Throughout the summer of 2014, we will be posting daily reports and photos to keep everyone informed of what is happening at Camp. We know many of you wish you could be at Camp to experience and observe and we hope these reports can be the next best thing!
Camp 2014 in Numbers
- 311 campers representing 10 delegations: Afghan, American, Egyptian, Indian, Israeli, Jordanian, Maine, Pakistani, Palestinian, and Syracuse.
- 47 Seeds returning to Camp as Peer Supports.
- Over 25 hours of facilitated dialogue for every Seed.
- 22 consecutive summers of Seeds of Peace programming.
SESSION ONE: MAINE & SYRACUSE
Pre-Camp Report | July 6
Some of us have been waiting since last August for this wonderfully anticipatory moment—the night before the campers arrive! Preparation for Camp takes place all year long, but the week prior to the campers’ arrival is a concentrated effort to prepare the new staff for what they are likely to encounter, and to support experienced staff members in their more senior roles.
It has been a week of orientation for the entire group of counselors, facilitators and administrative staff. We review all the protocols for safety, especially water safety, since we have a quarter of a mile of shoreline on Pleasant Lake. By the end of the week, the whole staff pulls together as a wonderful team.
Rain or shine, almost 129 campers from across the state of Maine and from Syracuse, New York, will arrive full of adolescent energy, wanting to be creative and challenged. As a staff, it is our job to make sure the campers can safely try new activities, meet new people unlike themselves, demonstrate their talents, and live together peacefully with people they have been taught to hate and fear.
They will live with complete strangers, as if they were family and friends. It will not be easy for anyone. In the beginning, some will hold back and be afraid to fully engage in the program, but the supportive environment of our Camp will allow them to take intelligent risks—whether it be to speak with someone who seems threatening, pass the salt to someone who seems weird, or sing with someone who seems very shy and quiet.
This will be the 22nd summer of the Seeds of Peace Camp. It is the common and shared experience for all Seeds—the jumping-off point—and although we have altered the way we carry out our mission, we have not altered our mission.
We remain true to the belief that peace is possible. We maintain hope for peaceful outcomes—even for ever-erupting generational conflicts—especially if the next generation of leaders is courageous, wise and compassionate. To that end, we begin anew.
Arrival Day | July 7
This year the first session of Camp will be for Maine Seeds and Syracuse Seeds. They will have two and a half weeks together. It seems like a long time right now, but they will be amazed at how quickly their time here will fly by.
Their buses rolled into Camp just three hours apart. First came the Maine Seeds, who will be close to home, although they will experience Camp as a far-away place. The campers from Syracuse spent six hours on their bus, so they really are far from home.
An enthusiastic band, made up of counselors playing horns and all sorts of drums and other percussion instruments, greeted both delegations. Those who weren’t in the band were dancing and singing. There was a time when we didn’t make such a big party out of their arrivals, but several years ago we found out that singing and dancing were the best way to put their excitement, nervousness and pent-up energy to work, helping them feel like they have arrived at an enjoyable and safe place.
As has become a tradition, Sarah Rubin, Wil Smith and Bobbie Gottschalk welcomed the campers. They were also introduced to Seeds of Peace Executive Director Leslie Lewin and our Camp medical staff. The campers unpacked their suitcases in their bunks, met their bunk mates and counselors, and ate dinner at the same table they will dine with for their entire stay at Camp. They also were greeted by Sarah Brajtbord, who runs programs for American Seeds and who will be working with them going forward after Camp ends.
After dinner, the new campers had a private conversation with Wil and then met the group of campers and facilitators who will form their dialogue groups. The returning campers, known as Peer Supports, held their own meeting with their facilitators. Wil and Bobbie also dropped in on their meeting to talk about their roles at Camp.
When we woke up this morning, the Camp was quiet with subdued anticipation of 140 new people joining us soon. We erupted with enthusiasm when the campers arrived. Then the bunks were buzzing with unpacking and talking. And in the space of a day, the Camp is no longer just waiting to be filled with campers. It is full and it feels terrific!
Iftar Dinner | July 8
We hear a wake-up bell at 7 a.m., a snooze alarm bell at 7:15 a.m. and we should all be walking out the door to line-up as the bell rings for the third time at 7:30 a.m. Not only does the bell (an old church bell) ring, but we also hear Wil Smith calling out, “All up! First bell!” Then we hear “All up! Second bell!” Finally we hear, “Line up! All campers, all counselors, line up!”
In the old days, campers lined up in formation by table group on the lawn. But many years ago, we decided to build benches close to the lake where everyone could sit in bunk groups instead. Line-up times also occur before lunch and dinner. Three times a day, we know where everyone is and what we expect the schedule to be. It is also a time for announcements and general instructions, as well as a time to recognize birthdays and play amusing games, sing funny songs and enjoy original skits.
Today a counselor (and Seed) named George taught the new campers the Pizza Man song, an old favorite that can have multiple verses. It is a “repeat after me” song so it is very easy for new people to join in. A few hours later, when we were assembling for an all-Camp photo, the whole Camp sang the song again.
All of the campers have their supply of t-shirts and sweatshirts, have been seen by the doctor or nurse, taken swim tests, learned the Seeds of Peace song, made name buttons, had their first dialogue sessions and last, but not least, have phoned home.
Today we had “tea” at 5 p.m. so that everyone could break the fast with the campers who are fasting for Ramadan with an Iftar dinner at 8:30 p.m. Five campers and a counselor explained Ramadan to their peers, which was very helpful. Our chefs prepared a delicious dinner for the entire Camp.
Dinner was followed by a wonderful staff show during which counselors showed the campers the kinds of activities they can look forward to, from canoeing to basketball. It also became a showcase for the impressive talent the counselors possess. Now that they know many of the counselors, the campers thoroughly enjoyed watching them perform.
Tomorrow will be one of the rare “normal days.”
Campfires & Table Cheers | July 9
This being a normal day, everyone straightened up the bunks after breakfast and then went to special activities. The rest of a normal day is structured around a process including dialogue, sports, the arts, and shared responsibilities for taking care of their Camp home.
Most of the activities are organized according to dialogue groups. This allows the campers to experience the people with whom they have regular dialogue as musicians, athletes, and artists. They also have group challenge activities with their dialogue groups, which increases the comfort level and understanding of the personalities in their group.
