Camp 2013 in Numbers
- 334 campers representing 10 delegations: Afghan, American, Egyptian, Indian, Israeli, Jordanian, Maine, Pakistani, Palestinian, and Syracuse.
- 52 Seeds returning to Camp as Peer Supports.
- 49 Educators from conflict regions.
- Over 25 hours of facilitated dialogue for every Seed.
- 21 consecutive summers of Seeds of Peace programming.
SESSION ONE: MIDDLE EAST & SOUTH ASIA
Orientation Week 2012 | June 17-23
A huge thunderclap, followed by a magnificent double rainbow punctuated the culmination of a week of staff orientation here at Seeds of Peace Camp in Maine.
Symbolically, it reminded us that although this is our 21st summer and our 39th session of Camp, there will be many surprises ahead; some may shake the foundations of long-held beliefs and others might feel like a glowing embrace from the universe.
Counselors and facilitators have simultaneously been trained as responsible adults while also being put into positions not unlike what the campers will experience for the next few weeks. They have experienced Group Challenge, dialogue sessions, cold nights in the bunks, camp cuisine, sudden thunderstorms, swim tests, their own talent show, among other things the new campers will also experience.
We expect our staff to teach by example and create an atmosphere of safety, creativity and purpose, in a camp community so supportive that the need for discipline will be very low.
We have had extensive conversations about the developmental capabilities of adolescents, safety procedures, medical protocol and staff roles at Camp. We want the campers and the staff to be confident enough to take personal risks, but only intelligent, informed initiatives. We want everyone to have fun, but not at the expense of other people or of safety. And we know they will learn best within the context of positive relationships, a reassuring structure, and mutual respect.
Many on the staff have come from far-away places and many are new to each other, while others have worked at 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 3½ weeks. Yet, we know it will exist in our hearts and memories for many years to come. In some ways, it will resemble the 38 other sessions we have had in the past 20 years, but it will also be uniquely Session One, 2013.
All the campers aboard flights from the Middle East, South Asia and the United States will soon arrive in Maine, 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, sleep next to enemies, and share meals, dialogues and activities with people they have been prepared to hate. Each bunk will have two counselors who will create a safe, homey atmosphere for every camper. The campers will try to master many new skills while they are with us, gaining increased confidence to become the kind of leaders they hope to be at Camp and in the years ahead.
About a third of the staff came to Seeds of Peace as campers themselves 10 or more years ago. Now they are trained facilitators and counselors, demonstrating the deep and lasting impact of the Seeds of Peace experiential educational environment for the new campers and for the rest of the staff. These former campers have played a big role this week explaining what the new staff needs to keep in mind. The more experienced counselors and facilitators will be paired with those who are new, so mentors will always be close at hand.
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 to four meals a day for 300 people and Pleasant Lake is full to brimming with cool, fresh mountain water.
Those of us who have lived at Camp for many summers often refer to the phenomenon of a new Camp session as Brigadoon or Groundhog Day. We have been this way before, but each time there are new chances to be more successful with familiar challenges.
Yallah—let’s get started!
Arrival Day | June 24
Arrival Day is like no other day at Camp. To the new campers from the Middle East and South Asia, it must feel like being dropped onto another planet.
Camp stretches over 44 acres, bounded on one long side by Pleasant Lake and the opposite side by a country road. Nestled among the tall trees are over 50 buildings, most of them bunks for the campers, Delegation Leaders and staff. Unlike the summers most of the campers are used to back home, Maine can have hot sun, cool breezes and thunderstorms, all in the same day. That is exactly what happened today.
Just as counselors were putting the finishing touches on bunk signs and other preparations, the first buses began to roll into Camp. Each busload was welcomed by those who had already arrived. Half of the Palestinian Delegation arrived first, followed by the Americans, Israelis, Pakistanis, Afghans, Indians, Egyptians, Jordanians, and finally the other half of the Palestinians.
The level of welcoming music and drumming increased with each bus. Although everyone was sleep-deprived, the campers all joined in with the enthusiastic celebration of each new arrival.
Seeds of Peace Co-Founder Bobbie Gottschalk welcomed each delegation by pointing out that Pleasant Lake can be a good friend, always available, sometimes serene and other times more turbulent. Campers will be able to see the lake at all times as each bunk sits next to the lake. Bobbie stressed that everyone at Camp is equal to everyone else, reflected by the Seeds of Peace take on the Maine State greeting: “Welcome to Seeds of Peace—the way life could be!”
All the campers have been assigned to bunks, dining table groups, and dialogue groups, with different people in each group. Tonight they are sleeping next to their traditional enemies. Their bunks will become their Camp homes. This year, there is a “Beach House,” a “Dirty Thirty,” and a “Land of Oz.”
Tomorrow, they will find out their table and dialogue groups. The Delegation Leaders will also share living quarters with traditional enemies. All of us will be jarred awake by the Camp bell at 7 a.m. There is no time to waste! Three and a half weeks will fly by quickly.
First Day | June 25
The first day of Camp is what we often call our “housekeeping day.” This is when we lay the groundwork for our everyday camp life and prepare to form a temporary, but real, community. We don’t exist in a bubble, as skeptics often suggest—this is a real place, with real consequences, standards, safeguards, and structure.
Our first priority is the safety of the campers living here. To this end, everyone was seen by the doctor or nurse, who examined each person for potentially contagious or chronic conditions, as well as relatively minor discomforts. Often campers come here not knowing that they have medical problems. Some of them are sent with medication which needs to be removed from the bunks and safely stored in the infirmary. A list of allergens needs to be conveyed to the kitchen staff and table counselors. And everyone needs to restore the hydration they lost en route to Camp.
By the time “lights out” came around, every camper had his or her allotted Seeds of Peace green shirts and sweatshirts. They all designed name buttons so everyone can begin to learn each other’s first names. This is especially important when everyone is dressed similarly.
The official Seeds of Peace Camp song had to be learned today because tomorrow we will have our official flagraising ceremony. The campers and counselors also sat at their permanent dining tables and learned how we organize the chaos in the dining hall. How the food is served and how the table is cleared after meals are based on standards of efficiency and fairness. A heartfelt message of gratitude is recited just before the food is served. Care is taken to avoid foods that would be offensive to any of the religions represented by campers. Campers need to be reassured that they will be provided with the nourishment they need.
Every camper had the opportunity to phone home to announce their safe arrival. They know they will be able to make calls twice a week during a daily rest hour. Parents have phone numbers to call during meal times. Many families will have a hard time coping with this phone policy after getting used to cellphones at home, but we wouldn’t be able to conduct our program if campers were getting phone messages during activities or dialogue. Even the adults at Camp stay off their cellphones. Our focus is on the here and now.
Tonight the campers met with Wil Smith, the Associate Camp Director. He introduced the subjects of homesickness, the safety aspects of living in the woods beside a lake, the consequences of any type of inappropriate behavior. Wil’s demeanor connotes parental wisdom, understanding, and firm expectations.
Finally, the facilitators took their dialogue groups to the locations where they will meet for 110 minutes a day and gave them a taste of what dialogue sessions will entail.
As the night descended, most campers felt more comfortable than they did yesterday and are eager to wake up to another “beautiful Seeds of Peace day!”
Flagraising | June 26
Before we can become a real community, we need to recognize the dignity of the larger communities represented by each delegation at Camp.
At our Flagraising Ceremony, delegations sing their national anthems while their flags are raised on a pole outside the Camp gate. The campers, counselors, facilitators, and Delegation Leaders gather together and listen respectfully to speeches presented by the returning campers, who explain why the Camp experience is important to them.
Each time this happens, we are inspired by and in awe of the depth of their understanding. Having had two years to digest and practice the communication tools they learned at Camp, these older campers seem wise beyond their years.
Seeds of Peace Executive Director Leslie Lewin welcomed the many visitors and longtime supporters to the Ceremony. This was her first opportunity of the session to express her goals for the campers. She spoke to them about the journey they had embarked on when they left their homes just a few days ago, and the accelerated journey they will have at Camp.
We also heard from our charismatic former Camp Director and Director of the Maine Seeds Program, Tim Wilson.
At the very end of the ceremony, everyone sang the Seeds of Peace Camp song and entered the gates of the Camp, leaving all the national flags waving in the wind, outside the gates. The only flag that flies at Camp is the Seeds of Peace flag.
Following the Ceremony, we took the Big Picture! The result is a panoramic photo of everyone in Camp. Each Seed will receive a copy of the photo at the end of the session. To keep themselves entertained while everyone was getting into position, the campers sang many verses of the “Pizza Man” song.
The first dialogue sessions began today. Many dialogue groups experienced a variety of emotions brought out by Flagraising.
This part of Camp is very difficult. Most of the Group Challenge activities are designed to support the dialogue process. In fact, every part of Camp supports the difficult tasks of speaking in ways that allow others to hear what you are trying to convey, and listening even when you don’t like what others are telling you.
