Camp 2017 in Numbers
- 349 campers representing 14 delegations: American, Egyptian, Indian, Israeli, Jordanian, Pakistani, Palestinian, Chicago, Los Angeles, Maine, New York, and Syracuse
- 56 Seeds returning to Camp as Peer Supports.
- 110 minutes of daily facilitated dialogue for every Seed.
- 34 Delegation Leaders/Educators.
- 25 consecutive summers of Seeds of Peace programming.
SESSION 2: UNITED STATES
Farewells | August 13
Departure day is special. As the luggage piles up and the buses roll in, the reality of letting go of friends and mentors cannot be denied. No amount of music can push aside the sense of appreciation and loss. Between wordless hugs and tears, yearning thoughts of staying behind get expressed in jokes and whispers.
For counselors, it is the second time in just a few weeks that campers have been dispersed to their different destinations after living like a close, loving family. Yes, it has only been two weeks this time. But, that doesn’t matter when everyone has invested so much emotional energy in creating a safe home for young people, some of whom may not have another safe home to which to return.
We have year-round staff ready to receive and support all the new Seeds. Re-entry to their home towns will be a shock to their senses. But, at Camp, they learned how to work toward needed changes wherever they go. We look forward to learning about their efforts to influence their communities and families, now that they know how life could be.
We are always sad and happy at the same time on the departure day. Sad to let go but happy to have done something so consequential in the lives of young leaders who can carry forward all they learned at Camp for the rest of their lives.
A Packed Last Day | August 12
For most campers, the end of Camp means going home to family and friends. But, it also means saying goodbye to their Camp friends who have become like family. So it is a mixed bag of emotions. And for a small number of campers, this Camp is more like the home they wish they had all the time. We therefore do our best to address their feelings and help them all take care of one another.
In between packing and searching through the “lost and found” we had dialogue, a Quaker silent meeting, swimming, discussions about continuing programs at home, the final match of Ga-Ga, a memorial service, a slide show, and the last bunk night.
Tomorrow, we expect the buses to begin rolling into Camp at 6:30 a.m. There will be staggered departures, many tears, and hugs. We expect to begin the day with music, instead of the usual wake up bell. We will all assemble on the field in front of the Big Hall. This will be the last time our temporary reality of only two weeks will be together in a physical sense. In an emotional sense and in our memories, it will last a very long time.
Message to Hajime | August 11
The second and final day of Color Games began with the Peace Canoe races before breakfast. Ten boys or girls on each team compete with their counterparts on the other team. It demands considerable skill to maneuver a large, heavy wooden canoe from the boys’ dock to the sailing beach. Although the campers all had a chance to learn to canoe, it is a whole new experience to steer such a large boat with so many people in it.
One might think that boys would have a muscle and size advantage with the Peace Canoe, but that is not the case. Maneuverability and cooperation make the canoe move faster in the water. In fact, both the Green and Blue Team girls had faster times than the boys on their teams.
Campers competed in “all-star” contests of basketball, soccer, Frisbee, street hockey, dance, and Group Challenge before we got to the most challenging contest: The Message to Hajime.
The Message to Hajime is based on an old camp game called Message to Garcia. More than 100 stations were set up around Camp at which campers completed various tasks including bed-making, swimming, jumping rope, hitting a staff member with a water balloon, raising flags, paddling a canoe, doing push-ups, doing headers with a soccer ball, running around the bases of the baseball field backwards, and putting on six T-shirts. Between each of the bases, runners carry a baton to the next one. In the end, every team member has a significant role to play.
The final task involves one camper from each team memorizing and reciting an unfamiliar quote to Bobbie and Sarah B. inside the Big Hall while their teammates wait quietly outside. This completes the Message. Stop watches started at the beginning of the race are stopped at the moment the messengers complete their recitation. The team with the quickest time wins the Message.
The Green Team lost by a couple of minutes. They had staged a fantastic comeback after falling behind on the first day and also at the beginning of the Message. The teams were very evenly divided. But those last few minutes caused them to lose Color Games as well as the Message. So, the Blue Team ran into the lake first. Right at their heels, the Green Team joined in and all was whole at our Camp, on a whole new level.
Color Games | August 11
Color Games started last night. Fourteen of the counselors are coaches. All the campers and coaches are either in Green or Blue T-shirts.
We always begin the first day of competitions with a giant rope pull on the Camp road. Rumor has it that the team that is the part of the road close to the lower-numbered bunks is at an advantage. But after each round, the teams switched sides and the Blue Team won all the rounds.
The more interesting rumor is that the team that wins the rope pull usually loses Color Games. No statistics have been kept over the past 25 summers, but there is a reason for that. If the team that wins the rope pull wins many other contests on the first day, they might become over-confident and let down their energy level. That leaves them open to losing more contests on the second day. The scores for the Variety Show are kept secret until the very end. So, the known scores can be misleading. The Variety Show is worth more points than other competitions.
Tonight’s Variety Show did not disappoint. The teams sang, danced, made jokes about Camp, played music, and spoke about their personal observations. The writing and composing talent of these young people is really exciting. In years past, we had the campers put together a skit without speech. Who knows how many fine writers we deprived ourselves of hearing? Now we know that all teenagers—no matter the circumstances in which they normally live—have something important to say that is worthy of our attention.
Talent Show | August 10
This day was packed! We had our regular schedule of sports, dialogue, and arts activities. But on top of that, people had to rehearse for the Talent Show. It was also Maine Seeds visiting day. And it was the day the final few matches of Ga-Ga were played outdoors in the “pit.” And if that wasn’t enough, we had the real Talent Show at night. And there was more.
We honored our 15-year veteran school bus driver, Diane, with the Camp Director’s award. She was lauded by Daniel, the director of the Seeds of Peace Educators program, Dick, the facilitator for the PS program, Leslie, our executive director, and Sarah Brajtbord, the camp director.
Over 50 Maine Seeds came to Camp for their own reunion and to remember their own time here. Many of them had not had the opportunity to see one another for a long time. They greeted each other with lots of hugs and happy screams.
The Talent Show was really amazing! We have so much talent here in dance, musical instruments, singing, and especially comedy. One of the acts was called “synchronized swimming.” Two people held up a blue tarp and four girls came out with life jacks on. They imitated synchronized swimming behind the tarp, which represented the pool. They rose up and down in unison, sometimes just showing their legs or “diving” one after the other. They even put sunscreen on their noses.
Both the comedians and the rappers intertwined pathos with humor, a combination that often catches the audience off-guard, making a bigger impact with their message.
At the evening line-up, about 12 girls displayed the results of a special activity about real beauty. After writing about their innermost feelings, they were able to capture what they felt described what makes them beautiful. The prompt was, “My pretty is …” The rest of the campers and counselors were amazed and very appreciative of the personal work they had done.
After the Talent Show, the lights went out and then the counselors burst into the Big Hall with light sticks, shouting “Color Games!”
Now we will be caught up in a whirlwind of competition between very competitive campers and their counselor coaches. Stay tuned!
Multicultural Night | August 9
This seemed like a normal Seeds of Peace day, filled with sports and music and lake activities, until we began our multicultural line-up and dinner. The campers, counselors, and facilitators were all invited to dress up in traditional garb specific to their backgrounds. We were awash in many bright colors, like a magnificent flower garden in full bloom.
Many campers come from families who have immigrated from a variety of African countries, including Somalia, South Sudan, the Congo, Tanzania, Kenya, and others. There are also campers from Cambodia, China, Mexico, and Iran. Many volunteered to speak to the whole Camp at line-up about what their clothing means to them. Everyone wanted their pictures taken with their Camp friends.