The Dining Hall, where dinners are served “family style,” is another place for campers from different ethnic and religious groups to get to know each other. The Dining Hall is a noisy place, with campers yelling table cheers, but it is so full of fun that the noise level doesn’t really bother anyone.
Tonight we had a lovely campfire, organized by the Peer Support campers (PSs) and their facilitators. These returning campers have been Seeds for one or two years, actively improving their communities and making an impact statewide as well. By speaking with the new campers about what Seeds of Peace has meant to them, they inspire those who have only arrived two days ago and are probably still trying to get used to being here.
Counselors sang a particularly meaningful song called Home at the end of the campfire. The song’s theme is about making this place a home.
It is only the second day, but we are already beginning to feel like a friendly community.
Remembering John Wallach | July 10
Tonight, at the end of a long day, our campers headed off to take showers and go to sleep. We could not help thinking about the millions of children growing up in conflict areas around the world who won’t be lulled to sleep by the water gently lapping against the shores of Pleasant Lake.
For all those who must live day and night with bombs and sirens, who never know who among friends or family will be bombed tomorrow, we hope with all our hearts that peace will come to your homes soon.
As Leslie reminded us tonight, today is the anniversary of Seeds of Peace founder John Wallach’s passing 14 years ago. His death occurred while Camp was in session. We knew then, as we do now, that Camp must go on.
Campers met for almost two hours of dialogue today, as they do six days a week. They also participated in some great activities. There was a fantastic dance class for boys, which got so heated that they had to move outdoors. They really got into the Wobble, a Seeds of Peace favorite for years. There also seemed to be a canoe lesson that turned out to be mostly a singing session.
During an art class, campers told each other stories, either true or made up. Some very serious poetry-writing took place in the shade of our tall trees, while other campers zoomed by on water-skis. Swim lessons are an hour every day for everyone.
We capped off the day with the GaGa World Cup competition. This game is similar to dodgeball, so previous experience is not required. The Camp was divided into four countries: Brazil, Argentina, Costa Rica, and this year’s surprise entry, Djibouti. Brazil and Djibouti made it to the final round with Brazil the victor (unlike another World Cup competition this summer).
We are enjoying lovely weather here in Maine!
Interfaith Dialogue | July 11
“Your legacy will not be based on how much money you made, or how famous you were, but on how you have treated other people.”
That was the theme of Tim Wilson’s talk with the campers at morning line-up today. The campers paid close attention to Tim’s words as he gave them his personal history with this Camp. Later on, Tim was the honorary bunk inspector, which significantly lowered the cumulative scores of most bunks!
One of the most important experiences at Camp is the Interfaith Dialogue session. It was held tonight, just before an all-Camp Iftar dinner with Muslim campers and staff. Religious differences can make campers apprehensive; it is often very helpful to have a frank conversation about the differences. But this kind of conversation might not ever happen without prompting, so tonight, Muslim, Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, agnostic, and non-religious campers met in a small groups in the fields around the Big Hall.
Picture-taking is generally a good gauge of how comfortable the campers are with one another. Only yesterday, the boys’ bunk pictures looked stiff and formal. But today, the pictures of the table groups were full of good humor and special jokes. Campers are definitely feeling at home, even though they have been here only five full days.
Counselors organized tryouts for Seeds of Peace’s soccer, basketball and soccer teams today. Campers who made the teams will now practice a few times before taking on other camps next week. It was nice to see that those trying out included campers with a range of athletic abilities.
Other campers received a comprehensive lesson in canoeing from Emma, a former camper who has been a counselor for a few years. She taught them how to paddle and steer, how to climb in and out of a canoe safely, and how to carry the boat into and out of the water.
Many former campers visit Camp throughout the summer, reliving fond memories. We had about ten of them with us today. We are always glad to see them, literally welcoming them with open arms.
Learning | July 12
There is a mixture of different kinds of learning at Camp. It can be physical, like a new sport or improving one’s skill in a sport already known. Other learning is emotional, like getting past initial apprehension to try something new. Some is informational, like learning how others have fostered changes in their schools. Some is creative, like learning new ways to play music. Sometimes instruction happens way out in the middle of the lake, like with water skiing.
Some learning comes from one’s own experience and some comes from the experience of those who have gone before us. Today at morning line-up, Amitai, an Israeli Seed who was at Camp in 2000 and 2001, imparted his learning at Camp for the benefit of the new campers.
He said that John Wallach used to ask campers to make one friend from the other side of their conflict. Amitai named the friends he made who were Palestinian, Egyptian and Jordanian. Ever since that time, he hasn’t been able to separate in his own mind those countries from his friends. Each country is represented by the names of his friends from Camp, no longer faceless places on the map of the Middle East.
The water ski special activity was a lot of fun today. Most of the participants are now able to get up on their skis and enjoy the ride around the lake. Some started out very fearful of the water, but have now overcame their fear as they learn to ski.
This afternoon, the Peer Support (PS) campers prepared topics for the new campers to consider as they develop as better leaders. These topics included their experiences in bringing vital issues to the attention of school boards, making ethical choices to save other students’ lives, even if that would mean breaking school rules, learning how to speak effectively in public, and dealing with ethnic differences in a community with new immigrants.
The PSs lived up to their title by giving new campers guidance and hope for their futures. We are all learning a lot from them.
Cafe Night | July 13
We finished our first week of Camp by holding a Café Night. This is an event we hold every session to honor John Wallach’s plea for each camper to make at least one friend from a group different from his/her own. Due to popular demand, we made a slight alteration, and showed the World Cup final between Germany and Argentina first.
Leslie introduced the memorial film of John Wallach’s life and talked about John’s belief that he could make anything happen. After the film, Bobbie talked about what it was like to work with John to build Seeds of Peace out of a dream, and have it operational in four months—without smart phones. She spoke about the power of a compelling idea, like Seeds of Peace. Who would turn down the chance to develop new, compassionate and courageous leadership for areas of conflict mired in generational wars?
Peer Support campers and their facilitators organized Café Night, along with the kitchen staff who provided lots of desserts. During the event, the campers find another camper they did not have a chance to talk with yet and then are asked to switch to another person every 20 minutes. The Dining Hall benches and tables are rearranged to promote optimum space for conversations. And to make it like a real café, we had live music provided by several members of our music staff.
A kickball game became the focus of many campers and counselors today. This is an easy sport played on a baseball diamond. The only piece of equipment is a big ball. People of all ages and abilities can play this game together.
