Camp 2011 in Numbers
- 266 campers representing 9 delegations: American, Egyptian, Indian, Israeli, Jordanian, Maine Seeds, Pakistani, Palestinian and Syracuse.
- 173 ‘Care Package’ Messages sent by you to Seeds.
- 1,680 minutes of professionally facilitated dialogue for every camper.
- 18 alumni Seeds (American, Egyptian, Iraqi, Israeli, Pakistani, Palestinian) who have returned to Camp as Counselors or Facilitators this summer.
- 15 Seeds on the Atlantic Ocean as part of the Seas of Peace program.
- 42 participants in the first-ever summer Educators Course.
- 36 Camp sessions that have now been conducted by Seeds of Peace over the last 19 years.
- 4,603 Seeds in our worldwide network.
SESSION ONE: MIDDLE EAST & SOUTH ASIA
Camp preparation report 1 | June 20
About 100 volunteers from the New England Division of Toll Brothers Inc. spent a day at Camp to help prepare it for its 19th season. The camp will be filled to capacity this summer, and one of the key projects will be readying bunks that have not been used for several seasons. Other work will include repairing and renovating buildings and fixing winter damage, as well as painting and landscaping.
Camp preparation report 2 | June 25
The week before the campers are due to arrive is always full of excitement and anticipation, but it is also a lot of hard work. We have made every effort to orient the staff, amplify their knowledge of the conflict areas from which the campers will come, and explain the theories upon which the eye-opening Camp program is based. It feels like this very talented staff is now all on the same page.
Many on the staff have come from far-away places and many are new to each other, while others have worked at our camp for years. We have all gathered together in this remote area of Maine to begin creating a whole new community which will exist intact for just three and a half weeks. Yet, we know it will exist in our hearts and memories for many years to come. In some ways, it will resemble the 34 other camp sessions we have had in the past 18 years, but it will also be uniquely Session One, 2011.
All the campers, now at airports in the Middle East, South/Central Asia and the United States, will soon land in our special camp, where thousands before them have discovered what it would be like if they could live together in peace with their enemies. They will live in bunks of eight or more teens from countries involved in their conflicts, sleep next to enemies from the first night at Camp, share meals, dialogues and activities with people they have been prepared to hate. And we are fairly certain they will take many intelligent risks beyond the big risk of coming to Seeds of Peace in the first place, and we will watch them grow into the leaders they hope to become, at Camp and in the years ahead.
About one third of the staff were campers themselves ten or more years ago. Now they are trained facilitators and counselors, demonstrating the deep impact of the Seeds of Peace experiential educational environment, for the new campers and for the rest of the staff. They have played a big role this week explaining what the new staff needs to keep in mind.
The buildings are clean, the beds are made, the tables are set and the playing fields are weeded and lined. The boats are set to go, the kitchen is ready to cook three meals a day for 250 people and the Pleasant Lake is full to brimming with cool, fresh mountain water. It is time to begin anew.
Arrival Day | June 27
It was a High Definition day in Maine today. After the good omen of a double rainbow last night, we awoke to sunshine, clear skies and Pleasant Lake as calm as a mirror. But it didn’t take long for us to start getting butterflies in our stomachs, because campers arrived today! Leslie, our director, could see that we all needed to let off some steam, so she had us form a huge circle and then scream as loud as possible!
Travel for people who live in the Middle East or South Asia is generally a challenge, if not a nightmare. However, most of our campers and delegation leaders made the trip without a lot of problems. Some campers were delayed in Paris, but they will get here by noon tomorrow. A few more campers will be coming by the end of the week.
Each bus carrying a delegation was welcomed by the whole staff and the campers who had already arrived. Drums and other noisemakers created a very lively welcome, complete with a canopy formed with out-stretched arms, as the campers disembarked from the buses.
Bobbie, co-founder of Seeds of Peace, welcomed each delegation, as always. She pointed out to the campers that they will have three weeks to find out what life would be like, if they were able to live together in peace with their enemies. Noting that the State of Maine’s greeting is, “Welcome to Maine, the way life should be,” she suggested that Seeds of Peace’s slogan be, “Welcome to Seeds of Peace, the way life could be.”
Tomorrow, every camper will be given the chance to call home. For now, they are sleeping in bunks, right next to young “enemies” from their conflict area, and in the morning they will arise, unharmed. That will be their first significant eye-opening experience.
Video | Arrivals
Getting it all together | June 28
This second day is really the first time the campers have a normal camp schedule, waking up to the bell at 7 a.m., coming to Line-Up at 7:30 a.m. and being at breakfast at 8 a.m. Then they proceed to a check-up at the infirmary (Seeds of Peace has a doctor and a nurse on duty 24 hours a day, 7 days a week), a swim test, and a music lesson to learn the Seeds of Peace Camp song.
They will also visit the Camp store to buy a phone card, have a chance to phone home, talk with Wil Smith (our assistant camp director), be introduced to their dialogue facilitators and tour the surroundings. Their appearance changes dramatically, as they put away their street clothes, donning Seeds of Peace green t-shirts and navy blue sweatshirts, from now on. Wow, that’s a lot!
Mid-afternoon, we stopped everything so we could welcome the Jordanian delegation, as well as some of the Palestinians, to camp. One or two more small groups of campers will be coming this week. It’s complicated.
Most campers are brimming with enthusiasm and have enough energy to fly to the moon and back. But, if you look closely, some are deep in thought or just day-dreaming about home and what is more familiar to them. We serve healthy food, but it isn’t Mom’s cooking. Their cell phones are beeping, unanswered, locked away in our safe for the entire three weeks. The whole environment seems weird to the new campers, but we try to make it feel supportive, if not familiar. Returning campers have been asked to reach out to the ones who seem lost in thought, so they don’t feel like “just another green shirt.”
One other way we help campers feel secure is to set forth the expectations and parameters in an open and direct way. The counselors do that in the bunks where they live together and Wil, as well as Leslie, our director, and Sarah, the head counselor, all make the Camp-wide expectations clear. By now, everyone knows that we expect everyone to be where the schedule indicates they should be.
At night, we usually have an all-Camp activity. Tonight we had a “bunk night” to further engage the bunk mates with each other. One bunk created a title and sign for their bunk. Each bunk houses representatives from all sides of an area of conflict, such as the Middle East or South Asia. Living together in harmony with traditional and current enemies will require much effort and new learning. It will be accomplished over time, guided by patient, experienced counselors. We have only just begun.
Flag Raising | June 29
Since the beginning of Seeds of Peace, we have honored all the countries represented at Camp by raising their flags on high poles, outside our front gate, similar to what is done at the United Nations. The tree-lined road leading to our Camp creates a dramatic introduction when people suddenly come upon the scene—22 colorful flags standing tall around a big boulder with “Seeds of Peace” carved into its sides.
Today was the day we celebrated our separate countries and then joined together to recognize only the Seeds of Peace flag inside our gate. All nationalistic representations are left outside the gate, for the time the campers are with us in Maine.
The Peer Support campers (PSs) are the only second year campers. All 30 of them worked last night to find the right words to inspire the 163 new campers to take a chance on the eye-opening experience that is the Seeds of Peace Camp. They chose one representative of each country at Camp this session to speak to the new campers. Each speech rang out with hopeful energy. Each anthem tested the ears of the listeners, though. It isn’t easy to give respectful attention to the singing of national anthems, jarred by the harsh sounds of an enemy’s language. But they do it.
