The political turmoil in Egypt is hitting very close to home for some campers in Otisfield, Maine.
Twenty-five Egyptian campers and staff are part of the international mix attending “Seeds of Peace”—a highly acclaimed program that emphasizes conflict resolution between enemies.
Like dozens of other lakeside summer camps in Maine, Seeds Of Peace offers water sports and plenty of other activities that promote teamwork and friendship.
But at this camp, now in its 21st season, the fun is a means to an end.
“Partner up with someone at home who doesn’t speak the same language as you,” says one of the sailing instructors.
The 212 campers come from countries engaged in protracted conflicts—Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Egypt, Pakistan, India, Afghanistan and the United States.
Eighteen-year-old Mostafa W. of Cairo, Egypt remembers how he used to think about his neighbors in Israel.
“I never thought I could live with an Israeli or speak with one,” he says.
But here in this peaceful setting, campers are required to engage with their nation’s enemies.
“We push them hard to really think and tackle conversations that are difficult to have. We’re asking a lot of 15- and 16-year-olds. But they rise to the occasion,” says Leslie Lewin, executive director.
Both shoes and biases are left outside the door as campers take part in daily dialogue sessions, where politics often come into play. The unrest brought about by the ousting of former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi has been a hot topic and challenging for the Egyptian delegation.
“I love being here so much, but I would have liked to be protesting as well,” says Laila F. The 18 year old also worries about her parents and siblings who are engaged in the frequent demonstrations.
But Egyptian counselor and former camper Mohamad I. says the lessons learned here will prove valuable at home.
“I think the goal here is to make the kids know they can make the change by being the change,” he says.
While the experience here is meant to be transformative, it’s only a starting point. These “seeds” as they call themselves get plenty of support back in their home countries that will help them to continue to grow.
That means continuing to confront the old ways of thinking.
“Each time when I think of Seeds of Peace, I think of the process learned here. I think it is my job to not give up and to hope for a better future,” says Mostafa W.
The friendships forged on these playing fields, may help them accomplish what has proved so challenging in the Middle East-lasting peace.
(Producer’s note: Last names are withheld for security reasons)