Departures | August 11
Departure day can be a difficult balance between being so glad we had a successful Camp session and so sad that it has to end now. As much as we like to say that Camp is just the beginning of becoming a Seed, it is an overwhelming experience, a growth spurt and a blooming of real selves, like nothing else has ever been for most campers. They have been encourages, challenged, applauded, and consoled by loving people who were total strangers only two and a half weeks ago.
Whatever the campers expected to happen before they arrived at Camp, it could not have been half as momentous as the real thing.
There were no cell phones, computers or TVs. They only had face-to-face conversations with real people from all different walks of life from four distinctly different states. They could not avoid getting to know people they would never be able to meet ordinarily. They lived in mixed bunks, had counselors and facilitators who coaxed them to interact with one another and helped them face their fears and trepidations. They learned so many skills taught by fellow campers as well as the staff. It was intense.
We began the morning with a dance party on the field which was a little loud for 6:30 a.m., but the upbeat songs for line dancing kept many people from starting the day sadly. We had breakfast together one last time and then had a final line-up. Catherine sang “Gracie’s Song,” a Camp favorite composed by a Seed from Los Angeles. Boni and Yousef sang a wonderful song and rap they had written together last summer called, “Only Love Can Heal This Place.”
Sarah B. spoke beautifully about the demonstrated strengths and courage of the campers and staff. Then we had to bring everyone to their buses for their trips home or to the airport, depending on their eventual destinations.
The tears flowed and the hugs got longer. It is never easy to get them to separate from fellow campers and counselors. More tears. More hugs. But, within two hours, all the campers were on their way.
The counselors consoled one another and we served donuts and coffee. Then the rest of the day was devoted to cleaning up and packing up all parts of the Camp.
At day’s end, we formed a circle of appreciation, which brought more tears but it helped everyone feel seen and loved. They all know that our successful Camp was due to their diligence and courage. The campers idolized their counselors, so it was very important for them to model the attitudes they expected from the campers.
We had one last dinner together and a night out. Tomorrow, the staff will travel to all parts of the world, knowing that their summer was not only good for them, but also good for the 340 teenagers we were fortunate enough to have with us. They have now joined our international community of 7,300 Seeds of Peace alumni.
Wrapping Up | August 10
It seemed like a real treat this morning to sleep all the way until 7 a.m., after waking up at 6:30 a.m. during the three days of Color Games. Tomorrow we will go back to waking up at 6:30 a.m. so we can all eat breakfast together before the first buses roll in to take the campers back to their respective homes in Syracuse, New York City, Chicago, Maine, and Los Angeles.
We began our last day together with a Quaker Silent Meeting. We sat in a large circle on plain wooden benches in the Big Hall in silent meditation for about 40 minutes before the first person spoke. That made the experience quite beautiful. Everyone understood that Quakers believe that each person carries the light of God deep inside them and that when we speak out of the silence we are sharing God’s wisdom. The speaking is not a conversation or a dialogue, rather a sharing of insights. Both campers and counselors shared their personal discernments.
The rest of the day was spent packing suitcases for tomorrow, having final dialogue sessions, taking the research surveys designed for Seeds of Peace by the University of Chicago, enjoying some free time and one last swim in the lake, and taking lots of pictures. Everywhere you looked, you could see campers and counselors putting their heads on each other’s shoulders, signing T-shirts, and hugging.
Tonight, the delegations met individually to talk about what they will be doing once they return home. Afterward, we showed a slide/video show of their session of Camp, beginning with their arrivals. Then there was one final bunk night before showers and lights-out.
We know we will wake up to a bitter-sweet dance party on the field before breakfast. But, we all know the end of a wonderful session has to happen.
Message to Hajime | August 9
Before breakfast, members of the Blue and Green Teams gathered at the boys’ swim dock to prepare for the Peace Canoe race. Ten campers gingerly took their positions inside a huge wood canoe. The paddlers have to stay low in a kneeling position because there are no seats, and it is best to keep one’s center of gravity low in the boat—a picturesque old vessel painted blue on the outside.
The competing teams had comparable levels of experience canoeing, but not in such a big canoe as this one. The person in the stern must do all the steering while issuing commands to the other team members in front. Sometimes the person in the stern yells for them to pull hard on the right or the left and they usually all try to paddle in unison. Once they paddle all the way to the sailing beach, the person in the bow has to tag the hand of a senior staff person standing in shallow water. Once contact is made, a runner on the beach has to race across Camp to the bell and ring it. It is then that the stopwatch is turned off.
The biggest competition is called Message to Hajime. Hajime means “the beginning” in Japanese and it is also the name of a Japanese journalist who visited Camp 20 years ago. The campers at that time enjoyed saying his name, so we named the giant relay race that closes Color Games after him. Over 100 challenges positioned all over Camp kept the teams running against timers.
The last challenge requires the word-for-word memorization of an unfamiliar quote. One person from each team recites the quote on the spot to Sarah B. or Bobbie. Here is what they recited today:
You do not have to be me in order for us to fight alongside each other. I do not have to be you to recognize our wars are the same. What we must do is commit ourselves to some future that can include each other and to work toward that future with the particular strengths of our individual identities. And in order for us to do this, we must allow each other our differences at the same time as we recognize our sameness. – Audrey Lorde
The Green Team prevailed, winning Color Games and the right to jump in the lake first.
As much fun as Color Games was, even for the team that came in second, it was a lot of work! We had some of the best performances and sports matches we have ever had—and we all took pride in that—but when it came time to put away the Color Games shirts for the green Seeds of Peace T-shirts, everyone cheered!
We are all glad to recapture the lives we had before Color Games and are ready to make the most out of our final day at Camp.
Color Games!! | August 8
We woke up to light rain, and it rained on and off for most of the day. It was warm, though, so running and swimming were easier than if the sun was out. The grass was a bit too slippery for soccer, though.
Every Color Games challenge was an All-Star event, including the Peace Race before breakfast. We had All-Star street hockey, climbing, kayaking, cooking, dance, Frisbee, basketball, soccer, Steal the Bacon, and free-style swimming. Some of the campers played more than one sport, so they really needed a rest hour today.
Somehow, a whopper of a thunderstorm hit Camp just as we had sent all the campers to the Field House and the Big Hall to practice for the Variety Show. So that was good—everyone was already indoors.
The Variety Show can make or break a team’s over-all score in Color Games. The Show favors the team with the best talent (or that works the hardest) in the following categories: instrumental music, comedy skit with a given prompt, a capella, dance, the spoken word, and a group song.
Before the Show, the Green team had 2,250 points and the Blue team had 2,150. Each of the categories of the show is worth 400 points, except the Group Song which is worth 500 points. Usually there are about 11 judges who are not connected to either team in any way.
This group of campers worked extremely hard to produce a show that was original, inclusive, and deeply expressive. They demonstrated the impact of the entire Camp program: honest dialogue, many chances to try new things and express themselves in countless ways, and most of all, love and support for one another.
How lucky we are to have reached this point!
Color Games! | August 7
The first day of Color Games always begins with a rope pull for girls, then one for boys, and finally one for the whole Camp. The Blue Team managed to win all three rope pulls, giving them a 500 point lead. But the Green team was not at all discouraged. They put all their strength into catching up to the Blue Team, and by dinnertime, they were only 100 points behind.