The daily dialogue groups began in earnest today. Each morning and evening, half the camp has 110 minutes of dialogue with facilitators from their own countries and from the countries of their enemies. The afternoons are devoted to sports and arts activities. Many of these activities are new to the campers, such as softball, tennis, drama, water-skiing and rugby. Today one of the boys was able to get up on water-skis for the first time. Now there will be many others taking that risk in the coming days. Taking intelligent risks in sports and the arts often helps campers gain the confidence they need to listen and speak openly in dialogue sessions.
Tonight the counselors put on a show designed to encourage participation in all the camp activities. Even the delegation leaders and the facilitators joined the show. It was a wonderful ending to a wonderful day.
Making one friend | June 30
Most people have a tendency to drift toward their own kind when in a mixed group. But as the summer progresses, more people are added to each camper’s circle of concern. Even now there are already some people from other delegations who “seem to be just like me” or look interesting. As one of the PS speakers said just yesterday, in viewing the Pakistanis and the Indians, there isn’t much difference to be found.
John Wallach used to ask the campers to make just one friend from the other side. He explained that friendship, real friendship, is not so easy. There are many hurdles to overcome while trying to establish a solid relationship with someone you have been taught to hate and fear.
The campers live together in bunks, which are small cabins with bunk beds. There are two or three counselors living with the campers in each bunk. The atmosphere established in the bunk has a huge impact on the campers’ experience at Camp. First, they need to feel safe. Then they need to know that at least one, if not more, people in the bunk cares about him/her. They respond well to having some kind of distinguishing bunk identity as well, such as “The Beach House” or “Dirty Thirty.” Each day they clean the bunk together, sharing and rotating the chores, such as sweeping, straightening shelves, opening windows, etc. Under these conditions, it isn’t hard to make one new friend, even someone who seemed strange or scary just a few days ago.
Last night, the last group of Palestinians made their way to Camp, accompanied by our long-time staff member Eric Kapenga. They were greeted with welcoming cheers. Soon they will catch up with the campers who have been with us for a few days.
Faith of different colors | July 1
On Fridays we give everyone a day off from dialogue sessions and allow time for Muslim and Jewish religious observances instead. Next Friday, we will invite everyone to observe all the religious services, but the first week is only for people who want to pray. Friday afternoons we have the Muslim prayers and Friday night there is a Shabbat service for Jewish people.
Christians are given time for their services on Sunday mornings. Hindus generally have a service too. In this way, we honor each version of religious practice, just as we honor each nationality at Flag Raising Day. Between the religious services, we had an amazing number of sports and arts activities going on at the same time. Out on the lake people were swimming, sailing, canoeing and knee-boarding. On land, there was a baseball game, soccer, “steal the bacon” and group challenge. Inside, there were dance, art and drama classes.
After a really delicious dinner made by our terrific chef, Earl, and the Shabbat service, and a quick rain storm, we had Bunk Night. This is when the bunks do something special together to promote trust and appreciation.
One boys bunk courageously tried out the zip line. They had to learn how to depend on each other to safely travel from one end of a high line to another, holding on with their hands only. Even though harnesses and helmets keep them safe, it takes real courage to let one’s feet step off the platform up high in the tree tops and trust that the ride and landing will be safe. I overheard one boy confide in his counselor, “I’m afraid.” The counselor said, “I was afraid my first time too. I think everyone is, but you will be ok.” And indeed he was.
Another bunk was having one-on-one conversations with the people they didn’t know very well yet. One bunk was dancing in the middle of the field. Yet another bunk was gardening, planting more vegetables for our kitchen to use. The delegation leaders shared a Shabbat dinner, after sunset, and are now enjoying a fireside poetry and music gathering. It was a very good day.
It gets harder | July 2
This summer, the facilitators for the dialogues introduced themselves with two sentences: “We make you uncomfortable. But we keep you safe.” For 110 minutes each day, the campers separate into balanced groups of 15, within their conflict area, led by trained and supervised facilitators. These groups learn how to listen even when they hate what is being said, even when they disagree and have no patience left.
Campers learn to use critical thinking, active listening and the reading of body language. Ideas about fairness, justice, inhumanity, historical facts, national aspirations, etc., are part of the mix of topics brought up in dialogue. The campers gradually engage in more and more difficult conversations, as their dialogue skills increase with practice. Backsliding is not uncommon, however, so it is expected that many tentative friendships will be tested during this next week. This is why we balance each day with fun activities and other ways to compete and excel.
The facilitators and the counselors work closely together to protect and encourage the campers. We don’t ever want the groups to move too quickly. The skills and risks taken in our group challenge course must coincide with the pace of the dialogue groups.
The bunk counselors have their hands full at this point, trying to keep their home space comfortable for everyone. Since emotions in dialogue can spill over into the bunks or out on the playing fields, the counselors have been trained to redirect the heightened feelings to sports and other activities. What is discussed in dialogue, stays in dialogue.
Today was a great one for all the water sports, dance, art and land sports. The boys’ dance class was especially fun to watch. Most of the boys arrived with a negative attitude, but they soon became intrigued and participated with enjoyment half-way through the period. An all-camp pirate game completed the day.
Time to talk | July 3
Our dining hall is a lively place where many tables of 10 campers and two counselors eat three meals a day together. The noise level often drowns out critical conversations. There are table cheers and shout-outs to tables all around the room. The hustle of people getting up and down to the salad bar, to the dirty dish bins or to the phones (which ring nonstop) is beyond the normal background noise in a big group.
Something had to be done to restore such a great opportunity for developing friendships. Tonight, as an all-camp evening activity, we asked each table group to sit together in separate spaces inside the big hall and the small hall, so the noise level would not interfere. They were asked to give everyone in their group a chance to talk about a variety of topics, such as what they were proud of doing in the past two years, who were important people in their lives or what historical figure would they most want to meet and why. One person timed each speaker, so all of the campers had the same amount of time to speak on each topic. At the end of the evening, it was apparent that they were hungry for more conversation with their table mates. So, hopefully, from now on, there will be more conversing and fewer table cheers in the dining hall.
As is typical in Maine, summer days like today include a bit of rain, along with the sunshine. Many campers from the Middle East can’t get over the fact that rain comes several times a week here. Maine is about 90 percent trees and lakes. The rain in the summer and snow in the winter are what make it so green. Rain at night is the dream of every camp director, and tonight is one of those wonderful nights with a gentle rain, barely audible.
Second week begins | July 4
Just one week ago we were welcoming the new campers and now we are well on our way toward building a community, “the way it could be.” But it is too soon to tell if this 35th session of Seeds of Peace Camp will form lasting bonds or will just become a distant memory as time goes by. Some of the usual markers are there.
For example, people have been laughing at the same jokes and enjoying the same music. Most people are eager to participate in the activities, even after rough dialogue sessions. But, more time is needed to really achieve mutual understanding and trust. This second week has begun as expected: the dialogue sessions are more difficult and it is harder for campers to shake off the emotions brought to light in the discussions. Sometimes there will be a camper deep in thought, right in the midst of a boisterous game. It isn’t likely to be homesickness this week. The deep thoughts are more likely to occur as a result of more challenging dialogue sessions.
We do not allow national symbols inside Camp, but we like to support the tiny town we live in for their Fourth of July parade.
Only the Peer Support (PS) campers and the delegation leaders march in the parade. The majority of the campers just have a normal day. The PSs created their own marching song about giving peace a chance. It was clear that our Otisfield neighbors really appreciate having our camp in their town. Just like similar parades all over the US, there were fire trucks, antique cars, children’s groups, another camp and various dignitaries marching along with us.
