For eight days in July, a delegation of 28 Palestinian, Israeli and American youth met in Washington, DC, for an intensive program in advocacy and social action. Check out this day-by-day report!
The first full day at the Global Institute was an exciting and busy one. Starting the day at the Church of Epiphany, participants were put into groups, each based on a famous activist, and discussed their thoughts and emotions with Kids4Peace Staff. The staff asked questions such as “what do you need to feel supported?” and “when you hear the word ‘leadership’, how does that make you feel?”. Participants had no issue opening up to one another, some sharing that they were at first nervous about going to Washington, D.C. for the Global Institute. They were anxious about making friends and being around people they didn’t know. However, they were able to realize the value of the experience and overcame that anxiety.
Dina and Devorah are a perfect example of how easily friendships were made in the first day of the program. When describing why she decided to join the Global Institute, Dina said that she “grew up in a small town where not a lot of people know about my religion. The Global Institute is a great opportunity to talk to people about it.” She added that “having this opportunity at our age is amazing; it’s a new generation and change starts with us”. Devorah, on the other hand, explained how she grew up in a very diverse part of Israel. “Kids4Peace has always been a part of my household, but I realize not everyone has opportunities like this”. While listening to Scott Rechler from LearnServe international speak to them about social entrepreneurship, groups of participants were told to think of something that makes them mad, then create a solution to the issue that bothers the entire group the most. They presented their ideas through skits to the rest of the Global Institute. Next, the participants took a quick trip on the metro to the U.S Department of State. For many, this was their first time riding the D.C. metro. At the State Department, participants were able to listen to Shaun Casey, U.S. Special representative for Religion and Global Affairs, Ira Forman, Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, and Arsalan Suleman, U.S. Special Envoy to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, discuss their jobs and how they cared about issues relating to the participants. Participants were then able to ask questions talk about Kids4Peace. Dina later described the visit to the State Department as “an amazing opportunity to hear everyone’s opinions”, while Devorah said that the Officials were “really respecting of and interested in what we had to say”.
Next, the group walked to meet with officials from USAID. When Dave Harden entered the room, participants were filled with joy to see a familiar face; many had seen him recently at an Iftar in Jerusalem.When Harden asked the participants how they are going to change the world, many were eager to answer.Describing the experience, Devorah said, “I learned that a lot of people have different ideas on how to make change, and the other participants are very passionate.” Dina agreed and said that “people kept adding onto one another, and everyone’s ideas made each other’s better.” Harden wrapped up the meeting by telling the Global Institute that they are very powerful, as proven by how many important people want to meet them, and that they should share their ideas with the officials they meet because they are very influential.
After meeting with USAID, the Global Institute walked back to the Church of Epiphany to eat dinner with New Story Leadership. They were able to have discussions with a group of Israeli and Palestinian activists just 10-years older than themselves. This group was visiting the US in order to share their stories and gain skills to make change.
When describing the day Dina said that “everyone was very welcoming, and everyone shares the same goal”.
Although the participants are tired after a long and exciting day, they remain optimistic for the days ahead.
The Second Day of the Global Institute was full of meeting new people. In the morning, the participants were split into two groups to do community service; one group went to One Acre Farm while the other went to DC Central Kitchen. At One Acre Farm, a produce farm in Maryland, participants helped dig up potatoes, which would then be sent to a city school called Simon’s School. Lana, who was a part of this group, spoke positively about her experience at the Farm. She said that “Farmer Mike introduced himself and said that we would be digging for potatoes by hand, and that because of all the rain they would have to do more work than expected; just like in life how unexpected things happen”. Lana said they dug potatoes for about an hour and a half, and she really enjoyed it. “Similar to how in life, things take time for the perfect result, potatoes take one hundred days to grow. Before I never thought about potatoes that way” she explained. Adam went with the other group to D.C. Central Kitchen, where food is produced to be sent to homeless shelters, transitional homes, and nonprofit organizations in the D.C. area. When they arrived, they talked to the CEO of the organization for about an hour, then some participants went to bake cakes while others went to chop celery. Afterwards, there was a buffet for the participants to celebrate their work and eat lunch themselves. Adam said of his experience that “I didn’t know what was going to happen but it was really fun and we felt that we were doing something good for the community. I liked this place because there were people from prison or people that are homeless and everyone was treated the same. It felt good to give myself to the community.”