Our kitchen staff, as well as some families of Maine Seeds, made food from several cultures, including Thai. Mohammed Nur, a Maine Seed working with the educators program this session, spent the entire day in the kitchen making 300 sambusas.
We ate outdoors at picnic tables, and lively music filled the air. Soon, it became impossible not to dance. Being dressed in all different clothing might have accentuated their differences if the campers were not already actively forming a community. They took pride in their special family backgrounds. But, they are too comfortable with one another to want to be separated. So, they danced together.
Our Camp program is rich with opportunities to grow. But for some of these campers, the pace of the Camp program might be overwhelming. It is wonderful to observe the counselors, as well as many of the campers, comfort and encourage the ones for whom all the new relationships and activities are still daunting.
Café Night | August 8
After a very cold night for early August, most of us woke up at 7 a.m., reluctantly. Our Camp Director, Sarah Brajtbord, stood in front of line up and decided to wake everyone up with some physical exercise. In rapid succession, everyone stood up and shook their limbs faster and faster until the exercise ended.
For the past couple of days, the dialogue groups have dug deeply into the issues that concern them personally. Many revealed terrible memories and frightening events in their lives. One way we counter-balance these serious dialogue sessions is by doing funny things. Today, we had two dining table groups “get married” at line-up, for example. Sarah officiated. A golf cart was decked out with streamers. We even had one wedding guest who stood up and “objected” to the union.
There are about 20 acts getting ready to perform at the Talent Show, which takes place in two days. While the campers are busy practicing for the Show, a group of the counselors will be getting ready for an all-Camp competition. These counselors will act as coaches, encouraging and guiding each camper all day and evening in sports, arts and other challenges. It is an honor to be chosen as a coach which is done secretly. Their identities will not be known to the campers until the competition begins later this week.
Tonight was Café Night. The PSs created an evening of conversation for the campers, laced with delicious desserts baked by our kitchen staff. The first part of the evening was devoted to educating the campers about the founder of Seeds of Peace, John Wallach. Leslie and Bobbie spoke about John and then screened the video originally shown at his memorial service.
The second part was the café, set up in the Dining Hall to allow for many conversational groups. With the tables moved to the edges and all the benches in the center of the room, the Dining Hall was transformed. There was music and lots of cookies and cakes. Everyone was asked to seek out conversation partners they had not already had the chance to get to know. This night helps the campers connect more with our history and with campers not in their bunk, dining table, or dialogue group. The hum of animated conversations filled the room.
We were delighted to have a woman from Gaza visit Camp today. She has been gaining global praise for her invention of building blocks, made out of rubble, to rebuild homes and other buildings in Gaza. She is also developing solar kits to help the people of Gaza supply themselves with electricity. She is setting a good example for young people everywhere.
Arts Day & High Ropes | August 6
Today was devoted to many forms of art, including spoken word, cooking, visual arts, chalk mural, photography, dance, instrumental music, and drama. Each dialogue group explored one form of art for an extended period of time, and then performed their work for the whole camp in the evening. All the groups were given the prompt, “Why am I here?”
The chalk mural was done on the floor of the Big Hall after the dialogue group assigned specific tasks to each person. Those who lacked confidence sketching left that task to others and colored inside the outlines instead. Others wrote about the thoughts behind their mural.
The photography group first sat at tables and wrote a response to “Why am I here?” Then they walked around Camp in twos, taking portraits of each other. In the evening, their hand-written essays and portraits were posted together on the walls of the Big Hall.
The group doing instrumental music actually composed their own piece, which was performed in the Big Hall. The drama group also performed an original work focusing on the challenges they face at home. The spoken word and visual arts groups took to the stage to explain their original pieces.
In the meantime, each dialogue group is ready for the final group challenge—the high ropes course. Three main challenges happen at the same time. Two campers take on the vertical playground—a series of boards and truck tires that require a lot of strategy and courage. Just figuring out how to get to the first board high off the ground can take 30 minutes.
The other two challenges involve climbing telephone poles to ropes about 30 ft. in the air and walking across ropes to reach the other telephone poles. Some even do this blind-folded. Of course, all the campers are strapped into harnesses and have counselors there to protect them. Nevertheless, it is scary for those doing it for the first time.
Adriel, one of our former music counselors, visited Camp this weekend. At morning line-up, Adriel and Moose played a song they used to perform for many summers. It seemed like the perfect choice for this point in the session: “I Believe There’s a Better Way.”
Visitors | August 5
Today was a big day here at Seeds of Peace Camp: Sports Day and Maine Camper Family Visiting Day. All told, we had over 200 guests at Camp!
This session, Camp Winnebago paid us a visit to play against our campers in boys’ basketball and soccer. Unfortunately, the girls soccer and basketball teams we’d planned to play against from another camp were unexpectedly unable to join us. Our two girls teams still had a wonderful day, and we are working on rescheduling their sports matches as soon as possible.
Campers who were not playing painted their faces with camp colors and cheered the teams on. The Seeds of Peace teams won both matches and then all visitors mingled with Seeds of Peace campers for a lunch cookout.
Dialogue resumed today after the Friday break. Groups are now opening up and beginning to trust each other enough to hold conflict. Campers are sharing deeply about their personal experiences of identity and community, and they’re beginning to explore how these connect to societal issues like power and privilege.
Sometimes a great programming idea develops organically. For practical reasons, the Educators and the PSs traveled together on the same bus for a field trip a few days ago. After doing that, the PSs asked to spend some time in discussion with the Educators. The facilitators of each group asked them to come up with probing questions for the other. They met in the evening, during a rainstorm.
First, the educators sat in an inside circle while answering the questions from the PSs. Then they reversed positions and the PSs were put on the spot. The atmosphere was intense but respectful at all times. They spoke about prejudice, excessive testing, behavior management, and going against the status quo. There was a true meeting of minds, and we are looking forward to creating more opportunities for communication and engagement across Camp programs.
Friday Services | August 4
A misty morning gave way to a cloudy, sometimes rainy, day. Afternoon thunderstorms threatened in the distance and necessitated a few schedule changes. When they cleared, there was just enough time for a dialogue group to take a short canoe excursion.
At morning line-up, Sarah Brajtbord (our Camp Director) reminded the campers that we are nearing the halfway point in the session and that they should use the day without dialogue sessions to reflect and process their experiences thus far. The PSs then shared their group’s experiences visiting a cross-cultural preschool in Portland the previous day.
As usual on Fridays at Seeds of Peace, we held Muslim prayer services after lunch and Jewish Shabbat services after dinner. Just like last session, we invited campers of other faiths or no faith to witness both services. Many campers and Educators took advantage of this unique opportunity to experience different forms of worship.
All of the campers have now entered the waters of Pleasant Lake—some of whom have no prior experience swimming or being in a natural body of water. About 25 are taking swim lessons during Special Activity, and many more are being taught to swim during our daily General Swim period. Each camper taking part in these lessons has significantly improved their swimming abilities and comfort in the water.
‘Creative Splash’ Special Activity allowed campers to embrace the water by using water colors to express their perspectives, with some campers and counselors painting the lake and surrounding nature.
Meanwhile, the Educators had their first Group Challenge activity, which evolved into an important dialogue on issues of identity and voice.
This evening was bunk night. Some bunks built campfires and danced in the shadows; one hunkered down to watch a movie. Others went rock climbing and zip lining. As the evening wound down, the noise of happy bunks was replaced by the call-and-response of a family of loons out on the lake.
Day of Firsts | August 3
We had a few “firsts” today. This was the first time a camper sang the entire Camp song while being up on skis in the water. It was the first time the educators held a conference for the community in Portland. And it was the first time the bunk groups had their pictures taken.