It’s not easy.
Special Activities | June 27
We have a very talented staff. One way we take full advantage of their talents is by inviting them to create and lead their own activities for an hour every morning. Campers can then choose which of these special activities in which they wish to participate.
Jake’s waterski lessons always get the most takers. Jake actually gives these lessons at other times as well, since this activity is rather scarce in the Middle East and South Asia. Waterskiing is one of many activities at Camp in which most campers start on a level playing field—almost everyone is new to it. The only way to learn is to take a calculated risk by trying it out with an expert.
Swim lessons and water games allow the non-swimmers catch up with everyone else. There are also boating activities which help campers feel more comfortable in canoes, kayaks and small sailboats.
Another special activity is called, “Seeds of Peace Top Models.” Campers learn how to enter a room with poise and grace. They have fun with the concept by adding accessories to our standard t-shirt-and-jeans fashion at Camp. Later on, they will entertain us with a fashion show.
Other special activities include creative writing, body building and gardening. There are quiet areas for writing within view of the lake. The body builders use the perimeter road around Camp as their running track. And we are seriously engaged in maintaining a small kitchen garden, as well as achieving almost “zero waste” and composting.
This is a rainy week, but we were able to use the fields for sports, particularly softball and cricket. Indoors, we have art classes in which teams of campers creatively construct “machines” for solving a variety of problems.
Some of the Dialogue groups are engaged in Group Challenge activities attuned with the beginning level of dialogue. Theoretically, we try to increase the level of difficulty of the challenges, which are physical, in accordance with the rising intensity of the Dialogue sessions.
However, facilitators have less control over what happens in Dialogue sessions because the campers take the lead and often go straight to the hot button topics. Sometimes the Group Challenge activities have to be modified to help individuals gain skills, like active listening, and confidence.
It will all come together as the days go by.
Rainy Days | June 28
Today was a camp activity scheduler’s nightmare. Just when Eric thought he had a complete day of activities mapped out for our 212 campers, heavy rain and cold air moved in, staying with us for several hours. That eliminated all the outdoor activities—the majority of activities at Camp.
All the special activities had to move inside, and then all the outdoor activity groups had to move inside as well. All the line-ups were held in the dining hall.
Wil reminded us that here at Camp, we make our own weather. He led us all in a rendition of “You Are My Sunshine,” and then declared this to be another beautiful Seeds of Peace day. And indeed it was!
For some reason, most campers and their families from the Middle East and South Asia ignore the part of the packing list that suggests bringing rain gear. For many of them, it rarely rains in the summertime. But Maine wouldn’t be covered in forests and dotted with hundreds of lakes if it didn’t rain in the summer.
The charm will wear off even for those of us with rain gear if the wet weather does abate pretty soon.
Today, the Seeds of Peace newspaper staff interviewed Bobbie about the beginning of Seeds of Peace, its goals, and all the ups and downs over the last 20 years. John Wallach, the founder of Seeds of Peace and also a journalist, would have been very impressed by the interviewers’ insightful questions.
Our last camper arrived today from East Jerusalem. Although he didn’t have the kind of raucous welcome we gave the campers who arrived with their delegations on Monday, his fellow Peer Supports made a huge welcome banner for the dining hall and gave him lots of hugs. Now we have our final number: a record 212!
Evening Activity | June 29
By the fifth day of Camp, just about everyone has relaxed and seems open to enjoying humor and surprises. So this was a good time to hold an evening activity lip sync contest between the bunks.
Every night, the last thing we do is bring all the campers together for shared entertainment, usually of their making. Their days can be stressful if dialogue sessions or other discussions have made them rethink “facts” and opinions. Half the campers have dialogue sessions right after dinner so they don’t have the same amount of time the campers in the morning sessions have to cool off or apologize. It is best to shake loose some of that stress before trying to fall asleep in their bunks.
The special activities in the morning continue to be very creative. One activity is called “MythBusters.” This group is investigating Camp-related myths, interviewing people about them and producing a short video based on their research.
Maine is a place where talking about the weather is commonplace, due to days like today. We woke up to “Seattle weather,” drizzly with fog. Then the sun came out and a cool breeze started to dry everything, except the playing fields—we almost have a second lake on the main field. Many of us were able to enjoy dinner outside. While we were having evening activity, however, the rain returned with a vengeance!
Who knows what tomorrow may bring?
Peer Supports | June 30
Well before the Peer Support campers (PSs) boarded their flights to Maine, they were asked to research reputable non-governmental organizations in their hometowns. Their assignment included gaining an in-depth knowledge of the organization, its objectives, strategies, methodologies and major challenges.
Now that they are back at Camp, the PSs are sharing and comparing their findings. Some of these young leaders are already working with the NGOs they have studied. Others are hoping to be able to volunteer when they return home. The types of NGOs run the gamut, from shelters for street children abandoned by their parents to a soccer club which combines community service with athletics. Not surprisingly, the PSs were usually drawn to NGOs for youth.
PSs walk a fine line at Camp with regard to their role. On the one hand, they are two years older and more experienced than the new campers. On the other hand, they are several years younger and less experienced than the Counselors. Counselors spend the most time with the new campers as live-in supervisors of the bunks and activity leaders. They are responsible for the safety and comfort of the campers all the time, every day, all day. But, as the name implies, the PSs also have a role to play with regard to the new campers.
Preparation for new campers in their home countries falls largely on the PSs’ shoulders. They describe Camp life to the nervous newcomers and calm their fears about living with the enemy many thousands of miles from their families and friends. They promise to be available to the new campers when needed. Yet, once they arrive at Camp, the PSs go one way while the campers go another—they see each other infrequently.
As Wil Smith suggested to the PSs tonight in a chat he arranged, no one can go through the eye-opening process at Seeds of Peace Camp for anyone else. The sooner the new campers can take responsibility for their own experience, the better it will be. Protecting the new campers from hurt feelings or trying to tell them how to respond to others in their dialogue sessions are futile efforts. They need to grow on their own. At the end of the first week, it is not too soon to let the campers find their own way. PSs need to be supportive, but not directive.
The Delegation Leaders had their weekly meetings with their respective delegations today. These meetings give the campers a comfortable space to speak in their native language and talk about their experiences at Camp with adults from home.
Today’s demonstrations in across Egypt made this kind of meeting even more important for the Egyptians. We are mindful that reports of disturbances at home can impact a camper’s ability to focus on the process here in Maine. Delegation Leaders, with the help of Peer Supports, can ease concerns for campers’ families so far away.
Sustainable Harvests | July 1
Over the course of the last few years, Camp has become more conscious of environmental sustainability, gardening and nutrition. Given the limited Camp season, gardening here is limited. Still, we are able to grow some herbs and lettuce in a small patch near the kitchen.
Pouring delicious maple syrup on our pancakes, we rarely stop to think about all the hard work that goes into making that syrup. Today, the gardening special activity went to a sugar shack where local people boil down 40 gallons of raw tree sap, gathered from miles of tubing tapped into the maple trees, to make one gallon of edible maple syrup. In general, it is gravity which pulls the raw sap through the pipes on the hillsides. Our guide was none other but our own Camp Grounds and Maintenance Director, Glenn, who lives near the Camp. Several of the maple trees in Camp, as well as many on his neighbors’ land, are tapped by Glenn.
The campers were able to see for themselves how a natural resource can be used in a sustainable manner for the benefit of several participating neighbors. Whoever allows Glenn to tap their trees gets free 100 percent maple syrup for their blueberry pancakes!
Another special activity group is “unleashing creativity” by allowing campers to creatively express themselves. They began by making a sign thanking the kitchen staff. These hard-working people will see the sign every time they leave the dining hall. This type of effort can be made at home; it is not limited to the Camp environment.
Today we held tryouts for teams which will play against a visiting camp on Sports Day at the end of the week. We know our campers are strong soccer and basketball players, but softball is another story. Most of them are not familiar with baseball rules. However, the day before Sports Day, the whole Camp will see a real baseball game in Portland.
Tonight we had our own World Cup Ga-Ga tournament. Campers were divided into four national teams not represented at Camp, like Norway and Brazil. The noise was deafening from all the cheering and energetic music. They had a great time before heading back to their bunks for showers. A sprinkling of rain cooled them off as they left the Big Hall.
Peer Support Day | July 2
After several days of rainy weather, we started to behave as if it wasn’t raining. Besides, it didn’t rain very hard today—it just never stopped. Cold, wet feet and soggy sweatshirts are becoming the norm, so we decided to stick to our schedule and took cover inside only when the rain was heavier.
At breakfast, Wil Smith broke out in song: “The sun will come out tomorrow/Bet your bottom dollar.” We’ll be very happy if this prediction comes true.