The weather forecast correctly predicted thunderstorms this evening, so we switched our schedule to accommodate them. Since we are right next to a lake, the water table is close to the surface most of the year, and we never like to have people exposed to lightning out on the wet fields. As a result, we had bunks go head-to-head in street hockey, volleyball, Frisbee, basketball, soccer, Ga-Ga, and dance in the morning. Then, in the afternoon we had All-Star teams playing kickball, soccer, basketball, street hockey, volleyball, and Ga-Ga, and competing in dance, climbing, and drama.
Tonight, everyone is indoors preparing for competitions and the Variety Show tomorrow. There will be showers and an early lights-out, thankfully.
It looks like the weather will allow us to do all the water competitions tomorrow. Before breakfast, we will have the Peace Race around the Camp’s perimeter road. The road will be divided into quarters with runners stationed in four places. All runners will hand a baton to the next one on their team, until the final runner completes the half-mile track.
Each team has a way to call their members to order. The Green Team shouts, “Green Team, hulk up!” The Blue Team shouts, “Blue team, Respect!” Campers also are given the chance to cheer for their respective teams in the dining hall. Tonight, they had similar themes. The Green Team said that green is the color of Seeds of Peace, with green grass and green trees. The Blue Team said that blue is the color of Seeds of Peace, with blue sky and blue water. Both are correct.
Talent Show | August 6
Today was a very full day. We began by saying goodbye to a camper who is beloved by everyone. But before she left, she sang a beautiful song from Les Miserables, written for the character Cosette. Her entire bunk joined her but her clear, sweet voice stood out. Clearly, she could have been part of the Talent Show we held tonight.
The PSs took off early for a youth conference in Portland focused upon the problem of young people all over the United States going from school to the prison system. They had the chance to speak with experts in the field, including judges, lawyers, and other youth.
It was a day of normal activities except that behind the scenes, 14 Color Games coaches were preparing to begin Color Games right after the Talent Show.
There were rehearsals for the talent show going on in many corners of Camp during rest hour and free swim. The excitement for the Talent Show was building up! All the performers were polishing up their acts with counselors who have training in the performing arts.
At last it was time for the show. There were 26 acts. Three of them were from special activity dance: Bollywood, Bhangra, and Dabke styles. One girl performed part of the hit show Hamilton, playing two parts of a powerful conversation. Rap and show tunes, along with original poetry were also performed. An astonishing performance about the normalcy of menstruation was called Period! Musical instruments were played, including the drums and oud.
Just as the show was over, the lights went out and counselors ran through the big hall with colored light sticks that glowed. And so, Color Games began! Down to the fire pit everyone ran to meet their coaches and find out if they would be on the Blue or Green team.
The next three days will fly by as the two balanced teams will compete non-stop to be the winner of Color Games. Stay tuned!
Mastering New Skills | August 5
We have reached a comfortable point in the Camp process for most people. But for others who are still struggling to adjust to the role of a camper, it can still feel far from home. Although the Maine campers had a visiting day for their families two days ago, campers from further away did not. Many campers and counselors are naturally supportive, though.
Just being able to master a new skill can help campers feel a lot stronger. Today, six people who had never tried to water ski before all learned how! Many campers are learning to swim with private lessons during free swim. Although the high ropes are as high as ever, most of these campers are willing to give it a try. The canoes and kayaks are almost in constant use.
Today, we set aside time to remember and celebrate the lives of Seeds who have passed away. We especially spoke about Asel Asleh, the only Seed who has died in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Laila, the Maine Seed who died last summer, a couple of days after joining us for Maine Seeds Visiting Day, was remembered very fondly by two of her best friends who are PSs this summer. Other PSs also told us about their memories of her. In our peace garden, we showed pictures and writings from Seeds of Peace people who have passed away.
After dinner, Tim Wilson came to Camp to coach flag football. It was great to see three girls joining the field of boys. As a former high school football coach, Tim gave them lots of good ideas for strategies.
Tonight, all the delegations met separately to discuss their after-Camp programming in their respective communities. Then we had an early lights-out. Tomorrow is the Talent Show, so we will have a much later night.
Outside News | August 4
Most of the time, we try to keep campers focused on each other and life at Camp. By not having their cell phones with them, like they do normally, outside news generally remains outside. But today, there were two mass shootings by young white men who clearly were intent on killing many people. One posted his beliefs on social media right before he gunned down people going about normal daily activities.
Knowing that these events would cause considerable anguish, Sarah B. decided to tell the campers about them at morning line up. Reality has a way of catching up to us, even in our idyllic setting. The dialogue groups later discussed the impact of the two horrific events. One dialogue group had to remain talking long after the bell rang to dismiss them. At the end of their session, they had a group hug.
In the meantime, we had Sports Day with another camp and nearly 50 Seeds from Maine joined us for a few hours. There were lots of table group and dialogue group reunions among the alumni who came from all parts of the state.
Sports Day consisted of boys and girls soccer and basketball. Seeds of Peace players won all four matches, but the scores were close. The visiting camp’s teams joined us for a cook-out and were invited to join the nondenominational Christian religious services at Camp, if they chose to.
Tonight’s all-Camp evening activity was a quiet one. Each table group built a protective structure to keep a raw egg from breaking when dropped from a high distance. Fittingly, this activity is called “Egg Drop.”
High Ropes | August 3
This day was anything but laid back. We began with an Art Walk with bunk groups visiting art installations around Camp. Each installation showed entirely different ways of conveying messages the campers had created during their short time here. One consisted of the anonymous voices of campers telling stories about times in their lives when they felt free. Another showed the role their living rooms have played in the lives of their families. Another station answered the question “Where are you from?”
The Art Walk was left in place for the visiting families of campers to see. They were able to tour the Camp with their children and watch them dance or play sports. Most of the visiting families belonged to the Maine Seeds, but one family came from far away New Jersey.
In the morning, the dialogue groups advanced to the low and high ropes courses. On the low ropes, the campers are challenged to move between trees spaced far apart on ropes suspended about two feet from the ground.
The next and last group challenge takes place on the high ropes course. There, they are challenged to walk across ropes strung between tall telephone poles, about 40 feet in the air. There is also a very difficult challenge on what is called the “vertical playpen.” On this element, two people who have not been able to work together before have to help each other climb up boards and truck tires and stand on top long enough to sing the Seeds of Peace Camp song.
Many of the ropes course challenges involve blind-folded campers. It is heartening to watch the ones who can see give help and reassurance to their blind-folded friends.
Tomorrow will be another visiting day—this one will be for Maine Seeds to who want to return to the place where their journey in Seeds of Peace began.
Cooling Off | August 2
Most of us noticed a big drop in temperature either during the night or when the wake-up bell rang at 7 a.m. Many people came to line-up wrapped in blankets; after a heat-wave, this chilly beginning was a shock. The day did, however, warm up enough for swimming, boating, climbing the high ropes, and dancing.
We had a “beautiful Seeds of Peace day” which began with a serious presentation by the head of our dialogue programs, Greg. He spoke about his personal struggle with pre-judgments about strangers, privilege, racism, and power. In this way, he modeled the kind of openness and self-knowledge we hope to see in dialogue sessions in Camp and afterward.
Since it is Friday, we had religious services for both Muslim and Jewish members of the Camp community. This time, we allowed observers from other faith backgrounds to observe those where were worshiping. Most people do not have the chance to see how others pray. This opportunity often humanizes “the other.”
We tried something we haven’t done before, at the request of members of Seeds of Peace’s Board of Directors. Several board members and senior staff members held their own dialogue session at Camp led by two seasoned facilitators: board member Bob Bordone, and Kiran Thandani, head of Seeds of Peace programs worldwide. The discussion was about the impact of power and powerlessness. It was time very well spent!