Tonight the all-camp activity was the World Cup of GaGa, a dodgeball game we play in the big hall. The entire camp was divided into four national teams, not actually represented at Camp, like Spain and South Africa. For some mysterious reason, year after year, Spain always wins. When the game began to look too easy, we added a second ball. That made it a lot harder to avoid getting hit by a ball. But, winning trumps everything, so they just tried harder!
Quidditch comes to Otisfield | July 5
Harry Potter books are universally enjoyed, evidently. The serial stories intermingle reality with magical aspects, sometimes leading campers to compare life described in the Harry Potter books with life at the Seeds of Peace Camp.
We do create a temporary reality in far-away Maine, which seems a bit magical at times. And nearly 5,000 former campers revisit it any time they wish, if not in reality, at least in their memories, often prompted by Facebook or Skype. So, it seemed entirely appropriate to initiate a Quidditch game, just like in Harry Potter’s boarding school, including a Snitch, as a special activity. It turned out to be a great way to recycle hula hoops. The only drawback is our inability to fly!
This is also the summer we have undertaken to supplement the Camp diet by organically growing lettuce, parsley and many kinds of herbs. The plantings are in raised gardens, making them easier to care for and fun to watch. Also, the Peer Support campers are starting a composting system in cooperation with the dining hall and kitchen. Later this week, they will visit a large organic farm which supplies all the vegetables for a local university. Our Camp caretaker, Glenn, already makes maple syrup from our trees in the winter.
We have been blessed with glorious weather today. In fact, the perfect temperature, cool breezes and sunshine seem almost too good to be true. With such great weather, the campers and counselors are outdoors most of the time and all the sports areas are being utilized. Not all the campers are used to being in sports activities for several hours a day, but the more they develop higher level skills, the more they want to participate in all the sports. We expect to host another Camp for sports competitions on Friday. And on Thursday they will have basketball clinics with NBA players, who will come to Camp, as they have done for the last nine years.
Peer Support Day | July 6
Once a session, Peer Support campers (known as PSs) try their hand at creating interesting activities for the first-time campers. Often they come up with ideas that really appeal to the new campers and also provide ways to improve our Camp community.
There were four activities aimed at helping the campers express themselves. One was an art activity, actually decorating the white fence near the entrance of Camp and also creating a new sign for when campers leave to return to their own countries. The white fence has a variety of graffiti on it, supporting peace. The new sign says, “Seeds, you are always welcome to come back home!” As second-time campers, the PSs are anticipating that the new campers will grow to love our Camp, like a second home.
The self-expression activities also included learning how to rap, writing poetry and writing music. There was another group focused on listening skills, using interviewing feedback. And the last group worked on the composting project for the dining hall and kitchen.
Tonight the PSs also ran the evening activity, with support from all the counselors. And they had the chance to find out how unnerving it is to have to alter plans “on the run” when storm clouds move in with loud thunder and lightning.
Tonight we hope everyone is getting a good night’s sleep because tomorrow seven professional basketball players from the NBA will be here to run hoops clinics for everyone, counselors as well as campers. Everything else will remain the same, including dialogue sessions, but for one full day, we will have a lot of excitement!
Poetic justice | July 7
The seven NBA players arrived mid-morning and interacted with the campers and Camp staff until 9:30 p.m. Some were very promising rookies and some were familiar to us, like Jordan Farmar and Brian Scalabrine. For the last ten years, Arn and Nancy Tellem have been bringing professional basketball players to Camp each summer for a day of skills clinics and fun. When you see the campers and counselors trying hard to keep up with the NBA players, many of whom are as tall as some of the trees around here, you have to wonder if we really can label ourselves as part of the same species.
All day long, people kept running, doing pull-ups and shooting baskets, over and over. By the way, do you know what professional basketball players do in their spare time? They shoot baskets!
The rest of us are busy in dialogue, learning to water-ski and swim, making peace with enemies, etc. But, while we are doing all that, these guys are shooting baskets. So, at the end of the day, after the NBA players had sung songs with us, dined with the campers and then shared a cookout with us, we all went up to the outdoor basketball court for Knockout and games of four-on-four with them.
It just so happens that we have a very tall counselor named Ron, who is the only person at Camp who can talk with the NBA players eye-to-eye. Besides having very long legs, his wing span covers a lot of territory. He can also slam-dunk like a pro. Tonight, when we got to the very last four-on-four match, Ron hit an incredible jump shot, beating the NBA players to end the evening. The whole Camp erupted in cheers, mobbing him, and Ron became the hero of the day!
We ended the day with Siwar, a PS, singing Take Me Home, Country Roads by John Denver. All joined in as she sang the chorus.
Sports Day | July 8
Sports Day came right on the heels of Play for Peace this time. Usually, we try to put a few days between them. But, this time, we couldn’t. It probably didn’t hurt us to have so much basketball training yesterday because the basketball game with another camp went very, very well. Also, the rest of the campers were more energetic after all the running they did for Play for Peace.
This morning, we were still basking in the glory of our counselor’s winning basket last night. Certain other people were claiming to have had something to do with that winning shot, in fact.
Both the girls softball team and girls soccer teams lost by small margins. Neither of these sports is normally played in the Middle East or South Asia. Soccer is more familiar than softball, which is a blank page for our campers. Some of the American campers helped them out, but for many these competitions today were the first ones they had ever experienced. At one point the girls were behind in softball by a score of 7-2. But, in the end, they only lost 8-6. We livened up the game with constant banter and play-by-play reporting done by two funny counselors with microphones. There was plenty of cheering and banging of drums. The boys handily won the soccer game 4-0—soccer is definitely their sport.
Today being Friday meant that there was no formal dialogue. Instead, we held two religious prayer services, one for Jewish campers and another for Muslim campers. This week, observers were invited to attend each service. Even the visiting camp teams attended the Muslim prayer service after lunch.
At this point in the session, campers are developing some curiosity about the other conflict at Camp. Many of them know very little about other international conflicts besides their own. Even though this isn’t school, there is so much to learn at Seeds of Peace. Getting first-hand information about the other parts of the world represented at Camp from people their own age is a rare gift. It will help them expand their circle of concern beyond people who are just like them.
Launching Seas of Peace | July 9
The “Seas” of Peace program launched today. After years of preparation and fundraising, two former counselors, David and Monica, enticed Carrie and Will, two other counselors/facilitators, and 15 Seeds to join them on a sailing expedition up and down the coast of Maine and Massachusetts. It will take two and a half weeks and will end in Boston.
The campers in Otisfield will meet these sailors at the Sea Dogs baseball game, but otherwise they will be having a completely separate program from the one at Camp.
The Seas of Peace participants come from Israel, Palestine, Maine and other parts of the US.
This afternoon, members of the Indian delegation dressed in their native costumes and showed the rest of the Camp what it means to be a Hindu or Zoroastrian.
They lit candles and incense, sang beautiful hymns, put red dots on our foreheads and sprinkled flower petals on us as we left the short service. Everyone was fascinated to hear all the explanations and ancient chants.
Many beautiful things have occurred at Seeds of Peace over these 19 years, but this was truly one of the loveliest.
The Seeds of Peace Young Leadership Board came to visit Camp today. These are adults in their 20s and 30s who raise money all year for Seeds of Peace. It is always good for them to come visit Camp and see the results of their hard work.
Climbing high and low | July 10
The Seeds of Peace Camp has a ropes course in the woods. Several counselors are certified to teach the campers and adults at Camp to use the course. Today a number of the dialogue groups as well as the delegation leaders were coached on both the high and low elements of the ropes course.
