Camp 2018 in Numbers
- 349 campers representing 15 delegations: American/UK, Egyptian, Indian, Israeli, Jordanian, Pakistani, Palestinian, Chicago, Delaware, Los Angeles, Maine, New York, Pennsylvania, Syracuse, and Washington, DC.
- 58 Seeds returning to Camp for advanced leadership program.
- 115 minutes of daily facilitated dialogue for every Seed.
- 40 Delegation Leaders/Educators.
- 26 consecutive summers of Seeds of Peace programming.
Endings | August 12
Buses began rolling into Camp at 7:30 a.m. and a succession of buses came and went until all the campers had left Camp by 10:15 a.m. Catherine and other counselors had sung “Don’t Worry ‘bout Me” as usual. Hugs, tears, more hugs and tears made boarding the buses difficult.
At last, only one camper remained and he rang the Camp bell for the last time. This is the bell that rings for wake up times, activity periods, free time, meal times, line-up and bed time. It’s deep, commanding sound will be missed.
Traditionally, those of us left behind at Camp share some donuts and coffee which magically appears, exactly when we need it. After Sarah Brajtbord thanked everyone, the counselors spent most of the day getting the Camp closed up for winter. Some people took very necessary naps. Most of the campers and counselors had only slept a little last night. At night, a low-key party celebrated the completion of two sessions of Camp.
Both sessions will be scrutinized and evaluated to refine what we did well and make changes where needed for the summers to come, as we have done since the beginning. The world the campers return to changes year to year, but what doesn’t change is our commitment to fostering young leaders to develop the courage to inspire change in their communities, using the empathy and kindness they experience in Seeds of Peace.
It was a wonderful summer!
Rites of Passage | August 11
The final day of Camp was a balance of enjoyment, recognition of accomplishments, gratitude, and tears. We began with an all-Camp clean-up instead of bunk clean-up, but also announced the winners of the competition for the highest scores for bunk clean-up over the session.
One boys bunk got style points for creating a forest-like atmosphere by hanging their sleeping bags from the rafters to look like trees. Fortunately, they also had taken the time to clean their bunk as well.
We traditionally hold a Quaker silent meeting in the Big Hall by forming a large circle with benches and sitting in silence together until people feel moved to speak. Almost the entire Camp was present, although it is voluntary. Many comments were about gratitude for being able to be who they really are at this Camp, without being rejected by others. Many others also felt like their experience made them realize that they could become the person they hoped to be.
Packing and dialogue took some time during the day, but we also had a memorial service for the 20 Seeds who have died over the years. We read all their names aloud and noted that most of them died in vehicle accidents. We heard beautiful music, including “Say Hello to the Field From Me,” written by an Egyptian Seed. We spoke about the fragility of life and the fact that death is part of life. Sarah Brajbord remembered Wil Smith, our former Associate Camp Director who passed away after a multi-year battle with cancer. Talk of death reminds people of family and friends who have died. We took a good amount of time for people to express their sorrow and comfort one another.
The PSs received their turtle necklaces, a rite of passage for older Seeds who have completed their intensive leadership course at Camp. This is an extraordinary group. It is quite likely that we will be seeing them back at Camp as counselors sometime in the future.
In the evening, all the campers met in delegation groups with PSs who described the follow-up programming to them. This was followed by a slide show of some of the photos taken at Camp this session.
Everyone is spending their final night with their bunk mates with mixed feelings about leaving Camp and going home. They want to be with their families and friends, of course, but they hate to part with the dear friends they have made at Camp. Fortunately, Seeds of Peace doesn’t end with Camp. It begins with Camp. “What a life we have here, with the bluest skies and the greenest grass,” is a line from a Color Games team song from 2016.
We are not happy to have another summer of Camp end, but we are glad to have done it well, again, for the 26th summer.
Home | August 10
On the first night of Camp, several counselors sang a song called “Home.” One line in it is, “We’re gonna make this place your home.” From the very beginning, we tried to make Camp the kind of place where we all feel comfortable enough to be uncomfortable, to take intelligent risks, to become who we aspire to be.
The Color Games is the true test of this effort. Teams were chosen without input from the campers. Campers found themselves aligned with people they weren’t close to yet.
The second day of Color Games began with the Peace Canoe race, which repurposes an old war canoe made of wood that accommodates about eight campers. The lake was placid and the weather was sunny and cool—a perfect Maine summer day. The canoe needs to be paddled carefully around buoys and ropes from the boys’ dock to the sailing dock. It takes skill and hard work to make good time paddling such a heavy canoe, but the girls on the Green Team managed to beat the boys on the Green team by a minute.
The day was filled with All-Star games of soccer, basketball, street hockey, debate, art, music, dance, Ultimate Frisbee, and volleyball. Those who were not on teams were engaged in cheering for their team. After lunch and dinner, scores were announced.
The final Color Games competition, called Message to Hajime, involves over a hundred stations all over camp where there were short competitions between the teams while relay runners take the batons from one station to another.
The last contest involves the memorization of an obscure quote by representative team members who have been deemed to be the best memorizers. Sarah Brajtbord and Bobbie hold the stop watches that have been ticking since the race began. There was only a five minute gap between them. Green won.
The winning team jumps into the lake with their clothes on. The other team follows them into a mass of splashing, hugging, and laughing campers and staff. Color Games is exhausting and exhilarating at the same time. And it unites the Camp, like nothing else can.
Tonight, the Color Games coaches shared what they learning during the competition with the campers. Then they sang “Home” again, but this time with a significant change: “We have made this place your home.”
Color Games | August 9
The first day of Color Games starts with a rope pull involving a very long, thick rope that stretches far enough for the entire Camp to participate at once, with Blue on one side and Green on the other. But first, there is a boys contest and then a girls contest.
There are two myths about the rope pull. One is that one side has the advantage of leaning into the downhill side. The other is that whichever team loses the rope pull will eventually win Color Games. Neither of these play out more than 50 percent of the time, yet the myths persist.
The Green Team won two of the rope pulls but by lunchtime, the Blue Team had caught up and gained 100 more points. All-Camp swim relays and “all-star” games took place after a bunk rotation of sports and arts.
The largest amount of time today was devoted to the Variety Show. Each team was charged with coming up with an original instrumental music piece, a group dance, a comedy skit, a spoken word piece entitled “What’s Next?,” an a capella performance, and a group song about Camp. This took a few hours, but was well-worth the effort: it was a beautiful achievement for everyone involved.
Tomorrow we will wake up to the Peace Canoe race and nearly a full day of competition.
Talent Show | August 8
This was a very full day with a lot happening all over Camp. While the campers were rehearsing for the Talent Show, the counselors who will be coaches and commissioners for Color Games were busy getting ready. They were also preparing for the dramatic introductions of the Blue and Green Team coaches at the choose-up gathering after the Talent Show.