After the community service activities, the Global Institute headed back to the Church of Epiphany for a Jummah Prayer with Imam Suhaib Webb. The church was full of people praying and observing those praying. The Imam spoke about current events as well as how the Muslim community must bring peace through their actions, even encouraging those who attended to go to the Catholic mass on Sunday in order to show solidarity. Adam explained his perspective on the service. “I’ve been to Muslim Prayers before, but this was a big prayer.” When asked what he thought about the Imam bringing politics into the service, he said that “I don’t think it’s a good idea if the people don’t have another option [of service] to go to.” Lana expressed her opinion by saying “the prayer part I really liked, because it defines what peace means to me; the Christian church having a Muslim service.” She added on that “we’re here to support each other, not to segregate humankind.” However, she was not a fan the Imam talking about politics. “My personal opinion is to not put politics into religion, because that may influence a person’s religion.” Adam agreed and expressed that it “made me me very mad when the speaker at the service talked about how Palestinian kids are being slaughtered, but that may make people think certain ways about the other side. It may be best to not say it at all.” Shayan, another participant, spoke highly of the Imam after the service. “I started listening to his lectures when I was 12 and he’s been a role model for me ever since. He’s very relatable, and he helped me love my religion and going to the mosque. I think him talking about politics is good as he’s trying to speak to the Muslim community as a whole because that’s what we need to hear; speaking together and reaching out to other faiths. I think that’s what me and many other people believe will stop the hatred.”
During a brief community meeting where participants and staff shared feedback and developed a community agreement, Lana explained how “we all discussed how some people wanted to change the schedule, so everybody was able to use their leadership skills to advocate for themselves and what they believe in even though other people may disagree”. Participants ate a light dinner before heading to the Sixth&I Synagogue for Shabbat. There, participants listened or participated in Jewish prayer, and staff members of K4P gave speeches sharing their connections to Jerusalem. The night ended with a second dinner, where participants chatted with guests of the Shabbat whom they had never met before. There was plenty of laughing and good food.
The third day of the Global Institute and Shabbat started out with discussion circles, in which participants were given a variety of quotes about leadership and were asked to chose which meant the most to them and why. Participants were able to discuss the religious experiences they had in the days prior, compared to the religious experiences they typically have at home. They also were asked to visualize a ladder of progress and discussed what causes them to move up or down on this ladder, as well as who they have seen move upward throughout the Global Institute. Facilitator, Jill Levenfeld described the situation perfectly when she said that “simply by being here we are all taking a step forward”
The Global Institute then split into two groups; the participants from Jerusalem and the participants from America. The American group learned in more detail about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, while the other group was able to discuss their travel experiences, in which the Palestinian kids had to go through close security examinations, as well as other topics. Nina, a participant at the Global Institute, explained this experience. “This was the first time I was stopped. They stopped us because we are Palestinians. When we had the discussion eveybody was bothered about what happened because everyone went through it, but by the end I felt good because everything that I had in me went out and I felt a little bit relaxed.”
The two groups then joined together for a meditation session with Jayne Sutton, of the Shambhala Center. Another participant, Mohammed, described the session. “The meditation was unique. I wasn’t thinking about anything and was listening to what she was saying, while taking deep breaths. It felt like only a minute went by.” Nina described the session. “Meditation was really relaxing, and actually when I did it and closed my eyes I felt like I was in a different world. It was a good thing to do during the program, if we had it every day I would do that.” While some of the participants were sleepy and may have used the time for a quick nap, the majority gained a skill to use for relaxation throughout their careers as activists. Shoshana, assistant program director, explained that having good methods of relaxation is important for people doing peace work and activism, as it is exhausting work in which you need to give your full self.