The low elements are barely 12 inches off the ground. The high elements are about 20 feet high. At no time is anyone in any real danger because there are harnesses and helmets, life lines held by trained instructors and many people there to guide the people who feel at risk of falling nonetheless.
The low elements involve the members of the dialogue group in a problem-solving situation which is physical and in the present and alters the leadership patterns the group normally uses in daily dialogue sessions. It is common for the strongest leaders in the group to be blindfolded or silenced. This forces the others in the group to take over the leadership role. Doing this on the ropes course often encourages the weaker leaders to play a more active role in the next dialogue sessions and allows the original leader the chance to listen to others.
The high elements promote cooperation and intelligent risk-taking. The campers can see that they can’t fall to the ground because they are tethered to life lines, but the fear of heights and falling is shared by most of us, so they are fairly tense, if not outright scared. The instructors do the coaching for the most part, but we have watched frightened campers encourage their partners so strongly that they can’t help taking their own advice as well.
Tonight the all-Camp activity was “choose your own adventure.” The counselors came up with several creative ideas, from which the campers indicated their choices. Bobbie offered to tell stories about the beginning of Seeds of Peace. The campers were fascinated by how the organization got started, many years before they were born.
International Dinner | July 11
The Camp was in full bloom today! The International Dinner is a very colorful event, with all the campers and counselors invited to wear costumes native to their cultures. The most colorful outfits were historical or special ones traditionally used on very special occasions.
Quite a number of Egyptian pharaohs showed up but they were quick to clarify that they would not be dressed like that in Egypt these days. A variety of Palestinian and Jordanian embroidered dresses were on display, as were beautiful saris worn by Indian and Pakistani girls. The boys also were elegant in their long robes.
The delegation leaders had spent long hours cooking traditional dishes in our kitchen, in between all the food preparation and clean up for breakfast and lunch today. Their cooking was a tremendous hit with the campers who have been missing their family’s favorite dishes for two weeks. There probably weren’t any leftovers.
It was a very warm day in Maine today, but the girls basketball team and the boys softball team practiced throughout rest hour. We also brought the soccer teams together to dedicate the soccer field to the Gould and Shenfeld families for their extraordinary support of Seeds of Peace over the years. The warm weather also didn’t keep seven more people from learning to water-ski and swim.
Some cool breezes, characteristic of Maine evenings, are now wafting across the lake and an almost full moon shines brightly in the dark sky, reflected in the deep water of Pleasant Lake.
Audio | Seas of Peace
Remembering John Wallach | July 12
We have reached that golden time at Camp when friendships can deepen, as a result of honesty and empathy, or wither and die, as a result of pretense and mistrust. These few days can mark the end of clinging to people from one’s own sphere of influence at home and the beginning of courageous reaching out to people who “aren’t that bad.” It takes two weeks of intensive working and playing to reach this point. Now we are there.
Campers have begun to feel good about their many accomplishments, on and off the sports fields and the lake, as well as the way they have learned to engage in deep discussions in dialogue. Self-confidence and mounting courage have opened their minds to critical, original ideas. The Peer Support campers went on a long hike to the top of a mountain nearby today. When they returned, they were a different group. Everyone noticed their new cohesiveness, helpfulness and calm demeanor. At the top of the mountain, they had held a really honest dialogue session and this freed them to truly be themselves.
Tonight the Peer Support campers held a Café Night for the rest of the campers, encouraging them to sit with anyone at Camp to get to know each other better. They sweetened the evening with desserts and music.
In the beginning of the evening, we spoke about John Wallach, the founder of Seeds of Peace. John always said to “make one friend from the other side.” He also said that if you really want peace, you will want for the people on the other side the same as you want for yourself. Until you honestly felt that way, there would be no hope for sustainable peace. John died nine years ago toward the end of a camp session. Leslie, Wil and Bobbie were the only people present who knew John well. They spoke about him before we showed the film that was made by his son, Michael, for his memorial service at the United Nations. This served as a reminder of the reasons we are here at Camp. It was beautiful to see how earnestly the campers sat talking in pairs at the Café Night.
How the news impacts Camp | July 13
Today large bombings in Mumbai had an impact on the South Asian campers. Initially, the Pakistanis felt guilty because their Indian counterparts were so upset at the news of the attacks. Then, they realized that they had no part in the bombings, so feeling somehow responsible made no sense. They were sad and concerned for their Indian friends. The Indian campers accepted the consolation from their Pakistani friends. Tonight they were all engaged in sports and music in the temporary reality of Camp.
When the Seeds of Peace Camp began in 1993, we handled the news from home countries differently than we do today. We used to announce news of violence from back home in a public way, expecting the campers to console each other and then return to Camp life. Nowadays, we post the news from Internet sources on a big bulletin board, for people to read or not, as they choose. But when a large, dramatic event happens, the campers from that country are told as a group and are permitted to call home individually. This way, the initial shock is contained in the affected group and they have time to be reassured about the safety of their families. The campers from the other side of the conflict also have time to talk about how they will react with their friends who have been affected by the act.
Some of the new campers did something that made everyone laugh at tonight’s Line-Up. Since the Peer Support campers were helping out at a soup kitchen in another town, some of the new campers decided to sit in their front-row seats and act like them. It was amazing how much they had memorized—the cheers and songs and mannerisms. Wil Smith gave up trying to be serious. The imitations were exactly right. At the end, we all joined the faux Peer Support campers in singing a Camp favorite, I Want to Be a Pizza Man.
Religious dialogue & baseball | July 14
In the normal world, no one would put inter-religious dialogue, mustaches and baseball in one sentence. But at Seeds of Peace, they go together naturally. We move from the serious to funny all in one day with no problem at all.
The inter-religious dialogue has been part of our program for many years. It is held after everyone has had the opportunity to attend or observe the Muslim, Jewish, Christian and Hindu services. Small groups sit in circles, facilitated by counselors. Each person is asked to describe their beliefs, even if he or she is agnostic or a non-believer. It is another eye-opening experience which deepens understanding between the campers.
We had a great Mustachio Bashio today. Campers and counselors either grew or attached fake mustaches, gave them names, and tried to be judged best before the whole camp. The final four contestants were reduced to two, but the applause meter then judged them a tie. All of a sudden, a late entry took the first prize: seven-month old Molly Lewin won by a country mile!
This evening we headed to Portland in five buses to see the local baseball team play. The Sea Dogs are in the minor leagues, and their players go on to play for the Boston Red Sox if they perform well. The team received a ton of cheering from our big group of “fans,” who would from time to time actually watch what was happening on the field. We are much more inclined to cheer than to know what we are cheering for at baseball games.
The Sea Dogs almost tied the score in the final inning, but ended up losing the game.
No matter—we still had a lot of fun!
Seas of Peace Sailing Program | July 15
The Seas of Peace sailing program is well on its way to becoming a very popular course to take as a returning camper in Seeds of Peace.
For the past week, the 15 Seeds in the program have learned a lot about sailing, their group and themselves. Five Israeli Seeds, five Palestinians and five Americans, along with five counselors and facilitators, are becoming a cohesive group. Three hours a day they are in dialogue, which focuses on the interaction between them, in the present. In a few days when they board a 140 ft. schooner, they will have to work well together for two weeks.
After they sang their clever and beautiful sailing song to us at Line-Up, we had no doubt that they are ready for the high seas. Their enthusiasm alone will carry them through the rough spots.
Video | Seas of Peace
In the morning two other camps visited Seeds of Peace. They challenged us in girls basketball and boys softball. Keep in mind that our teams are made up of “enemies” who haven’t played softball at home. They are more familiar with basketball, but girls might not play it themselves in their countries. Despite these obstacles, the girls basketball team did so well against the other camp that we had to redistribute the team members in order to make it fair. Then they just played for fun.