Our beloved Nurse Peggy, who has been working with us for many summers, was given the Director’s Award of Excellence. Leslie and Sarah Brajtbord presented her with the award at dinner line-up to the rousing cheers of the campers, who love her dearly.
Still reeling from the death of Laila, a Maine Seed, everyone at Camp who knew her gathered in a circle, together in silence, during rest hour. It was a comfort to be with other mourners sharing grief quietly with every breath. No one was in the mood to speak. A box of tissues got used up.
The Talent Show was magnificent. There were many soloists and groups, singing, dancing, or reciting original poetry. One camper reluctantly climbed on stage with support from her bunk mates, who literally stood behind her the whole time.
The topics of the songs and poems ranged from love to dysfunctional family issues to societal ills. The PSs presented a song about Laila, who was their dear friend, and it was very moving. The person who wrote the song is usually quiet. But when she gets on stage, her confidence takes over and her talents trump her shyness.
All of a sudden, the lights went out and colors of blue and green lighted the room. Color Games! Here we go again!
Tragic News | August 7
The PSs took off early for their traditional hike up Bradbury Mountain, near the coast of Maine. When they returned in mid-afternoon, we had some very hard news to tell them. The adults at Camp had just learned a few hours earlier that one of the most dearly-loved and admired Seeds from Maine had been killed in a bike accident. She was very active in Seeds of Peace and had visited Camp only four days ago.
We gave them the space and support to grieve. Many of the staff members were just as shocked by the news, but we held onto one another and decided to continue the day as scheduled, for the sake of the all concerned. Thunder and lightning kept everyone inside, giving the people who knew the Maine Seed who passed away a chance to grieve.
We had a late dinner line-up where everyone dressed in their traditional clothing according to their background and culture. Before dinner was served, we sang a song we have sung at this point in the session for many years, which starts off with the line, “Learn to live your life with all your heart and all your soul and all your might and love all humankind as you would love yourself.” Another part of the song, which is sung in rounds, begins with the line, “We’ve got happy lives to live, we got happy hearts to give, we’ve got hope down deep inside because in love we do abide.”
We had planned to have a dance party outdoors which we did. It was low-key and only some of the campers joined in. Mostly they used the time to enjoy one another’s company and take pictures.
Then, we ended the day with a bunk night and shower-time. Tomorrow will be the Talent Show.
Café Night | August 6
A hot and steamy day made swimming in the lake more attractive than usual, and we scheduled an extra swim period after dinner.
In the morning, the educators took part in a workshop with Hanoch Piven, an artist and Seeds of Peace GATHER Fellow. He supplied the educators piles of scraps and little toys from which they each selected several. After discussing the objects they chose and their symbolic importance, they were told to create a self-portrait with the scraps. Many of the collages bore a truly amazing resemblance to their creators when held up to their faces.
In the afternoon and evening, the educators participated in music workshops with Ami Yares and American Seed Micah, both professional musicians who are doing groundbreaking work in the Middle East.
The campers rehearsed and tried-out for the Talent Show two days from now. There were solo singers and dancers as well as small groups who offered their talents. One group of four called themselves the “Improvables.” The seemed quite comfortable doing improv drama. The songs chosen for the tryouts were deep and thoughtful. This is going to be a show just bursting with talent and feeling.
The evening activity honored our founder, John Wallach. Leslie and Bobbie talked about working with him to create and make Seeds of Peace stronger. John used to tell campers to “make one friend from the other side.” He was right to do so: research shows that making just one friend from the other side of a conflict softens attitudes toward the so-called enemy group.
In John’s honor, the PSs created a café setting in the dining hall. Campers were urged to find and sit down with someone they would like to know better for a conversation over cookies and other desserts.
Uniting in Song (or Honesty) | August 5
This was a warm and steamy day, weather-wise. It was also that way inside the dialogue huts for some groups. It is that time in the session when some hurtful things are said or feelings are hurt, regardless of the intent of the speaker. This is when our skillful staff needs to model and assist the teens in airing their grievances and owning their own roles in the dynamics of the group process.
The art shack is in constant use, even during free time. Campers are learning to use watercolors and many are busy weaving friendship bracelets by attaching them to their water bottles. When the art shack gets too hot, campers and counselors work outside, bringing their familiar music with them. They are also making very funny memes about Camp.
Last night, an unusual thing happened. All of the bunks were paired with a second bunk and asked to create a song about Camp life together to be performed for the whole Camp later that evening. The songs were judged on the basis of musicality, depth, humor, inclusiveness, and “catchiness.”
Group after group performed on stage until one group stood on stage and said that they had been unsuccessful in coming up with a group song. They had worked hard in small groups, but couldn’t find a cohesive theme for the whole group. Most of us admired their honesty and courage. Deadlines don’t always line up with reality. They clearly needed more time to come together.
At the end of the evening program, the counselors sang the traditional Camp song, “I am a Seed of Peace” to the campers, most of whom had never heard it before because we forgot to teach it to them earlier. Even so, it was a lovely, unifying way to end the day.
High Ropes | August 4
This day was really packed; for a mostly rainy day, we accomplished a lot! In the morning, our boys and girls basketball and soccer teams competed against two other nearby camps, Fernwood and Winebago. Following the games, we shared favorite Camp cheers and lunch with them.
It was also Maine Seeds visiting day. This added another 40 people to our already crowded dining hall, but our PSs graciously held back on their lunch until everyone else had eaten. The Maine Seeds had the chance to meet with people they hadn’t seen for a while and they took pride in seeing the younger campers from their schools enjoying Camp.
At this point in the session, the campers move onto the ropes course for Group Challenge. Working in concert with the dialogue facilitators, the Group Challenge counselors instruct the vocally-strong dialogue group members to remain silent to give others in the group a chance to speak up more. They also blindfold some who are good strategists to give others the chance to find solutions for the challenges.
On the low elements of the ropes course, several of the silenced ones used a form of sign language to make their thoughts known, but others were able to raise their voices in the quiet vacuum. The blindfolded ones were sometimes frustrated not knowing what was happening, but for the most part, the campers who were able to see took over the strategy role.
On the high ropes elements, the blindfolded campers were guided by their partners who shouted out instructions to help them climb the telephone poles and find the guide ropes. Sometimes both partners were blindfolded and they found their way across the 40-foot high rope by holding hands and talking to one another.
When the campers are lowered down, they frequently like to swing on their belay line as a way to celebrate their accomplishment. Once they are firmly on the ground, they unhook their belay line and look up at the ropes they just traversed and are filled with emotion.
For many, this challenge is a huge stretch and for some it is really close to their panic zone. All of them are amazed at what they were able to do, despite their fears. In debriefing with their partner and a counselor, you will see them arms, around one another, often crying tears of relief and joy. It is wonderful to discover that you have more courage than you thought you had!