Following the meditation, Jordan Denari Duffner, a Catholic voice on Muslim-Christian relations, Islamophobia, and interfaith dialogue, and Usra, a Global Institute staff member, discussed how to talk to people who are close-minded or think a certain way that you don’t agree with. Jordan talked about how Islam helped her love her own religion, Christianity, even more. Participants then shared their experiences with people who don’t think like them, and Usra and Jordan gave helpful tips on how to communicate. Mohammed said on the discussion that “Jordan was speaking about how some people who don’t understand the religion say things before they even meet a person or get to know them. She said you want to have something to connect the religion that is different from yours to your own religion.” Jordan concluded the discussion by saying that speaking with the Global Institute gives her a lot of hope.. After the meeting, participants walked through the D.C. heat and around the monuments, which ended with the Martin Luther King Memorial.
After a plentiful amount of photos, the Global Institute met up with two young men, Ricky and Max from an organization called Operation Understanding DC (OUDC.) They explained that OUDC is based upon the idea of bringing together African American and Jewish youth to combat racism and Anti-Semitism. They then led an activity that demonstrated what privilege is and how everyone is privileged in a different way.
Despite the wind, participants made it back to the church without being caught in an oncoming storm. Aaron Jenkins, known as AJ, met the participants for dinner. He is the Director of the Center for Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the Department of Commerce, and had a lot to say about peace among religions and erasing racism. His energy and enthusiasm captured the participants’ attention instantly, starting with him asking what superpower they would pick if they could choose any one. Participants gave answers such as invisibility and reading minds. One participant wanted the power “change the world instantly”, and the others voiced their agreement. Aaron Jenkins made it clear to the participants that they need to find their superpower, no matter what it is. He also explained the importance of asking the question ‘why?’ frequently to learn as much as possible with every opportunity. After discussing the Black Lives Matter movement, one participant asked, “how do you erase racism?”. He responded by saying “with all of me, everyday and everywhere”. The connection between the peace movements in the Middle East and in the United States was shown to be very strong. After AJ was done speaking, participants were eager to talk with him; taking selfies, friending him on social media, and asking questions. Mohammed spoke about the experience very enthusiastically. “I like the way he started to approach everybody, being humorous and trying to make a bond before giving the lecture. I’m going to start using the question ‘why?’ now because that leads to endless possibilities and answers.” After Shabbat ended, participants held a brief talent show to end the day. While the day was restful, the people who the participants met and the activities they did left an impression on the Global Institute that will last.
Service Projects were the first task on Day 4, half of the participants went to D.C. Central Kitchen and the other half went to the shower ministry at Mount Vernon Place Church of Worship. Those who went to D.C. Central Kitchen helped cook for those in need, while participants at the shower ministry worked hard doing cleaning duties. Kadijah, a participant in the Global Institute, described her experience. “Today in the morning I helped with the church’s shower ministry which gives homeless people a place to shower. It made me feel accomplished and proud, and more motivated to do similar activities and events in my community for the homeless. I really liked the fact that we were welcomed into the church. They gave us a shout out during the service, recognizing the work that we did. Participating in all of this community service makes me feel very proud and accomplished. I enjoy doing work like this and it pushes me to do more work for my community.” Tia, a participant in the Global Institute, described her experience. “It actually felt boring at first, but then when I started thinking about how we were helping people, it felt amazing. I got to hear a story about a women– she told us her name and how we are doing something important and how it means a lot to her. I was thinking about when walking through DC the people in suits with money weren’t that happy; when you walk by those people and say hi they don’t say hi back. And when I saw the women laughing and making jokes, she seemed like the happiest woman ever. She’s homeless. They say money can’t buy happiness. I also realized how much my mom works when she cleans the bathroom; it’s hard to clean.” Participants then attended a church service, where they heard the pastor speak about the necessity of play in our everyday lives. Tia, spoke in front of the entire service on what Kids4Peace is. “It was a bit scary talking in front of all these people, but the fact that my friends were in front of me, I got the courage. It was so cool and different.” After the service, participants split into discussion circles; Jerusalem participants and American participants. Khadijah, from Seattle, was in the American group. In the group, she said “being African American and coming from a low income community, I definitely have been exposed to different situations than most kids in the group. Looking around and being in this kind of environment, it definitely makes me want to push harder and succeed.” Tia, who was in the Jerusalem group, shared her thoughts. “We were talking about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and trying to find a solution. The one solution that most of us talked about and argued about is the two-state solution and how we can make it better. At that point I realized that when it comes to talking about peace, it isn’t the same side of them as when you’re playing and laughing with them. We also talked about what Kids4Peace is, it’s goal, and where it would stand if there was a two-state solution. Some of them responded K4P would have done its job by making peace. Some responded that K4P is a place where we meet people, [and we should] not to let go even after peace is made.”