In keeping with our indifference to rain, we took all the bunk and table group pictures outside. It is always fun to see how the different groups arrange themselves. Some had two or three different alternative poses. Some were quiet. Some were jumping with energy. No one even noticed the weather.
We’d like to give a shout out to a camper who was the only boy brave enough to go into the lake today. Since the beginning of Camp, he has been determined to learn to swim. Every day he has been given instruction. Today, all alone with Clarke, the head of our waterfront, he jumped into the lake and swam the required distance to become a Level 3 swimmer! Good for you, Amjad!
The crowning achievement of the day was a 90-minute period completely planned and executed by the Peer Supports. The PSs directed their creativity toward helping the new campers articulate their impressions of Camp so far, get closer to each other by sharing everyday expressions in their native languages and play games to foster interaction.
One project to be hung in the Big Hall is a huge paper quilt made up of individual thoughts and feelings about Camp, signed only with campers’ painted hand prints. The intent is for this quilt to become a point of reference for each camper each time he or she enters the Big Hall. Not only did the PSs get a small taste of what the counselors normally do all day, but the rest of the camp realized the extraordinary level of talent the PSs bring to our community.
Second Week Indicators | July 3
The sun returned and stayed with us all day! Although the lake and the stream are very high—right up to the level of the docks—and “un-Pleasant Lake” is still in the playing field, one doesn’t have to keep boots on to stay dry. A breeze gently pushed the small sailboats along, although three of them had to be “swum in” with human energy.
The dialogue sessions are becoming more difficult, as many campers are working up the courage to say things that are hurtful to their peers on the other side of their conflict. They haven’t yet learned how to get their ideas across in a way that allows others to listen with an open mind. The campers are more likely to achieve that level of understanding and compassion next week. In the meantime, we do our best to support all of them through the hard times they may be now facing.
Shouq, a Jordanian Seed, once said, “In order to make peace with your enemy you must first go to war with yourself.” That is the other part of the process going on this week at Camp. The quest for peace is not just directed toward other people. Much of it is internal. Many older Seeds have told us that the journey they took inside themselves is what has made them feel like better human beings. It is something that happened to them over the course of many years, admittedly, but it began at Camp where friendship and understanding helped break down the attitudinal barriers that initially got in the way of compassion.
Relationships are forming in twos, threes and more. Campers are asking to have pictures taken with their buddies. They are laughing at the same jokes and creating their own “traditions” for this particular session. They are also trying to go around Camp rules and test boundaries, but they are finding the adult/child ratio too high for getting away with not showing up on time or not paying attention to instructions. After one dialogue group wasted their time at Group Challenge today, the counselors asked if they felt ready to go on the high ropes next time. They admitted that the time they wasted today put them at a disadvantage for tackling the high ropes. Maybe they learned something even more important—time is too precious to waste, especially here.
Parade and Sea Dogs | July 4
The Peer Supports and Delegation Leaders represented Seeds of Peace at a local town parade in celebration of America’s Independence Day. The parade, held the sparsely-populated rural town of Otisfield, was small, but it had a lot of positive spirit. Seeds of Peace added to that energy with songs, drumming and dancing.
In the 90° heat, watermelon slices and multi-colored water fountains from fire hoses were welcome relief. Almost everyone dashed through the sprayed water to cool off. We have a supportive relationship with Otisfield, which is proud to have Seeds of Peace as part of the community. Our local volunteer first responders have been especially helpful over the years.
This afternoon, the whole Camp packed into five giant buses and two vans to get to the Sea Dogs minor league baseball game in Portland. The campers had been able to rest, play land and water sports and hold dialogue sessions earlier in the day.
The baseball stadium was fairly full, since the Sea Dogs been on a winning streak, but no section of the stadium was louder than ours. As usual, very few campers paid any attention to the game. Instead they concentrated on the food and each other. Many new friendships are obviously taking hold. At the end, there was a big fireworks display. It was a great way to end the day.
Sports Day | July 5
Sports Day is a regular event at Seeds of Peace. It is an opportunity for the campers to use their personal and team skills. Additionally, it is a chance for them to put aside their differences and go for the “win” together. Another camp was invited to challenge our campers in soccer (girls and boys), softball (girls), and basketball (boys).
It was such a hot day that the sunset on Pleasant Lake was spectacularly red, blue and violet. Water was poured in mouths and on heads all day, as the players and the cheering campers tried to stay hydrated. Predictably, our boys’ soccer team dominated that sport, but both the girls’ soccer and softball teams tried in vain to win. The boys’ basketball game ended with a 19 to 4 win.
Throughout the day, the campers who were not actually playing the sport became the cheering squads, drumming and chanting with lots of team spirit. There was a break for a cookout lunch and for the Muslim prayer service. When it was all over, everyone jumped into the lake.
After dinner, there was a Shabbat service for Jewish campers. This weekend we are inviting everyone to all the religious services to give them the chance to witness for themselves what they are like and what is said. There usually are many assumptions about the others’ religious practices and beliefs, which may or may not be true.
Tonight was bunk night, held mostly outside in the cool evening air. One bunk met in dyads to gain deeper knowledge of their bunkmates. Another bunk tried out the zip-line to conquer some challenges as a group. Other bunks had campfires and grilled S’mores.
Since there are many Egyptians not only among the campers but within our staff as well, the Associated Press wire service came to Camp to interview some of the Egyptian Seeds and counselors. However, they didn’t just finish the interviews and leave—they stayed to film what was happening on our playing fields. Only a photographer from the AP could have stood behind the pitcher on the field during a game and get away with it!
A Normal Day | July 6
We like to think that most of our days at Camp are normal, but the truth is that there is a basic pattern for most days—and some days we actually stick to it. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served at regularly scheduled times. And we almost always hear the first wake-up bell at 7 a.m., followed by the “snooze alarm” bell at 7:15 a.m. and then the “hurry to line-up” bell at 7:30 a.m.
Two hundred and twelve teenagers saunter down the Camp road to line-up in various stages of waking up. Fortunately, they do not have to choose an outfit, since we all wear the same thing every day. They sit in rows of benches, waiting for Wil Smith to say, “Good morning Seeds!” In unison, they respond, “Good morning Wil!” Then Wil looks to the left and right, assessing the sky, and pronounces it “a beautiful Seeds of Peace Day!” Everyone has a panoramic view of Pleasant Lake while listening to announcements about the day’s schedule. Often there are humorous songs or cheers by individual bunks.
Breakfast lasts only 30 minutes. It is followed by bunk clean-up, which is graded by a senior staff member. Today that staff member was accompanied by his own mother, who was visiting. She told the campers that she would never have imagined her son would have this job, considering what his own room used to look like at their age.
Special activities and regular sports or arts activities fill the morning, except for half the campers who are in dialogue for 110 minutes. Campers have 15 minutes of free time before we have line-up for the second time. Again this is for announcements, including lost items, found items, and recognition of achievements such as raising swim levels or learning to water ski. Then we head to the dining hall for lunch. Parents usually try to call during lunch because the phones are close by. Then campers take a rest hour in their bunks. The afternoons are filled with general swim, boating, land sports, group challenge, dance or projects in the art shack.
Another 15-minute period of free time precedes the dinner line-up. This line-up is usually devoted to forecasting the evening activity, following another 110-minute dialogue session for the other half of the campers. An all-Camp activity helps to bring the community together before the campers retire for the night. Somewhere in the midst of a packed schedule, they have to shower, change clothes and phone home.
Tonight there are several campers feeling good about what they were able to do today. Two girls, Shaked and Razan, climbed up telephone poles to the high ropes. Shaked decided to challenge herself even more by using a blindfold. Razan gave her verbal cues as she walked across the ropes, 40 feet up. Both were secured from falling with ropes and harnesses, but it never feels very secure when you are the one up in the air. They had reason to be proud, and their smiles and hugs showed it!
VIDEO: Mariam Sings at Line Up
Aussie Football and Cafe Night | July 7
One of our counselors introduced Australian Football to Camp. He was on the Australian Peace Team, consisting of Israelis and Arabs. Koda convinced one of the Aussie professional teams to donate official balls, goals and uniforms to Seeds of Peace. This morning Koda screened a documentary explaining the game to his special activity group. They found out that Aussie rules football is a relatively new, exciting game which has taken some of the best parts of soccer, rugby and basketball and combined them into a fast-paced, compelling sport.
Aussie rules football gives the campers a chance to learn something that builds on what they know from other sports, while stretching them to master a new game combining old themes with new rules. For instance, you cannot tackle or even touch a player on his/her back. If you are going to block a player, you have to do it from the side. And the football has to be bounced or punched. It is a game for people with excess energy –players are constantly running!
Tonight, we remembered John Wallach, the founder of Seeds of Peace, who passed away during Camp in 2002, by screening the video shown at his United Nations memorial service. Eleven years have passed since then, and there are only five people still at Camp who actually worked with him. We spoke about his vision for Seeds, emphasizing the seriousness of our work both at Camp and beyond.