Our long streak of sunny days seems to be coming to an end. The sound of raindrops on the roof is lulling everyone to sleep tonight.
Music and Singing | July 14
We have found that music connects the human heart to the rhythm of all hearts, be they kindred or foreign. That is why we use music to greet the new campers the second they arrive at Camp. We encourage musical expression at line-ups, in the bunks and in many other creative ways. Campers who have musical talent often spend their free time practicing or putting together ensembles for the Talent Show later on this week.
Today, the a capella special activity group performed after lunch in the Dining Hall. They sang When I’m Gone, from Pitch Perfect, accompanied by their own plastic cups on a wooden table. It was so beautiful and they got a standing ovation from the other campers.
Tonight we had a lip sync contest between the bunks. They chose song titles and were given DVDs of the songs. In their bunks, they played the music while creating dance moves to perform in the competition. It was lovely to see how inclusive each bunk was, even with campers who were shy on stage or weren’t used to lip syncing.
Some of the campers seem to have avoided physical effort their whole lives and others are very athletic. Dance classes have helped to bridge that gap, but today some of the counselors tried to address these differences by teaching the campers warm-up and stretching routines. After all, everyone needs to prepare their bodies for exercise. Sometimes, the counselors add songs to the exercise routines to keep everyone interested.
All of the facilitators and most of the counselors met today during rest hour. The facilitators reported on the progress of each group of about ten campers, in terms of mutual trust, comfort levels and discussions about social problems at school. They do not discuss individual campers in such a large group. By meeting in this way, everyone gets a broad sense of how the Camp process is unfolding.
We had another warm, sunny day, but they say the rain is coming. Hopefully the rain will be gone in time for tomorrow’s sports day.
Arts Day | July 15
We have had sports days for years, but this year we are devoting a whole day each session to the arts for the first time. We spent the day focusing on visual art, spoken and written word, a capella, dance, drama, drumming, painting and drawing, photography, film making, and fashion. The theme for today’s arts day was healing and transformation. Each dialogue group worked as a team in one of the arts. All of them focused on healing and transformation through one or more forms of creative expression.
Each group worked with three or four counselors who were instructed to emphasize cooperation and maximum participation. All the teams were given throw-away materials—generally considered junk or trash—to create something admirable, beautiful, and useful from something that had little value at the start. Each dialogue group explored the process of healing and transformation individually.
One group was asked to transform a large hut at the entrance of Camp, which has had a quote hanging on a wall for years about Seeds of Peace from Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations. They painted the quote onto the top of the inside walls and then designed murals below the words for another group to paint later.
It rained in the morning and again later in the day. People brought out their colorful rain boots, jackets and umbrellas. Line-up was held in the Dining Hall so we could stay dry. Leslie introduced many of the campers to her favorite rainy day camp song, You are My Sunshine. People from Maine and Syracuse don’t complain about rain, though. Several feet of snow and bitterly cold temperatures for months this past winter have made rain seem like a sunny day!
Sports Day | July 16
It rained on our Sports Day today. Instead of playing soccer with the other camps, we invited their campers to play Ga-Ga inside the Big Hall. Everyone loved it.
Basketball took place in the Field House. Our teams of campers are exceptional athletes, and were able to win games against Agawam, a boys’ camp, and Pinecliff, a girls’ camp. Competition runs very strong at Seeds of Peace. In fact, we have noted that for the campers who are selected to attend Seeds of Peace, “winning” seems to trump everything else.
About 25 former campers from Maine also visited us today. They got here in time to watch the sports competitions and stayed for dinner. Our kitchen staff is very accommodating and hosted the teams from the other camps for lunch.
Tonight, we tried something new. Up until now, all the wonderful things that happened in special activities stayed with the people who were part of those groups. Tonight, we showcased the accomplishments of the various special activities, including an original three-act drama, four kinds of dancing, clowning, a capella, improvisational acting, poetry, and photography. The audience was very supportive and enthusiastic, which allowed the actors and poets to express their concerns and challenges openly.
It is clear that this camp experience is already having a big impact on campers from Maine and Syracuse. The inclusiveness, humor, respect and mindfulness of all campers is visible in all of the showcased performances.
The real challenge in both the immediate and long-term future is whether these campers will be able to carry their new ways of interacting with people into the outside world. First, they will try to take their new social skills to the Camp family outside their dialogue groups. If they can sustain the same level of trust and confidence throughout their Camp experience, there will be a better chance that they will be able to apply all they have learned in the outside world.
Auditions | July 17
This is the time in our program when we uncover the talents of modest people and the courage of reticent people. With only five days left, campers are getting closer to their counselors and facilitators, and especially their fellow campers. They also seem to be taking advantage of everything that is offered, such as juggling—the new rage during free time.
Auditions for Saturday’s Talent Show took place today. Lovely dancing and singing filled the Big Hall for two hours as campers showed the directors what they could do. The range of talent is remarkable, from Celtic clogging, rap songs, beat boxing, interpretive dance, instrumental music, and skits.
One that blew us away at the audition was a 14-year-old soprano, with a gloriously vibrant voice that filled the Big Hall and field around it. Other campers waiting outside broke into applause and the judges were in tears.
There were so many talented campers auditioning today that the directors asked each auditioning camper if they could team up with some of the others.
All the dialogue groups are ready to climb to the high ropes course. They have gradually been working toward this final stage by doing trust exercises and creative problem solving. Still, some people lose their courage when they are asked to climb as high as the tree tops. Yet, there are campers who are so trusting that they climb blindfolded. In fact, today, both paired campers used blindfolds as they ascended the telephone poles, walked across the horizontal ropes high in the air, passed each other in the middle and made it safely to the opposite poles.
The evening activity with the whole Camp was a new one, called “Besties.” The dining table groups competed on the basis of having the best joke-teller, singer, rapper, beat-boxer, camper with an unusual skill and imitation of a counselor. At the end of the evening, everyone was reminded that Friday is laundry day. Actually, after piling up a week’s worth of well-used clothing, nobody needed a reminder.
VIDEO | Audition
Family Day | July 18
Congratulations to our kitchen staff for not only serving dinner to the usual 220 of us today, but also for hosting the visiting families of almost all the Maine campers. Roughly speaking, that doubled the amount of food which had to be prepared for our Iftar dinner, marking the end of today’s fasting for the many Muslim campers.
