by Matt Loper, Kids4Peace Boston Director
Soccer before breakfast has become the usual. Everyone has learned where to find the Kosher, Halal, and vegetarian food options. We are all ready for the moment of silence before our meals, and we wait expectantly for the song challenges when camp finishes lunch and dinner.
In the mornings we work through interfaith and leadership activities, and in the afternoons we join Camp Merrowvista’s woodworking, boating, swimming, rock-climbing and other activities.
As our camp routine takes hold, our community is growing stronger. We are building on our Discovery activities, to take on bigger topics, and this morning’s Discovery block prompted us to consider the stereotypes we hold of others.
After breakfast, the group made their way to the chapel for a program called “paper bags.” They each received a stack of little papers and a pencil, and entered the room quietly. Each bag had one word written on it, including: “Jew,” “Safety,” “Muslim,” “Mosque,” and “Army.” The staff asked them to walk slowly around the room and write down the first word that they thought of at each bag. They put their papers into the bags and broke into their “peace pod” discussion groups when everyone was finished. As the de-brief slowly started, there was a tension in the air – kids admitting that they didn’t like what they wrote, and others worrying about their new friends’ thoughts.
“Paper bags” held remarkable moments of growth, in the context of a strong community of friends. As the facilitators read what was written in each bag, the kids had a chance to discuss how they felt and how they could work together to overcome stereotyping, conflict, and prejudice.
But what makes our camp unique is not simply the way that we foster powerful peace education. What makes camp unique is the way that this work builds deep trust, empathy, and love.
Fast forward to the very end of our day…the annual Kids4Peace Talent Show!!! This year’s Talent Show was a special one. It was a full display of this remarkable community of new friends. Imagine acts as far ranging as Dabke dance, magic tricks, a basketball lesson, a “cup song,” modeling sunglasses, doing back handsprings and just eating an apple. The applause did not just get louder with each act; cheering and laughter filled the show from start to end. Everyone was celebrated for who they are and cheered on to be their very best. There was a palpable feeling of trust and safety in our community…you could get up and share anything you wanted, and you’d receive nothing but support. Now that sounds like the kind of world we all dream of living in!
These young peacemakers are not just learning to wade through rigorous conversations to confront injustice and build understanding. They are doing their work with celebration, joy, and dance.