John Wallach used to challenge the new campers to form one true friendship with someone from the other side of their conflict while at Camp. He believed that having even one friend on the other side would cause a person to show more empathy and restraint toward enemies. In honor of this challenge, Café Night was created. Each session of Camp, the Peer Supports rearrange the dining hall to be more conducive to conversation. As the hosts, they dress up in formal attire. They explain that everyone is free to choose another camper who is a stranger to them. They then encourage campers to share about their respective lives while sipping tea and eating desserts.
Campers always love this evening activity. For one thing, introducing them to John Wallach tends to ground them in the history of Seeds of Peace. They were so touched by the video that they arose to a standing ovation at the end. This gave the Café Night a more serious tone than it might have had otherwise. Looking around the dining hall, one could see the intensity of the private conversations.
Café Night and Aussie rules football might not seem like they have much in common. But, in both cases, something the campers already knew how to do was given a new twist.
Raising the Bar a Little Higher | July 8
After living together for 2½ weeks, most of us know each other at least a little, and many are quite knowledgeable about the people we eat with, share a bunk with, have dialogue with and enjoy activities with every day. A whole “tradition” of songs, chants, jokes and catch-phrases unwittingly now bind us together as the First Session of 2013. Shared experiences, be they fun or difficult, move us closer toward recognizing the essential common humanity of everyone here with us.
For many years, the Peer Supports have climbed a small mountain together. At the top, looking out on the countryside, they share about themselves with each other. Although this particular group seems to have reached that point ahead of time, the mountain top allowed them to develop an even deeper understanding and trust. When they returned to Camp today, they seemed to be happier and more comfortable than ever before.
The campers, on the other hand, had a full day of finding inner strength, especially on the high ropes course. The “vertical playpen” was especially hard for one pair, who were probably paired to give them a chance to build empathy. They were told to guide each other up through the vertical structure, getting no other help from counselors and fellow campers on the ground below. Many times it seemed like the goal of climbing to the top was going to elude them. It was going to require taking risks that were beyond their normal comfort level. Both of them were frozen with fear at various points. They were strapped into harnesses and ropes, so there was absolutely no way they could hurt themselves.
It took an hour for them to achieve a goal that ordinarily takes half the time, but one can’t be brave unless there is fear first. Eventually, they did what seemed impossible, and reached the top as a team.
Not surprisingly, many evening dialogue groups showed signs of direct confrontation and hurt feelings. We anticipate that breakthroughs on the Group Challenge will lead to breakthroughs in dialogue as well. The campers take more intelligent risks when they have already had success at taking risks on the ropes course or in other physical activities. Dialogue only becomes more than just a heated conversation when honesty is present in the discussion.
The “Choose Your Own Adventure” evening activity presented the campers with a variety of unusual choices, including a hair salon run by Delegation Leaders, card tricks, drawing and sketching techniques, board games and Frisbee in the field house. All the campers were allowed to choose the way they would wind down from the intensity of the day.
International Dinner | July 9
Every year, one of the highlights of Camp is the International Dinner. The adult Delegation Leaders plus our own chef, Earl, work together in the kitchen—which is a feat in itself—to produce a feast fit for several kings. They produce favorite meat and vegetable dishes, with all the right spices, as well as delicious desserts, in abundance. The aromas bring back warm feelings of home.
The joy of sharing one’s favorite food with friends is something wonderful. It fosters appreciation and uncovers similarities in a basic way—through the senses. Add music and dancing, and you really have an international party.
We invited everyone at Camp to wear traditional clothing reflective of their own cultural background. The colors and fabrics created a feast for the eyes and inspired much picture-taking. This is a night no one ever wants to forget.
Later on, we had “table talk.” Because our Dining Hall is so noisy during meals, tablemates might not get the chance to know one another in depth. So tonight, we used the relatively quiet spaces of the Big Hall and the Field House to spread out in table groups. The campers and counselors found out a lot more about the individuals they sit with three times a day; this time their conversations were not limited by the din of table cheers and the clatter of dishes.
This morning, the Hindu and Zoroastrian campers made presentations about their beliefs and practices. They explained that it is not customary for them to have formal worship services, but they have many kinds of chants and prayers, some of which they shared with us. Many of us left with a traditional red dot on our brows.
With Ramadan starting tomorrow, we will go on an adjusted schedule. We are doing all we can to keep everyone who is fasting safe from the threat of dehydration. From now on, dinner will be served at 8:30 p.m. An early breakfast will be available, as well, for those who are fasting. Everyone will wake up one hour later, at 8 a.m. Our evening activities will be held before dinner instead of after dinner. Evening dialogue sessions will take place in the afternoon. We are hopeful that these accommodations will keep the Camp functioning like a community, despite the different religions present.
Interfaith Dialogue | July 10
We have always wondered how we would be able hold Camp during Ramadan, given that so many of our campers are Muslim. So far, the changes—both big and small—that we have made to keep everyone healthy, while not creating a divided Camp, are working. But, this being the first day, we have a ways to go.
Those campers who are fasting wake up at 2:30 a.m. to eat breakfast and drink lots of water. Then they can go right back to bed. Everyone sleeps until 8 a.m. and line-up is at 8:30 a.m., one hour later than usual. While the rest of the campers go to breakfast in the dining hall, the ones who are fasting can return to their bunks. Those who are fasting are required to attend line-up and dialogue sessions with everyone else. Otherwise, they can either decide to participate in activities or take a rest. Today, many of them rehearsed for the talent show, which was held before dinner, served at 8:30 p.m.
This was a good day to have the interfaith dialogue session in the morning. The steady rain stopped long enough for small groups of campers, Peer Supports and Counselors sitting in circles all over Camp. Each group had a prescribed set of questions designed to keep the group focused and inclusive. One technique used was having everyone in each group give a one-word response to the question before the individuals elaborated on their answers. That approach gave each person a chance to weigh in on the question and think about what the other members of the group had on their minds.
Tonight’s talent show was the culmination of many hours of practice yesterday and today, but none of the practice sessions could hold a candle to the actual performances in costume tonight. Some were solos, some duets. Some were large groups from delegations primarily doing folk dances. Nobody looked tired or unenthusiastic, even though a hundred campers fasted all day. High energy and dedication to music, singing, dancing and drama were on display as we enjoyed almost three hours of entertainment. Then, everyone came together for an Iftar dinner. It was another beautiful Seeds of Peace day!
Color Games Begins | July 11
The start of Color Games, a tradition since 1993, is supposed to be a surprise, but, since we have done it the same way for many years, it has become more of an expectation. The expectation was that it would begin right at the end of the talent show.
This session, we changed things around.
The Peer Supports were truly dumbfounded last night when the talent show ended and nothing else happened, except “lights out and good night.” We warned them that things would be different this year, but they didn’t believe us. After all, a tradition is a tradition. But sometimes, change is good.
We were able to surprise everyone by having a Movie Night. We had two different movies. One was a short Oscar-nominated movie made in Kabul, co-starring one of our campers. It is a story about two boys who want to change the expected trajectories of their lives. One lived alone on the streets and the other worked all day for his father as a blacksmith. Our camper who co-starred in the movie received a standing ovation at the end.
The second movie was a documentary about the Camp memories of our staff members who once were campers. It started out on a serious note and then began to get more humorous with each successive interview. It was in black and white until they began to discuss all the code names for Color Games that the counselors have used in order to hide the time of the event from the campers. Then all of a sudden the Seeds in the movie put on blue or green t-shirts as the whole movie changed to a color. By this time, the Peer Supports knew that Color Games was imminent. And it was! So much excitement!
Staff holding torches lined the path from the Big Hall to the line-up area, where counselors had built a bonfire. Not knowing if you are on the Blue or Green Team is very stressful. Campers had to wait for the 14 coaches to be introduced. Then the bunks were summoned to the front to be told by Wil which team each person would be playing on. Great excitement greets each new member of both teams. After a short team meeting, everyone went to bed, with much anticipation of the next three days of competition.
VIDEO: What Color Are You?
Board Meeting | July 12
Sometimes we have to do many things at once. This is one of those times. Seeds of Peace is much more than a summer camp. The Camp was our first venture in 1993, and is still the eye-opening initiation from which all Seeds and educators graduate. But Camp it is only the beginning of a long journey to courageous, effective, compassionate leadership for the next generations living in conflict areas of the world.
With this in mind, it makes sense for Camp to host a meeting of our international Board of Directors, together with Seeds of Peace staff from around the world and graduate Seeds. Those who were unable to attend in person joined us online, but had to contend with poor Internet and power conditions on our end in the woods of Maine and on their end in regions of conflict.
After several hours of intense discussions, the Board, along with Leslie and Wil Smith, met on the softball field for a game against the Counselors. The matchup ended in a tie—no one wanted to play extra innings!