Fishbowl | August 3
Today, the PSs had two special sessions. In the morning they met with Seth, an older Seed from Maine who once was a camper and a PS, 17 years ago, and is now an investigative reporter who writes news stories about immigrants and refugees in the United States. Several of the PSs fall into those categories themselves, but all of them were interested in the trajectory Seth’s career has taken, as well as his long-term views on government policies and the way the media reports on them.
In the afternoon, the PSs met with the educators taking part in the Educating in a Diverse Democracy course at Camp. Many of them come from the same school systems as the PSs, but that really didn’t matter. They used the format called a fishbowl, which puts one group in the middle to discuss the questions posed to them by the outside group. Then halfway through the session they switch places. For example, the PSs were asked what they wished their teachers knew about them. Then the PSs discussed their answers while the educators listened. This was a rare opportunity for these two groups to share hurtful stories and suggestions for improved relations between teachers and students at the high school level.
It can be a challenge to get the campers to wear the name buttons they made for themselves on the first day of Camp. So we play games to remind them to do it, including one called Jellyfish. Today we invited everyone who didn’t have a name button on to come to the front of line-up and had an epic Jellyfish performance that must have involved half the Camp.
Since this is Friday, we held religious services for our Muslim and Jewish campers and staff. We invited others to witness these services. In the evening, we held a bunk night, which helps the members of each bunk feel bonded.
Arts Day | August 2
Arts Day reached a new level of impact today. The campers participated with their dialogue groups to create something with paint, spoken word, dance, drama, photography, cooking, or musical instruments. The prompt for the day was, “What is your story?” Although the emphasis was on the process of telling their stories, rather than the product, what was produced was wonderful.
The newest aspect was a “food truck” from which the cooking groups could serve their cakes. This was painted by another group, which also decided to paint themselves.
At night we had performances by dialogue groups using drama, instrumental music, and dance. The group that danced was originally too angry at one another to feel like creating a dance. Their dialogue from yesterday had left them feeling stuck in their divisive emotions. The dance counselor asked them to show with their hands how much they wanted to work on a dance together and literally all of them didn’t. Then they had another dialogue session which broke the impasse. When they returned to the dance session, they were able to pull together in a wonderful dance.
The drama performance portrayed the subtle—or not so subtle—differences between going through airport security as a white person and doing the same thing as a person of color.
The group performing with musical instruments had created an original piece of music. The group who had worked on the spoken word wanted to keep working until they feel ready probably at a future line-up. It was important for them to not feel pressured to complete their artistic creation if they had more thinking to do. Writing sometimes needs incubation time before it can be made whole.
Educators Course | August 1
At the same time the program for teenagers is happening at Camp, we also conducting a program for educators, mainly from the United States, on “Educating in a Diverse Democracy.” Each day, resident lecturers present issues that have confounded our democracy and discuss different approaches that educators can take to improve the outcomes.
Today’s discussion was about race relations in the United States. Four hundred years of slavery, the institutional biases that maintain inequality for people of color, workplace challenges in schools, the significance of certain words used to describe the problems, and interpersonal relations between the races were all part of an open dialogue lasting several hours.
The campers were busy as usual with activities such as football, dance, the art of creating memes, canoeing, baseball, and basketball. The Bollywood special activity group performed a dance for the dinner line-up, to everyone’s delight.
In the morning, we took bunk pictures. The poses they adopted for their pictures demonstrated how comfortable they are with each other.
And at tonight’s all-Camp activity, each bunk nominated representatives to be “the mostest” of all sorts of things, such as a top model, or best at “rock, paper, scissors,” to perform in front of the whole community. This required people to push the limits of their personal comfort zones. Only a week ago, this would not have been feasible—they were perfect strangers then. Now they can laugh at themselves, together.
Taking the Plunge | July 31
Each day, the opportunities for building self-confidence increase at Camp. The counselors must be given credit for helping campers get over their initial hesitation to try something new, like water-skiing. While it would be easier to tell reluctant campers to just sit and watch others try an activity, it is far more encouraging to show them that adults believe they have the capacity to do it. The shear enthusiasm of the counselors for the activity is often enough to get timid campers to take the plunge.
Today, we began holding soccer matches between the counselors and the campers during free time. The camper team was a real challenge for our talented counselors. In fact, the campers won.
Tim Wilson, long-time football coach, camp director and the head of the year-around Maine Seeds program, offered to coach American football to anyone who wanted to give up their rest hour today, girls as well as boys. Coach Wilson has been coaching football in Pittsburgh, and Dexter, Maine, for about 40 years.
In the evening, we had a regional breakout competition, reflecting the various delegations at Camp. They include Portland, Middle and North Maine, suburbs of Maine cities, Chicago, Los Angeles, Syracuse, and New York City, as well as the “new cities” of Washington DC, Philadelphia, and Delaware (considered small enough in population to be a city).
Each delegation was charged with creating a “car” together, constructed from a pile of cast-off objects and cardboard. Teams also had to come up with cheers about their home communities. The finale was a car race outdoors while the team cheered. The winners will be announced tomorrow morning.
While it is important for the Camp to become a temporary community, it is even more important in the long run for the campers to devote their time to strengthening the communities they will go home to in 12 days. This kind of game aimed at building commitment to both.
Letting Off Steam | July 30
Our line-up area is a space facing the beautiful lake where multiple things take place every day. We gather together with each bunk group on one of the green benches. Many times, especially in the morning, we have a musical performance or an energizing wake-up exercise. In the morning, the serenity of the seemingly still water can be very comforting and special. It is the most-remembered view of Camp.
This morning, a camper named Will brought his guitar to the front of line-up and sang, “Birds in the trees, you know what I mean. It’s a new dawn. It’s a new day for me!” His entire bunk group had his back as they stood behind him while he sang.
Campers are learning new sports and getting better at familiar ones. But their biggest achievement will take place inside the dialogue huts. They are past the friendly “getting to know you” phase of the dialogue process and have moved into confronting the divisive issues that plague our communities. If they can navigate the troubled waters of our society in the safe space of Camp, the hope is that they will gain the confidence to lead change at home as well.
We like to have an all-Camp activity at night to bring everyone together and work off some steam before going to sleep. Tonight, we held a lip sync contest between the bunks. The bunk groups were given a popular song and charged with developing a dance while lip syncing to the music. No counselors were allowed on stage and the dances were created by the campers.
Watching them work together was fascinating, since every bunk is a mixed group of delegations and backgrounds. At the end, the counselors jumped on stage and did their own lip sync. The campers were clearly delighted to see them having fun together as well.
Forming Friendships | July 29
Friendships are forming everywhere you look. Pairs and triples and groups are asking to have photos taken and the bunk groups are becoming cohesive groups, even though they are comprised of people from different places and backgrounds. It is a lovely time to witness Camp. But we hope they will go deeper. As Sarah Brajtbord, our Camp Director says, “Go even deeper, beyond the similarities and grapple with the differences. It is through that process that true, lasting friendships will be possible.”
One of the ways relationships are tested is through experiences that require a measure of trust and support. Climbing on the climbing wall and working your way through a series of hanging tires require trust and support from others.