At the evening line-up, one girl performed a song about being 17, an original composition. She had asked a few days ago if anyone in the Camp could accompany on the guitar. Fortunately, there was another girl who could, and so we were all treated to a very impressive performance. We never know how much talent is present in our Camp until there are opportunities for its expression. We have about nine more days to find out!
Café Night | August 1
At this morning’s line-up, Sarah B. set the tone for the day. She spoke about the benefits of being intentional and then asked everyone to think of something they really wanted to accomplish today.
Then, to add weight, she asked everyone to tell the person sitting next to them to explain what he or she intended to do. To add even more, Sarah B suggested that the partners check in with one another later in the day to see if the intended deed had been done.
Apparently, many campers decided to speak up about something they had hesitated until now to bring to their dialogue groups. Most groups had difficult conversations today as a result. It was time for this to happen. Now, they will have time to develop empathy.
Along with the serious part of our work at Camp comes the fun part. Walking around Camp today, a visitor might see campers playing Quidditch (the Harry Potter game), learning Ganga and Dabke dancing, making friendship bracelets, learning how to right a tipped canoe, creating art, and composing poetry and rap.
Tonight, the campers were treated to Café Night by the PSs and the kitchen staff. They were asked to take John Wallach’s advice and “make one friend” with someone with whom they had not yet had the chance to speak. Leslie and Bobbie talked about John and the history of Seeds of Peace with a focus on our United States programs. Café Night ended with a command performance by Hamzeh singing, “All of Me Wants All of You,” joined by the voices of the whole Camp.
Inter-cultural Night | July 31
From the perspective of Seeds of Peace, Camp is the shared jumping-off point of all the new members of the organization who we call “Seeds.”
Each Camp session has a lot of similarities to all the others, but the process the campers go through has to be tailored to the pace and needs of the particular campers we happen to have with us. Another factor is the impact of the cultural backgrounds of each group of campers.
Some cultures or families frown upon revealing any negativity to people outside the immediate family. Some have been trained to avoid confrontation or to hide behind a social mask. One of the art projects at Camp this summer deals with that issue by having campers paint a blank mask with their outward-facing social side, and their real self on the inside. Some of them have never considered how much they keep inside and how readily they can fool others with contradictory social selves. By seeing how much people hide from one another, hopefully they will feel more comfortable sharing parts of themselves. Then they will be in a better position to build real empathy.
Dance continues to attract campers during special activity time and free time. Three of our counselors are teaching Dabke, a Palestinian dance, to a group of energetic campers. The Dabke is a folkdance evoking cultural pride as well as resistance. The dancers maintain a straight torso while their feet do repetitive steps and their arms are raised for emphasis and balance.
We had an Intercultural Night starting at dinner line-up, followed by dishes from around the world cooked by counselors and one Somali family in Maine. Everyone was invited to dress in traditional clothing reflective of their heritage. Campers and counselors were encouraged to speak to the rest of the Camp about what they were wearing and what it meant to them.
Following a time of dancing, we had a short bunk night and an early lights-out.
Heat Wave | July 30
The heat wave caused us to alter our schedule a bit today. We had planned to take a day off from dialogue sessions, so we had some extra time. That time was used for a second period of free swim—a lovely respite from the high temperatures and strong sun. The cool lake water lowers the body temperature fast and keeps it cool for awhile after getting out of the lake.
The Camp scheduler makes sure that everyone has the opportunity to try everything we offer at Camp, including water ski. Only four or five campers, and two counselors, go out on the lake per boat for water ski and tubing. The counselors make the activity enticing and give very good advice before and during the attempts to ski. If some of the campers prefer to stay in the boat to watch, that is fine too. Today, all the campers jumped from the motor boats into the lake to cool off, though.
At dinner line-up, something unusual happened. About ten counselors stood up and talked about being the kind of people who don’t make a lot of noise and spend most of their time with other people listening to what they have to say. They wanted to make sure that the campers understood that being reserved is just as valuable as being outspoken and loud. One said that she has found that most quiet people often have more thoughtful things to say than many extraverts. She suggested that they try asking an introvert what is on his or her mind.
The heat of the day lingered in the Camp buildings, so we dined outdoors and had our usual World Cup Ga-Ga tournament outside on the basketball court instead of in the Big Hall. The breeze coming off the lake made the competition possible and fun. There were four teams which included the entire Camp: The Incredibles, The Cobras, The Wizards, and The Cry Babies. Each team had to begin by making up a cheer. The Cry Babies created a cheer that sounded like baby-talk, “Ga-Ga, Goo-Goo!” With all the serious talk that goes on in dialogue and other places at Camp, it is important to give space for humor.
Stretch Zone | July 29
At Camp, we often talk about the “stretch zone.” In the stretch zone, people usually feel unsure if they can accomplish their growth objective, but they feel encouraged to give it a good try—to take an intelligent risk to become stronger.
Seeds of Peace as an organization started out as a stretch zone for the founder, John Wallach, the co-founder, Bobbie Gottschalk, and the first Camp Director, Tim Wilson. Each of them had different skills to contribute to the undertaking, but all of them were dealing with the unknown in the beginning.
This morning, Tim spoke at breakfast line-up about the challenges that he faced, as one of the first counselors of color in the State of Maine. He spoke about his hope that the campers will get into their stretch zone and try to respect, trust, and communicate with people who are different from them.
Sarah B. started the morning with literal body stretches at line-up. At 7:30 a.m., 150 teenagers can look pretty sleepy. So her invitation to stretch can get them beyond the fog of morning and ready for the day.
At lunch line up, the campers who have been going beyond their comfort zones in Bollywood dance special activity got up enough nerve to perform for the rest of the Camp. Almost all of them were learning this kind of dance for the first time, but their enthusiasm and the skillful teaching of the counselors helped them take the risk of performing in public.
Maine is having a heat wave, but we are doing everything we normally do. The water sports are especially popular as a way to cool off and learn something at the same time. They still proceeded through the normal progression of Group Challenge. Some groups are already using the low ropes where they must balance on ropes about two feet from the ground, with some campers blindfolded.
The evening activity—a lip-sync contest—is a way to encourage campers who might be too shy to join their bunkmates in a fun activity which we have made competitive, just to spur them on.
Getting Serious | July 28
The first few days of Camp are often similar to a weekend encounter. Either everything remains pleasant, with difficult issues still held below the surface or, the time together just solidifies pre-existing stereotypes. People need more time to identify their differences and build empathy than just a few days allow.
The Seeds of Peace Camp program provides enough time, space, and support to bring divergent viewpoints and life circumstances into a process of impactful community-building. Spencer, an older Maine Seed, spoke to everyone today about his personal journey from being first-time camper to serving on staff as a member of the Camp leadership team. By lifting up inhibitions and concerns he had as a new camper, he gave permission for today’s campers to deal with their issues out-loud in dialogue sessions. We are beginning to see more serious conversations going on during free time.
Group Challenge activities are coordinated between specially-trained counselors and the dialogue facilitators. Generally, the campers who are blindfolded or not allowed to speak are the ones who have been leading the dialogue in their group. Group Challenge is set up to allow a shift in the power balance, giving the quieter members a chance to take the lead. Today, one group was charged with guiding every member from one “island” to two others in a certain order using thin wooden boards between them, while half the group had blindfolds on and couldn’t speak. If anyone was to fall, the exercise would have to be started all over again.