Our boys softball team played a more exciting game than the Sea Dogs last night. Our Pakistani and Indian cricket players are great hitters. They just have to be reminded not to carry the bat with them around the bases. Our team made some really fantastic catches while airborne. The score was 17 to 7, in our favor.
Of course, our campers had basketball clinics with NBA players last week and had the chance to watch a professional baseball team last night. Still, they are not even supposed to like each other, let alone play on the same winning teams!
Talent Show | July 16
Tonight’s talent show was the culmination of years of studying and practicing for the many campers who auditioned and were selected to be in the Show. With so many different kinds of music, dance and singing plus using a new sound system, the counselors who organized it showed remarkable organizational, technical and emotional strength. The campers were simply out-of-this-world talented!
The traditional Pakistani, Indian and Palestinian dances were up to their usual high standards. The show also featured jazz and ballroom dancing, as well as the Seeds of Peace Band. Campers also read poetry and played DJ music and several piano pieces.
One of the highlights was the Egyptian Delegation singing Sout Al Horeya from a very popular music video created by Mustafa Fahmy, an older Egyptian Seed.
Even the delegation leaders had a group performance.
At the end of the show, one of the campers sang Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream to carry on the tradition from John Wallach’s time. A very talented camper, Hussam, sang it beautifully. Then all of a sudden the Big Hall lights went out and the counselors entered with green and blue lights, much to the delight of the campers who quickly caught on that it was the start of Color Games!
Color Games turns the schedule and the Camp upside down. Parents who try to call their sons and daughters during this three-day period will find it more frustrating than usual. The campers are constantly competing as members of either the Blue or Green team and are almost never available to talk. Color Games divides the Camp in two, only to bring it back to one whole community at the end. It helps us end Camp on a high note. And it is the rite of passage for every Seed.
Color Games | July 17
The pre-breakfast rope pull, pitting the Green team against the Blue, is very colorful with the morning sun streaming sideways through the teams. Any photographer, amateur or professional, can take great pictures of this event. The campers have various strategies for capitalizing on their team’s strengths, but their biggest strength is team spirit. The teams are actually divided evenly. Team spirit is the most important strength throughout Color Games. The six coaches on each team make every effort to keep that spirit high, even in the face of defeat.
Early in our history, a rumor was initiated to give the team losing the rope pull some hope for winning eventually. The rumor is that the team losing the rope pull on the first morning will be the one to win Color Games two days later. This actually does happen more often than not, because the team that loses on the first day regains its spirit by the second day and can move past a very surprised winning team at the end of the second or third day. Only once in our history has the score resulted in a tie. There usually are just a few minutes’ or even a few seconds’ difference in the end.
The sports competitions begin with bunk rotations, giving everyone a chance to play the games. By tonight we were ready for the very competitive games with handpicked teams to begin. When team members are not on the field, they are on the sidelines cheering for their team. All the former campers are anxiously watching the progress of Color Games on Bobbie’s Facebook page, where the scores are posted every couple of hours.
Color Games Day 2 | July 18
The second day of Color Games is even more intense than the first; the first day was merely an introduction by comparison. Today we had all-star games in every sport, and there were swim races involving every camper. The Blue Team tried to hold on to its lead, and by dinnertime, Blue was hundreds of points ahead. Many of the strong competitors on the Green Team looked glum. Even their coaches were trying to bolster each other’s morale. These are all highly competitive people. They are used to winning.
Each team has a common enemy: the other team. Yet the other team also has many friends on it. It can be confusing. Friends are trying to defeat friends, while enemies are working together. All for the sake of winning. Being Blue or Green has become very important, overnight. Former campers wait to learn the scores several times a day, just as if it was the World Cup! They are still cheering for their old teams, no matter how many years have gone by since they were campers. The effort and risks they took in Color Games years ago inform their world outlook still.
Color Games doesn’t just involve sports. There are competitions in everything you can think of, such as chess, cooking, singing, dancing, drama and art. They compete on the group challenge ropes course. They have relay races around the Camp road. They are working so hard that they actually cheer when it is rest hour.
Tonight we had the Variety Show showcasing the arts. Dance, drama, a capella singing, comedy, instrumental music and an original Camp song performed by the entire team all make up the show. Eleven impartial judges decide winners in each category, but no one will know the result until the final minutes of Color Games tomorrow afternoon.
Color Games finale | July 19
The third morning of Color Games began with a Peace Canoe race, using an Indian war canoe. Ten campers had to develop and execute a strategy for getting this heavy wooden boat from one end of our lakeshore to the other. The Green boys team beat the Blue boys team with a total time of 4 minutes and 9 seconds. That was pretty good. But the Green girls team shaved another 6 seconds off the boys’ time and won their race as well. Girl Power!
The grand finale of Color Games is the Message to Hajime relay race at the end. Each team placed their most talented members at one or more of 106 stations all around Camp, where they had to perform some kind of task. These tasks include singing certain songs, finding something on the Internet, jumping rope, three-legged races, making sandwiches, playing chess, running around the loop of the Camp road, etc. The last task is the memorization of the “message,” which is generally a two- or three-paragraph quote of a famous person. One team member recited it to Wil Smith and the other recited it to Bobbie. The person who finished the recitation of the message fastest won the Message to Hajime. All through the 106 tasks, each team tried to do them faster so their messenger would have more time to memorize the passage. By noon the Blue team won Hajime and all of Color Games. But the Green team had swept the Variety Show last night, so they had that much consolation. Everyone went into the lake and we reunited as a community.
Now we have to face the serious business of wrapping up what we started at Camp. We gave each camper a large album with blank pages. They can put memorabilia in it. But, mostly they use it to write notes to each other, as a reminder once they get back to their home countries that life could be more peaceful than it is currently.
As always, we held a memorial service for Asel Asleh, the only Seed who has been killed in a conflict, and also for nine other Seeds who have died for other reasons. Asel was a prolific writer, so we remember him by reading his letters to members of the Seeds of Peace community. It was a very moving service, and in the heightened emotional state the campers and adults are in at the end of the Camp session, many people were in tears. One camper observed that Asel wouldn’t have wanted people to cry for him. What he wanted was for the Seeds to find ways to live together in a respectful peace.
The very last day | July 20
The last day of Camp is bittersweet. On the one hand, we are so proud of the campers and the staff for having achieved our goal of forming a community. On the other hand, it is so sad to part with people who were enemies just three weeks ago and are now friends.
Somehow, friendships requiring a change of heart and lives apart seem to be the most dear. This is why multi-national meetings at regular intervals are so important for the continuation of the Seeds of Peace experience. Camp is the eye-opening beginning. What happens when the campers return to their home countries is what makes the difference. Becoming friends in the secluded setting of the Maine woods is one thing. Staying friends after Camp is over and everyone is in their home country is much more challenging.
Today four members of the Middle East regional Seeds of Peace staff met with the campers to explain the programming in the Middle East. Peer Support campers and Seeds staff explained the programming to the South Asian campers. The campers were also encouraged to stay in touch through Facebook, SeedsBook and Skype.
In the morning, Bobbie explained what a silent Quaker meeting would be like and invited everyone to come to one in the big hall. There was a full 20 minutes of silence before anyone began to speak. All of the reflections at the meeting were about the Camp experience. It was very powerful to sit in silence among enemies turned friends. Once attendees began to speak from their hearts, comments flowed one right after another. One Peer Support camper related how he had been on the Green Team during Color Games his first year and hated all the people on the Blue Team. This time he was placed on the Blue Team, but didn’t hate the members of the Green Team because he was once one of them.