Today, we had two groups that formed to debate whether or not water is wet. These teams met in the dining hall, so after dinner they held the debate with opening statements, presenting arguments, and closing statements. It was a rousing debate, capturing everyone’s attention and challenging our grasp of science. The winner will be announced at tomorrow’s morning line-up.
We also had a surprise visit from the counselor who composed our regular blessing of thankfulness before every meal, Jerry Smith. The campers were amazed to meet him and he was thrilled to lead us in saying, “For friendship, health, love and opportunity, we are thankful!”
Tonight we held the “World Cup Ga-Ga” challenge. The whole Camp played Ga-Ga in the Big Hall, some for the first time. As usual, there were four teams named for fictitious countries competing. The winner got to play the counselors, who were more experienced players. However, when the only counselor left standing had to face about eight campers, the campers won!
Building Confidence | July 28
Providing a variety of activities for the campers to try each day gives them many opportunities to become the people they aspire to be. And having well-trained counselors to guide them makes it more likely that they will take intelligent risks, propelling them beyond their reticence.
We are also hoping to get beyond that inner voice of doubt each of us have to some extent. This Camp is a great place to try out new attitudes, approaches, and perspectives. Once campers build confidence inside themselves, a whole new world opens up for them.
In the dining hall, there are well over 200 people scrambling to get their food, joking around, and learning table cheers. The noise makes it almost impossible to have meaningful conversations with the people at your table. We therefore came up with the idea of bringing table groups together in a more peaceful, open setting. During “table talk,” campers sit in circles on the floor of the Big Hall or the Field House and get to know each other, with guidance from the counselors.
Many people are reluctant to speak or perform in front of large groups. But being able to do this with confidence can be a real game-changer for aspiring leaders. To this end, we have low-key contests between the bunk groups such as a dance-off and lip-sync competition. Today, the winners of last night’s dance-off got the chance to perform at line-up. For several of them, this was clearly a stretch, but the resounding applause from the other campers and counselors really made their day.
Negotiation | July 27
The counselors lead one activity each morning that is something they have created to promote some of the goals of Camp, like inclusion, learning new skills, and expanding cultural understanding and intelligent risk-taking. Each of these “special activities” is chosen by the campers ahead of time and runs about three days. This week, special activities include cooking, “being weird,” soccer, softball, climbing, water-skiing, and hip-hop appreciation.
Robert Bordone and Florrie Darwin, who are law school faculty who specialize in negotiation, met with the PSs today. The PSs were given a hypothetical case in which they had to decide which three of eight people would be given the antidote for a deadly disease that was spreading all over the world. In this case, there wasn’t enough medication to save all eight.
The PSs were given some parameters for fair negotiation and suggestions for roles people could play in the negotiation. They had to consider the impact of selecting one person over another on their community. They had detailed descriptions of the eight people, as well as photographs showing them in their healthy state before contracting the virus. They only had 30 minutes to negotiate for the people they thought were more important to save.
Of course, the more one knows about an individual, the more committed one becomes to that person. All eight were described to everyone. Negotiating to select just three of them can be very difficult. But it leads to discussions about values and systems already in place in our communities that effectively give some people a better chance at life than others. In this way, the hypothetical opens the door to a deeper understanding of American society and provides negotiating tools for balancing the needs of all sectors, not just the ones with traditional privileges.
Since this is Friday, we held Muslim and Jewish religious services for those who wanted to pray. On Sunday we will provide the same options for Christians.
PS Reflections | July 26
We have to take care of some preliminary matters on the first day of Camp before we can begin the normal schedule. All campers need to be seen by our medical team of doctors and nurses, making sure their medications will be stored in the health center and not in their bunks, for example.
They also take swim tests before being allowed to go sailing, water-skiing, canoeing, or swimming. It rained off and on today, giving us an extra challenge, but the air was warm and the rain felt refreshing.
By 8 p.m., the last camper emerged from the health center! All the campers had experienced their first dialogue session, a group challenge activity, created their name buttons, eaten three meals in the dining hall, and phoned home.
This evening, the counselors presented a show about all the activities the new campers can expect at Camp. This is always a mix of music and jokes, as well as sound advice, like how to dress for the ropes course.
Behind the scenes, the returning campers (PSs) have been working on original writing about their previous experiences at Camp and how they felt when they returned to their communities. They didn’t sugar-coat their views about the sharp contrast between their lives at Camp versus in the outside world. With a campfire burning nearby, the PSs presented their ideas to the new campers, who really appreciated their honesty.
Behind the scenes, the leadership team has been busy fine-tuning the programs, with two schedules ready for whatever the day will bring—one regular and one for a rainy day.
At the end of the evening, a group of counselors sang a lovely song about making this place a home. It will be a safe and supportive “home away from home” for two-and-a-half weeks.
Arrivals | July 25
We had the whole morning to ourselves before the first campers arrived by bus. Ironically, they were the ones who came from the greatest distance—Los Angeles. We used the hours before the first campers arrived to focus on race relations at Camp.
A panel of counselors and facilitators introduced the topic of race at Camp by telling the rest of the staff what it has been like for them to be people of color on staff. Their testimonies were heartfelt and eye-opening for many. No doubt what was said will cause many colleagues to give more consideration to the way we conduct ourselves. Even the most progressive organizations have much to learn about race relations. Although we like to say that Seeds of Peace is “the way life could be,” it could still be better.
The somber morning discussions gave way to excitement as the campers began arriving on bus after bus. The campers navigated a welcome tunnel and joined the Seeds of Peace chants, accompanied by drums and noisemakers.
By dinnertime, all but four campers were settled into their bunks and were able to eat together in the dining hall. The campers were wearing their green Seeds of Peace t-shirts and they joined a member of the leadership staff in saying our traditional words of thanks at meals: “For friendship, health, love and opportunity, we are thankful!”
Session 2 Orientation | July 24
The second session of Camp will begin tomorrow, almost a week after the first session ended. Each session is unique, due to differences in where the campers come from and the length of time they will spend with us. But our goals remain the same.
The Camp will still provide a safe, fun, and productive educational experience in which participants try new activities, learn new skills, explore their own personalities and identities, and have the opportunity to form relationships with people they would otherwise neither meet nor engage with in a meaningful way.
The second session is one week shorter than the first and is focused on teenagers living in the United States. Most will come from across Maine, as well as Los Angeles, Chicago, New York City, and Syracuse New York). Smaller numbers will come from the Washington, DC-area, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. About half of the campers will come from refugee or immigrant communities.
The staff orientation days leading up to the start of the session included trainings on on gender identity and racial tension. Almost all the staff is the same as in the first session. They are eager to get back into full-Camp mode: sports, dialogue, arts, dancing and group challenge. All of us are ready for Camp to get going again!
MIDDLE EAST, SOUTH ASIA, UNITED STATES
Departures | July 19
Departure day is a sad one. Yet it is also laced with feelings of accomplishment and fulfillment.