Next, special guests from The Sanctuaries came to visit participants to talk and make art together. The Sanctuaries is a community that uses art to address the issues of race and religion, and to empower the D.C. community to be forces of social change. Each group worked on a different activity; writing raps or stories, drawing, or creating prayers. Tia was in the drawing group. “We chose a picture that represents a black man with police behind him. The guy is the center of attention in the picture and he is making a heart with his hands. We split that picture into eight pieces and we each drew the piece of the picture. We all drew the way we drew. At the end we glued the pieces together, and they were all different. We realized that we all see with different perspective and we all have our own way of thinking.” As the guests left, participants expressed their thanks.
To end the day, Mati Amin from School of Leadership Afghanistan spoke to participants about his work with the first and only girl’s boarding school in Afghanistan. He discussed the challenges he faces, which include security and finding qualified teachers, as well as how his background led him to this career. Participants asked many questions which continued during dinner. Khadijah expressed her admiration for his work; “What he did was very courageous, especially for the women who are advocating for their education.” Tia agreed and said “that was the most interesting thing of the day.” Khadijah summed up her experiences of the day and at the program so far. “I had a very good day. I really enjoyed the discussions, the interviews, the lectures and the activities. The Global Institute is a way for me to interact with people different from my faith and nationality. I like finding common ground with people who are different me… who actually are not so different from me. I’m able to travel, which I always love. And having seminars about serious topics expands my knowledge and perspectives.”
Day 5 began with a visit at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. There, participants heard speakers David Makovsky and Ghaith al-Omari speak to them about negotiations and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. One participant, Zeina, shared her experience at WINEP. “I felt like when Ghaith was talking, I felt like I had the same understanding that he did, because he knew what Palestinians thought about what was happening. I also learned about more the conflict that I didn’t know before.” Mutaz, another participant, said the experience was interesting “especially when they said there couldn’t be a solution for both sides, that’s a clue that it is so complicated that it needs more effort to be solved. But there were parts that I agree with and disagree with.”
The group then had the opportunity to go shopping in the Metro Center Area, so they split into small groups and headed on their merry way. Mutaz said that he “liked it because there were more shops here than in Jerusalem, I especially liked Nando’s.” Zeina agreed and said it was a “good break from what we’ve been doing.” Next, the Institute met with Kevin Rachlin, a lobbyist and Kids4Peace Board Member, to help them prepare for lobbying in Congress the following day. He gave participants tips on how to have conversations with Staffers in Congress. Then, Daniel May joined the participants to show them the importance of storytelling and how to be successful storytellers. Each participant was told to create their story, and then several shared and were given feedback. Zeina said that she “liked listening to the stories; they make me learn more about people. It makes me know people’s personalities.”
Lastly, the participants did further prep for the legislative visits the next day. They did role play, guided by Daniel May, to act out how the visits may go. The energy in the room was heightened, participants were nervous and excited for the chance to talk about Kids4Peace, H.R. 1489, and their own stories in Congress. Bill H.R. 1489 was introduced to the House last March and proposes the creation of an International Fund for Israeli Palestinian Peace. It is modeled after a similar fund in created to build civil society peace in Ireland. While things started out slowly, by the end of the night the students were prepared for the big day ahead!
