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 lineup.
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 lineup, 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 lineup 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 lineup 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 110 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.