Over the course of the session, we created a real community here in Maine made up of people representing diametrically opposed narratives. At home, fear and distrust would typically define these relationships. Yet today, after three weeks of living together, campers were crying and hugging people on the other side as they said their good-byes.
Many of them will be lucky enough to see each other again back home with help from the Seeds of Peace staff. But for some, the prospects of seeing each other again are slim. Borders, separation walls, checkpoints, and mileage will keep them apart. But most of all, it will be politics, social pressures, and even open conflict that will make future meetings difficult.
Thankfully, social media will help them stay in touch. They can also view pictures from their session on Facebook and Flickr. We have tried to prepare them for reentry into their societies during their final session of dialogue. And older Seeds will be able to help them as well.
It was a hard session of Camp. It always is. But this time we had to overcome a more pervasive feeling of despair. We can’t change what is happening in the Middle East and South Asia right now. But we have sent 187 young leaders out into the world who now know from personal experience what “the way life could be” feels like. And they want to make that life happen where they live.
Wrapping Up | July 18
“Live in the moment, not in tomorrow! This is another beautiful Seeds of Peace day, so live it fully!” This was the advice from Sarah, our Camp Director, at morning line-up.
Bobbie, Seeds of Peace co-founder and Camp chronicler, invited everyone to the Big Hall for a Quaker silent meeting. Sitting in a circle together, in silence, brings us closer to one another so we can share our inner light individually if we feel moved to do so. Campers shared many thoughtful statements between periods of powerful silence.
The bell rang and half the campers went to their final dialogue session while the others packed for their long trips home tomorrow. Later in the afternoon, they switched this schedule, so everyone had the chance to do both.
In the afternoon, the PSs were given turtle necklaces by Bobbie and the PS staff. Each pendant is different, made from natural stones. We hope they will think of Seeds of Peace as their second home and carry their home with them, like a turtle does, wherever they go.
In the evening, the regional staff explained the Seeds of Peace programs that will be available to the Seeds back home.
Then we screened a 30-minute slide show of pictures taken from the time the campers emerged from their buses on arrival day through today, followed by a command repeat of the Blue Team’s dance performance. You don’t have to be a professional dancer to perform at Camp because our dance counselors know how to make you look professional.
Late at night, while the whole Camp was sleeping, the PSs decided to leave their mark, painting the side of the boat shack with these words, “They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds!”
Message to Hajime | July 17
The final half-day of Color Games usually begins with a race in old Native American-style canoes, each paddled by ten campers from each team along the length of the Camp’s shoreline. But we were cognizant of the prediction that thunderstorms were on their way, so we eliminated the race and went right into the culmination of Color Games, Message to Hajime.
The Message to Hajime relay race all over Camp began right after breakfast. Over 100 task stations were arranged all over the Camp. Each team selected people who were confident they could complete the task and others who would run to the next station with the baton.
The final task was to memorize an unfamiliar quote. This time, the quote was from Bell Hooks. The fastest messenger memorized this quote perfectly in three minutes.
“Fear is the primary force upholding systems of domination. It promotes the desire for separation, the desire not to be known. When we are taught that safety always lies in sameness, the difference, of any kind, will appear as a threat. When we choose to love we choose to move against fear—against alienation and separation. The choice to love is the choice to connect—to find ourselves in the other.”
The winner of Color Games this session was the Green Team. So they were the first to jump in the lake, fully-clothed. The Blue Team jumped in after them. Soon, the swimming area was awash in splashing and hugging, a great outlet for the excitement of winning and the realization that we had all won something very special: a huge circle of concern.
As soon as we emerged from the lake, the thunderstorms rolled in!
Day 2 | July 16
The unsung heroes of the Seeds of Peace Camp program are the counselors. The coaches for Color Games take their counselor responsibilities to a whole other level. It is an honor to be asked to be a coach because it means that the senior staff thinks you can handle all your regular duties, plus supporting the campers on their journey out of their comfort zones, taking intelligent risks for the sake of the Blue or Green Team, and expanding their circle of concern beyond their own delegation, bunk, or religion.
At any point during Color Games, one team is winning and the other is losing. It can be a roller-coaster ride of being disappointed in one challenge and elated in another, over and over again. The second day of Color Games consists of several competitions between challengers who are considered the best at the sport, art, or dance. The rest of the team cheers them on, completely identifying with their teammates. So they all feel defeated when their teammates don’t win a game, or when they are the ones who lost a game.
The counselors also have to prepare the campers to present a variety show for the evening, including a team song about Seeds of Peace Camp, instrumental music, a capella singing, a comedy skit, a dance performance, and spoken word.
There was a time when we asked the campers to perform a mime instead of the spoken word. But we were clearly underestimating what the campers are capable of creating with words from their own hearts. Their free-form poetry about the possibility of change was overwhelmingly courageous.
By the end of the day, the Blue Team had almost caught up with the Green Team. Tomorrow, the Message to Hajime (meaning “beginning” in Japanese) will last most of the morning. We hope the expected rainfall will be delayed until Color Games is concluded.
Color Games | July 15
While the rest of the planet watched the World Cup final today, we were almost entirely focused on Color Games. It is during these games, held toward the end of the session, that the competitive spirit in everyone awakens the desire to win, regardless of place of origin, religion, or anything else.
The two teams, Green and Blue, have to come up with strategies for winning and carry them out together. Be it in soccer, Frisbee, Steal the Bacon, kickball, pickleball, climbing, swimming, running, drama, dance, volleyball, street hockey, or canoeing, each team puts their most capable representatives forward. Everyone else cheers them on!
When the Green Team won the first event—the rope pull—they got off to a 500-point advantage. Now the Blue Team has to catch up. It is usually confidence, team cooperation and good strategies that win the day. The counselors serving as team coaches help the campers maintain their “can-do” spirit.
Seeds all over the world are watching the updates of the scores on social media. They are all loyal to the color team they were on as campers. The World Cup has now ended, but the big competition for Seeds has just begun!
News From Home | July 14
This day was expected to be full of positive anticipation. The campers were scheduled to rehearse during the day and perform for the Talent Show in the evening. And behind the scenes, the counselors were expected to be focused on Color Games being announced at some point.
By mid-day, news from Gaza and Israel spread around Camp. We may be far away, but the worries about family and friends’ safety came to the surface, as soon as the news was known.
Sarah Brajtbord, our Camp Director, spoke at lunch line-up about the violence. Sarah gave both the Israeli and Palestinian Delegations time to meet alone. The rest of the campers met in small circles, mostly in shared silence. The impact of the news made their experiences at Seeds of Peace all the more important.
Sarah explained to the Delegation Leaders what the Camp staff was doing to help the campers. She asked them to select news reports that could be posted on our bulletin boards for the campers to read.
At dinner line-up, the Delegation Leaders, having discussed their own responses to the violence, stood in the back, arms around one another.