Bunk pictures usually say a lot about the relationships being formed.
Campers and counselors have bunk clean-up together each morning, so every person plays a role in keeping their living space neat and clean. They change clothes, write in their journals, have quiet rest hours, personal discussions, jokes and music, as if they were family members or close friends. Eight to 10 campers share this home at Camp with two counselors.
Sports day will happen in two days, so today during general swim and rest hour, the girls and boys basketball and soccer teams were practicing. Two other camps will bring their campers over to ours to challenge us.
The dance program has been very strong this summer. Pooja, a counselor from India, has inspired a lot of interest in the very energetic Bollywood dancing. The campers and other counselors love to join into the circles and dance together, even on very hot days.
National Holiday | August 2
One holiday that unites our Camp each summer is National Ice Cream Sandwich Day. This gets celebrated with ice cream sandwiches, of course–perfect for lunch on a hot day. Leslie, our executive director, ordered hundreds of them ahead of time, in anticipation of the celebration.
Along with our Camp session for teenagers from across the United States, we are also hosting a two-week seminar on “Educating in a Diverse Democracy” for teachers from the same American cities the young people come from. Today, the morning part of the seminar was devoted to the writer and painter Robert Shetterly, known for his work called “Americans Who Tell the Truth.” He paints large portraits of known and lesser known Americans who speak out against all the injustice and lack of compassion in our history, as well as in our own time.
Robert’s portraits really convey the basic personalities of his subjects. In fact, he asked the educators to describe the person in each portrait before reading any information about them. This was a good test, because every single description made just from looking at the portrait was entirely in line with a quote from the subject, read later.
Today was a warm, sunny day, with lots of opportunities for sports and swimming. Sometimes the sport is taken very seriously and campers play hard. Other times, the campers take a more casual approach. Today, a group decided to literally sit down for their pickleball lesson, which is normally played standing upright on a tennis court.
In the evening, a storm swept in with lightning and thunder, so we couldn’t carry out the outdoor activity as planned. Instead, there was an impromptu performance contest in the big hall. Each dialogue group had to field their best singer, joke-teller, dancer and impersonator. It worked out as well as the activity that had been planned. The campers were very supportive of one another. No doubt this unplanned activity will have a positive impact on their dialogue group.
Delegation Bonding | August 1
Today, we realized that we had eleven sibling relationships among our campers and staff this session. So, we lined them up with the younger ones in front of their older siblings and took a picture. This is quite unusual for us.
We also realized that members of the same delegation do not necessarily spend a lot of time together at Camp due to the way groups are intermixed in bunks, dining tables, and dialogue. It would be very helpful back in their home towns if they knew one another well enough to work cooperatively on the problems they face. So tonight, we tried something new during evening activity.
The campers were separated into delegations and asked to choose from a pile of discarded objects the materials they would need to design and make a cardboard “car.” They had about 30 minutes to create a vehicle designed and assembled by the group with duct tape, string, and wires. The concept cars were graded on creative design, stability, and speed.
Then, they had a race to see which car would hold together and go the fastest. Before each car was put to the test, a spokesperson had to explain the design. Members of the group who were not inside the car had to run beside it and cheer for their team.
In an effort to fit the required number of people inside the car, several campers were carried on the backs of others. The group from Los Angeles chanted, “We’re from L.A. We’re stuck in traffic every day!” A car billed as a Cadillac collapsed midway down the field.
It was easy to discern the task-oriented people from the ones who clearly were in it for the fun. But, in the end, even the seriously industrious people joined in the fun and had a great time.
“Steal the bacon” usually becomes a more intense game in the United States session. The same is true of softball. This group of campers is also more familiar with canoes and water skiis, but quite a number came to Camp not knowing how to swim.
Dialogue is beginning to take on a more serious tone. These campers came prepared to talk rather than argue. They are not bitter enemies. But they have their own differences and troubling issues. They will need to support one another as the difficult topics come to the surface.
Mirth | July 31
Our camp community thrives on jokes and repetitive chants. When everyone is laughing at the same thing, we know the inclusion process is underway. Some jokes and chants are short-lived. Others seem to go on forever. For example, during the first session, whenever there was a moment of feigned surprise, the campers would slap their hands on their own heads and say, “Oh my God!” And whenever anyone got up in front of the group and did something meant to be funny but no one understood the joke, the whole group would say, “What was that?” in a sing-song manner. Both of these chants have carried over into this session.
Many counselors come up with their own characteristic ways of getting their messages across. Zein usually makes suggestions for keeping the boys’ bathrooms clean, using magical language. Nick, the bunk inspector du jour, refers to the “rubric” of bunk cleaning. Another staff member, Moose, has decided to define a word which happens to come up every day. Today’s word was “mirth.” It was used in the first Seeds of Peace Camp song, which Leslie and Bobbie performed for the campers in the morning.
One of the ways the counselors keep the campers engaged is by filling in spare time with games. During orientation, the counselors taught one another their favorite games. One of them involves an apple. The group forms a circle and passes an apple around behind their backs, so that a single person in the middle of the circle has a hard time knowing who has the apple. While the person in the middle isn’t looking, the person holding the apple takes a bite out of it. Then the apple is passed on surreptitiously. If the apple gets completely eaten before the person in the middle can spy it, the game is over.
The jokes and the games are meant to help bind our community together. The counselors stay mindful of the ease with which a joke can turn into something hurtful, especially with teenagers. It is very important that everything we do outside dialogue supports the process of empathy and respect—the overall objective.
Otisfield | July 30
The Seeds of Peace Camp is located in a rural community in Maine—a state with a small population relative to its land mass, with endless forests and hundreds of lakes. Small towns appear in great profusion, laced together by two-lane, country roads. Each town usually has a fire station, a small general store, a church or two, and a library. Sometimes the town has an old meetinghouse, built by church groups in the 1800s, but used as a meeting space for everyone these days.
Today, many of us went to a program featuring Seeds of Peace at the Bell Hill Meetinghouse in Otisfield, the town where our Camp is located. Tim Wilson spoke about his decades-long ties with the Otisfield community as the first black counselor in Maine at Camp Powhatan, the forerunner of our Camp. He was the camp director at Powhatan when he was asked to stay on an extra two weeks to direct the first session of Seeds of Peace.
Habeeba, an Egyptian Seed and now a counselor, spoke about how she had hated Jewish people. She had a startling realization one day when she was a camper that changed that attitude entirely. Her group challenge activity involved going across the high ropes, blind-folded and not permitted to speak, while being entirely dependent upon the instructions of someone who was Jewish. Thirty feet off the ground, she discovered their shared humanity, as the other camper admitted that he was afraid of heights. Gradually, they helped one another complete the challenge.
Matt, a Maine Seed from Portland, also spoke about his time at Camp. For him, it was the unique experience of being in the minority for the first time in his life. His family has lived in Portland for generations. At Camp, he lived with immigrants from African and Asian countries. Not many others were like him. He became friends with his fellow campers and he has since had opportunities to advocate for their shared causes, especially as a student member of his School Board.
Bobbie, co-founder of Seeds of Peace, had a question and answer session with the new returning campers. They are getting used to their new roles, using both humor and wisdom to lead and support the new campers. The returning campers held a campfire talk with the new campers, imparting great advice and thoughts to ponder.
The campers completed their swim tests, research surveys, medical check-ins, phone calls home, and can now sing the Camp song.
