WASHINGTON, D.C. | Thirty-two returning Peer Support campers visited Washington, D.C., to share their stories and learn about international peace-building efforts.
On July 9, United States Institute of Peace (USIP) Executive Vice President Linda Jamison welcomed the Seeds from the Middle East, South Asia, and the United States and spoke about the importance of youth involvement in peace-building.
Jeff Helsing, dean of curriculum at the Institute’s Academy for International Conflict Management and Peacebuilding, and others spoke about USIP’s work at the government, civil society, and person-to-person levels, including current work with young people and educators. Helsing also mentioned working with John Wallach when Wallach was a senior fellow at USIP from 1997 to 1998.
The teenagers saw two multimedia exhibits, including a video called Witnesses to Peacebuilding that features two of their Seeds of Peace peers, Tamar and Suma. The Seeds also shared their impressions and personal experiences with USIP staff.
Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Tara Sonenshine, Secretary Clinton’s Special Adviser for Global Youth Issues Zeenat Rahman, and Deputy Director of the Office of Israeli and Palestinian Affairs Christopher Hegadorn led a roundtable discussion with the Seeds and hosted a reception at the State Department for them. Notable guests included SCA Assistant Secretary Bob Blake, Deputy Assistant Secretary Greta Holtz, Special Representative to Muslim Communities Farah Pandith, Special Envoy to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation Rashad Hussain and Congressman Rush Holt (NJ).
Board Member Janet Wallach gave brief remarks, during which she noted the significance of the date—the ten-year anniversary of John Wallach’s passing—and mentioned the remarkable growth of Seeds of Peace over the past 20 years. Dafna, Mohammad, and Lina (Israeli, Palestinian, and Egyptian Seeds, respectively), then gave speeches about their lives, convictions, and Seeds of Peace journeys.
“At Camp we learn how to relate with each other as human beings and remove all the labels and masks that our communities impose on us,” Lina said. “We learn to love each other for who we are, not where we come from.”
She addressed another skill she gained at Camp: “I’ve learned how to listen, to really listen. Before Seeds [of Peace], I was the kind of person who’d jump into hasty conclusions about other people. But now I take the time to actively listen to the person I’m talking to, and try to understand why they’re saying it. And that has had a huge impact on how I perceive many issues.”
“Meeting the other side and talking to them was difficult,” Mohammad said. “Dialogue was intense, and unbearable most of the time, but we managed to go through the process with the help and the support of our inspiring staff and counselors.”
He continued by telling a story of trust—a day on the high ropes at Camp with an American named Nicole:
“Back then we barely knew each other, and we definitely didn’t trust going up there together, but we did it anyways. We were high above the ground, we screamed and shouted, we had no one to depend on but each other. At that moment, all the walls and barriers between us were broken. We didn’t see each other as an American and a Palestinian—we were simply two friends, trusting and believing in each other.”
“At Seeds of Peace, I learned to stand up for what I believe in, regardless of what people think,” said Lina. “It is my deepest belief that the youth, my generation, are the leaders of the future. We have an undying urge to make this world a much better place, and we have the determination and the will to make that happen.”
Assistant Secretary Ann Stock, who was present when John Wallach brought the inaugural group of Seeds to the White House in 1993, said that she saw the same hope in the room that she saw on the White House lawn 19 years ago.
On July 10, Jarrod Bernstein, the Director of Jewish Outreach at the Office of Public Engagement, hosted a briefing for the Seeds at the White House.
Speakers included Jonathan Greenblatt, the Special Assistant to the President and Director of the Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation at the Domestic Policy Council, Paul Monteiro, Associate Director of the Office of Public Engagement and liaison to Arab Americans and faith-based and secular belief communities, and Andrew Cedar, Director for Social Engagement at the National Security Council and former Seeds of Peace counselor.
Following the briefing, Seeds toured the White House, had lunch with two current White House Fellows, and met with Maine Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, who both praised the Peer Supports for their important work.
Seeds of Peace Peer Supports are Seeds who are selected to return to the Camp to mentor the new group of campers and engage in an advanced leadership development curriculum. Throughout their trip to D.C., the Peer Supports engaged directly with their hosts, asking probing and thoughtful questions and demonstrating their desire and ability to have substantial conversations.
SEEDS MEET WITH LEADERS IN WASHINGTON