One of the topics discussed at the Board Meeting concerned the on-going Educators’ Programs. For the past decade, Daniel Moses has been developing and expanding the reach of the Delegation Leaders and Educators who come to Camp each summer. They not only explain their work with Seeds of Peace in their respective home countries, but also organize summer camps for young children. Two of these took place this summer in Gaza and Jenin in the West Bank. Delegation Leaders supervised older Seeds who served as counselors for the small children. In the second session of Camp in Maine this summer, Daniel will bring 32 educators from the Middle East and South Asia to examine how history is taught.
Last but not least, we had the first full day of Color Games today. A glorious sunny day made the sports activities very pleasant for both the players and the spectators. Those of us who are not players or coaches are neither on the Blue or the Green Team. We have our own team–White. White Team members support the players and coaches by judging sports, dance and art competitions and making sure there is plenty of water available.
So far, the bunk rotations through many sports have yielded a score of 600 for the Green Team and 375 for the Blue Team. Tonight, the campers rehearsed for the Variety Show, which will happen tomorrow evening. Stay tuned!
Second Day of Color Games | July 13
After sleeping all the way to 8 a.m., we awoke to the sounds of people preparing for a relay running race around the Camp loop road. The fastest runners on the Blue and Green Teams competed with all their might. The Green Team won both the boys’ and girls’ races.
While the Seeds of Peace Board of Directors and the Young Leadership Committee held meetings all morning, the campers continued to compete on the fields in every sport, as well as in cooking, climbing and creative writing.
The Board focused on the Seeds of Peace Facilitation and Conflict Transformation program in Jerusalem, which graduates experienced and certified dialogue facilitators, many of whom are Seeds. In fact, quite a few have been campers, Peer Supports and Counselors before joining the course. Graduates of the program facilitate dialogue at Camp, as well Seeds of Peace (and non-Seeds of Peace) groups in the Middle East. Farhat and Danny have been running this training course for many years.
The Board listened to a general description of the role of facilitators at Camp, how they relate to the other Camp staff, and the limitations they put upon themselves in order to protect the privacy of each camper. For example, the facilitators have only one-way conversations with counselors. They receive information but they don’t share what is discussed in the dialogue sessions. If they were to share the information brought to light in their dialogue sessions with people not in the dialogue group, they would be violating their own code of confidentiality.
The campers prepared for this evening’s Variety Show for several hours, with time out for the Peace Canoe race. About ten campers paddled an old “Indian war canoe” from the boys’ dock past the dining hall and into the Pines area on the other side of Camp. The Green Team again won the girls’ and boys’ competitions, with amazing speed.
The Variety Show was spectacular in every respect. The teams competed in dance, a capella, instrumental music, a comedy skit about Camp life, and a serious mime. The finale was an original song performed by all members of the team. We came together in the end by singing our regular Camp song, which becomes more poignant the closer we get to the final day of Camp.
Message to Hajime | July 14
Our adjusted schedule—waking up at 8 a.m. and eating a late dinner—is turning out to have some benefits. We have been able to spread out the most vigorous portions of Color Games over more time, giving everyone a chance to recuperate.
This morning we wrapped up all the remaining all-star sports and activities. Campers played Frisbee, ga-ga, basketball, steal the bacon, and performed music and dance, at a very high skill level.
Behind the scenes, the coaches were deciding which campers would be runners and which would be doing 112 different tasks for the all-camp relay race we call Message to Hajime. Many of the tasks, positioned all over our 40-acre Camp, require skill and experience. Others are just fun. Between all the tasks there are runners carrying a baton to pass onto the next person to accomplish a task. The objective is to finish all 112 tasks before the other team, so you can deliver the message (which has to be memorized word-for-word in English by someone who is not a native English speaker) before the messenger from the other team can do so.
The many tasks included doing 40 sit-ups, making a bed, heading a soccer ball back and forth 16 consecutive times, doing 30 push-ups, making a bubble with bubble gum, painting the flags of all eight delegations at Camp, setting a table for eight, making 10 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, performing an Internet scavenger hunt, and jumping rope 50 jumps in a row. Other members of the team run the baton to the next station after each task is completed. The runners were constantly crisscrossing Camp, with other teammates and coaches running alongside them to help maintain the pace and show them the best route.
The final task is the most critical, but any of the others can potentially slow the team down enough cost them the race. Each messenger is given the same passage to memorize and the first one to recite it perfectly to either Wil or Bobbie wins Message to Hajime.
This session, the Green Team led Color Games from the very beginning. Towards the end, Blue started to catch up, but needed to win more of the Variety Show performances in order to have a chance of passing Green.
Today, the Blue team pulled ahead in the Hajime race and its messenger was a whiz at memorizing passages. After the Variety Show scores were announced, Blue needed only 200 points to tie Green. But when it won Hajime, that gave it 250 points. So, Blue won both Hajime and Color Games!
What was the prize? Jumping into the lake first! Then the other team joined them and had a lot of fun splashing and hugging each other. After a while, all the campers and adults formed a circle and sang the Camp song.
Everyone was exhausted, so we changed back into green Seeds of Peace t-shirts, ate dinner and retired for the night. Only two more days are left before everyone goes back home. That’s what we have to prepare for next.
VIDEO: Message to Hajime
Last Dialogue | July 15
The dialogue groups met for the last time today. Each group assessed its dialogue meetings held daily for 110 minutes over the past three weeks. The way the campers might have felt about the people in their groups at the beginning of the session probably bears little resemblance to the way they feel today. In the beginning there was little or no trust. They were afraid to open up to each other. They only wanted to “win” their argument and convince each other that the opposite side is wrong.
The dialogue groups have a harder time reaching a high degree of trust than other groups because they don’t avoid divisive subjects. In fact, they meet them head-on. More feelings are hurt and more difficult questions are asked in dialogue groups. So trust is more difficult to achieve, although when it is achieved, it can be much deeper than with other Camp relationships.
Today one boy brought a picture of his grandfather and his friend, who had fought against each other in a war and then found a way to rekindle their friendship later in life. He was hoping his friends from Camp would come together in the same way now.
For the Peer Supports, the trust level is deeper still. For them, the dialogue process includes a therapeutic, safe space for introspection, emotional expression and critical discovery. Today, at the end of their final dialogue session, they focused on sharing their Camp experience with friends and family. Each one played the role of a friend or family member asking questions about their experience while another person in the group responded.
Each year when the Peer Supports complete their process, Bobbie always presents each of them with a turtle necklace to remind them to carry Seeds of Peace, their second home, with them like the turtle does wherever they may go.
The whole Camp received journals, which were quickly being filled with heartfelt messages. These albums will be a source of comfort after they leave for home on Wednesday.
We ended with a musical evening in the Big Hall and then with a bonfire at the line-up area. One song which has become a tradition after it was composed by a camper especially for this kind of night was sung first by Jake, a counselor, and then by everyone as we walked to our bunks. “I’ll be thinking, I’ll be thinking of you …”
Last Day | July 16
We have long days and short weeks here at Camp. Although it seems like each day has one activity after another, ending only at the point of exhaustion, the weeks seem to fly by! How can this possibly be the last night of Camp for Session One?
During every session we hold a memorial service for the 13 Seeds who have died over the years. One of them, Asel Asleh, was killed as a result of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He was a prolific writer; many of his letters were read out loud during the service. Tamer, who was a camper when Asel was a PS, and Bobbie spoke about Asel as a special person in their lives. Bobbie always puts pictures of Asel on the stone bench dedicated to his memory in the Peace Garden. Those who knew the other Seeds who have passed away read their names and shared their memories of them.
Beautiful music, some of it original, accompanied the memorial service. “Say Hello to the Field” was a song written by an Egyptian girl who wanted to come to Camp this summer, but was not able to join us. Asel always spoke about the field in Rumi’s poem: “Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” Written over 1,000 years ago, those words still mean a lot to us.
Several hours were spent going over with the campers what life might be like for them once they go home. They need to know that Seeds of Peace is ready to support them and help them make the transition back to their own communities. We also spoke with them about intelligent use of the Internet and social media.
Just before dinner, we held a Quaker silent meeting in the Field House. During the meeting, everyone formed a large circle. The campers came in silence, but it was not long before they began to speak respectfully to the rest of Camp about what they will take away from their experience. Even the call of the dinner bell couldn’t stop them.
The evening program was a slide show created by two counselors. Although it lasted 25 minutes, the slide show represents just a fraction of the number of photos taken.
Eventually, the campers retired to their bunks. The first bell will ring at 6:45 a.m.! Buses will roll in and out of Camp until everyone is gone by this afternoon. Session Two will begin in six days.
