Camp 2017 Session 1 in Numbers
- 181 campers representing 7 delegations: American, Egyptian, Indian, Israeli, Jordanian, Pakistani, and Palestinian.
- 28 Seeds returning to Camp as Peer Supports.
- 20 Delegation Leaders.
- Over 25 hours of facilitated dialogue for every Seed.
- 25 consecutive summers of Seeds of Peace programming.
SESSION ONE: 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 to see 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, and 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 written 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 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. So 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 manage 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. Never mind 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, working with 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 to 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. The 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 someone who is losing balance, they have crossed the line against giving support to a person on “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 toward 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 are also drawing 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 big full-Camp panoramic picture to all the campers and adults. 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, 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 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 is 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 in 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 very sad about parting with their families. They may doubt the decision made to come to Seeds of Peace 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!