Sarah announced that a tentative cease-fire had been brokered by Egypt. The leadership staff made the decision to go ahead with our plans for the Talent Show and Color Games.
The Talent Show was glorious—an abundance of talent in dance, song, comedy, and poetry. Just as it looked as if the Show was over, Color Games broke, with all the usual fanfare!
The next two-and-a-half days will be filled with competitions in sports, arts, cooking, etc. We will be making the most of the time we have left in this temporary but very real community called Camp.
Sports Day | July 13
On Fridays, everyone has a day off from formal dialogue sessions. The facilitators took time to refresh themselves and plan for the final meeting with the campers, while the campers had a day of sports and rehearsals for their talent show on Saturday night.
It was also Sports Day. Another camp in Maine was invited to play soccer and basketball with our girls and boys teams. All four games were well played. Seeds of Peace won them all. Many of the campers not only welcomed the people from the other camp but also cheered for them, since they were not accompanied by a cheering crowd like our team was.
The other team was welcomed to line-up and encouraged to exchange camp songs with us. They also posed for team pictures as combined teams. They joined us for a picnic lunch and were invited to witness the Muslim services after lunch. This must have been a unique experience for these American campers.
Many friendships begin in the process of team efforts, either on the field, in the art shack, in the bunks or on the stage. Today, there are newly-formed groups of campers creating performances for the talent show tomorrow night. You can spot them huddled together in shady spots, with guitars or other musical instruments earnestly working on their joint performances. We are all looking forward to enjoying their combined talents.
Attitude Shifts | July 12
The challenge of living together—the way life could be—is hard to imagine in some cases, and harder still to actualize. After all, these teenagers come from areas of the world fraught with violence and killing for many decades. How can three weeks at an overnight camp far from home expect to make a difference?
Research on Seeds of Peace programs over the years has shown that campers generally discover one person from the demonized other side who is the exception to the rule. This one person can become a friend. Once a friendship is formed, other friendships become more likely. But sometimes the campers cannot go beyond this one friend. Even in that case, it is shown that the attitude toward the other side is softened by that single friendship.
We had a normal day today, except for an evening at the minor league baseball park in Portland. The team is called the Sea Dogs. Our campers were cheering and eating the whole time, but rarely for the baseball team. They were just having fun together. They kept asking to have their pictures taken with their new and old friends alike, and at one point the usher from the ballpark who was assigned to help us jumped into a picture as well.
Old Habits vs. Growth | July 11
Dialogue sessions can be difficult. All the inherited beliefs about the people on the other side don’t necessarily apply to the people at Camp. And every time the stereotypes creep into the conversation, the new friendships often feel the strain of hurt feelings and disrespect.
That is why we also offer alternatives to dialogue throughout the day. This morning Sarah Brajtbord, our Camp Director, presented a poem at line-up about changing the way we approach the obstacles in our path. It was a powerful reflection about our habitual ways of handling problems as well as our free agency to change the way we deal with the obstacles hindering our growth.
Sometimes these young people fall back on old ways of handling their lack of courage to try new things. These old ways can take the form of feigned injuries which excuse them from sports and other activities. When this behavior persists, it deprives the campers of enjoying the many opportunities available at Camp to grow and mature. Once they can see that they are making a big mistake by remaining on the sidelines, they are enormously proud of themselves for taking the chance to accomplish something that looks impossible to them. One young man actually went from being on crutches and sitting out a dance activity he loved to going up on the high ropes with his dialogue group—once he found the courage he didn’t know he had.
We have very talented campers, which can be intimidating sometimes. One Egyptian camper sang “What Would You Do?” with two counselors accompanying him. It is a song about imagining how you would behave if you had political power in your hands.
In the evening, all the campers entertained us by singing the songs they created last night. The theme was “transformation.” The songs ranged from very serious to very funny. All of them showed enormous talent, inclusiveness, and creativity.
Challenges | July 10
As the days go by, most people find that participation in Camp is more challenging. In dialogue, the old arguments no longer hold sway over new narratives campers are sharing. Campers have sharpened their listening skills, and relationships based on mutual trust make it harder to just stick with just one narrative.
The challenge of learning new skills or improving skills extends from bunk clean-up through special activities, sports, music and art, and becomes greater as higher skill levels are achieved. The most important skills are interpersonal—becoming more communicative, kind, generous, respectful, and trustworthy.
For some, the pace of Camp is beyond what they think they can handle. Thinking for oneself and bravely taking intelligent risks can be very hard, but we have seen teenagers mature right before our eyes when they discover their own inner strengths.
Today, the Delegation Leaders tried out the high ropes for the first time. Some were sure they could do it until they looked down to the ground. Others have been afraid of heights all their lives and found out they could overcome that fear with a little encouragement from their partners, who come from the other side of their conflict. One man climbed a pole and then was clinging to it for 20 minutes before his partner helped him move across the ropes. Another pair climbed to the top of the vertical playpen, even though one of them was very afraid to go higher than the first element. For 30 minutes, they tried to figure out how they could conquer the challenge together, but finally, they found a great way to do it. They were very proud.
This evening, we had a bunk night in the hope of having an earlier bedtime. Each bunk was asked to write a song and we will listen to them all tomorrow night.
Café Night | July 9
It is a challenge to live in a small space with people you distrust and possibly dislike based on life experience and warnings at home. We are halfway through the second week of doing that. Some campers struggle with the idea of meeting all the people here as human beings worthy of concern. But this is the safest place in the world to take a chance and form a connection with someone from the “other side.”
To encourage informal discussions with people from different backgrounds, we screened a short film this evening about John Wallach, Seeds of Peace’s founder, in which he expresses his hopes for the impact of the organization. Then the campers went to the dining hall, which was transformed by the PSs into a café of sorts, with desserts in abundance and benches arranged to promote meeting someone new. Many older Seeds have said that they made friends during Café Night that have endured many years.
At this point in the session, we expect the dialogue meetings to become more heated. Many campers are now comfortable enough to speak their minds and test their beliefs about the “other side.” Each day, the campers have 115 minutes to listen and to be heard. Dialogue facilitators are challenged like never before. Feelings get hurt and tears flow. But getting to a point of mutual understanding and respect is worth the hard work of dialogue.
Between the serious meetings are endless opportunities for campers to raise their confidence levels by taking the risk of learning something new, like canoeing, gardening, the game of GaGa, drama, dance, art, and more. Being able to participate fully in dialogue, and then joining fellow dialogue group members in trust-building activities, gives campers new insights about the people they argue with in dialogue sessions. And those new insights further build trust.
Group Challenge | July 8
On this beautiful sunny day, Camp was abuzz with activity and intense interactions. In the morning, Maine Seeds visited Camp. Tim Wilson, Director of the Maine Seeds Program, joined them. In this way, the new campers were able to meet members of the larger community of Seeds, now close to 6,700.