VIDEO: Say Hello to The Field for Me
Departure Day | July 17
Line-up this morning was at 6:45 a.m., with a farewell talk by Wil Smith and another round of Say Hello to the Field From Me. Then the buses rolled in one after the other, first for the Palestinians and then the Egyptians, Israelis, Jordanians, Americans, Afghans, Pakistanis and Indians. By 11 a.m., the campers were gone and Camp seemed almost bereft of its meaning.
The counselors and facilitators had one last lunch together, cleaned up the parts of the Camp which were their responsibility and packed for their break between sessions.
It is fair to say that every camper felt the pain of love. Parting is such sweet sorrow has never been more appropriate. Some were holding one another at arms length to get one more, good look their fellow Seeds. Others were clinging to each other in twos and threes. All the adults were trying to remain strong, but tears were unavoidable. The truth is that we don’t know if and when the people from this session will see each other again.
These campers now join the other nearly 5,000 Seeds out there in the world. They will have the support of our staff members in their home countries, with programming specially designed to help them mature as peacemakers. They were able to turn fear and hatred into trust and compassion; we hope their families and friends will hear what they have to say. We hope no one close to them will call them traitors. Inner strength and the support of fellow Seeds will help each of them remain true to their convictions.
As older Seeds have said, “We do not accept what is, when we know what can be.”
VIDEO: Session I Slideshow
SESSION TWO: MAINE & SYRACUSE
Arrival Day | July 23
It’s getting to be a tradition at Seeds of Peace to begin each session with a big rain storm. No rainbow this time, though. Second session has 99 campers from Maine and 23 from Syracuse, New York. In addition, there are 30 educators from the Middle East and South Asia. One of the educators is an adult Seed from Jordan.
Everyone will have a two-week Camp experience. There are 20 Peer Support campers from Maine and Syracuse. They are housed in their own bunks because their program more focused on leadership training directly. We also want to allow the new campers to have their own experiences, not dwell in the shadows of those who have gone before them. The Peer Supports are helpful, nonetheless, in carrying forward the spirit of our beloved Camp. Teaching the new campers all the table cheers and signals we use to get everyone’s attention are some of the ways the PSs help out. Their comfort level serves to reassure the new campers that Camp is a safe place.
In contrast to the first session of Camp, there is no jet lag to deal with and the families of the campers are not so far away. Still, it is scary for some to be away from their families and be expected to live in bunks and eat at tables the way families do. Most of the campers are strangers to one another. They are confused about the kind of roles they will play in this new setting. It is the job of the counselors to help them settle into their temporary home. After dining with their permanent tablemates and counselors, the campers had physically-active games before spending two hours with their bunk mates getting to know one another.
The first thing we will observe in the morning line-up is a spirit of unity among the bunk groups. Each bunk group will try to convince all the others that theirs is the best. It’s a start. Eventually, there will be unity and pride expressed in larger groups, then half the Camp, then the entire Camp and finally, all of Seeds of Peace. Our hope is that the Seeds will keep expanding their circle of concern to eventually embrace everyone.
Orientation | July 24
A birthday celebrated at Camp is very special. To have it on the first day of Camp, like one girl did today, was super special! She had a golden crown on her head all day. She was celebrated at all three line-ups and was able to choose the campers she wanted to take to breakfast, lunch and dinner. And, at the end of dinner, the whole camp sang “Happy Birthday” to her and encouraged her to skip around the dining room—twice. Then she shared a chocolate birthday cake with her table mates.
The morning line-up looked like you would expect a group of teenagers to look at 7:30 a.m. on a foggy day. But we knew they would become more engaged as the day progressed. They were still trying to figure out why they were sitting on benches listening to announcements when it would be so much nicer to just stay in bed. After breakfast —unless they were fasting for Ramadan—campers cleaned their bunks and started on rounds of visiting the doctor or nurse, making name buttons, learning the Camp song, taking swim tests, and phoning home.
We also had the giant panorama all-Camp picture taken. This picture included the Educators as well as the campers and the whole staff. Just for fun, there are always two people who appear twice in the picture, on opposite ends. As soon as the first of six shots is taken, they run around behind the group in time to appear on the other end.
This morning, the Educators staff invited Bobbie to speak with them about the history of Seeds of Peace. She told them about the first year, 1993. Twenty years later, it seems incredible that the organization began with John Wallach’s idea, some creativity, political connections, risk-taking and very good luck—but very little financial backing or even a safety-net.
Tonight, the campers had a “chat” with Wil Smith, our associate camp director, and an introductory meeting with their dialogue facilitators and groups, before they were treated to a wonderful staff show. The show was a combination of talent and a demonstration of the kinds of activities the campers will be doing.
All-in-all, it was a wonderful first day of Camp. We barely noticed the rainstorm that passed through in the middle of the day. Tomorrow, the normal schedule will begin.
First Full Day | July 25
Every Camp session has its singular personality, its own patterns and surprises. This is the 40th time we have run our Camp, so you might think we have seen it all. But, that isn’t the case. This morning all the girls were sitting at line-up by the time the third wake-up bell was ringing. That has never happened before! And here is another “first” – the boys’ Peer Support (PS) bunk was given a perfect 10 out of 10 points on bunk cleanliness. Even the PSs were in shock to hear that!
There is no question that the campers are relaxed enough to enjoy being here now, with only one day crossed off the calendar. In fact, one camper remarked that she feels as if she has been here for a week. With all the activities packed into a single day, one can understand having that impression. And the weather changes so frequently, one could get confused by that as well. We awoke to frigid temperatures and sunshine, then warm sunshine, then a crimson sunset, followed by a rain storm.
Counselors greatly influence the comfort level of the campers. Very often, we have extra time at line-up, so the counselors jump in with entertaining songs. When the campers rise to their feet and join in the singing of mostly-funny songs, they can’t help but raise their spirits as well as their body temperatures.
Today one of the counselors got a taste of what it must feel like for many campers to learn some of the most basic sports skills at Camp. She was grinning from ear-to-ear as a result of hitting her first home run in a baseball game with other counselors. Learning how to sprint, catch or throw a ball, swim or paddle a canoe must be very uplifting for campers who have never been able to participate in sports before. The Group Challenge objectives encourage all the campers to create solutions to difficult problems. Campers who might ordinarily be shy about offering their own insights learn to take the risk of presenting ideas to their peers.
Special activities chosen by the campers got started today. They included a poetry group called, “The Power of Words,” as well as Aussie Rules Football, Running, Gardening, Waterskiing, Socetball (a combination of soccer and basketball), Ultimate Frisbee and Visual Arts Expression. Counselors added a new twist by giving PSs the opportunity to run some of these activities. Counselors offered the PSs feedback on their leadership skills.
Tomorrow we are expecting a deluge of rain in the morning. We have already decided to sleep an hour late and everyone seems happy to oblige.
Casco Days | July 26
United States Congressman Mike Michaud visited Camp this morning. He represents the 2nd district of Maine, where many of our Maine campers live. He was introduced by one of the Maine Peer Support campers, who spoke about his background and record in office.
The Congressman referred to his own rise in politics from a mill worker who eventually had to curtail the environmental impact of the mill he worked in for 29 years once he was responsible for the welfare of his district. He encouraged the campers to look beyond their current economic status and pursue their educational dreams.
Since this is Friday, we had Muslim and Jewish religious services, to which everyone was invited to observe, on a voluntary basis. On Sunday we will have Christian services. We encourage Seeds to understand the religious practices of their peers. Some of their assumptions about religious practices may or may not be true—this is an easy way to test those assumptions.
The town of Casco, two miles away from Camp, supports its volunteer fire and rescue team by holding a fair this time every year. It is low-key, with and Ferris wheel, fried dough, cotton candy, french-fries and onion rings, games with prizes and parades. Each year we take the campers there.
Sometimes we are just amazed at how welcoming and knowledgeable the local Mainers can be. Today, two of our counselors encountered a woman in her 80s who lives nearby and wanted to see what Camp was like. She was very interested in meeting people from all over the world, but beyond that, she was up-to-date on current events in every country. When she came to Camp today, the counselors introduced her to the campers at line-up. They were so impressed by her interest that they gave her a heartfelt standing ovation!
Casco Days II | July 27
Casco Days continues through tonight. The Educators joined the Peer Support campers in the old-time parade through Casco today, while hundreds of people had fun watching the antique cars, marching bands, entries from youth camps like ours, the ice-cream stand and all the fire and rescue vehicles from the surrounding area. There were ponies and clowns as well.
For the parade, our campers made a small float and used cardboard painted signs to convey their messages. They also sang a song that has sprung up at Camp this session. It goes like this: “Our hands are high, our feet are low, show me how you SOP/My hands are high my feet are low and this is how I SOP.” When done properly, people are called out to do something original each time. They also reach up high in the beginning and reach down to their toes when they say, “My feet are low.”