Arrival Day | July 29
The day the campers arrive is one of the most nerve-wracking and exciting days for the senior staff. All the planning beforehand can be derailed by flight delays and traffic back-ups. Everyone can sense the excitement of beginning anew, even the counselors still grieving over the departure of the campers they cared for in their bunks during the first session. They have received emails from those campers who find it hard to cope with the feeling of being replaced. They almost can’t believe that they will care just as much for the new campers, but they will.
In the morning, some final assignments of responsibilities were made and then the counselors circled up for a meeting. Each one was asked to state publicly what their individual intentions would be for this session of Camp. Everyone was asked to support one another in carrying out these intentions. This had a very serious tone. When everyone had revealed their intentions, they laughingly created a group hug by holding hands in a line and winding around someone in the center holding a selfie stick.
The first buses brought the Maine campers from all over the state, accompanied by Tim Wilson. The Maine campers represent families who have lived in Maine for generations as well as many who are immigrants from Somalia, the Sudan, and other countries.
One by one, buses arrived with campers from Chicago, Los Angeles, Syracuse, and New York City. By dinnertime, we had a full Camp! Each bus was greeted with singing and cheering, music and dancing. People at home could watch the arrivals on Facebook Live.
In the evening, we introduced the campers to their dialogue groups and facilitators, and then had “bunk night.” They were glad to slip into their sleeping bags for their first night’s sleep at Camp.
Orientation | July 28
The second session of Camp is different from the first, which ended last week. Most of the counselors have stayed on, but nearly all of the facilitators are new. This is because the campers are coming to us from across the United States, rather than directly from the Middle East and South Asia.
The largest delegation is from the state of Maine. We’ll also host campers from Syracuse (New York), New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago.
Tim Wilson, the first camp director for Seeds of Peace, has spent many years developing a robust post-Camp program for the Maine Seeds. He spoke to the counselors about the kinds of issues the Maine campers are dealing with at home. And then he gave them the best advice: “Be yourselves, be honest. Teenagers know a fake when they meet one.”
Unlike the first session, these campers will tackle issues facing schools and communities in the US including racism, economic inequality, gun violence, religious intolerance, and homophobia. Their dialogue sessions will explore concepts of identity including race, religion, gender, and culture, and help the campers understand and analyze dynamics like power and privilege.
Besides providing a three-day break, the inter-session has been used to familiarize the staff with the kinds of challenges these campers face at home. Tonight, counselors found out the names of their campers and prepared the bunks with new linens and bunk signs.
The Camp staff—having worked together so recently and having prepared themselves for the anticipated differences—is set to create another temporary reality for a whole new group of campers.
SESSION 1: MIDDLE EAST & SOUTH ASIA
Departures | July 23
In the tradition of Wil Smith, we awoke to the sound of music coming from the porch of the Big Hall. As the song changed to “The Man in the Mirror,” those of us who were fortunate enough to be at Camp with Wil Smith remembered how much he loved to sing this song on departure day while campers and counselors danced and sang along with him on the field below.
But this group of campers did not dance. In fact, they would have forgone breakfast if the counselors hadn’t formed a human chain and moved them all in the direction of the Dining Hall. All they wanted was more time with their peers.
The big buses started rolling into Camp at 8:30 a.m. First the Palestinians left, followed by the Israelis, then the Jordanians and Egyptians, the Indians and Pakistanis, and the Americans. Each time a bus needed to leave, the counselors had to pry apart the campers who clung to one another as well as their counselors and facilitators. Even the prospect of going to a shopping mall on the way to the airport couldn’t lure them onto the buses.
Eventually, every camper was gone. That was when the counselors let their emotions take over. The first-time counselors usually have the hardest time. But all of us struggled with letting go. So many faces streaming with tears or eyes red and puffy from lots of crying.
Although we have given these 181 campers every opportunity to become courageous and compassionate leaders, when they go home they will face resistance from friends and family who have not had the same experiences. Older Seeds and our regional staff will be available to give them as much support as they need. But it will not always be easy.
Final Day | July 22
The last day of Camp is always bittersweet. At our traditional Quaker silent meeting, many campers broke the silence with their deep gratitude and love for the community we established in just three weeks.
Some said they were really worried about confronting their pre-Camp life with their post-Camp self. Others cited their expanded listening skills and the realization that all humans are equal as reasons not to worry about re-entry in their home communities.
The campers had their final dialogue meetings and prepared for their trips home, some many thousands of miles away. They are happy to be able to see their families and friends soon, but so very sad to leave Camp as well. Tomorrow will be gut-wrenching and heart-breaking when it is time to board the buses back to the airports. We have seen this happen at the close of every Camp session, but it doesn’t get any easier with familiarity.
Tonight we asked the Green Team dance group to repeat their wonderful performance from the variety show. Then the campers insisted on seeing it again!
We also had a slide show of many of Bobbie’s pictures. It was done very professionally by two of our counselors, Leena and Yaa. For 20 minutes, the campers cheered with delight at seeing themselves and others on the big screen. Our hope is that the pictures taken at Camp will sustain them when the reality sets in of being separated from their Camp friends.
A Message for Hajime | July 21
The final day of Color Games began with the Peace Canoe race. We have an old wooden canoe which holds 12 people, including someone strong in the stern and someone strategic in the bow. The person in the stern acts as a rudder and the one in the bow as the director for all the other people in the mid-section. You can hear the person in the bow yelling instructions as they paddle as hard as they can from the boys’ swim area to the sailing beach. Once they get to that beach, the person in the bow has to give a “high-five” to a senior staff person standing in the water.
First, the Blue girls took their turn at the Peace Canoe. Unfortunately they got off to a slow start because they didn’t go around a buoy and had to begin again. The Green girls learned a lesson from watching the Blue Team.
Then, both boys’ teams took their turns, and again Green was faster. After breakfast, the scores were announced, including the Peace Canoe winners, but not the Variety Show scores from last night.
The Message to Hajime 106-part relay race involving the whole Camp took most of the morning. Runners were racing with their coaches from one end of the Camp to the other while people at 106 stations were waiting to perform their tasks. The tasks ranged from jumping rope to 40 sit-ups to three-legged races, making beds and sandwiches, etc.
The culminating task is to memorize an obscure but meaningful quote, perfectly, before the person on the opposite team. The Blue Team finished a few minutes ahead of Green.
When the time came to announce the winner of both the Message to Hajime and overall Color Games, the scores from last night’s variety show were announced first. Doing the math, it slowly dawned on people that the Green Team was no longer in the lead. The Blue Team won everything!
Our day ended with a very moving memorial service for the 15 Seeds who have passed away, as well as our beloved Wil Smith, the former assistant camp director who died two years ago. Special attention was given to celebrating the life of Asel Asleh, the only Seed who has died in the Middle East conflict. His cousin is a PS and she was able to reflect on the meaning of his short life.
By the fire pit, the coaches of both teams reflected on their experiences and takeaways from the past three days of Color Games.
Blue vs. Green | July 20
This second day of Color Games began with a relay race around the Camp road, looping through most of the Camp property. Runners handed batons off to the next runner at stations along the route, who did their best to get to the finish line first while the rest of the campers cheered them on.
After breakfast, we held a relay race with cups of water from the lake being passed along a line of campers to fill a bucket; the first team to fill a bucket won. We also held swim races and group challenges, as well as art and dance competitions.
By lunchtime, the Blue Team had 2,000 points and the Green Team had 2,700 points. The Blue Team was noticeably disheartened.
In the afternoon, the competitions included blindfolded wall-climbing, dance, canoeing, kayaking, chess, and creative writing, in addition to the continuing all-star sports. Then the campers had to focus on preparing for the evening Variety Show. By dinnertime, Blue had 2,750 points, behind Green with 3,150.