The ropes course is set in the woods with both low and high ropes elements. Counselors design various group challenges to address the power dynamics in each dialogue group. The dialogue facilitators and the group challenge counselors meet together before their campers are assigned to the challenges. Facilitators advise the group challenge counselors on which campers need encouragement to lead and which campers need to take a step back. The ones in the second category are often blindfolded or told not to speak while the less assertive ones are given leading roles. This shakes up the group dynamics and provides an opening for the quieter campers to express themselves.
In the evening, we held a memorial service for the 19 Seeds who have passed away over the years, including four this year. While we try to celebrate their lives with quotes from them and memorable stories, it is always a somber occasion because some of the current campers are family members or were friends of the ones who have died. All their grief was suppressed during the normal camp activities, but the memorial service gave them an opportunity to share their grief with our community. This was a gift to everyone here, and Camp Director Sarah Brajtbord thanked them for letting us know about their personal grief. We should not pretend that all is well, when it is not.
As Sarah reminds them often, “All of your parts are welcome here.”
International Day | July 7
International Day at Camp provides a way to express cultural identity in a safe and supportive environment. To this end, people who consider themselves part of two cultural traditions were encouraged to express both, either through their costumes or by participating in more than one cultural performance.
The sight of our entire community dressed in traditional garb is delightful. The colors are a feast for the eyes. We don’t just see one another as a member of our community, but also see quite plainly that everyone has a cultural tradition. It is not usually on display, but it is still present.
The adult delegation leaders cooked a dinner comprised of typical recipes from their home countries. Mounds of cut vegetables and chicken were put together in all different ways to make a glorious meal.
Following dinner, every delegation presented songs and dances from their cultural tradition. Each delegation took turns being on stage and then being in the audience. Earlier in the day, they had practiced their performances again, so most campers felt confident on stage. High energy and mutual appreciation filled the air.
Religious Services | July 6
One of our goals for the campers is to provide opportunities to confront and examine preconceived notions of one another and the world around them. Today, they were offered the chance to observe the faith services of others (Muslim or Jewish). These experiences give them a chance they probably would not have at home—to observe people from the other side of their conflict worshipping God and praying for peace.
Tomorrow, we are going to try something we haven’t done in awhile. We are going to give every delegation a chance to perform music and dance which reflects their traditional culture. Today, all the groups were given an hour to rehearse for the performance. Before the show, we will have a delicious dinner planned and cooked by the delegation leaders. After a week in Maine, the campers will be very excited to eat some traditional food from home!
Tonight, the counselors planned activities just for their own bunks, instead of doing something with the entire Camp community. The counselors make their bunks safe havens and bunk nights can be very special.
The Mostest Campers | July 5
Over the years, we have seen that offering many chances for fun, along with many opportunities to express serious thoughts and seek deep understanding of others, produces a balance of human emotions. If we only addressed the serious side of life or never got beyond having fun together, Seeds of Peace would have a much shallower impact.
During the showcase for yesterday’s Arts Day, one dialogue group linked together each camper’s thoughts or fears.
One camper said, “even though I might be joking sometimes, I can be serious.” Another said, “I know that I don’t like writing and I am really bad at it, but there’s something on my mind and I just want to get rid of it.” One other said, “I always thought that I can choose what I want my destiny to be, but life doesn’t work like this.” And another said, “No one can force you to do anything in this life, because you are free and you were born free and you have the right to be free.”
The abnormally hot weather propelled us into the lake one extra time today. Sailing provided campers with welcome breezes. And our colorful sails delighted those of us on shore. Despite the heat, the group challenge process advanced from the field to the low ropes in the woods. Art and dance, as well as low-exertion sports, like kickball, rounded out the day. And every day, one or more campers successfully water ski.
Tonight, we held one of our most popular all-Camp events. It is all about discovering who is the “mostest,” not the “bestest,” at a variety of things, such as staring contests, the Chicken Dance, model struts, “Rock, Paper, Scissors,” and number of mosquito bites. Over and over, the whole camp was laughing together at the same antics and jokes, which is a good sign that we are coming together as a community. By far, the most fun was having the campers do impersonations of their counselors.
Arts Day | July 4
Although the Delegation Leaders and the PSs marched in the annual Otisfield Fourth of July Parade as a cultural experience and a neighborly gesture, most people at Camp participated in Arts Day.
Arts Day focuses on all the art activities we provide at Camp: drama, dance, photography, creative writing, podcasting, mural-painting, and cooking arts. Each dialogue group had extra time to make a presentation to the entire Camp showcasing their work. Working in dialogue groups affords a fuller perspective on campers from the “other side,” seeing them as creative beings with undiscovered talent.
The podcast was a radio interview about some of the campers’ experiences in dialogue. One interviewee said that she had been holding in her emotions since the beginning of dialogue, but found out today that it was far less painful to express her emotions artistically or in discussions than to keep them bottled up inside.
The dance group was asked to consider their own relationships with music and dance. Then they were asked which piece of music feels like it defines them as individuals. For some campers, this was an easy question to answer. But others were quite thoughtful before deciding their theme song. In the end, they selected about 20 seconds of music and created dance moves to go with their choices. Finally, all the individuals put their music and dances together, like a mosaic.
One side of the farm shed we use for our vegetable garden needed repainting. So, it was decided to paint a mural on it, with each member of the dialogue group painting a puzzle piece representing something that describes them as individuals. No attempt was made to unify the pieces, but the mural as a whole looks great.
All the groups expressed the theme of a mosaic, an appropriate one for Seeds of Peace. While we are always interested in creating a community, we intentionally support the uniqueness of every person’s truth and gifts.
Hot Days, Cool Nights | July 3
This is the third day of 90° F. temperatures with two or three more ahead of us, apparently. Cool evenings and occasional breezes, plus swimming in the lake, make this hot weather bearable for most of us.
Both boys and girls are delighted to learn group dances. Whenever it becomes too hot to dance indoors, they move outside where the air is a bit cooler. The Bollywood-style music entices people walking by to join in. Today, one dance class was joined by the Camp Director and the Executive Director of Seeds of Peace.
Every day there is a mix of fun activities which require a small step outside the campers’ normal comfort zones and more serious activities which also coax the campers into their stretch zones.
Today some of them took part in an intriguing art activity. They were told to work with a small group of campers to draw or paint something together, without talking. After one person started a painting, the others took turns adding to it, without any conversations. This tested their ability to find common ground, even silently.
The delegations met separately for an hour today, as they do once a week at Camp. This is a kind of reality check with their delegation leaders. The language spoken in these meetings does not have to be English, which is the case for the rest of Camp interactions. This gives the campers a chance to discuss any issues they are having in a comfortable way.
We ended the day with the World Cup GaGa Tournament on the outdoor basketball court between four teams representing fictitious countries. All you really need for this activity to be successful is enthusiastic, competitive participants. We have no shortage of those, so it was a lot of fun.