Before the Iftar, a large group gathered to help our two Jewish campers mark Shabbat as the sun went down.
Family Day turned out to be a wonderful event. The families of the Maine campers joined those from Syracuse to either observe or play sports, including kick ball, Frisbee, soccer or Ga-Ga. Little brothers and sisters were eager to join in the kick ball game, which is a familiar game in elementary schools.
Normally, everyone in Camp wears a green t-shirt. But for Family Day dinner, we encouraged everyone to wear whatever they wanted. Wil introduced the senior staff who are responsible for Maine and Syracuse Seeds at the dinner line-up. We also sang the Seeds of Peace song and did a round of Show me how you S-O-P. The families even joined in that contest and won!
Before we went to dinner, we had a moment of silence to remember all our fellow human beings around the world who are currently in harm’s way, who have escaped from conflicts, or who have relatives in danger of being caught up in violence beyond their control or making.
Maine Day | July 19
What a day! Maine Seeds were thrilled to have the principals and teachers from their schools come to visit in the morning as part of Maine Day. The visit showed the campers that their schools support them as Seeds, and are expecting them to take this Camp experience and “run with it” when school resumes.
Everyone performing in the Talent Show found little snippets of time in their sports schedules to practice, practice, practice. The operatic voice of one camper could be heard all over Camp, even though she was trying to be discreet, and the guitarists were strumming under every tree.
We held the Talent Show before the Iftar dinner and an open Shabbat service, which many campers attended. All of the religious services are open to everyone this week.
The Talent Show was really over the top in talent and hard work. The directors of the show had wisely combined several acts, which really enriched the final delivery of the messages in song, verse and dance. We are always so amazed at the talent the campers bring with them and the creations they produce cooperatively while at Camp.
Then, all of a sudden, it was Color Games! Just at the moment when we would ordinarily dismiss the campers for the night, the excitement of Color Games was the icing on the cake. Campers were split into two teams, Blue and Green. Their color will be their identity for two and a half days.
Tomorrow the competition will begin at 7:15 a.m. with an all-Camp rope pull. Stay tuned for updates!
Color Games | July 20
The first day of Color Games always starts with an all-Camp rope pull, the heavy, thick rope stretched along the road which separates the playing fields from the bunks. The Blue Team lines up on one half of the rope while the Green Team faces them on the other side. In the middle of the rope stands the marshal, Wil Smith, who blows the whistle and makes sure the rules are followed. There is also a White Team made up of all the staff not otherwise engaged as coaches for each of the teams which officiates at all of the Color Games competitions.
Today’s winner of the rope pull was the Green Team. Typically, the winner of the rope pull gets a head start on the score and is buoyed in spirit as well. The team which loses the rope pull usually needs the better part of a day or more to catch up, especially in spirit. They are at a disadvantage when the competitions are packed into two days, as is the case this session, because the human spirit needs time to recover lost confidence. But perhaps the Blue Team will rise to the occasion.
Tomorrow will be the second and last day of Color Games. We shall wake up to a canoe race using a big wood canoe, fitting ten team members in so they can synchronize the paddling for maximum speed and control. After breakfast there will be some all-star competitions and lunch.
Early afternoon we will start the biggest event in Color Games: Message to Hajime! Each team will have a relay race to accomplish 75 goals, ending with a message which someone on each team must memorize and recite to Bobbie or Wil exactly as written. By 4:30 p.m., we should have our winner.
Remembering Asel Asleh | July 21
A familiar phenomenon occurred on the second day of Color Games. The team which had fallen way behind on the first day began gaining ground on the second day. In fact, by lunch time, the Blue and Green Teams weren’t far apart at all. Both teams had victory within their grasp.
By 2 p.m., Message to Hajime, the culminating portion of Color Games, began. The teams assign people to run relay races between dozens of points at Camp. At each of these points there are tasks which need to be accomplished before the team can move on to the next point. Today, there were 74 tasks ranging from a swim race, math problem, tennis serves, soccer goals, jump rope, peanut butter and jelly sandwich making, to an Internet scavenger hunt, kayaking, and table cheers.
The last part of Hajime is the message—usually a rare quote from a famous person attached to a plate covered in whipped cream. Each team selects someone to memorize the quote. Once memorized, the messengers go to Wil Smith or Bobbie Gottschalk to be checked for accuracy and timing. The cumulative time it takes the teams to finish the previous 74 tasks has an impact on the outcome, but so does the amount of time the messenger needs to memorize the quote. And of course it is possible for a team to win Hajime, but not have enough points to win Color Games.
This time, the Green Team won both the Message to Hajime and Color Games, but the scores were not far apart. Into the lake went the members of the Green team, followed by the Blue and then the White Teams. As the entire Camp splashed around in the lake, all differences dissolved and the Seeds of Peace family of 2014, Session I, was truly formed. Making a circle in the lake, they sang the Seeds of Peace Camp song and everyone felt victorious.
In the evening, the campers were given scrapbooks, soon to be filled with notes from other campers and staff. These books will be a blessing during times of trouble in their future lives, as they return home.
Each session, we hold a memorial service for Asel Asleh, the only Seed who has been killed in conflict, and the 12 other Seeds who have passed away from illnesses, accidents, or domestic violence. This time we had beautiful music and readings in our Peace Garden. Later on, we brought everyone to the fire pit for reflections by the Color Games coaches and traditional camp songs. Thanks to the creativity of an older Maine Seed, Chris, we have a great repetitive song to help people sleep.
Tomorrow will be the last full day of this session.
Last Day | July 22
Today was another wonderful day with campers from Syracuse and Maine. They cleaned up the trash left over from the fast-paced Color Games in record time. Then the whole Camp joined together for our traditional Quaker silent meeting. Only, it wasn’t very silent. That was perfectly fine because so many of the campers and counselors had very enlightening comments to make. Most spoke about the way the Camp atmosphere had allowed them to re-think and resolve many personal issues that were hindering their personal growth before they spent two and a half weeks at Camp. Many spoke about the confidence they have gained from the program—something that is quite obvious.
Looking at their faces, they almost look like different people. The closed, wary look they first came with is gone. Their facial expressions are open and they readily throw their arms around one another.
Dialogue, packing and swimming occurred in the early afternoon, followed by a series of discussions about life after Camp in their own communities. Our Camp program is tied to the campers’ high school programs so they are less likely to lose ground in their personal development. The teachers and principals, as well as community organizations all make an effort to tie into our program.