During the short periods of free time during the day, there is always a dance party in the Small Hall. Today, each time the bell rang for line-up, campers literally danced out of the Small Hall to the music of Mamma Mia! You might think that we are living in a movie some days.
Getting Comfortable | July 27
It is only the fourth day of Camp, but it seems like most campers and staff members are feeling comfortable. This is either just the “honeymoon” period, or these campers are more prepared than usual to fit into the daily routine and push themselves to the next level every chance they get.
These campers are eager to try new things, like Ga-Ga and Group Challenge. They pay close attention to instructions and show up on time wherever they need to be on the 40 acres of land with its 30 plus buildings.
Although some of the campers are immigrants, most are proficient in English—and that helps them get acclimated faster than campers who do not study in English at their schools. But for some, English is not a second language. It is more like a fourth language.
One of the most notable characteristics of the group this session is the kindness they are showing one another, even in competitive sports or activities that are new. Many are learning to swim or use the boats or water skis or clean their bunks together. Some are meditating and doing simple yoga in their free time. Others are playing soccer, basketball, table games, learning or creating new dances, or just talking in small groups or dyads.
Only time will tell if this is a “honeymoon” period, or the way these campers have decided to be.
Creating a Community | July 26
This session’s personality is already starting to take shape. This morning at line-up, four girls’ bunks stood up one after the other and did coordinated cheers about Maine’s sea animals. Then, two boys’ bunks stood up at lunch line-up and did a coordinated song, calling their group “The Chillies.” Since we are hoping to come together as a community, this is the kind of fun that can encourage that to happen.
Hamzeh, a long time Palestinian Seed and now counselor, is now the head of evening activities. Normally, he is reserved and serious. So, when he broke out in song at last night’s Staff Show, singing “All of You,” in his deadpan, off-key way, he made an indelible impression on us all. Now, every time his name is mentioned, the campers start singing that song the way he did last night. This is sure to last at least for this session, if not longer!
Of course, there is serious work going on here as well. The PSs prepared a short program for the rest of the campers at the fire pit early in the evening. They had worked all day to describe how they feel about being Seeds, returning to their home communities and coming back to Camp this summer. They used a drum to accentuate their points and to bring in some participation from the audience. Spoken word and poetry created earlier today told their very personal stories.
Building confidence is a major objective at Seeds of Peace. Even the smallest things can be used to bring out the courage that might be hidden from sight at first. Today, for example, some new campers were assigned to softball for an afternoon activity. At first they were quite timid. But three counselors worked together to teach them all how to hit the ball with the bat and be ready to catch the ball in the field. At the end of the game, the counselors asked them how they felt, and they all agreed that they were amazed at what they were able to do.
Getting Started | July 25
There are certain things that have to be accomplished on the first day of Camp so that the rest of the experience will go more smoothly. For example, everyone needs a swim test to see how comfortable he or she is in the lake. Everyone also needs to be checked by our medical staff to make sure we know what their health needs are and to make sure we are prepared to keep them healthy.
We also like to teach new campers the Seeds of Peace Camp song that has lyrics by a 1993 Egyptian Seed. And the staff always puts on a humorous but instructive show about the activities campers will engage in during the weeks ahead.
They also get their first taste of dialogue, which is led by two facilitators. Dialogue is one of three groups that remain the same throughout the session. The other two are their dining table group and their bunk group. This session, these groups are mixed so that campers get to know people from several places in the United States.
Most of the time, activities are designed to support the objectives of the dialogue group. Group challenge activities based on solving difficult problems together as a group give campers whose first instinct might be to follow a chance to lead, and leaders a chance to follow. Since most camp activities take place by dialogue group, they are able to know each other as whole individuals, not just as people with whom they discuss serious issues.
Each session of Camp has its own personality. If the first day is any indication of what the rest of this session will look like, we can expect to see high energy, openness to trying new things, considerable talent, many new friendships, and lots of laughs.
Arrivals | July 24
Arrival day is always a special time. There are so many emotions present—some obvious and some hidden. But before we can be prepared to welcome the campers and their emotions, we have to address the concerns of the counselors and dialogue facilitators.
Sarah B., our Camp Director, spoke to the counselors about their nervousness, reminding them that she had full confidence in their abilities. Then we held a workshop on behavior management, covering theories and practices that avoid yelling or threatening. In groups of three, the counselors discussed their previous experiences with behavior management and analyzed what worked out well and what did not work out as expected.
The final activity before the buses began to arrive with our new campers was, on its face, a simple one. Each person was given a blank sheet of paper. On one side, they were told to write an intention they had for themselves. On the other side, they wrote an appreciation for some aspect of Camp. Then, they shared what they had written with one another. One intention was to learn the names of all the campers during the first week! Given that we will have 153 names to learn, that will be an amazing feat.
The first bus rolled into Camp around noon. Then, the other buses arrived until everyone was here at Camp by late afternoon. First to arrive were campers who took a red-eye flight from Los Angeles. Then the campers from all over Maine arrived. Mid-afternoon, the Chicago and New York City campers showed up. Then, the Syracuse campers arrived in time for dinner.
Each arrival was met with energetic singing and a tunnel formed by the arched arms of those already at Camp. Sarah B. and Bobbie welcomed each succeeding group, as usual. The campers all had dinner with their bunkmates and then had a bunk night. It was a good night for a campfire and “s’mores.”
Tonight they will sleep in the cool, Maine air, listening to the call of the loons on the lake. Everyone is very tired from their long day of travel.
Re-Orientation | July 23
Our staff held a two-day “re-orientation” period leading up to the start of Session 2 filled with a combination of lingering sadness over the departure of the campers from the first session and upbeat anticipation of the arrival of the new campers.
We have talked about the best parts of the first session and the kinds of differences we can expect in the second. One of the best ways to understand who the new campers are is to hear a panel of Seeds describe their Camp experiences when they were here several years ago. Today, we had a panel made up of former campers from Maine and Syracuse.
This session’s campers are from New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, as well as Maine and Syracuse. They are coming from cities, rural areas, and suburban areas. Most will find our wooded Camp setting, bordering the aptly-named Pleasant Lake, quite different from their home environments. The new setting will serve as a metaphor for the new perspectives on life they will form while they live with us for two weeks.
Although these campers will be arriving at a place that is new for them, many generations have preceded them, since the Camp was built in 1921. The ancient, tall trees appear to climb straight into the sky and the tree roots have a long history of holding the soil in place. Similarly, we aim to support and protect the new campers, while they open their hearts to new friends and open their minds to new possibilities.
MIDDLE EAST, SOUTH ASIA, UNITED STATES, UNITED KINGDOM
Farewells | July 18
Being a counselor at Seeds of Peace is a challenge every day, but on the day the campers leave to return home, the challenge can be even greater. It would be sad enough to care for and protect eight teens for three weeks only to send them off on a bus at the end. But to have to send them off to dangerous places is many times more stressful.
Counselors accept complete responsibility for the safety and wellbeing of the campers the minute the buses bring them on arrival day. Teens from conflict areas have all the stressors you would expect a teen to have, magnified by trauma and loss.
Seeds of Peace counselors need to be strict, but not too strict, supportive, but not coddling, humorous, but appropriate for our community, empathic, kind, knowledgeable, open, courageous, and more. It isn’t easy, but if done well, being a counselor is a really wonderful job.
For four hours, bus after bus rolled into Camp to take the campers away with their delegations. The day started with music and singing before breakfast. Line-up was lively and songs written by former campers were sung to the campers.