The final dialogue sessions were held today, focusing on preparation for going home. The campers are always encouraged to look out for each other, share re-entry experiences and be patient with the ones at home who have never been to Seeds of Peace.
Tonight Zoe, one of the Seeds-turned-counselors, read out loud some of the creative writing that has been done at Camp. Then we had a slide show of photos from the session. This was followed by music played by the Seeds of Peace Band.
Tomorrow the morning bell will ring at 5:45 a.m., so we can send off the first busload of campers. We know what the scene will be like: lots of tears, hugging and running back for more hugs. More buses will roll into Camp as the day goes by, followed by more tears and more hugs. Then the staff will do a final clean-up and rest up for the next session, which begins on Wednesday.
Video | Session I Slideshow
Session One All-Camp Photo
SESSION TWO: MAINE & SYRACUSE
Happy & sad, at the same time | July 27
Almost seamlessly, we have entered the second session of Camp, following a brief rest after the first session. New campers arrived today from all over Maine, as well as from Syracuse, New York. Both these areas are now home to communities of refugees and asylum seekers from Africa and Asia.
The challenge for schools in Maine and Syracuse is to support students from these groups, many of whom have escaped deficient academic opportunities and dangerous environments, while the challenge for local officials is to provide material support for their families while avoiding a hostile reaction from people already living there.
To help students make adjustments to their communities, Seeds of Peace is bringing together young leaders from both the indigenous population and the recent immigrants, at Camp, a safe environment where everyone is equal.
In Syracuse and in Maine, there will be continuing follow-up programs. The people they will learn to respect and care about at Camp will become much more approachable at home, after they have lived together for two weeks. The personal risks they will take at Camp will give them the courage to reach out and support each other back home, in a way that would have been highly unlikely before experiencing Seeds of Peace Camp.
Counselors and facilitators, still missing the campers from the first session, are, nevertheless, very happy to be embarking on a new adventure. Parents, feeling the pangs of separation from their children, still brought them to Camp and bravely smiled as their sons and daughters followed others down the “path less traveled by.” The campers had a cookout, a talk with Wil, a brief meeting with their facilitators and then a bunk night to help them settle into their new, temporary home beside Pleasant Lake. Almost 5,000 former campers around the world are extremely jealous!
‘You Make Me Want to Shout!’ | July 28
Without really knowing it, the Camp staff expects the new campers to be like the first session campers, although that isn’t possible. Jokes that would have made the first session campers laugh just fall flat with the new ones. The second session campers are too uncomfortable on their first day to recognize the difference between a direct statement and a joke. Unlike the teenagers we said goodbye to last week, these new campers showed up on time for every activity, including dialogue. Some of us wanted to shout, “Hey, this is too easy!”
At breakfast, they learned some of the table cheers. They were still perfecting them at dinner time and other times, anywhere they could find a flat surface to bang with their hands. “Clap, clap, bang, bang” seemed to be the theme of the day. They learned the Camp song, sort of, and made their name buttons. Each one saw the nurse or the doctor and had a chance to call their family. There were dance classes and swim tests as well. One of the best parts of the day was having them all wear their green Seeds of Peace t-shirts for the first time.
Tonight, their evening activity was the Staff Show. Counselors demonstrated most of the Camp activities, including “group challenge,” which is likely to be new to them. The ropes course and climbing wall will present intelligent risks for them to develop trust and confidence with their dialogue groups. One counselor showed them a “trust fall” backwards right off the stage into the waiting arms of other counselors. The most entertaining part of the counselor show was the Seeds of Peace Band. They played many familiar and lively songs, but they got everyone on their feet, with their arms punching the air, performing, You Know You Make Me Want to Shout!
Picture Day | July 29
Picture day literally gives us a snapshot of the relationships within each group. The panorama picture of the entire Camp is very formal. But the pictures of the bunk, table and dialogue groups are more relaxed and allow for a variety of poses. These poses very likely reflect the social status within the groups at this time. Many relationships will change over the course of the next two weeks, as the campers gain individual confidence and expand their circle of concern beyond people who are just like them.
Since this is only the second day of Camp, we were surprised by the creativity and humor used in posing for the three groups. There were the usual cartwheels and pyramids. But there were also groups that arranged themselves around trees or benches, at the bell or on a golf cart. There even was a group that asked that their picture be taken while they were jumping in the air. Another group looked like they were doing circus stunts. There were some obviously shy people and others who dominated the scene. Someday, maybe they will look back on these pictures and remember what they were feeling the moment each group created its own pose. Most of their transformative Camp experience is yet to come.
We are having our first rainy evening in a long time. Since we can’t be outdoors, the campers will watch a documentary about Seeds of Peace filmed in 2002 called SEEDS. This will give them an idea of what Camp is like when it is filled with international campers, and they will see what some of their favorite counselors looked like as campers!
Our ship came in | July 30
Seas of Peace, the ocean sailing program initiated this year by two Dartmouth College graduates, came to a close today as their tall ship sailed into Boston Harbor and docked. Just yesterday, the crew of 15 Seeds and five staff members had been whale-watching from this very large sailboat. Five Palestinians, five Israelis and five American Seeds took the journey of their lives, both in terms of learning how to operate a large sailing vessel and in terms of inner, personal exploration and growth.
A small welcome party of Seeds of Peace supporters, staff and board members were on hand as The Spirit of South Carolina glided into the harbor. All of us were elated by the obvious success of the journey and hope to see this project continue as a regular Seeds of Peace program. A large part of its success was due to the professionally-led dialogue sessions on the deck that lasted for two or three hours each day. A nine-member sailing crew was constantly instructing the Seeds in sailing techniques. And the primary organizers, David and Monica, are seasoned sailors and former Seeds of Peace Camp counselors.
In the meantime, the Maine and Syracuse Seeds were having a normal day at Camp. The campers are having their own sailing program on Pleasant Lake during rest hours, if they so choose.
The town of Casco, close to Camp, has an annual country fair to raise money for their volunteer fire department. We took the entire Camp there this evening. Many stuffed animals, given away as prizes, will be finding new cozy homes in the bunks tonight.
Let’s get serious | July 31
Some of the campers are literally unrecognizable if you look at their pictures taken on the first day or so of Camp. The worried, hesitant looks on their faces have disappeared, leaving them open and more engaged with the process of getting to know one another as interesting human beings. Vast differences in racial, ethnic and religious identities seem to be fading for now. Bunk identities are coming to the fore with humorous or encouraging titles.
One camper said she already is dreading the final day of Camp when she and her bunkmates will part. Another said he feels like he’s finding out who he really is for the first time in his life.
The first few meals in the dining hall were relatively quiet. Not much conversation was going on at most of the tables. But by now, the fourth day, the conversations are lively and constant. The individual challenges in all the activities are inspiring reticent campers to take intelligent risks waterskiing, wall-climbing, playing new sports and being artistic. Very few campers have ever played GaGa before, but tonight we held the World Cup of GaGa and they played the game like pros. Many were practicing softball and basketball today so that they can try out for the teams which will play against another camp later on this week.
Truly, their competitive juices are flowing. But that isn’t the whole story. They also see the connection between giving your best effort in sports or other activities and giving your best effort relating to fellow campers, no matter how different they seemed to be a few days ago.
Making space for everyone | August 1
We have never held Camp during Ramadan. However, this summer it was unavoidable, as the month-long fast for Muslims follows the lunar calendar, moving forward 11 days each year.