We are always amazed by how quickly and well the campers can put together two competing variety shows made up of dance, a capella, instrumental music, comedy skits, the spoken word, and an original team song about Camp. The points for the Variety Show are high, so it is important to do it well.
A half day of Color Games is left. By 12:30 p.m. tomorrow, we should have a winner!
Color Games | July 19
The first day of Color Games always begins with a giant rope pull before breakfast. There are three contests with the rope: first just boys, then girls, and then both boys and girls on each side. The former campers who are now counselors pass on the folklore that goes with this challenge. Some tell their campers that you should put sand on their hands to keep them from slipping. Some say that they should plant their feet apart with bended knees. Some say that the pulling should be coordinated by shouting, “one, two, one, two.”
The most unfounded legend is that the team that wins the rope pull on the first day will lose Color Games by the end of all the events on the third day. This one was “planted” many years ago so that the losing team would regain hope of winning Color Games after starting off with a defeat.
What happens again and again is that the team that does well on the first day often gets over-confident, allowing the other team to regain momentum. After this happens, both teams regain their energy and fight hard to end on top. The ending score can be as close a single hair. Twice, there were tie scores.
There have been times when one team remained stronger throughout the three-day contest. It remains to be seen what the result will be this time. These are some of the most competitive teenagers there can be, so anything is possible. They are competing in every skill they have learned at Camp so far. They may have to learn something on the spot, just because this is needed by their team. Putting the team first is what helps the campers look past their nationalities and religions. The possibility of winning Color Games trumps all the rest.
Talent Show | July 18
The Talent Show rehearsals took place all over Camp in every available space. Delegations had practiced before coming to Camp, trying to show their rich cultural heritage through dance, songs, and musical instruments—all in five minutes or less.
Everyone felt the excitement. Individual performances were also part of the Talent Show. We have some amazing poets, rappers, tumblers, and composers. We even had two boys who improvised on stage with drums and piano. Many surprised us with the range of their talents.
Of course, any time we set up a situation in which national cultures are on display, there is often tension. Some campers choose not to participate in the national culture presentations because they do not feel connected to it. Campers make their own decisions on this.
Some performers practiced a lot and still felt unprepared for the stage just before the show. This is usually just stage fright. We encourage them to get over their anxiety and put that energy into the show.
At the end of the show, we traditionally have three staff members who used to be campers sing John Wallach’s favorite song, “Last Night I had the Strangest Dream.” Then the lights go out.
In the darkness, counselors rushed into the big hall with light sticks and shouted, “Color Games!” Counselors had been preparing all day to kick off Color Games in an exciting way. The campers were led by the PSs through a corridor of blazing torches down to the line-up area. There they found out who the 14 coaches are, and most importantly, whether they will be Green or Blue for the next three days.
Play for Peace | July 17
Play for Peace has been part of our Camp program for the past 17 years. Of the five NBA and one WNBA players who came to Camp today, some are new professionals and others are more experienced or retired. We welcome them to Camp to enhance the confidence-building objectives already happening.
We welcome them with fanfare, taking many pictures and videos as music plays for each player’s entrance. Half the campers took master classes with the players while the other half had their usual dialogue sessions in the morning and afternoon. Lunchtime was especially enjoyable because the players sat with the campers in the Dining Hall. They were treated to the mealtime cheers and even participated in some of them.
During rest hour, the players visited one of the bunks and let the campers explain the stubborn issues of their conflict.
In the evening, the whole Camp gathered at the basketball court for shooting hoops and many rounds of 4-on-4 games until every camper and counselor had the chance to play with these players. Playing against four professionals—who are all much taller and more experienced—is really challenging. But, we managed to win three games: two were won by Lilly and Daniella, both campers, and one was won by Zach, a counselor.
Play for Peace works best if the players show that they are genuinely interested in building the confidence of the campers. Many campers, particularly the girls who haven’t had the chance to play basketball at home, are beginners and need encouragement. The players who joined us today included Matt Bonner from the San Antonio Spurs, Sue Wicks from the New York Liberty, Brian Scalabrine from the Boston Celtics, Darren Erman from the New Orleans Pelicans, and Ish Smith, Luke Kennard, and Henry Ellenson from the Detroit Pistons.
All of us are a little tired after the past few days so we are going to sleep in. The bell will ring at 7:45 a.m. instead of 7 a.m. tomorrow.
Sports Day | July 16
Teamwork was the name of the game today. Camp Micah challenged us in boys’ soccer and basketball and girls’ soccer and basketball. Nevermind that the Seeds of Peace campers are just now beginning to trust one another: the Seeds of Peace teams won all four games.
The other camp tried very hard and even sent in some staff members to strengthen their boys’ basketball team, but to no avail. Our campers were friendly hosts, but they kept cheering for our teams. In fact, we made the cheering squad a team so that those who had not been chosen at the team tryouts could be an important part of the day. They had fun painting their faces to show their support for our team.
It was also Maine Seeds Visiting Day. The Maine Seeds have all been campers in years past. They love to revisit Camp and see some of the counselors with whom they shared a bunk or activities when they were here as campers.
At lunch line-up, our current campers taught the Micah campers some of our cheers. In return, the Micah campers taught us some of their cheers. Then, the Maine Seeds showed everyone their special cheers, led by Ochan, a camper last summer. Then, we had a cookout.
Tonight’s all-Camp activity was a digital scavenger hunt. Divided into their normal dining table groups, they went through a list of items and people they needed to photograph. They were timed. Each group handed over the memory card from their digital camera. A group of counselors will study the memory cards to see which team took the most accurate pictures in the best time.
Unbeknownst to the campers, six professional basketball players arrived tonight. Tomorrow is Play for Peace!
Interfaith Dialogue | July 15
This day was packed with important cultural and religious acknowledgements of our differences and realizations of our commonalities.
In the morning, we skipped bunk clean-up and went right to Interfaith Dialogue. The campers were divided into about 12 groups made up of representatives of all the religions and beliefs currently at Camp. Each group had two counselors leading the discussions about religious practices and beliefs. Each camper and counselor was asked to share what their beliefs and practices are and why. The point was to discuss what is true for them personally.
We had many musical performances and poetry at our line-ups today. Janet Wallach joined us and spoke to the campers about John’s hopes for them. One thing John always asked the campers to do was to make one friend from the other side of their conflict. It turned out that he was right about that being a good way to change attitudes about people on the other side. Research has since proven him right.
We have two musicians visiting Camp for a few days who will work the Delegation Leaders and the campers. One is a rapper and the other is an opera singer. They are both amazingly talented.
This evening, we held our International Dinner. Everyone at Camp was encouraged to replace their green Seeds of Peace shirts with traditional clothing of their culture.
The beauty of the costumes so colorful and sparkly brought out the cameras and everyone was jumping into poses for pictures. Earlier in the day, the Delegation Leaders had worked together in the kitchen to produce a wonderful assortment of traditional food beloved in their countries. Their offerings were beloved at Camp as well.
This was also a day when many former counselors came for a visit. They were delighted to see that so many of their former campers had taken over their counselor roles this summer.
Club 75 | July 14
Water skiing and canoeing are often new experiences for campers from the Middle East and South Asia. Clean, calm freshwater lakes are far from common where they live. And living beside a lake is really unusual. Here at Camp, everyone has the chance to learn to swim—and also enjoy the lake in sailboats, power boats, kayaks, sailboats, and canoes. High on the list of favorite activities is water skiing and kneeboarding.