Self-Confidence | July 2
One of the goals of Camp is to encourage campers to build self-confidence; they are more likely to take intelligent risks if they possess a healthy amount of it. We help them build upon the self-confidence they bring to Camp with skill development, competitions, and performances in front of their peers.
For an hour each day, the campers take part in special activities like swim lessons, yoga, water-skiing, rugby, soccer, Bollywwod dancing, creative writing, rock-climbing, pickle ball … and “how to be lit” and “being weird.” Participation in these activities is up to the campers and devised by counselors who are particularly talented in these areas.
Everyone has an hour to swim in the lake each afternoon, a very welcome experience on a warm day like today. A cool wind gave our novice sailors and canoeists enjoyable time in the lake as well. All water sports are carefully taught and supervised. As soon as campers stand up on water skis, they become members of “Club 75,” because the rope pulling them is 75 feet long. Swimmers advance from one grade to the next as their skills become stronger.
This evening’s all-Camp activity was a Lip Sync Contest, pitting pairs of bunks against one another. They were given a popular song and told to devise an original way to sing and dance to the music. They were coached by the returning campers, the “PSs.” They had about an hour to refine their performances, working together and making compromises so that everyone could comfortably going up onstage.
Campers also took on the counselors in soccer during 30 minutes of “free time.” Amazingly, the campers won! We don’t have to worry about their confidence level for soccer.
Flagraising | July 1
Our Flagraising ceremony allows us to honor all of the national identities present at Camp, giving campers the opportunity to sing their countries’ national anthems while raising their flags just outside the main Camp gate.
Inside the Camp, we only fly the green Seeds of Peace flag. This helps foster the creation of a temporary Camp community—“the way life could be.”
We are fully aware that reality outside Camp is not like this. But, by creating a community of people who can understand one another more deeply and desire for others the same things they want for themselves, we hope they will emerge with wider perspectives on life and the potential role they can play to improve their realities.
The returning campers (Paradigm Shifters) sat together in the evening and collected their thoughts about being Seeds. Seven PSs created a very effective presentation for Flagraising, combining the thoughts of the whole group of 32. It was apparent that they had really listened to one another before preparing their presentation. They come from the Middle East and South Asia as well as Chicago.
Tonight’s evening activity was called “table talk.” This activity developed after we realized that the dining hall is too noisy for serious conversations. We made space for each table group to find out more about their tablemates than they would likely be able to do during mealtimes.
Another early morning group has formed for runners. Somehow, non-stop activities and challenging dialogue sessions are not enough to wear out these highly motivated teenagers!
Counselors | June 30
At the heart of the Seeds of Peace Camp experience is the opportunity to build meaningful relationships with campers from every delegation. These relationships make it possible to grow as social beings—finding commonalities and developing an appreciation for differences.
The bunks are home to campers from the Middle East or South Asia, with Americans and Brits distributed among them. Many of the things people normally do with their families are done in their bunks at Camp. Counselors are careful to maintain their bunk as an especially safe, inclusive place. This gives the bunk a homelike atmosphere.
The counselors also model respectful and warm relationships. They are mature, highly effective, and talented young adults who take a collaborative approach to solving difficult issues.
On this first normal day of Camp, several counselors put together a GaGa championship challenge for all the bunks. Almost no one is familiar with this game, which is commonly played at American schools and summer camps. This challenge will be conducted throughout this session.
Two returning campers—an Israeli and a Palestinian—have invited campers who are interested in soccer to join them at 7 a.m. every morning. This will require people to wake up before the morning bell, instead of rolling over upon hearing it ring!
Attitudinal Surveys | June 29
Efforts to reach the overall goals of Camp began right away. Ultimately, Seeds of Peace aims to provide a safe, fun, and productive educational experience in which participants try new activities, learn different skills, and challenge themselves to view themselves and others in a nuanced, new light.
We hope they will form relationships with people they would otherwise not meet or engage with in a meaningful way. Some began by sharing a sleeping space—a bunk—with people they have known abstractly as enemies. They shared breakfast, lunch, and dinner with another group of people who until today were seen as enemies.
But nothing bad happened.
We administered attitudinal surveys in the morning to record campers’ opinions of “the other side.” On the last day of Camp, they will take the surveys again. Their answers are anonymous, but can be matched through a numbering system. In this way, we can tell if our experiential education approach has met our goals.
This being Friday, we held Muslim and Jewish religious services for those who wanted to pray. On Sunday there will be Christian services for Catholics and Protestants. Everyone will have a chance to observe these services next week.
Many campers traveled 30 hours or more to be with us, and their body clocks are not yet in sync with Eastern Standard Time in the US. Excitement is keeping them awake today.
The day ended with a quiet “bunk night,” getting to know their bunkmates and counselors.
Arrivals | June 28
Before we could welcome all the campers and Delegation Leaders (DLs) to Camp, we spent the morning cleaning up our shared spaces. Then all of us—senior staff, counselors, dialogue facilitators—took an hour to thank one another anonymously for things like imparting wisdom, making us laugh, giving encouragement, sharing poignant stories, or building trust over the past ten days we have lived together.
The buses and the rain took turns rolling into Camp from 1:30 to 9 p.m. For the most part, the rain was gentle. Camp staff welcomed, with much fanfare, the first group of campers and DLs. A trombone, drums, and various noisemakers accompanied Seeds of Peace chants while the new campers from each delegation emerged from their long bus ride from Boston.
Every arriving delegation added to the welcoming party for the next arrivals. By the time the last delegation reached Camp, Israelis, Palestinians, Indians, Pakistanis, Americans, and Brits enthusiastically joined together to make the newcomers (mostly Jordanians and Egyptians) feel welcome.
All the campers have moved into their new homes and are sleeping in bunks with 8 to 10 others, plus two or three counselors. Each bunk group has equal numbers of people from both sides of their conflict area. They have already taken enormous risks, traveling many thousands of miles to live with teenagers they would not otherwise be likely to meet. They are supposed to be enemies, but for the next few weeks, they will be living together. Most adults would find it impossible to do this.
VIDEO: Arrivals | June 28
Staff Orientation | June 27
While many parts of the world seem to be weighed down by hostility, population displacement, oppression, and unbearable suffering, our Camp staff has spent 10 days preparing to welcome 183 campers and 21 educators from the Middle East, South Asia, the United States, and the United Kingdom.
This first session of Camp will last almost four weeks. Later on in the summer, during our second session, we’ll host campers from across the United States.
For the past few days, staff teams have been familiarizing each other about their roles in order to work together and collectively provide a safe “home away from home” for teenagers and educators who have traveled many thousands of miles to find out what life could be like.
This location, on a beautiful lake deep in the Maine woods, inspires new perspectives on life. Many of the campers will not have lived beside a large body of water before or seen it rain in the summertime.
The anticipation of the arrival of the campers may keep many of us awake tonight. For the 26th summer, we are about to embark on the roller-coaster ride that is Seeds of Peace Camp, showing ourselves and the rest of the world that peace is still possible.