The sixth day of the Global Institute began with a visit at the United States Institute for Peace, where participants met with Ambassador David Saperstein, Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom and Mike Yaffe, Senior Advisor, Special Envoy to Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations. There, several participants were asked to share their stories in front of everyone at the meeting. Adan was one participant who shared her story. She said that “at first I was a little nervous because I was giving this big speech and I didn’t really know how to present it and if they would like it. I’m usually pretty confident with public speaking, but this time I was slightly nervous. I was a little bit intimidated because they had such high positions and I’m just a fifteen year old girl. The story I shared was personal and I never really talked about it with anyone before. When I actually got to speaking everyone was silent and all eyes were on me. I got them to listen to me, and it was astounding… I loved it. I felt like I achieved something I was aiming for for quite a while. It really gave me the confidence to continue to not be afraid to express myself.”
Next, it was time for the big moment. Participants split into groups and prepared for legislative visits on Capitol Hill. They discussed who would share a story, tell about the HR 1489 bill that they were presenting, and who would talk about Kids4Peace. There were lots of nerves in the air, but excitement as well. One participant, Adel, shared his experience. “When we talked to the staff, I was very nervous at first because I’m not a good speaker in front of new people. And also when I was talking to the staff I stopped for a minute because I was so nervous. We were trying to pass this bill for Kids4Peace and other peace organizations so I felt responsible for talking about the bill. During the first interview I was a little nervous, but the second and third went fine. After the three meetings we had, I felt ashamed of myself because I didn’t know why I was nervous. I learned from that moment that I should be more brave because nothing bad is going to happen.” Adan shared her unique perspective on the meetings. She said that she “had to talk to three different staffers and one of them got really emotional when I told my story
And this is what I want, I want her to feel how we felt during the experience. Also I really liked how in every office there were different objects. For example the staff member of Illinois was in this really formal room so we were taking really formally. The one from Vermont had us sit wherever we want and she was more friendly and got emotional, and I liked that more.” Many participants happily discussed the success of their meetings, and the relief that they felt when they were over.
To end the busy day, Kids4Peace held a public celebration. There were many guests who participants ate dinner with, and several participants shared their stories, even receiving standing ovations. A movie, Jerusalem Voices created by Dandan Lui, a former Kids4Peace Intern, was played that shows life in Jerusalem amidst the conflict, and it features Lour, a Global Institute participant. After the film, Lour received many hugs. Adel said, “The movie was amazing and it really shows how the Palestinians are living, and I actually saw my school in there. Obviously you can see who’s dominating in Israel.” Adel also commented about the party after, “I also liked how everyone brought their own style of dancing from their own culture.” Adan added, “The party was my favorite part, because seeing how many people came out of their day to talk to us is something that really touched me. Back home most people like to criticize, but these people were totally open to listen. My favorite part was the dancing because it’s proof of how strong we are, and how Kids4Peace like home. It also shows how everyone has their own type of dancing, but we are all dancing together, and that is a metaphor for Kids4Peace.” Once most of the guests left, the participants danced the rest of the night away to the music produced by The Brother Yares. It was a bittersweet night, as the participants knew their time together coming to an end.
The last day of the Global Institute was full of bittersweet emotions and utter exhaustion. We started the day bright and early with a trip to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building of the White House. Once through security we gathered in an incredibly decorated room with Dr. Stephen Galperin, Chanan Weissman, and Zaki Barzinji. Participants shared their stories and the hopes for the future and the staff was very responsive. Yasmine, a participant from Boston, shared her story of experiencing discrimination, based on her Muslim faith, in the United States. Maryam then pointed out that we had not met with many female officials and asked what could be done about the lack of female representation. The White House staff were quick to note that 3 out of the last four Secretaries of State have been women and that the current administration has done more for gender equality than any other before. They also made sure to note that our young leaders are part of this; they will be the future of tomorrow and strong powerful female leaders were in the room. After this impressive and impactful meeting we were able to tour the East Wing of The White House! A quick lunch in Lafayette Park was followed by visits to different lobbying organizations in DC. Groups split and went to JStreet, AIPAC, ANERA and AAI. In usual form the Global Institute participants asked the hard questions and learned a great deal.