We had a homemade pizza dinner—everyone’s favorite—followed by a slide show featuring 360 pictures from this session of Camp, taken by Bobbie Gottschalk, the resident photographer, and put together with popular music by an Egyptian counselor who organizes art and music for us. Judging by the screaming from the audience, the slide show was a treat. Bunk night closed out the day.
Tomorrow, the whole Camp will rise at 6:15 a.m. for a final line-up and breakfast. Then we will say goodbye to our Camp community, handing out directories with everyone’s contact information listed. These campers are now full-fledged members of the Seeds of Peace family.
VIDEO | Slideshow
SESSION TWO: MIDDLE EAST & SOUTH ASIA
Arrivals | July 31
As the first buses of delegations rolled into Camp today, a heavy rain storm abated and there was a sunny break in the clouds. That gave us the chance to welcome the campers, who passed through a “tunnel” of sheltering arms into a crowd of excited staff members. Successive buses unloaded every few hours. At this writing, we are awaiting the arrival of the final bus at 1 a.m.
Our tradition is to have Seeds of Peace co-founder Bobbie Gottschalk welcome the new campers by explaining that Camp is “the way life could be” (not “the way life should be,” as the State of Maine proclaims about itself). “Could” means it is possible—”should”, well, not necessarily.
As soon as the campers were welcomed, we provided them with anonymous surveys to fill out so we can track their progress by the end of the session. This surveys, designed by University of Chicago researchers, helps us assess the impact of our Camp program.
Once all the delegations have arrived, we will have over 200 campers and delegation leaders, most of whom are educators. One of these delegation leaders is a Seed who last came to Camp 15 years ago. She was astonished at how small the Dining Hall seemed now that she is seeing it as an adult.
Housekeeping | August 1
The morning wake-up bell rings first at 7 a.m. Then there is a “snooze alarm” bell at 7:15 a.m. If you don’t get out of bed and dressed after that bell, you will not have a chance to be on time for line-up.
Wil Smith, our associate camp director, usually greets each morning by reminding us of the beautiful place we live in. The scene spread out in front of the campers at line-up is really beautiful. Some days it looks misty with rising fog. Other days it looks clear as a mirror. It is devoid of human activity, save for our own. It feels like it is all ours.
This first day is usually filled with “housekeeping” activities, including swim tests, check-ins with the medical staff, name button-making and most important, phone calls home to anxious families. Campers were outfitted with our standard green Seeds of Peace t-shirts, along with sweatshirts for colder parts of the day.
The Peer Support campers began their program today. There are 29 of them, which is a large group. All of them have been to Camp once in the past two years. Before arriving in Maine, they took pictures of locations in their hometowns which are important to them. They will use these pictures to describe their daily lives at home to their peers, and then develop plans to rectify problems they identify in their communities.
Tonight, we had a meeting to bring together counselors and the adult delegation leaders. From now on, they will not hesitate to speak with each other if the need arises.
Tomorrow, the dialogue sessions will begin. We expect there to be a lot of serious discussion, both inside and outside the dialogue huts. We cannot live in a bubble here in Maine while death and destruction mount at home.
Counselor Show | August 2
Here we are in the woods of Maine on a beautiful lake, in sharp contrast to warfare and the specter of sudden injuries and death. While it is true that our campers live side by side with people who are or have been their mortal enemies, the total environment is safe and friendly.
Tonight when the counselors presented their show, the audience of campers and delegation leaders responded with joyful appreciation of the music and skits about camp activities. At the dinner line-up, the whole Camp sang the Seeds of Peace anthem together. If you had seen how wary they were of each other on the first day, you would not believe that they would be singing a song about peace together and laughing at the same skits, just one day later. It may be that this peaceful and supportive environment is something they really crave.
Flagraising | August 3
Our flagraising ceremony takes place in the beginning of Camp sessions. It gives each delegation a chance to honor their own flag and anthem. We must be sensitive to the emotional response many people have to the sound of their enemy’s anthem and the sight of their enemy’s flag. On top of that, there are some ethnic groups within nations which are in a minority status and therefore may not feel any allegiance to their anthem.
The flagraising ceremony is held right outside the Camp gates. Once all the flags are raised, our gate has the look of the United Nations. It is very likely to be the only place where the Israeli and Palestinian flags stand side by side. Each bunk group walks together to the ceremony and stands together in front of the flag poles. The members of each delegation sing their anthems and watch their flags being raised as part of their bunk group.
Yesterday, the Peer Support campers chose a speaker from each delegation to address the entire Camp, as well as visitors and reporters from local media. It was obvious that a great deal of thought and practice had gone into preparing the Peer Support speeches. The Palestinians were represented by a camper from Gaza. The Israelis chose to have both a Jewish and an Arab speaker who coordinated their remarks. There were also speakers from Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Egypt, Jordan, and the United States. These speeches were creative, thoughtful, reality-based, and hopeful.
The rest of the day was more typical of Camp life. Two of our veteran counselors taught them all the “Rattlin’Bog” song, an old favorite. Tonight, there was a digital scavenger hunt organized by competing bunks. Each group had a digital camera and a list of objectives which kept them running all over Camp looking for things on the list. Whenever they couldn’t find what they were supposed to be looking for, they became creative.
Delegation Meetings | August 4
There were several important meetings today, in addition to the daily dialogue sessions the campers participate in.
While the delegation leaders met with their respective national delegations, all the counselors and facilitators met to discuss how the session is going and what needs to be improved. On the calendar it has only been four days since Camp began, but it feels like four weeks because so much happens in any given day here.
Before every meal we have line-up, a gathering of everyone in Camp so we can all find out about scheduling changes, introduce visitors, learn new songs and perform short skits. One of the boys’ bunks like to stand up to announce a “deep thought.” For example, yesterday they cited the fact that it takes about eight minutes for the light from the sun to reach the earth. When you look up at the sun, you are already looking at history, since the actual light occurred eight minutes before you looked.
The Peer Support campers are charged with teaching the new campers traditional cheers and songs. Today they taught everyone a song written by Ahmad, a Seed who was a music counselor a few years ago. It is called “Everybody Like Hummus!”