Then the first two buses roared into Camp.
The hugging and promising to stay in touch was spontaneous and heartfelt. Most counselors tried to keep their emotions in check. But, it was almost impossible not to show some emotion. After the last camper had left, counselors allowed themselves to feel the loss and fear.
Tears flowed and were stemmed by mutual support and empathy. Sarah B. expressed her gratitude for all the hard work the counselors had contributed to the making of another Seeds of Peace Camp community. We had coffee and donuts, a big Camp clean-up, and some re-assignments of bunks for next session.
At mid-afternoon, the counselors created a “web of appreciation” facilitated by Ella, whose job is to provide support to the staff. Listening to the appreciation for all the help the counselors gave one another during this session was very moving. We like to think Seeds of Peace runs on kindness. The time we took to acknowledge the kindness out loud only proved that this is true.
In six days, a whole new group of campers will arrive for the second session.
Wrapping Up | July 17
Although everyone went to sleep early last night, many people had a tough time waking up with the usual 7 a.m. bell. Color Games takes a lot of focus and energy. No one wants to let down their team, so they keep competing. Once Color Games is over, everyone wants to sleep in. But, the last full day together should not be wasted.
We began the morning with an hour-long Quaker silent meeting, a tradition we have kept since near the beginning of Seeds of Peace. Bobbie explained how Quakers believe that every person has an “inner light” which is from God. This is a source of enlightenment and a reason to treat everyone with respect and concern. During the silent meeting, participants speak voluntarily and spontaneously from their inner light. It is not a conversation. It is a shared discernment of what has been learned at Camp by individuals.
Campers met with their delegation leaders about the logistics of their return trips home. They also had their final dialogue group meetings. They packed their luggage and took the research surveys that have been devised by the University of Chicago.
The day was mixed with sadness and humor. We have so many shared jokes now! Even the silly song we have people sing when they have lost their name buttons became an all-Camp performance at line-up. People are busy writing personal notes and signing each other’s Seeds of Peace T-shirts.
Tonight, we had a slide show from this session and for 25 minutes the campers erupted in delight when they saw their friends on the screen.
The campers also had meetings with the people from their regions who will be helping continue their leadership training at home.
A magnificent sunset over Pleasant Lake changed into a calm moonlit evening. A final bunk night and the last “good night” of the first session of Camp has come.
Color Games Day 3 | July 16
We have an ancient ten-person wood canoe that we use for the “Peace Canoe Races” on the final day of Color Games. Although canoeing has been a regular activity, such a large, heavy vessel is very cumbersome to steer. Boys and girls groups from both teams have to get their boat from the boys’ beach to the sailing beach, which is almost the full length of the Camp shoreline.
Once the canoe reaches the beach, a runner races to the Camp bell, situated far away from the lake. Every second counts, so the runners must be as swift as they can be. Ringing the bell stops the clock for each groups’ attempt to win.
After a late breakfast, we found out that the cumulative score for the Blue Team was 3,050 and 3,150 for the Green Team. That put the teams at almost a tie before the final event, Message to Hajime, began. About 118 stations were set up all over Camp where teams had representatives doing challenging things like making a bed, or singing a song, or doing headers with a soccer ball, or running backwards on a baseball diamond.
The final element of Hajime is the memorization of the message. In this final part, the teams’ representatives have to memorize a passage that is not well-known and recite it to Sarah B. or Bobbie behind closed doors in the Big Hall, while their teams wait outside in silence. There is a lot of pressure on the person memorizing the message.
Once the message has been recited exactly, stop watches are clicked. All the campers gather on the boys’ beach to hear the results. Today it was the Green Team that won by a mere ten minutes.
The winning team runs into the lake with all their clothes on and the other team follows. It is very exciting to achieve an end to Color Games after three days of nonstop competition. There is a lot of hugging and splashing before they form a circle and sing the Seeds of Peace song together.
In the evening, we tried something a little new. We set aside some time for remembering the 20 Seeds who have passed away as well as some of the adults we have lost. Pictures and writings were set up on a table by the lake. People were invited to sit quietly if they wished. Some campers knew some of the dead, but most do not. Some thought about their own family members who have passed away. Others thought about how hard it would be to have a Camp friend die.
The Color Games coaches always speak to the campers as a way to close this time at Camp. Afterward, it was an early lights-out. Tomorrow is our last day together.
Color Games Day 2 | July 15
The second day of Color Games began with a relay race around the half-mile dirt perimeter road. Some of the more athletically-inclined have been using the road like a track earlier in the session, but on this day, it was divided into four sections. Runners ran to the next set of runners from each team, passing a baton on to the teammate who then ran the next section.
Some of the runners were trying this for the first time while others had run relays before. They had various ways of warming up, including jumping in place and stretching. The girls went first. Each team won one of the races. Then it was time for breakfast and an update on the cumulative scores.
All-star activities filled the morning: street hockey, climbing, swimming, canoeing, cooking, art, Frisbee, and dance. Campers spent the afternoon preparing for the Variety Show. This show has very strict rules about the originality of the content and the inclusiveness and quality of the acts, which include a cappella, instrumental music, comedy skits, the written word, and an original team song about Camp life. We stayed up late watching the show, but it was worth it. Both teams did an impressive job given the short amount of preparation time.
We have one more day of Color Games left. Stay tuned for the final scores!
Color Games Day 1 | July 14
Color Games begins with a huge rope pull, first for all the girls, then all the boys, and finally for everyone on both teams. Each time, the Blue Team is on one side and the Green Team is on the other. Camp folklore regarding the rope pull requires that the teams switch sides with each contest because it is said that the terrain on one side offers an advantage. Another bit of folklore is that the team that loses the rope pull will win Color Games in the end.
Before the start of Color Games, we balanced the teams in terms of sports skills and artistic abilities, delegations, male/female, etc., to the extent that we can. It is most likely that spirit and confidence, laced with luck, will determine the winner on Tuesday.
The key to keeping spirits up is the strength of the counselors-turned-coaches. Each team has both male and female coaches, all energetic, competitive and good-humored, with incredible patience. They have been working behind the scenes preparing for Color Games without the knowledge of the campers. They were introduced to the campers at the fire pit after the Talent Show, with considerable fanfare. Today they can be seen looking after their team members, reminding them of the rules of each game and making sure they show up on time everywhere they are supposed to be.
Today, the sports and dance competitions saw members of the same bunk face off against each other. Tonight, we began to have all-star games with teams selected by the coaches. Those who are not competing at any given time are on cheer squads, decorated with face paint and encouraged to cheer for their own team without putting down the other team.
These Color Games days are long and non-stop. It is a terrific way to bring the Camp community together. It encourages campers to work closely with people who may not be from their own delegation. Winning is a very powerful motivator. After working so hard together to win, we hope they will realize that working together to achieve a shared goal is possible back home.
Talent Show | July 13
Walking around Camp today, you could see many conversations between campers or between campers and counselors. It was almost too hot for sports in the middle of the day, so several activity groups just sat in the shade and talked.
The waterfront counselors decided to try to entice the campers into the lake by holding a “cannonball” diving contest. This worked because competition is the name of the game at Camp. A number of campers went out on the lake in canoes. They got wet getting in and out of them and the cool Maine breeze also helped to cool them down.
At dinner line-up, a counselor and a PS performed a favorite Camp song called The Rattlin’ Bog. The PSs and experienced counselors all knew when to chime in with their parts of the song and the new campers were delighted by the humor.