After the White House and organization visits, participants met with Ami Yares to learn about the power of music in generating emotional responses to injustice and using music as a tool for social change. They listened to the lyrics of Strange Fruit by Billie Holiday and discussed how it related to the problems of racism in the South at the time. They then wrote poetry and presented it to the rest of the group.
Finally, our last visiting presenter arrived. Bill Pierce, an experienced media consultant, visited the youth to teach them about media and journalism. They learned how to conduct themselves in an interview and how to make sure their message was conveyed properly. They also learned about how press conference work and even were able to do some role-playing. After the final sessions were over, participants gathered in a circle. They were instructed to face outward of the circle and close their eyes, with several people inside the circle at the time. As the staff read different commands such as “tap someone on the circle who you shared a special moment with” or “tap someone on the shoulder who inspired you”, those in the middle would walk around the circle anonymously sharing how their positive feelings towards their peers. When the activity was over, participants shared how good it felt to be tapped on the shoulder so many times. To end the night, and the participants’ time in Washington, D.C, there was Ben and Jerry’s ice-cream, dancing, and hugs, with some tears, as well. It was a great end to a fantastic program; one where many life-long friendships were made.
Kids4Peace Global Institute Teens arrived at the Burlington airport this morning greeted by the Channel 5 News Team. See the story here: Kids4Peace Arrive in Burlington
We had a picnic lunch on the Vermont State House lawn before our private tour of the building.
Taking turns at the senate podium.
On the house floor.
The teens welcomed a day off from lobbying with legislative staffers, peace organizations, and Middle East think tanks. After some shopping and sightseeing in Montpelier, we headed to the Ben & Jerry’s Factory for a tour and ice cream!
Quick stop at the peace barn.
On our way to our welcome dinner some teens remarked how in DC, instead of learning skills to be applied to the distant future, one of the things that was most appreciated was learning skills to be applied right away at the next meeting or interview. The teens look forward to more fun, learning, and reflection in Vermont.
Our second day in Vermont began at Champlain College with a workshop on Gender in Leadership –Lead by Selina Petschek, Lisa Ryan, and Nadine Soudah.
Using worksheets and physical space, the teens thought about how gender affects personal leadership styles and different bodies of leadership: Military, NGOs, Religion. Teens thought about how empathy changes leadership style and even entire organizations.
Next we met with the Champlain College International Department to talk about the admissions process to US schools and take a tour of their campus.
The teens spent the afternoon getting to know Burlington, VT. The day ended with a basketball game and a Shabbat dinner at a host-family’s house.
The following day teens spent the day with their host family doing various different activities.
The Global Institute Teens 4th day began with presentations to the Williston Federated Church congregation.
The teens were very excited to spend time with Dr. Henry Ralph Carse, the founder of Kids4Peace International. He began the presentations with a moving sermon about the hope and inspiration Kids4Peace has had on the world.
After a reception in the church, we traveled to Nancy Stones’ house to pick rasberries, blueberries, and eat a delicious lunch. We spent the afternoon at the Ohavi Zedek Synagogue.
The teens presented their stories to the community. The MGMC – Muslim Girls Making Change, a group of teenage girls from the area performed several of their powerful though-provoking poems. Click below on their picture for a video of them performing Wake Up America.
Matan Zamir, Israel’s Deputy Consul General to New England, stopped by to meet the Global Institute Kids4Peace teens. Jerry Greenfield of Ben & Jerry’s brought ice cream and scooped it himself! Everyone was excited to meet and get a picture with Vermont’s local celebrity and long-time supporter of Kids4Peace.
Next we practiced some trust-building acro-balance (acroyoga) and ate pizza at the beach. The teens reflected on their time in the United States. They said they learned so much and were eager to apply new skills and knowledge back home. The evening culminated with time in the water and a salsa dancing party on the beach. Finally, it was time to go home and pack for the departure the next morning.