Learning to swim can give a camper a huge confidence boost. Once they are above the beginner level of swimming, they can go out in boats, with life jackets on, and experience the thrill of getting up on skis. Those who are able to remain upright for 10 seconds or more are inducted into “Club 75”—a badge of honor named for the 75-foot tow rope. New members are congratulated in front of the entire Camp at line-up.
We held Friday prayers for Muslims and Shabbat service for Jews today. This time, the rest of the campers and counselors were invited to witness these religious services. The religious practices of others can seem foreign and mysterious when they are performed behind closed doors and go unexplained. Having the chance to witness the practices of other religions—and hear explanations for them—can take away some of the mystery and replace it with understanding. And seeing people from other religions praying to God can be a revelation.
The evening activity was “Bunk Night.” Many bunks gathered around campfires and roasted marshmallows for S’mores. They all had a surprise treat of pizza as well. It is still unseasonably cool, so those campfires were just what we needed.
Winter in July | July 13
We are entering the “golden time” of Camp. Campers, counselors, and facilitators all know one another fairly well and feel comfortable together. There will be ups and downs between now and the end of Camp, but there will probably be more ups than downs.
We awoke this morning to a cold and damp day. Some Egyptians thought winter had arrived. Knitted wool hats and scarves came out, as well as heavier coats. One girl wore all three of her sweatshirts with many T-shirts and a rain jacket. But, this is Maine, so it is possible to experience all four seasons in a two-week period.
Art Day, conducted mostly indoors, was a good thing to have on a chilly day. In the morning, the dialogue groups took part in photography, film, crafts, music, or spoken word/creative writing. In the afternoon, the options were dance, music, specialty cooking, painting a mural, or comedy. At night, each group’s work was showcased in the Big Hall. The theme of the day was Diversity. So, for example, the photography group took pictures of parts of the faces of everyone in their group. They made composite faces out of these pictures. The film group went all over Camp interviewing people about their definition of diversity.
We try to have everyone wear the name buttons they made the first day of Camp, but sometimes they fall off or get left behind. It is a tradition to make the people who have lost their buttons stand before line-up and do the “Jellyfish” routine. Today, the number of people having to reclaim their name buttons in this way seemed larger than usual, and it included our Executive Director, Leslie Lewin, despite her protestations.
This is the kind of tradition that seems weird to new campers but by now, with everyone feeling more comfortable, it just makes the whole Camp laugh. We never underestimate the power of a shared joke.
Café Night | July 12
The third round of special activities began today. One of the choices was creating a spoof on typical reality shows, with a different one each day. Today’s was about a style show, and the campers were asked to design hats which reflected their experience at Camp. Each hat was modeled and then the designer explained the significance of the elements of the hat. They were then graded and a winner was selected, just like it is done on the reality show.
Bob Bordone and Florrie Darwin, from the Harvard School of Law, have been coming to our Camp to work with the PSs for many years. Today, they divided the PSs into four groups and had them discuss making impossibly-difficult choices on behalf of their communities. Because these decisions depend upon the values of the participants, long discussions usually ensue.
At this point in the Camp session we pay tribute to the founder of Seeds of Peace, John Wallach, by screening the film made by his son, Michael Wallach, for his memorial service at the United Nations in 2002. Leslie Lewin, executive director of Seeds of Peace, and Bobbie Gottschalk, co-founder, spoke to the campers about their memories of working with John.
Then it was time for Café Night. This is an event held in a transformed dining hall—a lot more festive than usual—with lots of desserts. The benches were arranged to provide the maximum space for interacting with people from delegations other than their own. The campers were asked to seek out people they hadn’t had the chance to meet before this time.
We are exactly half-way through this session of Camp and experiencing long days and short weeks.
Building Trust in the Sky | July 11
Since the beginning of Camp, all the dialogue groups have been building their confidence level in Group Challenge toward the low and high element ropes. Our ropes course is nestled into the woods. The trees form the stationary poles for the low elements and big telephone poles link the high ropes. There is also what is called a “vertical playpen,” which is formed by almost impossible-to-reach hanging boards and car tires.
Paired by their dialogue facilitators, each participant has to decide whether achieving the goals on the ropes course is more important than maintaining the distrust they may have for his or her peer. Once they reach out to give another camper an assisting pull, or steady a camper who is losing their balance, they have crossed the line that had previously prevented them from helping someone from “the other side.” Back in the dialogue hut, reaching out to the people on the other side becomes less risky.
Quite a few campers are reluctant to make friends with people on the other side more out of fear of losing face with the people on their side, than for any other reason. They imagine being bullied or branded a traitor by friends or family. Many are waiting for others to take the first step toward empathy.
One dialogue group stood up bravely at the evening line-up and sang about their dialogue group being the only place they feel accepted as they are “the only place I can be me.” But, there are other dialogue groups which would not be able to say that yet. They will need more time.
Tonight’s all-Camp activity was the Ga-Ga championship for Seeds of Peace 2017, session one. The campers were put on four different teams, each team representing a make-believe country. The game fills up the entire Big Hall. With so many people running around dodging balls, the campers really welcomed showers before heading off to bed.
Seeds on Staff | July 10
A picture was taken of all the staff members at Camp who are Seeds. Most of us were amazed to find out that more than half the staff of counselors, facilitators and office workers are former campers. Most are finding out first-hand how hard it is the run the Camp program. Many thought it would be easy to get the campers to follow their instructions. Well, it isn’t as easy as it looks from the campers’ perspective!
True to form, a certain amount of playfulness is becoming part of our time together now that everyone is more at ease. The word, “family” appears often when describing bunkmates. There are more jokes and shared laughter at line-ups and in the bunks. People walk down the paths in two’s or more, obviously comfortable with one another.
The facilitators have purposely slowed down the rising tide of debate to allow the campers to build stronger relationships before they pummel one another with “facts” and accusations. Tears will still flow at times, but empathy is beginning to allow for mutual understanding.
Sailing, water skiing, kayaking and canoeing are becoming easier for the campers. Several are also learning to swim. Creative writing, painting and drawing are among the favorite things to do at Camp. They are already taking on the new challenges of the ropes course. All of these activities are in sync with the risks they take in dialogue, in their bunks and at the tables in the Dining Hall.
Being a camper is a hard job too.
Balancing Work & Fun | July 9
Visitors to our Camp often find it remarkably peaceful. The towering trees on the shore of a beautiful lake, fringed with cabins for the campers and the educators, suggest that all is well in our world. And it is. But, behind the scenes, campers, facilitators, educators and senior staff are still working on the divides that are the reason we are all here.
We try to balance the schedule each day between time to engage in serious dialogue and time to get physical exercise, express artistic and musical talent, create fun, and enjoy getting to know one another.
Yesterday, the art classes focused on eye contact between campers from the opposite side of their conflict, while finding out about their likes and dislikes. Then they drew pictures of their partner’s eyes, using all they had been able to learn about them in their discussion. Today’s art class was about looking at scenes around the lake and then drawing them from memory when they returned to the art shack.
Dialogue facilitators and counselors meet regularly to coordinate their efforts with each group of campers. Sometimes a group may get stuck throwing facts at one another instead of trying to understand what the people on the other side need and want. Group Challenge activities outside the dialogue hut are meant to inspire movement or progress in the group that seems to be unable to move forward toward empathy.
Tonight, two Palestinian members of our Camp community made a popular rice dish called maqluba for the entire Camp. When they turned out the big pot of maqluba onto a serving platter, the Dining Hall full of campers and counselors erupted in delight. Just exactly what we needed!
Rain, Sun & Softball | July 8
Earlier, a beautiful sunny day looked like it would stay that way. But, towards the end of the afternoon, the sky turned dark and the rain came down hard for about 30 minutes. Then, out came the sun again, with a beautiful sunset and lots of short-lived puddles.