The Talent Show tonight was comprised of groups which have come up with dances, songs and instrumentals during their time here at Camp. We had a Beatles song, dabke dancing, drumming with volunteers from the audience, boys from many delegations playing rock ‘n roll, original essays and poetry, a “nocapella” performance of Hallelujah, solo songs about love, stand-up comedy, classical Indian dance, and classical piano. Catherine and Heather finished with Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream, the way we always end the Talent Show, before …
Surprise! Color Games! Parents, friends and family, just follow along here. You will not be getting many phone calls for three days.
Sports Day | July 12
Although our campers have only known one another for a couple of weeks and have only played basketball and soccer together as teams for a couple of days, they were able to hold their own against the boys and girls teams from nearby Pinecliff and Wigwam Camps. The girls basketball team won their match, and the boys basketball, as well as the boys and girls soccer teams, all lost by one point each. So we were very closely matched.
Every camper not playing on a team was part of the cheer squad. They painted signs and faces to cheer on our campers as well as the visiting teams.
The other camp teams were glad to be at Seeds of Peace Camp and were eager to learn our cheers and songs. When the games were over, the teams exchanged T-shirts and enjoyed eating a lunch cookout with us. At our lunch line-up, our Bollywood dance group wowed everyone!
After lunch, our visiting campers departed and we returned to our normal Friday schedule. We held Muslim religious services in the afternoon and Jewish services after dinner, followed by bunk night.
Remembering Asel | July 11
Since 2001, we have held a memorial service for Asel Asleh at Camp. Asel was a Palestinian living in Israel who had been a very active Seed since joining us in 1997. Beloved by all and killed by Israeli Border Police in October 2000 while observing a demonstration in his own village of Arrabe, his death had a huge impact on the Seeds of Peace family. In fact, he was shot at point-blank range while wearing his Seeds of Peace green T-shirt. Tragically, many other Seeds have passed away as well, but Asel remains the only Seed killed in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Today, we remembered Asel through his own words from an essay he wrote called, “Peaceful Thoughts.” Orlando, a Seeds of Peace facilitator and regional staff person, spoke about living with a double identity, which is something Orlando has in common with Asel. We also had a song based on Asel’s favorite Rumi poem sung at the end.
One of the special activity groups called Ask the Parents is spending time with the people who have been involved with Seeds of Peace Camp the longest. Yesterday, they spoke with long-time nurse, Lois. They also spoke with the first Camp director, Tim. Today they spoke with co-founder, Bobbie. They were invited into her cabin to look at her collection of pictures and ask questions about the origins of Seeds of Peace Camp, leading to story-telling that went back many years. Their questions were very insightful and they are learning a lot about Seeds of Peace through these interviews.
At the end of the day, several buses arrived to take us all to the Sea Dogs baseball game in Portland. Many of our campers have only a little experience with the game. Leslie, our Executive Director, had tried to teach a group of campers how to play earlier in the day. The biggest hit was the baseball food at the stadium! After one inning, rain came pouring down and we spent most of our time socializing and eating inside. But it was an outing and that was exciting enough.
Rescue on the High Seas | July 10
Late this afternoon, the wind picked up, making the water choppy with waves. Campers new to canoeing were making their way across the lake when two of the canoes capsized. The campers had to hold onto the canoes until they could be turned back over. Counselors in other canoes and kayaks helped them push their canoes toward the shore, where they dumped out the lake water and righted them. Another lesson learned about staying safe when surprises happen.
The high ropes course marks the culmination of the group challenges given to each dialogue group outside the actual dialogue periods. Pairs of campers are given challenges according to their individual abilities as well as their interpersonal skills.
A boy and a girl were asked to climb up a series of wooden bars and truck tires, arranged in a way that challenges even the most athletic people. The boy had very little trouble scrambling up the element. But the girl was terrified. She was afraid of falling. Even with her feet firmly planted on the ground, she was terrified.
She had a harness and belay ropes attached to her body, so she really couldn’t fall too far. But logic did nothing to assuage her fears. Even reducing her challenge to climbing on the first bar didn’t help her relax. The boy who was her partner gently and consistently helped her reach that first bar, her destination.
The boy knelt on the ground and convinced the girl to step onto his knee, then his hands, and then his shoulder until she could reach the bar. She did this many times, often kicking him in the face in the process, but kept being too afraid to lift herself onto the bar. Then, at last she did it! She learned a good lesson about herself and so did the boy. She learned to overcome her fear and he learned that he can be a wonderful partner.
World Cup (Ga-Ga) | July 9
Ga-Ga is a camp game that is exciting for campers and counselors alike. It is like dodgeball, but played in the round pit and no ball can be hit above the knees. If someone is hit below the knees with the ball, they are “out.”
We have a small Ga-Ga pit outdoors where about ten people can play the game. But tonight, we had a much larger version of the game in the big hall involving all the campers at once. This version, called World Cup Ga-Ga, is organized chaos, interspersed with music and shouts of “out!” by referees.
Ga-Ga isn’t for everyone; one small group was seen practicing yoga outside the game.
We are two-thirds through this first session of Camp already. So it is time to take group photos. We started today with bunk photos. We will also take photos of dialogue groups, (dining) table groups, the PSs, the staff, and delegations. One of the favorite pictures is of the Seeds who are on the Camp staff.
Today, the campers have been preparing for the upcoming Sports Day and the Talent Show. They are trying out for both. The girls’ soccer team will wake up early to run around the mile-long road that circles Camp, in preparation for their match. The Talent Show will have acts that have been put together here at Camp involving more than one camper. This promotes cooperation and pride in creating something new with a mixed group.
Challenges & Confidence | July 8
This was a beautiful day to do anything, really, so we were mostly outside when not in dialogue or eating in the dining hall. Sailing looked like a dream with the bright colors of the sails reflected in the blue lake. Even though it seemed like a good day to try something new, one camper wasn’t buying it. When asked why he was sitting outside a game of volleyball instead of playing the game, he said he only likes three things: basketball, art, and singing the Seeds of Peace song!
Two campers trying to climb up the “vertical playpen” on the high ropes course took 30 minutes to complete their goal. Every step of the task was a big stretch that could only be surmounted through cooperation. Once they got back on the ground, one of them said, “This is the hardest thing I have ever done!” Imagine the amount of confidence this camper can now savor.
Yousef, a Seed who was a camper in 2005, has written a book about his life in Gaza and his personal journey called The Words of My Father. Daniel Moses invited him to speak with the educators and neighbors from Otisfield and other nearby places. Seeds of Peace has played a significant role in his life, but it was mainly his father who guided his belief in peace. His country director and his delegation leader from 2005 proudly listened to his talk.
The evening activity for the campers was something everyone enjoys called “The Mostest!” Campers are divided into their bunk groups and compete by seeing who can impersonate Camp staff the best. Watching Sarah B., the Camp Director, see herself depicted by the campers was almost as funny as the impersonations. No doubt, Sarah will include the winners in a line-up at some point.
Intercultural Night | July 7
Bashar and Maayan work together as Directors of Middle East Programs at Seeds of Peace. Both are Seeds who experienced Camp together. At breakfast line-up, they talked about their ongoing deep friendship and recurrent struggle to come to agreement through dialogue.
The impact of their open discussion about the tension created by Palestinian life experiences versus Israeli life experiences, acknowledged and worked through on a regular basis, was probably not lost on anyone.