Tonight the boys attended the Casco Days fair, while the girls stay at Camp for a “bunk night” to get to know their bunkmates better. The counselors do a lot of planning for bunk nights and make use of the fire pits, zip line and other special places at Camp.
This morning, several counselors, as well as our doctor, ran in the four-mile race around the lake. One counselor, Austen, ended in 11th place out of 600 runners. In another endurance feat, three senior staff members—Sarah Rubin, Clarke and Christine—swam about four miles from Camp to Casco. Everyone came back feeling great!
The special activities at Camp include belly dancing and stand-up comedy. Both of these activities give the campers a strong dose of confidence and social bonding. Both activities allow them to learn something new together, make mistakes in the process without being criticized, and generally take risks. We hope the benefits of these activities will spill over into their lives in Camp and beyond.
Dialogue & Group Challenge | July 28
So much happens each day at Camp that you could normally fill a week with this schedule. We don’t have time to waste, though. And it turns out that teenagers respond best to a packed schedule. With a few prompts every now and then, they can make considerable headway through the Seeds of Peace process. Occasionally, they seem to get stuck in the process, but it never lasts very long.
This morning Wil Smith gently reminded the campers that their time here is precious. They need to bridge the divides that part their lives and delve into the attitudinal barriers that keep them from understanding one another.
Just walking around Camp you find campers in dialogue huts talking through troublesome issues, or out in the woods with their dialogue groups having their problem solving capacities tested on a specially-designed course. There are many parallels between the two approaches, the main one being that the group is in the driver’s seat. The facilitators and counselors only present the challenges, make a few observations about the process and then allow the group to find its own solutions.
Up on the outdoor basketball court today, there were campers making elaborate chalk drawings. Many were fanciful, like henna drawings. Others were like giant doodles. One was a life-size basketball player. All around the chalk artists, there were other campers learning how to make string friendship bracelets.
Next to them on the soccer field, a group of girls was being coached in kicking goals while the goalie was learning how to block the attempts. One could tell that some of the girls were experienced at the game while others clearly were not. But they all were encouraged by the counselors to keep working on their skills. You would find a similar set-up inside the on the basketball courts, where girls were being given instructions in shooting the ball. They were trying hard—so hard that one girl appeared to be flying as she struggled to get the ball up to the basket. As a joke, one girl made her shot while being held on the shoulders of another one.
Tonight, all the bunk groups created “lip syncing” renditions of popular songs and performed them on the stage of the Big Hall. The PSs helped each group create a performance. That left the counselors with some free time, so they created their own lip syncing act. All of this is fun, but it also stretches the confidence levels of many of the campers. It is also another way of seeing people in a new light.
Interfaith Dialogue | July 29
“Sometimes it’s better to understand than to be understood.” That’s how Wil Smith began his comments to the campers at line-up. Getting others to really listen to you often begins with you really listening to others. People are more likely to want to hear you out if they have felt listened to and really heard.
The dialogue groups have taken a while to address some of the tough issues facing them at home such as bullying, racism, high school drop-out rates, violence at home and in the community, crime, prejudice, and dysfunctional families. Today, these issues began to surface in the dialogue sessions. Some of the campers were able to leave the hard feelings behind in their dialogue hut. Others took a little longer to move on.
Weather-wise, we had it all today, except snow. A foggy morning gave way to blue skies and a light breeze in the afternoon. We prefer to take pictures when the sun is hidden—the colors will be bright and true. So, all the girls’ bunks had their pictures taken. Then the sun appeared just long enough for campers to try-out for girls and boys teams which will take on visiting camps later this week.
Some dialogues went sailing and canoeing. Others participated in low element group challenge sessions in the woods. The counselors raised the bar a bit by keeping some campers blind-folded and others instructed not to speak. Very often by making the challenge harder for the natural leaders in the group, new leaders emerge and can be emboldened.
By late afternoon, deep blue and gray clouds curtained the skies and the wind began to blow. All the boats were brought in and almost everyone was sent to the dining hall for a snack. It was also a good place to be in a storm. The thunder and lightning was no match for the singing and talking that filled the hall. At last the storm moved on and we were able to resume evening activities.
We held a Ramadan Iftar dinner at sundown, so all the campers and staff could eat together. It was an appropriate thing to do before campers split up into small groups for interfaith dialogue. If you were to stroll around listening to the campers talk about their religious beliefs and practices, you would hear from agnostics to orthodox believers, Christians, Muslims and Jews. In one group, someone said that she didn’t identify with any of the organized religions, while the person sitting next to her said he identified with all religions. Yet, here they all are, living together in peace—the way life could be.
Cafe Night | July 30
It was such a beautiful Seeds of Peace day! Not one drop of rain fell and a cool breeze was paired with warm sunshine. The water level of the lake is uncommonly high. In fact it is so close to the bottoms of the docks that people who were doing yoga stretches on the girls’ dock almost looked like they were standing on water. All the bunk windows and shutters were thrown open to welcome in the dry air that Maine is so famous for.
Gradually, at their own pace, the dialogue groups are opening up as well. We always say that what goes on in the dialogue group stays in the dialogue group. It has to remain a safe space. Sometimes it only feels safe after someone shows his or her “inside self” and the rest of the group shows support instead of criticism. The first person to take the risk of being exposed and potentially abandoned is a courageous leader. Not every group has one like that at first. Some groups are more reticent. And they need more time for such a leader to emerge. Often, an experience on the ropes course, or on the water, or even an overheard conversation, can be the impetus that is needed for trust to take hold inside individual campers.
This is the point in the session when we literally take the challenges to a higher level. Tomorrow the PSs will climb a mountain. There they will hold a dialogue session which will open them up to self-disclosure and mutual understanding.
On the ropes course the new campers are climbing telephone poles and walking across high wires alone and together, with or without blindfolds, depending on their comfort level. They won’t be doing these challenges with their best friends, though; they will likely be doing them with members of their dialogue group who are not trusted—yet. They also might be climbing the “vertical playground,” a series of rubber tires and boards strung together vertically. It is something which looks impossible from beginning to end, but, with ingenuity and cooperation, can be climbed.
Tonight the PSs prepared a Café Night for new campers, asking them to chat with people they hadn’t gotten to know yet, while enjoying desserts and chocolate milk. We began the evening as usual by showing a video about John Wallach, the founder of Seeds of Peace, who passed away in 2002. Leslie, Wil and Bobbie—the only people in the room who knew John—spoke about their memories of working with him. One thing he always asked campers to do is “make one friend” from a different delegation at Camp. Café Night is a good way to continue his legacy.
Boys’ and girls’ soccer and basketball teams are preparing for Sports Day on Friday. Counselors are playing these games alongside the campers, pointing out strategies and skills they need to work on. And the campers are also preparing acts for the Talent Show coming up at the end of the week. Not much resting goes on during “rest hour.” From now on, it is full steam ahead!
Educator Presentations | July 31
Plentiful signs of hope for the next generation of leaders at Camp were clear as could be today. Even when they were playing seemingly pointless games, they made them meaningful. The Hunger Games activity came up with districts which represented the environment and peace, for example.
They have also been objecting to the high grades—perfect 10s—they have been given in bunk clean-up. Whereas other campers might just get used to the high grades, these campers welcomed the more stringent standards of our former camp director, Tim Wilson, who became the honorary bunk inspector today. Tim acknowledged that the bunks were cleaner than he had ever seen before, but he thought they could do better picking things up just outside their bunks.
We have a group of educators from all over the world with us, as we have done for the past three summers. They are not Delegation Leaders this time, although some have played that role in the past. For this session, all of the educators are exploring ways to teach history.
As a gift to the campers, the educators made presentations about their own countries at different stations around Camp. These stations—Israeli, Palestinian, Jordanian, Egyptian, Iranian, Pakistani, Indian and American—became a “trip around the world.” The campers walked from one station to the other, in succession, every 15 minutes. At each station, the educators taught the basic history of their land and answered questions about politics, religion and social status. A few of campers were familiar with some of the countries represented by the educators, but most were learning history in a new way—directly from the people who live in these countries. When the discussion turned to the plight of refugees, several campers’ personal life experiences clearly showed on their faces.
More campers excelled on the high ropes today. One boy and girl figured out how to get to the top of the vertical playground in five minutes, rather than the usual 30 to 40 minutes. Another girl went across the high ropes for the first time blindfolded, while her male counterpart kept his own trepidation in check so he could guide his sightless partner safely across the high rope. Just for fun, they raced each other back to the starting point in less than five minutes. With the blindfold removed, both campers were lowered to the ground by the ropes that had kept them safe. The look on the girl’s face revealed that she had actually been more comfortable when her sight was blocked than when she could see how far she was from the ground.
Once on the ground, the campers were full of pride, compassion for one another and joy.