We had planned an outdoor scavenger hunt for the evening activity, but we made a quick change to indoor games. The location of Camp makes weather predicting difficult, so the program staff has to adjust, sometimes without much warning, changing well-thought-out plans in an instant.
Matt, who was a counselor for eight years, came to visit us today. About 15 of today’s counselors were campers when he was a counselor. Matt always took a special interest in teaching softball. For many years, his softball teams of international campers came out winners in games with girls from other camps. Today, he put on the catcher’s uniform and took over the softball activity as if no time had passed.
After a day off, the facilitators and campers resumed dialogue. We have always found that a day off once a week restores the energy and commitment to mutual understanding, often worn down to a minimum at the end of six days.
Music and dance performances are a delightful addition to line-ups on the lakeshore. The Bollywood dance activity group performed today. As a real surprise to the campers, the housekeeping staff played classical music on a violin and clarinet. A number of the people who work here are over-qualified, but these housekeepers can do far more than their job descriptions would suggest!
Taking Stock | July 7
This morning, Camp Director Sarah Brajtbord asked the campers to sit silently and think about what it had been like for them to arrive in the United States, board buses at the airport, and make a long journey up to our Camp in Maine. Then she asked them to recall the moment they stepped off the bus and entered the welcoming crowd of counselors and other new campers.
“What was it like to enter your bunk and meet your fellow bunk mates, sit in the dining hall for the first time, and explore the Camp?” she asked. She asked them to take stock of the accomplishments and progress we have made together.
Tomorrow we will begin the second week of Camp.
Friday schedules are different. There are usually no dialogue sessions and the facilitators have the day off. The PSs get to participate more with the whole group than usual. For many years, the PSs have presented empty pizza boxes to the new campers just to tease them. But, this year, the new campers were ready and said that they don’t like pizza. We laughed at the double prank. To our surprise, the PSs were ready for this and opened boxes with pizza in them. Then they just ate it themselves! Triple prank!
Fortunately, we had pizza for lunch, so everyone was happy.
Another reason that Fridays are different is the two religious services, a Muslim Friday prayer service and a Jewish Shabbat service after dinner. Attendance at both is voluntary.
This afternoon, the campers who were working on the vegetable garden met the originator of the garden, Sarah, who is visiting for the weekend. Sarah was a camper and a counselor a few years ago and has dedicated her time and funding to plant our vegetable garden, from which the kitchen staff is able to make very fresh dishes.
Between Bollywood and Hip Hop, we have a lot of dancing at Camp right now. One of the options for free time, along with sports or just hanging out with friends, is a dance party in the Small Hall with Pouja, our dance counselor. It just so happened that some of our counselors from previous years were visiting Camp today and they happily joined in.
Performing “The Rattlin’ Bog,” an Irish folk song, at line-up is a time tested tradition at Camp, started by former counselors and carried forward by Zach, who learned it from his older brother, Jake. It involves some cooperation from the other counselors, who feign amazement as the story gets more and more complicated. The first performance of this summer was at the dinner line-up.
In the evening, we had a bunk night so all the individual bunks had a chance to be together as a Camp family.
Special Activity | July 6
Each morning, the campers are given a choice of special activities offered by the counselors, reflecting their mutual interests. These activities last for an hour, five days in a row. They vary from Bollywood dancing to art projects, imaginary kingdoms, soccer, canoeing, and “How to be Lit.” Lit is shorthand for “living in time.” It is about being in the moment, being who you are—proudly. Marco and Salat, two counselors from Syracuse, are leading this group. Today, these campers were visiting the other special activities, supporting what the other campers were doing, while continuing to do their own hip hop dancing along the path.
One of the special activities is called “random acts of kindness.” Today they discussed with the nurse and doctor what they could do to cheer up the way the waiting room looks. They also made a big wooden sign thanking the medical staff for taking good care of the campers.
We had a lot of sailing and canoeing on a windy day with rough currents on the lake. Even though almost all the campers are beginners, the counselors were able to teach them what they needed to know and brought them back to shore without a problem.
The artists among the campers are decorating the Art Shack with paintings and drawings meant to convey ideas about achieving goals and being true to oneself. Sometimes, they also draw portraits of their friends. People are feeling more comfortable now that the first week is almost over. But cross-delegation connections are still tentative. They have only been living together for six days.
The big picture! | July 5
For the past 15 sessions of Camp, two photographers have come to Seeds of Peace Camp and donated a large all-Camp panoramic photograph to all the campers. The photographers bring bleachers which are set up in the field house and we squeeze all 250 people together for a fantastic shot. No doubt the past campers have decorated their bedroom walls at home with the picture from their session and gaze at it at least once a day.
This morning, an Israeli and a Palestinian Delegation Leader asked to speak to the Campers at line-up. They knew that some of the campers were struggling with dialogue. Both of them asked the campers to remember that the campers on the “other side” are human beings worthy of respect and sensitivity.
The two Delegation Leaders certainly don’t always agree on everything, but they have learned that being respectful toward one another, even in the heat of an argument, makes it much easier to listen and understand.
Today we began to post news articles from the Middle East, South Asia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. There are two public places where the news articles appear, and the campers stop to read about current events in their region on their way to dialogue or activities. Campers have no access to the Internet or cell phones.
After just a few days of Camp, most of them realize that they would never have the same intense experience they are having now if they had been allowed to keep their cell phones.
Each day, more expectations and responsibilities are added so that everyone has the chance to grow at their own pace. When campers go against the expectations of our community, they are called on this behavior. We cannot build a viable community without mutual respect and reliability.
Every morning, our Camp Director, Sarah Brajtbord, asks the campers to mentally identify ahead of time what goals they intend to achieve before bedtime. This sets a productive, serious tone. It takes time and specific intent to build a community that is sustainable even when this Camp session is over.
Otisfield Parade | July 4
Fourth of July parades in more rural parts of the United States are traditionally low-key and mostly done to foster community-building. As summer residents of Otisfield, Seeds of Peace is always invited to participate in the town’s parade. The PSs—second-year campers—and Delegation Leaders represented us. This year, they walked behind the fire trucks and sang Seeds of Peace songs.
An award was given to the best youth program in the parade, and we were glad to receive the first place prize. Well, there was only one other youth camp and they got first place last summer! After the parade, there were slices of watermelon, popsicles, and cookies. But, the best part was the fire hose spray all across a field through which children and teenagers ran to get wet and cool off. Naturally, the PSs enjoyed doing that.
Inside Camp, the only flag that flies is the Seeds of Peace flag. No other political symbols are allowed in any form—no flags, no symbolic clothing or signs. We are trying to build our own community for the three weeks we are together. Wearing the same clothing and eschewing political symbols help accomplish that goal. All the national flags remain flying outside our gates, just as we left them on flagraising day.
Cool and sunny days have made all of our outdoor activities a pleasure. Even when the boats capsize, no one minds the dunk in the lake too much. Running around on the soccer field or the volleyball courts is easier with a cool Maine breeze.
But, it isn’t all fun and games. The dialogue groups continue to produce some hurt feelings and tears. Most campers haven’t learned yet that there are more constructive reactions to what the people on the “other side” say about them or their government than crying or making threats. They are new at this right now. It will get better for everyone once the campers learn how to tolerate hearing what they do not want to hear and how to join forces with the people on the “other side” who also want peace.
A Normal Day | July 3
This was a normal day at Camp. No storms. No swim tests. Just a beautiful Seeds of Peace day—sunny and breezy with a schedule of activities designed to provide many opportunities to get to know people who are not like them and might even be considered existential enemies.