Most of the Muslims at Camp right now are adults who are not out on the playing fields or boating on the lake, so they can handle not eating or drinking all day. We are more concerned about the seven fasting Muslim campers because they are outside most of the day and dehydration is always a worry.
Some of the fasting campers chose to go to meals just to sit with their friends and not miss out on the fun. Our chef is making Iftar dinner for them each night when they break their fast, in addition to providing a normal dinner much earlier for the majority of campers.
One of the campers who is fasting today joined his gardening group in the kitchen this morning to help prepare blueberry pies, using the berries the group picked yesterday. The pies were consumed at dinner, with a piece saved for the fasting camper to eat when the sun set. One of the counselors made a beautiful traditional Egyptian lantern for Ramadan.
The post-Iftar activity was “Pirate Night,“ with the campers searching for hidden counselors dressed as pirates and collecting gold nuggets with each discovery.
For now, the Camp schedule continues as usual. All the activities on water and land were provided, and we are feeling good about being able to accommodate and understand this important Muslim holiday.
A very high five! | August 2
This second session is 10 days shorter than the first, so it seems like we are hitting the milestones a lot faster … and we are! All of a sudden it is time for the campers to challenge themselves on the high ropes course. Twenty feet in the air, they balance themselves on swinging ropes and truck tires. Unless they have been born into a circus family, this is a highly unusual challenge. Some of them are really scared and others are just wary until they look down from up high. But you have to be scared before you can be brave!
No one can actually fall to the ground, even when they are up high. They have harnesses and people holding ropes, keeping them from falling at all. They know that, but it still seems pretty scary up there regardless.
The campers are carefully paired with other campers, according to recommendations from their dialogue facilitators. Individual achievement is not the only goal: we are also trying to inspire some positive changes in their relationships within the group. Once the pairs achieve their objectives, they give each other a high five—a really high five.
Further telescoping our three-and-a-half-week schedule into two weeks, we are gearing up to having Sports Day and the Talent Show on Saturday. The try-outs for sports and the Talent Show are occurring at the same time. It is amusing to hear the campers encourage each other to try out, while still being hesitant themselves about trying out for a sports team or a spot in the Talent Show. One week into the session, the building blocks for community are becoming apparent. Only a few days ago, they might not have reached out to encourage the strangers in their midst. Now it seems natural.
Questions and answers | August 3
During the first week, the campers from Maine and Syracuse have been in entirely different programs than the one for international educators. But this afternoon, we brought them together. At different places around Camp, educators from different countries provided the campers with cultural and historical information about their respective homelands. Every time the bell would ring, the campers’ dialogue groups would rotate to another place to learn about another country.
The educators used a variety of styles and content. Some engaged the campers in discussions about their impressions of their countries before they gave them any information. Some spoke about the kind of life teenagers in their countries lead. Some discussed political issues which create conflict in their homelands. The Egyptians spoke about their recent revolution and the current trial of their former leaders. Sometimes the educators were asked difficult questions, such as the one asked by a camper in the session on India—she wanted to know if the caste system is still a reality. Some educators brought along mundane articles such as money from their country. The campers were fascinated by these items.
As usual, Earl, our chef, made two dinners: one at 5:30 p.m. for the campers and another at 8:30 p.m. for the educators and the campers who are observing Ramadan.
Tonight was Bunk Night for the campers, a good way to facilitate greater bonding with people who share the same living space. Counselors usually provide special activities and food for the campers in their bunk. Often they make up cheers or songs for the morning line up. Memories from Bunk Nights are not soon forgotten.
Make one friend | August 4
Every session of Camp, we take one night to remember the founder of Seeds of Peace, John Wallach, by describing him and showing the film made in his memory by his son, Michael. Following the film, we have a Cafe Night set up in our dining hall to encourage campers to get to know peers they haven’t had the chance to meet yet. John Wallach always advised the campers to make at least one good friend at Camp. Solid friendships, John believed, could bridge the divides in hostile communities. Of course, chocolate chip cookies and brownies with milk, served during Cafe Night, sweeten the encounters as well.
Sometimes the spontaneous things that happen at Camp really add a lot to the atmosphere. While we were having some technical difficulties with John’s film tonight, someone started an all-Camp shoulder massage.
In the morning, we were visited by Maine’s Secretary of State, Charles Summers. He met with all the Maine campers, giving them time to ask questions after telling them about his political career. He spoke about his small-town beginnings and the reasons he decided to pursue a political life. He also spoke about state policies which discriminate against low-income residents, especially people their age. It is quite possible that he sparked an interest in state government among the Maine campers after his talk with them today.
Swimming, boating, baseball, basketball, soccer, GaGa, Steal the Bacon and try-outs for the Talent Show also happened today. Some campers are continuously working on friendship bracelets. Others are trying out waterskis or overturning canoes to add to the excitement and fun of Camp. Yet, in their dialogue groups, serious topics are challenging their thinking. These are very full days.
Giving it a try | August 5
Another overnight camp, North Star, challenged our girls to a softball game today. We often trade cheers and songs with this camp whenever we are at the Sea Dogs games. Their girls were seasoned softball players. The pitches came in mighty fast. They could make double plays because they were reasonably sure their teammates would be able to field the ball just perfectly. They were quite impressive.
At first it looked like our team was going to take a licking. But, they never gave up. Even when the score was 8-3 in North Star’s favor, our girls kept doing their best. In the end, our girls made a big comeback and ended up winning, 9-8! It was very exciting.
We really should give credit where it is due. Those softball players were very competitive in their own right, but their counselors coached them with a combination of encouragement and confidence in what they could do, without applying too much pressure. So the coaches deserve our praise as well as the players. One camper confided to a staff member that she had never been treated so kindly before. She almost couldn’t believe it.
We have been having fun at morning Line-Up teaching each other our favorite wake-up songs. These usually get folks laughing before breakfast. We also have rather silly events, like the Mustachio Bashio when counselors have a mustache competition, voted on by the campers. Just for fun, we have been asking everyone who makes an announcement to do it in a British accent. We began to do that when one of our well-loved British counselors impressed everyone with her accent. Laughter is a barrier-breaker and helps build community.
Talent Show & Color Games | August 6
The Syracuse and Maine campers have a deep well of talent! Violins, guitars, pianos and beautiful voices rang out with clarity and passion. Slam poetry was composed and delivered with conviction. The surprise of the evening was the Bollywood dancing that the educators did—a real show-stopper! We also had some people with hidden talents, like the boy who could squirt water high up to the ceiling from his hand. Another girl was a juggler.
One story behind the scenes is worth telling. There is one girl at Camp who is a cheerleader for everyone except herself. She is a concert flutist, but was too shy to sign up for auditions, then she was too hesitant to show up for the auditions. Then she got chosen but kept wanting others to play instruments with her. But the piece she wanted to play was too hard for anyone else to learn in an hour or two. After a lot of encouragement, she agreed to play a solo. But when the time came to play it, she was too nervous to go on stage alone. So her bunkmates and other friends went on the stage with her and stood by her. She played a lyrical piece that seemed most fitting for the scene. There she stood in the middle of the stage with all her Camp friends by her side and the sound from her flute was glorious!
When asked how she felt about her performance, she said, “I didn’t know I had so many good friends. I am glad I did it because now I won’t be so nervous at the next audition.”