Dialogue | August 5
The daily dialogue sessions are definitely heating up. It isn’t easy to be confronted by your peers for actions taken by your government. That is one thing campers will learn: none of the teenagers at Camp is responsible for the violence back home. And they will find out that they really do have the strength inside to deal with the conflicting narratives held by themselves and their counterparts on the “other side.” They really can relate to people in other delegations the way they relate to their own, but this will take time.
Concurrent with the dialogue sessions are group challenge activities. Members of each dialogue group take on physical challenges led by counselors with specialized training. Many of the challenges appear impossible to achieve until the campers work together to find creative solutions. Groups and individuals gain confidence in their problem-solving abilities as they move through the successively more difficult objectives. This carries over to their dialogue sessions, making it easier for the campers to grapple with the difficult choices they will consider.
The energy level generated by 182 teenagers, plus 55 young adult counselors, is incredible sometimes. Evening activities often help the campers let off some steam before bedtime. At some point in each session of Camp we have an evening program called World Cup GaGa—a variation of dodgeball—easily learned and fast-paced. This game puts their high energy levels to good use. The campers are divided into four teams: Germany, Argentina, Brazil, and the Netherlands. In fact, it is so fast-paced and noisy that two of the girls from Afghanistan sat and watched, hands over their ears to stifle the noise. Other girls enjoyed being able to challenge the boys for once.
New Skills | August 6
It only takes one enthusiastic person to get teenagers interested in trying something new. Here at Camp we have many counselors who are non-stop engaged with the campers and one another. When their enthusiasm is focused on something they really love, the campers get hooked too. Cricket, Aussie Football, and water skiing are among the activities which stand out as camper-magnets. Learning a new sport or skill builds confidence which can carry over into other areas of Camp life.
We want them to build confidence for the dialogue sessions, especially. At this point, many campers are still making well-rehearsed comments and not thinking critically about what others are saying. But, soon they will tire of saying the same things again and again. Then we will probably see them take some intelligent risks, even in dialogue sessions. They will risk remaining quiet while others are speaking. They will listen and let the other person’s points sink in. There will be more “I” statements and fewer “you people” statements. Their vocabulary will expand beyond “terrorists” and “murderers.”
In an art class today, campers were paired with others who do not speak the same native language. Each person listened to the other person’s description of home, in English, and then painted it, according to what was understood. At the end of the class, each camper explained his or her painting, demonstrating careful listening to the partner’s description. All of them asked to bring their paintings home. At least one pair exchanged paintings. They were quite proud of what they had accomplished.
The Peer Support campers spent the afternoon at St. Joseph’s College, where they grow their own vegetables and raise farm animals. Afterwards, the PSs were taken to a Food Pantry where they learned how to provide food to needy families without making them feel degraded because they can’t support themselves. The secret: they are treated like customers instead of charity cases.
Art and Confidence | August 7
Looking at the many pictures taken daily at Camp, an observer new to Seeds of Peace might infer that campers mostly have fun and play games together. But that is not the case. All the fun activities revolve around supporting the 110-minute dialogue sessions that campers participate in every day. Building confidence outside the dialogue huts enhances the probability that confidence will build inside the dialogue huts as well.
Today was Arts Day. Dialogue groups were assigned to certain areas of the arts, such as dance, visual art, film, instrumental music, wearable art, chalk sidewalk art and drama. The groups all shared the common goal of exploring the ways the arts promote transformation in groups and individuals. The materials available to work with were limited objects generally found in the trash. The dancers were not able to use music. Each dialogue group had about 90 minutes to create something to present at a show in the evening. It was amazing what they were able to put together in such a short time and with limited resources.
Tonight some very tall people arrived at Camp. They are the National Basketball Association players who visit Camp almost every year. The campers will have the chance to explain their conflicts to the famous or soon-to-be famous basketball stars. This will strengthen the campers’ confidence because athletes they look up to are going to listen to their explanation. And these players will give master classes to the campers for most of the day so that their skill levels will rise—just in time for Sports Day on Sunday!
Play for Peace | August 8
Today was definitely a special day. We took a one-day break from dialogue and devoted most of our time to the five National Basketball Association players who volunteered to give master classes all day. The players were Steven Adams, Marcus Smart, Joel Embiid, Jerami Grant and of course Brian Scalabrine, who has been here many times. Joel is recovering from a foot surgery but he came anyway and patiently gave instructions on the court.
All day the campers shot baskets and ran around the courts performing various basketball drills until they could do them well. It was fun to see how these professional players with their love for the game were able to motivate some campers who normally don’t like to participate in sports. The shy Afghan girls who were afraid to play Ga-Ga the other night were out on the court with everyone else, making baskets and running around with the rest of the campers.
For the past few days, there has been a raft constructing special activity involving eight campers from several delegations. They used big empty water bottles for flotation and found pieces of wood and rope to create three rafts. Today they tested their boats in an area of shallow water in the lake. All the rafts floated when no one was on them. But once the campers hopped on board, they became slightly submerged.
Religious services were held for Muslims in the afternoon and for Jewish campers in the evening. This time the Camp allowed other campers to come to the services to observe what happens and to view their fellow campers in a different light—as worshipers who also pray to God for peace. Tomorrow morning there will be an hour devoted to interfaith dialogue.
Interfaith Dialogue | August 9
This morning, the counselors met with small groups of campers to discuss faith. First the campers self-identified regarding their religious designation, including all the religions represented at Camp as well as non-believers and agnostics. It was a beautiful day, so most groups met outdoors. In every direction, you could see small groups having serious discussions. The campers and counselors spoke about their religious upbringing and their personal beliefs.
The Boston Demons, a co-ed Aussie Football team, gave master classes and played an actual game with our campers and counselors. The way we play the game, it is not a contact sport. The Boston team gave all the members of the Seeds of Peace team medals, which they promptly wore around their necks and will soon be decorating their bedroom walls at home, no doubt.
Later in the day, a big yellow school bus and several cars drove in with about 80 Maine Seeds, many of whom had just been to Camp for the first session this summer. They found most of their favorite counselors and could barely contain their excitement at being back. It was quite a scene when we gathered for dinner line-up. Many of the Camp songs and cheers were done in unison, making it all the more endearing.
It was easy for the current campers and the Maine Seeds to bond because they could readily see how similar their Camp experience has been. We all had a dinner based on a recipe from one of the delegation leaders, picnic-style. The Maine Seeds wanted to support the international campers and in many cases it was appreciated.