The canoeists and water skiers were out on the lake, rich with the color of blue skies and pink clouds. The canoeists learn by doing, for the most part. The bow and stern of the canoe need to be working in coordination, otherwise the canoe will go in circles or will collide with other canoes. Campers from opposite sides of their conflict share each canoe. There is only one way they can get to their destination—by cooperation!
The art classes focused on dyad interviews, with constant eye-contact, followed by making portraits of their conversation partners, who were not members of their own delegation. Dance classes were also with members of both sides of their conflict. Today they learned Bollywood-style dancing, which is just complicated enough to be a challenge for most but also stylized enough to make people laugh at themselves when they first try it.
Some of the campers learned to play cricket while others learned kickball. These games are so much fun that most campers are coaxed out of their comfort zones, taking a chance on participating in group efforts.
The activities outside of dialogue are geared toward making the dialogue more productive. During the first few days, dialogue is very new for most campers. Days filled with opportunities to grow and gain confidence eventually enhance the flow of dialogue. These teens are doing what very few adults in their home countries are able to do. It will not help to protect them from difficult discussions. Rather, they need to learn how to argue effectively and listen intensely even when the discussion becomes heated.
Tonight the campers ended the day with “table talk,” a chance to get to know their dining hall tablemates without the clatter of dishes and table cheers. They answered specific questions, played games, and made up dances together.
Flagraising and Staff Show | July 2
At the beginning of our international sessions, we always have a flagraising ceremony to honor the flags and anthems of each delegation. All the flags are raised on flagpoles outside our main gate, as each respective delegation sings its anthem.
In the past, PSs have been asked to make some remarks to the new campers, generally recited one person at a time. However, this group of PSs chose to create a group recitation, making it far more powerful than if they had done so individually. They represented Indians, Pakistanis, Israelis, Palestinians, Jordanians, Egyptians, Brits and Americans.
Here is a portion of what they said:
There was a time at Camp when I couldn’t explain myself to anyone. I couldn’t channel the half-baked thoughts in my head to those in my dialogue group. It was so frustrating. But eventually, Camp defined unleashing and helped me let go of the anchors within me. I could finally smell freedom. Freedom smells so sweet, I tell you.
Maine Senator Angus King sent his State Director, Edie Smith, to convey his congratulations to Seeds of Peace for beginning our 25th summer at our Camp in Maine.
Before dinner, we were told at line-up that Lina, one of the counselors who had been a camper many years ago, had sacrificed being at her own university graduation today so that she could be a counselor at Seeds of Peace all summer. So we had our first graduation ceremony of sorts at line-up! She tossed her graduation cap in the air and received a pretend diploma.
The campers had their first dialogue experience today. Some groups went smoothly while others started off with hurtful comments. We expect that each group will proceed at its own pace in its own way. Some dialogues will produce tears and comments later-regretted, but this is all part of the process of opening new doors of understanding. We have fun here, but it isn’t all fun.
The campers also had the chance to try canoeing, “steal the bacon,” baseball, pickleball, and swimming.
The evening activity was a staff performance to showcase all the sports, art, and music activities we have here at Camp. Afterward, everyone went to bed with the sounds of fireworks from a beach nearby.
Video | July 2
Introduction to Camp | July 1
Everyone woke up at 7 a.m. to the bell that has been part of Camp life since the beginning. Each day, it rings once to get the campers thinking about waking up, 15 minutes later as a snooze alarm, and again at 7:30 a.m. for pre-breakfast line-up. It also rings during the day when it is time to change activities. It is also the last sound we hear when it is “lights out” and time for sleep. Our bell has a deep, mellow sound, and many campers have recorded it to use on their phones.
This day is always devoted to “house-keeping” issues—checking in with the doctor or nurse, taking swim tests, completing surveys for the research done by the University of Chicago, phoning home, making name buttons, getting to know table and bunk mates, and learning the Camp song.
The second-year campers, known as PSs (Paradigm Shifters), are much more comfortable at Camp than the new campers. But, their daily program will be quite different. They will spend most of their days in dialogue and leadership training. They will have several responsibilities, including some evening activities for the whole Camp. They will also be speaking to the new campers at the flagraising ceremony tomorrow morning.
Late in the afternoon and evening, heavy thunderstorms rolled in, so it seemed like a great time for a “bunk night.” Most of the campers are still recovering from their long flights from home. A quiet evening in their bunks will help them get the rest they need.
Arrival Day | June 30
Arrival day concluded in the wee hours of the next morning, as the last three travelers arrived at Camp. All afternoon and evening we were dodging rain storms, with buses rolling in about two hours apart. The campers and their adult Delegation Leaders have made very long journeys from South Asia, the Middle East, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
The first arrivals were the delegations from the United Kingdom and the United States, then the Israeli delegation, followed by the Egyptians and Jordanians. Then the Indians and Pakistanis arrived. In the pouring rain of the evening, the Palestinian delegation finally made it. All arrivals were met with energetic drums and horns, singing, and dancing.
Already they have done the unimaginable—shared a bus ride with so-called enemies and enjoyed our welcoming human tunnel, songs, and dances. They know that they will be sleeping next to people they fear and hate. They have sat at tables for dinner in the dining hall with strangers who may soon be their friends.
When morning comes, they will rise from their beds, put on their new Seeds of Peace T-shirts, and join us all at the first line-up of the day. Everyone will sit with their bunks on green benches next to people who may be just as nervous and excited as they will be.
We will do our best to welcome everyone wholeheartedly. They are in a safe place where they will be encouraged, supported, and loved.
Pre-Camp Report | June 29
Each session of Camp is unique. Each year presents its own challenges. Each staff member brings particular skills, personality, and talents. Each camper is very special. The night before the campers arrive fills us with wild anticipation and some trepidation. Yet, after 24 years of Seeds of Peace Camp, we are confident that the summer of 2017 will bring new learning and life-long memories for us all, just as the summers have in the past.
More than a week of staff orientation and preparation has engaged the assembled staff of counselors, facilitators, medical workers, and other employees in the process of building a compassionate and informed community. Our staff is older and more experienced than most sleep-away camps employ because our campers have a more serious challenge and purpose.
Seeds of Peace campers may come with emotional baggage beyond what they will carry in their luggage. Many will have been traumatized by violent conflict close to home—like their parents and grandparents before them—without having experienced a secure childhood. We will be asking them to take intelligent risks to raise their confidence levels in many areas, yet they have no reason to trust us at first. Mature adult staff—highly-skilled in youth empowerment—will be able to help them overcome their initial fears and take advantage of the opportunities for personal growth and expanded empathy.
Tonight, the campers from the Middle East and South Asia are aboard their long flights, most leaving their countries for the first time. They have prepared for this adventure to the United States with seminars and discussions with former campers. Perhaps they are feeling sad about parting with their families. They may doubt the decision of coming to Camp, so far from home, was a wise one. Soon they will land in New York or Boston airports, go through customs and immigration, and board buses to Camp. The PSs—second year returning campers—will reassure the new campers as best they can. Only time at Camp with relieve the new campers of their anxieties.
Campers from the United States and the United Kingdom are also preparing for Camp at a two-day seminar in Portland.
All the campers are accompanied by adult educators from their own communities. We call them Delegation Leaders (DLs). They are responsible for the health and safety of the campers while traveling as well as during their stay at Camp. However, the educators have their own Seeds of Peace experience while they are at Camp. The campers spend almost all their time at Camp with their counselors and dialogue facilitators.
Three weeks of Camp will fly by for all of us. We have long, action-packed days, but somehow, very short weeks!