The delegation leaders have also been working hard to redesign Educator Programs at Seeds of Peace. Their input will be critical to the thought behind the new design. For today, they took charge of the cooking for Intercultural Night, working cooperatively together to produce a veritable feast from the Middle East and South Asia. The traditional clothing of India, Pakistan, Israel, Egypt, Jordan, and Palestine created another feast for the eyes!
For most of the afternoon, the campers worked on their performances for Intercultural Night. Each delegation was given the opportunity to celebrate their culture through traditional dance or poetry.
They also used music to express their hope for what the future might hold for their people. It is likely that these expressions will be discussed in dialogue from now on. The point is to “sit with” the questions and concerns about their reality and try to understand one another. We have major cultural and political differences, but that does not necessarily preclude living together in peace.
High Ropes | July 6
A hot, sultry day gave way to wind and then heavy afternoon rain right after “general swim.” The rain left us with cleaner air and a more pleasant temperature. When we have summer thunderstorms, we have to keep everyone indoors, not because they might get wet, but because lightning can be dangerous in wooded areas and close to a large body of water. This means that dialogue groups and dance classes need to stay where they are, even if, according to the schedule, they should be over.
The second year campers, the PSs, had both high and low ropes this morning. Our ropes course is embedded in the woods. The high ropes are quite high. According to people who have climbed up, they feel even higher when you are on them looking down. That can be a scary realization. Two girls, one Palestinian and one Israeli, each spoke the other’s language while they were up on the high ropes, asking each other to tell their mother that they were up so high. Of course, in reality, they are wearing harnesses and helmets and are kept from falling by trained people below using the belay technique.
This evening, Leslie and Bobbie talked to the campers about working with John Wallach, the founder of Seeds of Peace. We then screened the video first shown at the United Nations memorial service for John in 2002.
Afterwards, the campers were asked to pair up with someone with whom they had not yet had a conversation. The idea is to give the campers an opportunity to go outside their normal groups to find others with whom they could build a connection. This has always worked well, often beginning long-lasting relationships. These conversations took place in the dining hall, which the PSs had, as usual, decorated to look like a café, and were fueled by cookies and cakes made by the kitchen staff.
Art Shack | July 5
The experience of most people who return to Seeds of Peace Camp after being away for a year or more is that they take one breath of the fresh Maine woods air and immediately feel at home. This was true for the PSs, the second-year campers. But for campers who arrive for the first time, it can really be a shock.
Our Camp environment does not resemble the homes of the campers in any way. Nestled in the woods, beside a big lake, where it rains in the summertime, this provides a whole new perspective. While we do not want the campers to shed their attachment to their homes and families, we hope they will think of this place as their second home.
In the Art Shack, campers were working on an interesting project. They were given blank full-face masks to paint, with the outside showing their public visage and the inside showing the way they really feel. They worked intently on these and there is little doubt that this project means a lot to them.
Today is Friday, so the campers will have an opportunity to either worship or observe the religious services of Muslim and/or Jewish people. The same opportunity will be available on Sunday for Christian services. To observe others in prayer is often an eye-opening experience. Campers see the common prayers for peace and love, and other religions will likely seem less different and threatening.
Also, it being Friday, campers and counselors will spend time together as a bunk this evening. Counselors work hard to make this time special for their Camp family.
Fourth of July | July 4
We don’t celebrate any national holidays inside Camp, but we did inform the campers about the Fourth of July and how it is traditional to have fireworks displays in towns all over the country. People across the lake set off fireworks on the night of July 4. Since even the smallest sounds travel across the lake, these fireworks can really seem like they are right next to us. We know these booming sounds can be unnerving to people who live in conflict zones.
The town of Otisfield, where Camp is located, always invites us to their small-town Fourth of July parade. We send only the PSs and the Educators, while the rest of the Camp has a normal schedule. The town gives prizes to the best participants. We were the only ones in our category so we won first place. The other parade participants were fire trucks and antique cars.
The highlight of the experience is always the red, white, and blue water shooting out of fire hoses over the heads of anyone who wishes to cool off. The PSs always love to do that. They danced and sang in the water to the delight of the townspeople who are very proud that we are their neighbors.
Dialogue sessions continue to challenge the campers and facilitators. But, they are doing the work that needs to be done to understand and respect one another. More of the quiet people are expressing themselves. They have gained confidence during group challenge activities outside dialogue where they have had to take leadership roles. The natural leaders in each group are purposely blindfolded or silenced while the quieter campers are encouraged to lead in their places.
Today was the last session for the first round of special activities. The Bollywood dance activity group performed at line-up to a very impressed audience. Tomorrow, will start the next round of special activities.
Camp Birthdays | July 3
We try to begin each day with a musical or poetic informal performance at breakfast line-up. Today, the Seed-counselor, Miko, sang Lean on Me with everyone joining in. It was a lovely way to begin the day.
Today we also had our first birthday!
Birthdays are special at Seeds of Peace. We know that the campers celebrating the special day and their families wish they could express their love in person, but there are thousands of miles between them.
To make up for this distance from home, we try to give the birthday people special treatment. At each line-up before the meals that day, the birthday camper decides who gets to join them in leaving early for the dining hall. Then after dinner, the whole camp sings happy birthday and the honoree gets to share a birthday cake with his or her table.
Some people seem to be naturally energetic and loud, while others act just the opposite way and get less attention. It is up to the adults to be sure that the quiet ones also are seen and heard. Now that one week has gone by, the quiet ones are still trying to find their way among the boisterous campers. One quiet camper said that she was very appreciative of the way her dialogue group is truly in dialogue and not arguing. Another one said that he finally got the courage to tell his dialogue group his story and was pleasantly surprised at how respectfully they listened to him. Another quiet one was sitting alone under a tree today, but she is preparing to tell her dialogue group her story tomorrow.
The South Asian campers are introducing everyone else to the game of cricket. At first glance the game looks a lot like softball, but once it gets started, one can see that there are very few similarities. The campers from the Middle East will have quite a time trying not to mix up the rules between softball, which they are also just learning, and cricket.
Building Confidence | July 2
This morning at breakfast line-up, Sarah Brajtbord, our Camp Director, acknowledged that many campers had a difficult time with dialogue yesterday. She has a way of recognizing challenges while infusing her perspective with the possibility for growth and positive change. A counselor named Joy was asked to lead the whole community in a set of stretching and letting-go exercises. This helped us look forward to the day with confidence.
It was a perfect day for water sports and group challenge activities. By now, almost all the campers have had the opportunity to try canoeing—and some are even attempting to water ski. The group challenge activities included the low ropes, where there is an emphasis upon cooperation, rather than competition. The low ropes are only about two feet above the ground, but walking across them requires individual balance and courage to meet the group’s goals.
The special dance activity group is working on a Bollywood dance performance. The dance instructors made a video for the dancers to see and they were really delighted with it. This is a good way to loosen up the tenseness the campers might have and give them a way to gain a skill they might not learn in any other place.
Other new skills being taught are relatively easy, such as kickball, softball, and hand weaving bracelets. Anytime a camper achieves a new skill, they gain more confidence. We hope they will use this newfound confidence to take a chance to learn about the campers on the other side of their conflict.
Honeymoon Over | July 1
There is usually a “honeymoon” period at the start of Camp before the arguments between political adversaries begin. Today was the day the honeymoon ended. You could hear the raised voices and see the tears after the dialogue sessions. This is when the real work begins.
