OTISFIELD, MAINE | Sixty-five American and Arab teenagers will join together at the Seeds of Peace Camp in Otisfield, Maine, this weekend to begin a groundbreaking new exchange program, to build relationships, reduce misunderstanding and forge cooperation at a critical time in the Arab-American relationship. Beyond Borders: Arabs and Americans in the 21st Century will bring together 65 teenagers as well as 25 adult educators from across the United States, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait and Yemen to begin a multi-year program of leadership development, co-existence training and dialogue. (See background information below.)
Beginning on August 14, these young leaders will begin two weeks of intensive dialogue and discussion designed to bridge gaps in political, cultural and social misunderstanding. The session will culminate in a two-day trip to Boston ending with an event at the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum on Sunday, August 29.
“We are very excited about beginning this new program to help bridge the gaps in understanding and respect between Americans and the Arab world,” said Seeds of Peace president Aaron David Miller, who spent 25 years as a Middle East peace negotiator for the U.S. State Department. “These young people will be future leaders in their communities and countries, and we are working with them now to provide an environment in which they can accomplish this.”
The participants were selected with the assistance of LeadAmerica in the U.S. and AMIDEAST in the Middle East based on their leadership potential. The selection process included interviews and application essays. Beyond Borders will be part of a multi-year effort with the participants to learn about each other’s countries and cultures and bring that understanding back home. Following Camp and before the group reconvenes in Jordan, an Arab delegation and American delegation will be paired together and participate in jointly designed projects such as service-learning and school presentations. As the participants grow up to be leaders in their respective communities and countries, with the help of Seeds of Peace, it is expected that these program graduates will be committed to working toward further understanding and coexistence.
This new Beyond Borders program builds on the 10-year effort by Seeds of Peace to bring together Israeli and Palestinian teenagers, as well as youth from four other conflict regions including South Asia, Cyprus and the Balkans. By the end of this summer, nearly 3,000 future leaders will have been through the Seeds of Peace program. Most of the teens remain involved with Seeds of Peace into their adult years through year-round follow-up activities at the Seeds of Peace Center for Coexistence in Jerusalem and through other ongoing regional program activities.
BACKGROUND INFORMATION: SEEDS OF PEACE: “BEYOND BORDERS” Arabs and Americans in the 21st Century Seeds of Peace, renowned for its international leadership programs, announces a groundbreaking exchange between Arabs and Americans that provides the direct interaction and communication needed to foster understanding and cooperation. A total of 65 young leaders and 25 adult educators from Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Yemen, Egypt, Jordan and across the United States will have the opportunity to travel abroad, live with their peers from around the world, and engage in serious, honest, and open discussions on the relationship between the United States and the Middle East. Participants are representatives of the geographic, ethnic, and religious diversity in the United States and the Arab world. The youth were selected primarily on the strength of their leadership potential, and the adults will be educators well-positioned to have a significant impact on their communities.
The program is comprised of two sessions:
IN THE UNITED STATES …
From August 14-30, 2004, 65 young leaders and 25 education officials from Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Yemen, Egypt, Jordan, Boston, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Dallas, and Atlanta will spend two weeks at the Seeds of Peace Camp in Maine. In Maine the group will have the opportunity to meet face-to-face, reach real common ground, discuss complex issues facing the global community and receive the training required to lead in all aspects of their society. Their experience will not only serve as the departure point for sustainable relationships and cooperation, but as an introduction to life in the United States. The program will culminate in Boston, exploring its historical, political, cultural, and educational sites.
IN THE MIDDLE EAST …
From March 11-19, 2005, the group will reconvene in Jordan for a week of seminars, continued cultural exchange, leadership training, and planning for continued activities. Seeds of Peace will use the foundation laid in Maine to continue building awareness and understanding between the groups. In discussions led by key Arab and American figures, the group will examine key themes relating to the relationship between the US and Middle East. The group will travel to various historical, political, cultural, and educational sites in Jordan as an introduction to life in an Arab country, while learning from their peers and experts about what life is like in other Arab countries. The program will culminate in Amman.
As tension in the Middle East increases, the relationship between Americans and Arabs grows even more strained. Trust, understanding, and confidence require deep engagement in dialogue, cultural exchange, and confidence-building measures that enable both groups to communicate effectively and demonstrate respect without regard to personal differences. It is imperative that this dialogue begin now, before the growing divide between these communities deepens and becomes embedded in successive generations.