Sports Day | August 10
Sports Day is a competition with other youth camps in Maine. Today we challenged them to girls’ softball, girls’ basketball, and boys soccer. Basketball and soccer are familiar to our international campers, so they were able to win those games. But softball is really a brand new sport for most our campers. Even so, they tried hard and only lost by two runs.
The other campers joined ours at line-up and for lunch. Our counselors taught the other campers two of our favorite songs, Pizza Man and What is Love? We also had a three-camp game of Ga-Ga to close out the day.
Tonight the campers had “Table Talk” with their Dining Hall groups. Normally at meal times, the Dining Hall is so noisy and active, that the campers rarely have a chance to really get to know their table mates. So they sat in their table groups and gave everyone a chance to respond to general questions, which helped them know much more about the people with whom they eat breakfast, lunch and dinner daily.
Cafe Night | August 11
We remembered Seeds of Peace founder John Wallach as we always do, with a video from his memorial service at the United Nations. This year we were honored to have John’s wife, Janet, talk about how and why John made Seeds of Peace a reality.
The evening concluded with Café Night, led by the PSs. A visiting musician, John Michael Parker, performed a beautiful song and the Peer Support campers introduced the idea behind Café Night. Each camper paired with another who was as yet not a close friend. The PSs decorated the Dining Hall and rearranged the tables and chairs to allow for maximum conversations. They also served chocolate desserts.
The room was filled with the sounds of talking among the pairs. Many campers were seen leaning in toward the people they were talking with to hear better. John Wallach always used to ask the campers to make one friend. If he had lived to see how that advice has played out at Café Night, he would have been amazed.
Susanna, an acting instructor, is spending two days coaching the campers on improvisational humor. The Peer Support campers took her classes today and the first year campers will do it tomorrow. Humor is a uniting factor. Developing the ability to stand on stage and make an audience laugh can help the speakers win over an audience. Susanna led many warm-up routines, after which the campers were encouraged to get on stage and rant about one of their pet peeves.
One of the special activities is about getting in good shape physically. The campers in this group are not all in optimal condition. It was wonderful to watch some of the older campers in the group give support to the new campers. In fact, after one PS finished jogging down the road which rings the field, he grabbed the hands of two struggling campers and guided them to the finish line.
Line-Up | August 12
At this point in the session, we are usually developing into a well-functioning community. There are strong signs that indicate that we are on-track for the most part. Some dialogue groups have found ways to build relationships while others struggle with what could happen in the future. “Would you ever shoot me?” is a hard question to ask a new friend, and harder still to answer.
The three daily line-up assemblies serve as a way to check the pulse of the community. Shared “traditions” bind us to one another. Some bunk groups come up with “deep thoughts,” or “shallow thoughts,” or “lame jokes” to share with everyone. Wil Smith, our associate camp director, uses the morning line-up many days to identify where we are in the process of becoming Seeds of Peace. Yesterday Wil told the campers that they had reached the half-way point—time to focus on what they can do at Camp to become independent thinkers and courageous actors.
One of the ways campers feel equal at Camp is by learning how to play a new sport together. Cricket is well-known in Pakistan, India and Afghanistan, but isn’t played by girls, usually. Here at Camp, the girls get the opportunity to learn this popular sport because one of the counselors is an enthusiastic cricket expert. He applauds their every attempt to throw and hit the ball the right way.
Tomorrow we were planning to go to the Sea Dogs baseball game in Portland, but the weather forecast is 98 percent chance of rain. We will save that for another day.
Rained Out | August 13
A deluge of rain and wind in New England is making it seem more like winter than summer today. All the colorful raincoats, boots and umbrellas came out of the suitcases, but some campers evidently didn’t believe us when we said it could rain hard in the summer here. A friend with a wide umbrella is a friend indeed! This might be another way to share experiences.
We celebrated a Hindu holiday a few days late. This gave the Hindus at Camp a chance to enjoy their traditions, as well an opportunity for others to observe their religious practices. The Indians and Pakistanis wore colorful traditional clothing, adding richness to the otherwise plain setting.
Tonight we had a “Bestest” challenge between bunks. Inside the Big Hall, they tried to prove that their bunk had the best singer or dancer. Tomorrow if the storm moves on, we will get the chance to join other camps in Maine at the Sea Dogs baseball game.
International Night | August 14
From a culinary standpoint, we went from one extreme to another today. We had lunch at the Sea Dogs’ baseball stadium after standing in line to get slices of pizza, hot dogs, an ice cream “sea biscuits,” fried chicken, french fries and soda.
By dinner time, we were dining on fancy Middle East and South Asian food at our International Night. The delegation leaders had worked closely with our chef for days to prepare dishes like Mansaf, Maqloubeh, and Pakistani, Afghan, and Indian chicken. It was so good!
For International Night, traditional dress is encouraged. Suddenly, the sea of green t-shirts to which we have become accustomed turned into an array of colors and fabrics that was truly dazzling. Everyone enjoyed and admired all the different traditional costumes. There was a lot of photography going on—old and new friends, Camp groups, and delegations kept forming and re-forming for the cameras. The Camp session has become a respectful community.
High Ropes Course | August 15
In an effort to stay a few steps ahead of the campers, we are bringing Seeds of Peace’s regional program directors to Camp to help prepare campers for re-entry into their communities. Seeds of Peace is the way life could be, not the way it is for them at home.
While the regional program directors are meeting, the campers will continue with their Camp experience. Today dialogue groups started to master the high ropes course, climbing up the seemingly impossible poles and the vertical playpen. They work in pairs because cooperation is generally the best way to achieve their objectives. Short people are at a disadvantage on the vertical playpen, so the taller one usually has to give a boost to their shorter partner. Upper body strength, balance, and risk aversion all vary between individuals, but not between delegations.
Some campers are asked to do the ropes course, 40 feet in the air, while blindfolded. Their partner has to guide them safely. Trust between delegations was a scarce commodity when the campers arrived two weeks ago. Now it is taking hold, one Camp friend at a time.
Improvisational drama has been very successful at Camp. The scenes chosen by the campers to act out spontaneously are universal ones, like a job interview or negotiating for a higher grade with a teacher. Their imagination, cleverness, and humor draw the campers together.
