show, which is scheduled for tonight. An overwhelming number of people have signed up. They will be rehearsing at rest hour and free-time today. We expect it to be a long and wonderful show!
Unpleasant Lake | July 16
We experienced a powerful and drenching storm that covered the already soaked New England states with tons of rain. Normally, a tiny creek runs under the Camp road and flows into Pleasant Lake. But since the storm, it is gushing loudly into the lake, which was already brimming with abnormally high water. On the main Camp field, there is a pond developing, dubbed Unpleasant Lake.
Still, Camp activities go on! In the afternoon, we held a presentation in the Big Hall about a Seeds of Peace initiative called GATHER. GATHER brings together young adults who have plans for original projects that drive change, but not the expertise or funding to bring their plans into reality.
We have four GATHER members on our Camp staff who gave their personal accounts as examples of successful projects. The campers also used art materials to illustrate the barriers they face when they consider ideas for community action.
In the evening, the PSs, the returning second-year campers, prepared a Café Night for the new campers. Over cookies and cocoa, the campers considered questions posed by the PSs. The objective of this activity was to help the campers get beyond first impressions and form a deeper understanding of their fellow campers.
At the morning line-up it was acknowledged that this Camp session is more than half over. The community has come together, as we had hoped it would, but we have a lot of important learning ahead of us this week!
Changemaker Panel | July 15
We hosted a panel of experienced activists around community action. One was Deqa Dhalac, former mayor of South Portland, believed to be the first Somali woman to be elected mayor of a US city. She is also the mother of three Seeds!
She was joined by Sophie, a Maine Seed and past counselor, who is the Maine State Representative for Scarborough, and Pious, a Portland City Councilor who has been a facilitator and Educator at the Seeds of Peace Camp. Boni, a Maine Seed and former counselor and Tim Wilson, Director of the Maine Seeds program, joined the discussion. Ryan, a Seed who sits on the State Board of Education, shared how he was able to get appointed to that position.
The panelists shared how they overcame obstacles to move forward and make the changes in their communities. Afterwards, they each sat with about 12 Seeds in break-out sessions.
One of the most compelling events at Camp is the International Night. Although this session draws people from all over the United States, many campers have roots in Africa, Asia, South America, and the Middle East.
In the morning and late afternoon, many campers prepared and cooked dishes for the whole Camp that were representative of their respective cultures. We had a wonderful array of tasty dishes that managed to form a complete international meal which we were able to consume in record time. This was followed by dance performances by campers. Nearly all the dancers were dressed in traditional ethnic garb. Several of the groups invited the other campers to join them and learn their dances. It was really heartwarming.
Before going to bed, we learned that the next day would have heavy rain, starting during the night. So we set our wake up alarms for 8 a.m. instead of 7 a.m. and enjoyed the sound of the rain on our rooftops.
Creating Community | July 14
It is hard to believe that only four days have gone by since 136 campers from all over the United States arrived at Camp! In this short amount of time, the campers have begun to build a community here, just as more than 8,000 others have done over the past 30 years.
We have settled into the same lakeside property we borrowed from Camp Powhatan in 1993. In 1997, Robert and Jane Toll purchased the campgrounds and offered to let us use these lovely 44 acres for the Seeds of Peace Camp. The property has been a camp for youth for more than 100 years.
Maine winters can be brutal for old wooden summer buildings. They are often hit by falling trees. This past winter was no exception. Preparing for the summer takes several months, requiring repairs to roofs, plumbing, electrical equipment, new floors, new equipment and so on. This year we had to replace all the beds and mattresses. We need to replace our Internet, but the company we are using is too busy to finish the job. So, we are hobbling along with hot spots.
Before the arrival of the campers, the Camp staff spent more than a week together, going over our plans for the first session. About half of the staff are former campers and staff, familiar with the way Seeds of Peace has worked since 1993. The other staff members have camp experience from other programs, including Kids for Peace. It takes a lot of intentional interaction between the new and old members of Seeds of Peace to arrive at a place of mutual understanding and support.
All the campers arrived on July 9, by bus, airplane or car. It took the entire day for everyone to get to Camp. As usual, they were all welcomed with music and singing by the counselors and dialogue facilitators. Their personal phones were put in a locked box and their medications were delivered to the care of our medical staff. They had a light meal and were taken to their bunks, which will be their homes while they are with us. Each bunk has two counselors.
The wake-up bell is rung every morning at 7 a.m. A half-hour later, we welcome the whole Camp to a morning line-up by the lake shore. There we are given a real weather report and each bunk answers a roll call with a unique humorous response. The bunks take turns presenting something inspirational to the rest of the campers.
Breakfast is served in the dining hall at 7:45 a.m., followed by bunk clean-up and our community action training. Later on, half the Camp takes part in 90 minutes of dialogue, while the other half has sports or music or art.
We all eat lunch together and then the whole Camp has a rest hour. The campers who did not have dialogue in the morning have it in the afternoon, while the rest of the campers have sports, music, or art. Swimming and boating are also part of the afternoon.
Right before dinner, we hold a line-up featuring musical or dance performances. Then we all have dinner together. This is followed by field time: free time for engaging with others through talking, playing games, etc. Then, there usually is an evening activity for the whole Camp, followed by showers and quiet time in the bunks. Lights must go out by 11 p.m.
Not every day is exactly the same but there is a general pattern to our days which make them familiar and expected. The familiar structure creates some reassurance that all is well.