Color Games began differently from the usual way they are done. This time they didn’t start right after the Talent Show. We had “high tea” before the Show and then, after the Talent Show, we joined everyone breaking the fast for Ramadan at the Iftar dinner. Then, all of a sudden, the lights went out and the excitement began. Screams of “Color Games!” and “Hajime!” rang out. Torches carried by educators and other adults lit the way to the fire pit, where campers found out if they are to be Blue or Green for the next two days.
Given the athletic abilities these campers have been showing, these Color Games are sure to be highly competitive and entertaining. Earlier today, another camp came here to challenge our boys in soccer. Even though our campers haven’t played together as a team very much, they beat Camp Agawam 5-0.
Standing on the sidelines, you can hear our coaches making suggestions to the players and when the player doesn’t quite get it right, you hear the coaches say, “That’s all right. It’s all good.”
Color Games | August 7
The drizzly rain didn’t stop us from having a wonderful first day of Color Games. The rope-pull put the Blue Team ahead by 250 points. The tried and true way coaches fight against instant defeatism after the rope-pull is to remind the losing team that it often happens that the team that loses the rope-pull wins Color Games after they make a big comeback. By mid-day, the Green Team was only 100 points behind and by dinner time, the teams were only 50 points apart. They are evenly matched, so it is mostly a matter of luck and attitude that makes winning possible.
It is the 12 counselor coaches who help the teams maintain the right attitude. Sometimes that means giving the campers last minute instructions or shouting suggestions from the sidelines. Occasionally, a coach will need to take campers aside to calm them down or encourage people who are temporarily out of sorts.
Bunk rotations in most of the sports took place during the day. In the evening, we had All-Star competitions in basketball, dance and GaGa. The All-Stars are aptly named: the competitors are super-talented. The male dance performers in this group are particularly skilled and confident.
Tonight the teams competed in a variety show that knocked our socks off! They had to stage a capella singing, a comedy skit and an original group song about Camp. Seeing their performances, one could imagine them practicing for weeks. But they only had a couple of hours to put their acts together today, while they were also competing in sports and dance.
Tomorrow morning, we will hold a “Peace Canoe” race before breakfast and other All-Star games before we begin the Message to Hajime. By the end of the day, there will be one team going into the lake first as the winner and another team running into the lake a few minutes later. The real prize is priceless and intangible.
Color Games end | August 8
The second day of Color Games began with a Peace Canoe race. We use an old Indian war canoe which holds about a dozen campers with paddles. We mixed girls with boys in these canoes. One team lost badly when the canoe missed a turn and went too far turning around. But there were many other contests with opportunities to shine, and shine they did! All-star girls soccer, music, volleyball and climbing took place in the morning. After lunch, everyone at Camp who could, took a much-needed nap.
Getting everyone back to the competition after the naps wasn’t easy. One team had bagpipe music livening up their meeting. The coaches even made up a funny song to get their campers back in the mood to compete. Soon the preparation for Message to Hajime got the competitive juices flowing again. The Blue and Green Teams tried to beat each other in 72 objectives spread out all over Camp. Runners with batons raced to the stations in a specific order. This cumulative relay race is timed. The first team to finish the whole set of objectives before the other team is the winner.
Some of the objectives included walking the length of the big hall while balancing a book on one’s head, making a bed, paddling a kayak to a certain point and back to shore, working out an algebra problem, hitting soccerball headers back and forth ten times, jumping rope 30 times, hitting a tennis ball over the net several times, etc. Any delay or stumble can cause a team to fall behind. It is important to keep up the momentum or discouragement can set in, making it hard to recover the necessary energy to win.
The final objective is one of the hardest. One person from each team has to memorize an obscure quote a couple of paragraphs long and recite it perfectly. There is a lot of pressure on these two memorizers. This time, the Green Team won Message to Hajime, but the Blue Team won Color Games. According to our tradition, the winning team went into the lake with their clothes on first, followed shortly thereafter by the Green Team. Hugging and splashing broke out spontaneously. Then the Seeds of Peace campers reunited and circled up to sing the Seeds of Peace song.
Friends for life | August 9
The final day of Camp is one of realization and emotional growth. We held a Quaker silent meeting early in the day. Everyone attended, although it was completely voluntary. Many people expressed their appreciation for the opportunities at Camp to learn new interpersonal and sports skills as well as make deeper friendships than they have ever been able to make before. One person said that Camp is not only the way life could be, it is also the way you could be.
Later on in the day, we held a memorial service for the ten Seeds who have died and the one who has been missing for many years. We always remember Asel Asleh, the only Seed who has been killed in the Middle East conflict. Bobbie listed the names of the Seeds who have passed away. Aleigh and Ashley were two Maine Seeds who were killed in their youth. We remembered them and Omar, an Egyptian, whose old Camp friends are counselors now. We shared pictures of all of them, as well as one of Asel’s last letters to Bobbie requesting that he always be remembered at Camp so he could feel like he was actually there even when he wasn’t.
In the afternoon, all the campers were told about the ways they can stay in touch, even if they can’t see each other in person. Graduate Seeds were on hand to stress the benefits of staying in touch with each other as well as with Seeds of Peace.
Somehow, we managed to have two weddings at dinner time. One was a faux wedding between the members of two dining room tables who have been flirting with each other as a joke for two weeks.
The other wedding was real! Two former campers, who made one very good friend (each other) in 1998, decided to get married by the shores of Pleasant Lake, near the Line-Up area. The magnificent view was only surpassed in beauty by the light of love on their faces as they took their wedding vows, witnessed by a small group of Seeds of Peace friends and staff. Their families saw the ceremony with the aid of Skype. The bride’s dress was borrowed from a similar-sized counselor and the bouquet was made of wild flowers blooming near Camp. Leslie and Eric created white long-sleeved white t-shirts for the guests with the Seeds of Peace logo changed to a bride and groom holding hands. On the back of the shirts it said “make one friend … for life.”
Goodbye summer! | August 10
The morning Line-Up on departure day might easily be a “mourning” line-up, except for the talk Wil Smith always gives to the assembled sad Seeds on those green benches, damp with dew. No doubt the campers and counselors would have sat there and cried if Wil hadn’t told them why he isn’t shedding any tears. He doesn’t cry because he knows that we have all done our jobs, opening eyes to the prejudices we have grown up with and the truths we have experienced living together at Camp. This process of allowing the eye-opening experiences to inform and shape the world-view of each camper is nurtured and encouraged, but not forced.
Yesterday, after our memorial service at our peace garden, two campers—a Muslim and a Christian—stood by the stone bench commemorating the September 11th attacks. The Christian boy instinctively put his arm around the Muslim boy and told him that he didn’t think 9/11 was his fault. This scene would have been much less likely a few weeks ago.
Busloads of campers left Camp this morning the way countless others have departed after the 35 other Camp sessions since 1993. It has always been hard to pry the campers away from each other and move them into the buses. Camp has become a second home to them, one they will treasure for a long time. It was a temporary reality—the way life could be. Many parents who drove from other parts of Maine to pick up sons and daughters were taken aback by their children’s lack of enthusiasm for returning home. Some parents empathized with the campers and cried too. The campers will soon have 100 more Facebook Friends and will be on Skype for hours, until school begins. The staff also have to recover from having their campers leave all at once. The last two campers to leave had an especially tearful send-off.
At the end of Camp, the staff clean up, carry benches inside and put all the boats and sports equipment away for the winter. They will leave tomorrow, but tonight they had a lovely dinner and appreciation ceremony with Wil, Leslie and Bobbie. After dinner, the Blue and Green Team coaches challenged each other to GaGa in the Big Hall. One thing we know for sure: whoever loses that challenge will never hear the end of it!
Video | Session II Slideshow