International Dinner | August 1
“Look at the beautiful day we’ve been given!” Wil said as he opened breakfast line-up today. Behind him it was so foggy, the lake and the opposite shoreline were obscured. In Maine, people always say that the mist and fog will “burn off.” The sunshine breaks through the moisture, typically, bringing drier air and invigorating wind perfect for sailing, swimming, canoeing, sports, running or just about anything. We did all that and more!
The photography, creative writing and girl power special activities all have one thing in common: encouraging campers to development and express their individuality. Girl power had each camper identify some way of expressing themselves for the camera. One girl was reluctant to face the camera at first. She wanted a picture taken of her unique hair style. However, several minutes later, she decided to face the camera with an open smile. Another couple of girls wanted to face the camera with smiles but later changed to turning their bodies around to face in the opposite direction, while still looking engaged.
The creative writing group decided to read their work to each other while the listeners kept their eyes closed. This kept distractions to a minimum, allowing the listeners to listen even harder. The photography group switched from taking pictures around Camp to having pairs paint each other’s faces in ways which emphasized some aspect of their personalities. This exercise is a good way to prepare new photographers to look for ways to take portraits which bring out the special characteristics of their subjects.
We had a meeting of the Maine Steering Committee at Camp this morning. Former Maine Governor John Baldacci joined us as well. The committee includes principals from several high schools which send campers to Seeds of Peace. It was fun for the students and principals to see each other in the Camp setting.
In the afternoon, the counselors challenged the campers to a lively game of Aussie Rules Football. The movements normally associated with soccer, basketball and American football were all part of the game. Koda, one of our counselors, has been enthusiastically bringing this sport to Camp for the past two summers. Once people learn how to play this game, they seem to become passionate enthusiasts as well—but not as passionate as Koda.
Tonight, the international educators prepared a dinner made up of their favorite dishes from home for all the campers, counselors, other staff and invited guests. Many people wore traditional clothing as well. The food was delicious and bountiful.
Sports Day & Color Games | August 2
In order to squeeze anything more into one day, you would need a shoe horn. It was Sports Day, Maine visitor’s day, the Talent Show, and then the beginning of Color Games as a grand finale.
Two nearby camps, Wigwam and Fernwood, came to challenge our girls and boys basketball and soccer players. Although they were all strong squads, the Seeds of Peace teams scored the most points, winning four out of four games. The guests from the other camps stayed with us all day, joining us for lunch and for optional observation of the Muslim Friday prayer service. We also exchanged humorous camp songs, as well as t-shirts. Our campers were encouraged to be welcoming hosts and get to know the visitors.
Just as the games were ending, a big thunderstorm sent us back to our bunks, providing a much-needed rest. Clear, cool air and sunshine brought us outside again. Dinner line-up was full of skits from special activities, including Quidditch from Harry Potter and the winners of Hunger Games.
The talent show was full of original music, dances and poetry. It was clear that hours of rehearsal and creativity had been invested in the success of the show, although it is hard to know when those hours were found.
Leslie, our Camp director, likes to designate this day as “National Ice Cream Sandwich Day.” She handed out this treat to everyone, to much delight. Then we showed the documentary about former campers being staff members at Camp. Almost all the stars of the video are now at Camp so campers loved it. Toward the end, it gradually becomes apparent that the speakers are talking about Color Games. Wil Smith comes on at the end and says, “What Color Will You Be?”
What came next was a time-honored tradition of presenting the six coaches for each team and calling out the campers’ names for the Blue and the Green teams. Tomorrow the competition will begin in earnest with a giant rope pull. Two days of nonstop excitement are ahead.
First Day of Color Games | August 3
The Rope Pull is the traditional way we begin the first day of Color Games. The rope is very long and heavy. First the girls compete, then the boys, and then the entire Camp. The winner must take two out of three pulls. The Green Team earned 250 points by winning all the rope pulls today.
After a morning of bunk rotations in several sports, the score was 400 for Blue and 900 for Green. In the afternoon, there were basketball and soccer matches. We also had drama, dance, creative writing, flag football, and cake decorating contests. By dinner, the Blue Team had 700 points and the Green team kept its lead with 1400 points.
The teams were given two hours to prepare for a variety show—a dance routine, a comedy sketch, an a capella song, an instrumental performance, and an all-team song. Several Camp staff acted as judges for the variety show. The results of the variety show competition will remain a secret until the end of Color Games.
Tomorrow we will begin the day with the Peace Canoe race. There will be many more competitive activities culminating with Message to Hajime.
Message to Hajime | August 4
A beautiful wooden “War Canoe,” modeled after those used by Native Americans, becomes our Peace Canoe during Color Games. Today, the competition began at 7 a.m. at the boys’ dock where campers were fitted with bright orange life vests, paddles and other floating devices. Ten campers paddled to the command of a teammate in the stern. The camper in the bow kept a lookout for obstructions and an eye on their destination all the way down at the Pines side of Camp.
As soon as they reached the Pines, the camper in the bow had to touch the hand of Wil Smith who was waiting in the water. The Blue and Green Teams each had a boys’ and girls’ crew for the canoe. A very important part of this race is the runner, who waits until Wil’s hand is touched to run across Camp and ring the bell, signaling the end of the race.
In fact, runners are very important all day. They connect the stations of the relay race we call Message to Hajime. Since this session of Camp is shorter than the first, Color Games is only two days long instead of three. Hajime also gets shortened to 86 objectives, from jumping rope 25 consecutive times, to solving math problems, shooting baskets, making a bed, running the full loop of the Camp road, and putting on several t-shirts at once. Every time a runner had to go from one station to the next, several teammates and a coach would run alongside, encouraging them to keep up their pace. Each team chose someone to memorize the “message” and recite it perfectly from memory to Wil Smith and Bobbie Gottschalk. Today’s messengers memorized an obscure speech within a couple of minutes of each other.
In the end, the Green Team took Message to Hajime and won Color Games. The prize was the glory of being first to jump into the lake. Blue Team members and staff members soon joined them and the entire group melded into a mass of huggers and splashers. Afterward, everyone stood in a large circle and sang the Seeds of Peace Camp song together. The campers insisted on putting a new ending on the song, which was more in keeping with this particular session of Camp than the old one is. Wil gave in to their way of ending the song because it is, after all, their session of Camp.
In the Peace Garden this evening, there was a lovely memorial service to remember Asel Asleh, as well as 12 other Seeds who have passed away. Only a few people knew these 13 Seeds, but everyone took the time to listen to those who spoke about them. The fact that the Seeds who have died—most from auto accidents or illnesses—were playing on the same field and swimming in the same lake as the present campers was not lost on anyone. It was a sobering thought.
Tonight, campers received memory books for exchanging comments about one another in writing. We also gathered by a campfire to sing and listen to speeches from the Color Games coaches. Tomorrow is the last day of Camp. Emotions will be high, but the campers will have a chance to prepare to leave this place behind and return to their communities and homes.
Farewells | August 5 & 6
The last day of Camp is always filled with emotion. People express it in different ways. We try to make space for the emotion so each person will have the opportunity to express themselves in their own way.
Some prefer to sit quietly and reflect. In the morning we held a Quaker silent meeting for those who wanted to be with our Camp family in a quiet, thoughtful way. For an hour, only two people out of a hundred present were moved to speak. The rest of the time we all sat quietly in a circle.
Some campers went from one friend to another, gathering comments in their memory albums. Those comments will be virtual hugs when camp-sickness really sets in, or whenever these new Seeds need some reassuring, kind words.
Other campers organized their belongings and packed their suitcases—although judging from the amount of clothing left behind, many must have been somewhat distracted by thoughts of wanting Camp to continue.
Some wanted to find out more about what the next part of the Seeds of Peace experience holds in store. So the staff responsible for ongoing year-round programs at home were joined by the PSs in a session called “life after Seeds of Peace Camp.” And everyone got a Seeds of Peace necklace, as well as a printed directory of contact information for everyone at Camp.
Some wanted to eat their favorite Camp food. So Earl, our chef, obliged. Egg sandwiches for breakfast, chicken patties for lunch, and pizza for dinner, with an ice cream bar for dessert.
The end of the day brought everyone together for a slide show created by a counselor, Conor, from about 600 of Bobbie’s best pictures. The photos captured many of the most poignant moments and reminded the campers of their enormous achievements.
Leslie surprised Bobbie with the Director’s Award for this summer. This award has been given to three others in past years, all of whom have served Seeds of Peace in critical ways over many years. Bobbie has been with Seeds of Peace the longest, having worked with John Wallach to start the organization, but was not anticipating the award, or the tributes from Leslie, Tim Wilson, Wil Smith and Sarah Rubin.
In the morning, we helped all the campers and educators board their buses for Portland and Lewiston, Maine, and for Syracuse and distant countries. We have coined a new word in the process of trying to get them to hug their friends and then move themselves and their luggage toward the buses: “huggage.”
So long, to everyone. We’ll be thinking of you.