Talent Show | August 16
Today was a big day for picture-taking. We went out on the field and grouped and re-grouped until all the bunk, table, and dialogue pictures were taken. From the perspective of the photographer, it is always interesting to see how the groups assemble themselves and pose. People who park themselves in the middle, off to the side, or in the back row behind a tall person, or who make funny faces, or hold their bodies in unusual ways all do these things for good reason. But you would have to know the individual and group dynamics to know why.
During the afternoon, while all the campers were either enjoying sports or preparing for the Talent Show at night, 14 counselors were secretly getting ready to coach Color Games.
The talent show was a huge success. Magnificent dancing, singing and instrumental performances were showcases for superior talent. The Jordanian, Indian, Pakistani, and Afghan Delegations performed traditional dances. Meanwhile, the poetry was magnificent. One poet at first read from scribbles on an envelope, but then dropped the paper and finished the poem from memory.
At the end of the talent show, the theater lights went out and counselors dashed through the Big Hall with colored lights to signal the beginning of Color Games! The younger campers are always surprised when Color Games begin because they are too caught up in the talent show to think about anything else.
Now the Camp will be divided for the next three days into two teams: Green and Blue. This is the final stretch for Camp. Only four days are left.
Color Games | August 17
Color Games always begins with rope pulls. First to compete are the girls from both teams. Then the boys face off. And finally, the girls and boys from both teams all take up the huge rope in an all-Camp tug. Wil Smith stands in the middle of the two sides and decides when one team has won as indicated by chalk marks on the ground and ribbons on the rope. Today he did the whole contest with little Molly, age three, holding onto his hand.
One of the boys at the far end of the rope was heard to say, “Let’s pull this thing all the way to the Dining Hall!” Apparently, this was the kind of encouragement his team needed. They won!
When the rope pull was over, we all went to a Sunday pancake breakfast.
The only spaces in Camp not taken over by Color Games are the bunks. Color Games stops at the door. This space is meant to be a haven, a safe place for everyone. Heavy competition would ruin that safe environment.
Everything the campers have done in the past two weeks can be used in Color Games events. All land and water sports, art, cooking, dancing, instrumental music, singing, poetry, and more, are part of the three-day competition. Today, most competitions were between bunks. Tomorrow that will change as each team will select their best competitors for each event.
As of dinnertime, the Blue Team was ahead by 75 points, having won the the morning rope pull. In terms of talent and skill, the teams are evenly matched. It all comes down to spirit, determination, and luck.
Variety Show | August 18
Some very fast runners began the second day of Color Games before breakfast with a relay race around the road which encircles the Camp. Boys and girls ran separate races, while the rest of the campers and counselors cheered them on.
By breakfast time, the Green team had 975 points to the Blue team’s 1200. By dinner time, the Green team had 1225 points to the Blue team’s 1600. So, the issue for the Green Team is keeping morale up and for the Blue Team it is not letting their energy flag.
Tonight’s variety show had competitions in dance, instrumental music, a capella singing, a skit called “What Am I Doing Here?!,” and team songs. The outcome of the variety show will not be announced until the end of Color Games at about noon tomorrow.
Message to Hajime | August 19
This morning began with the Peace Canoe race under clear blue skies on a lake that reflected all the surrounding colors. Ten members of each team paddled the giant wood canoe from the boys dock to the sailing dock. The girls on the Green Team beat the times not only of the Blue girls, but also of both boys crews. The other teams kept steering the canoes off course.
The Message to Hajime, the final climactic event of Color Games, is a relay race between 107 stations at which a camper from each team has to meet some kind of objective. This includes almost all the activities at Camp, and then some. One is a chess game. Another is a math problem. There are all kinds of sports and art objectives as well. In the end, one person from each team has to memorize an unfamiliar passage and recite it to Wil Smith or Bobbie. The whole event is timed.
Yesterday, before Hajime began, the teams’ cumulative scores were only 25 points apart. At the end, the Blue Team won Color Games by less that a minute. So close!
We had a well-needed extended rest hour. After dinner, we held our usual memorial service in the peace garden. At this time we remember the 13 Seeds who have passed away, with a special focus on Asel Asleh, the only Seed who has died because of the conflict. The others have died from auto accidents, illness, or murder. Farah, an Egyptian camper, had written a song about the “field” in the Sufi Rumi’s poem. She sang it very beautifully. Then we held a candlelight vigil for those we mourn, both inside and outside the Seeds of Peace family.
Tomorrow is the final day of Camp.
Silent Meeting | August 20
During the last full day of Camp we try to help everyone deal with separation from people who have become family. In some cases, Seeds will be heading back to the sights and sounds of war, not the peacefulness of Pleasant Lake. Parting will be especially painful for those who see no possibility of meeting again anytime soon.
We began the process of leaving by cleaning up the Camp. We started to put away boats and musical instruments for the winter. Three people carrying a canoe upside-down looked like a six-legged boat creature. We had an all-Camp lost and found after gathering up a variety of clothing, shoes, and water bottles left all over the place during Color Games. And the campers packed.
As usual, we held a Quaker silent meeting for everyone who wished to partake in it. The whole Camp community assembled and we sat in silence for 30 minutes. Then, one by one, campers and counselors spoke about their initial misgivings about Camp and the way they have come to realize the value of the experience.
In the afternoon there were delegation meetings where the campers were given instructions about their trip home.
Tonight, the campers spent two hours meeting with Seeds of Peace staff and Peer Support campers in preparation for activities back home. Afterward, we had a slide show of photos and videos taken during this session of Camp.
The campers will be waking up very early, but it is unlikely that they will get very much sleep tonight.
Farewells | August 21
Sounds of spirited music awakened us this morning. We all gravitated to its source on the porch of the Big Hall. Out in the field some of the campers formed a line weaving in and out of the crowd gathered there. This happy moment was our last celebration together.
Line-up morphed into a circle instead of rows, thanks to the Peer Support campers who planned a short program about the South African word Ubuntu, which means, “I am who I am because of who all of us are.” Our common humanity helped formed a community in less than a month.
It is always difficult to part after such intense weeks of living together. The tears and hugs were in abundance. Some had to take a few more pictures or get one more hug. All of us were sad to see the summer end.
The campers and counselors will keep in touch through Facebook, email, and phone calls. In some cases, they will even meet again in a few weeks or months. But this magical space of equality, opportunity and kindness has come to an end today. It was a way to find out that peace is possible if young people are given some guidance and a chance. And, for everyone who was here or who knew about it, this Camp session restored hope.