It is very difficult to argue for an hour or so and then go to the sports fields to play a game, but most of the campers need a break from the turmoil inside the dialogue huts. It helps to do something else together with the people in their dialogue groups to be reminded of their shared humanity. Tomorrow, they will try to listen and speak so others can hear them and think critically.
It was a beautiful, sunny day otherwise. Special activities included canoeing and kayaking, pirate games, Bollywood dancing, making friendship bracelets, and creative writing. After rest hour, dialogue groups played basketball, Frisbee, kickball, softball, and did some gardening.
Following dinner, there were more activities and then the campers sat with their table-mates and table counselors for “table talk.” Spread out on the floors of the Field House and the Big Hall, the table groups had real conversations with the people with whom they share meals in a noisy dining hall each day. It is almost impossible to actually get to know one another during meals, so this activity addresses that problem!
PS Insights | June 30
Every summer, we hold a flag-raising ceremony at our front gate during which the delegations sing their respective national anthems while the flags of each country are raised. All the flags, except the Seeds of Peace flag, remain outside our gate. The idea is to pay homage to the national identities, but create another identity within the community of Seeds of Peace.
Before the flags were raised, Seeds of Peace Executive Director Leslie Lewin, and Tim Wilson, the first Camp Director, spoke to the Camp community about their hopes for the new campers and their appreciation for the 90 staff who make Camp possible. At the end, everyone sang the Seeds of Peace Camp song and then re-entered the gate to resume a normal schedule.
A thunderstorm rolled in just as we were beginning rest hour. The storm lasted quite a long time, so everyone had an extra long time to nap or talk quietly in their bunks. All of the activities in the afternoon had to be held indoors. They included music, art, drama improvisation, group challenge, creative writing, and dance.
The storm ended by dinner line-up and a blue sky opened up above us. We are told that we can expect bright sunshine for the next few days.
This evening, the PSs (returning campers) prepared speeches about themselves that they hope will help the new campers adapt to “the way life could be.” Everyone can now see that Camp life is very different from life at home, but some may be wondering what this experience will mean to them once it has ended in three weeks. The 31 PSs offered some insights into that question. They talked about sexual identity, women’s issues, power imbalances, and personal challenges. And most of all, they spoke about how it felt to them to have the chance to return to this place. This program was very important not only for the new campers, but also for the PSs who were able to put their deeply felt feelings into words.
Cleaning Scores | June 29
Most of today was devoted to establishing the norms and expectations for bunk life, line-up, free time, sports and arts activities, and dialogue sessions.
For the first time, bunk clean-up was given scores with explanations as to why each score was given. The campers knew that one of the counselors, Spencer, would be the person inspecting the bunks today so they wrote him notes and poetry to win him over. But, the scores all showed some need for improvement. Campers are expected to make their beds, clean the floors and bathrooms, as well as the area outside their bunks. They are also expected to tidy up the communal showers and empty trash cans. We try to maintain a clean, healthy environment while enlisting everyone’s help as part of our community.
We try to make learning fun, if at all possible. Tonight, the counselors and facilitators put on a staged show about the kinds of skills they will be teaching. The campers always enjoy seeing the adults demonstrate their talents with music and humor. Just as the evening show was ending, the audience was told to return to their bunks as soon as possible because a heavy rainfall was heading our way. Sure enough, sheets of rain, thunder, and lightning traveled across Maine just after everyone was safely inside their bunks.
Housekeeping | June 28
During the first day of Camp, we get all the “housekeeping” out of the way so the rest of the session can run smoothly.
By bunk, the campers travel around with their counselors to visit the health center to get a quick check in and make sure all medication is in the hands of the doctor and nurses, to the field for group challenge, to the picnic tables to take research surveys, to the Big Hall to learn the Seeds of Peace Camp song, and to the phones to call home.
One counselor who is a Seed said he remembers how important that call home was for him on his first day as a camper. He said when he heard his campers connect with their parents today, his heart swelled with emotion knowing how vital it is to hear a reassuring voice on the other end. Many of the campers are now thousands of miles away from everything and everyone they have known all their lives. Twice a week they are scheduled to phone home. But they do not have cellphones at Camp—they would be a distraction from the face-to-face interactive work they will do at Camp.
Parents are able to call the campers during mealtimes at the Dining Hall, but it is often hard to get through when almost 200 families are calling. They can also email their children and have their email messages printed out for distribution during rest hour each day.
Today is Friday when we have religious services for Muslims and Jews. In the evening we have a bunk night, when bunkmates have low-key activities designed to help them bond with one another. Tonight may be more subdued than the others, since most campers are grappling with jet lag and have had a long day outside in the warm sunshine.
Gradually, each day will be more challenging than the one before.
Arrival Day | June 27
Morning began as a cloudy day, but 30 minutes before the first bus of campers and educators was due to arrive, the sun came out and stayed out until dusk. It was a dry Maine summer day—the kind we always wish for on Arrival Day, but seldom have. Often it rains, making the process more complicated than we like.
During an eight-hour period, several busloads arrived. Palestinians, Israelis, Egyptians, Jordanians, Indians, Pakistanis, Americans, and Brits all joined the quickly-expanding welcoming throng of already-arrived campers, counselors, facilitators, and other staff. Most were 6 to 12 hours off their normal schedules. But if they were feeling tired, you would never have been able to tell.
The Camp staff greeted them with music and dancing, using the noisiest musical instruments we have and encouraging everyone to join along. Actually, Arrival Day is the crescendo to Staff Orientation, so the staff is super energized. The returning campers are celebrating the chance to be back. And the new campers find all the energy of the older campers and adults contagious and join right in!
Perhaps the most beautiful part of Arrival Day is something only people who know the returning campers might discern. As the returning campers—known as PSs—leap from their buses they run straight into the open arms of their counterparts from the opposite sides of their conflicts. Two years may have passed since they have seen one another, but they are still friends. Their nationalities still do not stand in the way.
Tonight, the Camp is quiet as the new campers are finding out that sleeping in a bunk with people who are supposed to be their enemies is safe here. Maybe a few of them will not sleep well, but most are just too tired to keep awake. The Camp bell will ring at 7 a.m. and all of us will gather for the first all-Camp line-up by 7:30.
Staff Orientation | June 26
Before we can make a home for the campers, we need to create a home for the staff members where everyone feels respected and included. The comfort level of the counselors, facilitators, and other staff working together can make a big difference when we try to establish a safe haven—a second home—for all the campers, regardless of their nationality, religion, political beliefs, sexual orientation, or personality.
The Camp staff comes from all the countries represented by the campers. All of us need to test our assumptions about one another in preparation for helping the campers create honest relationships across lines of traditional assumptions and beliefs.
The facilitators also come from the same countries as the campers. There are two from opposite sides of the conflict for each group of 12 to 15 campers. Dialogue sessions are held in safe spaces, called Dialogue Huts, for 115 minutes each day. Half the campers have dialogue in the morning while the other half meets in the afternoon. When not in dialogue, the groups participate together in sports, the arts, waterfront activities, and “group challenge.” By taking part in many different activities together, they get to know their dialogue group members in a variety of ways, not just in conversation.
Now that we have spent a week or so becoming familiar with the Camp philosophy and methodology, a community of adults has been formed—the basis upon which the larger Camp community will be able to come together over the next three and a half weeks. Each Camp session is unique, but all of them need to run on kindness, mutual understanding, and respect. By tomorrow evening, all 190 campers should be with us. The anticipation of the new Camp session has been building all week. Now we are ready to roll!