Learning To Connect

When I first applied for an internship at Kids4Peace, I anticipated a unique experience that would allow me to try new things while practicing writing and photography, two hobbies of mine. In school I have taken photography classes Processed with VSCO with b1 presetfor two years, and writing has always been something I enjoy. Coming from a Lebanese background and being someone who has an avid interest in feminism and equality, this opportunity seemed to suit me perfectly. Little did I know, this experience would have a great impact on me. 

 

It has restored my faith that peace can be made and that there are people working hard to make it happen. As I reflect on how I see the world today, I realize the division and disconnect between members of society. Especially in America during a very divisive election, it can be easy to get caught up in the hate that is being spread by politicians and celebrities.

The idea that our world is doomed and that we should all be living in fear has become an epidemic. I have found myself being affected by this pessimistic energy and perpetuating it by talking about politics and current events in a negative light, rather than focusing on the positive.

When I met the participants in the Global Institute, it felt like a breath of fresh air.
These were engaged teenagers who cared about the issues facing our world today.
They were hopeful, optimistic, and unapologetically confident in the work they’re doing.

When I walked into the room full of the participants and staff, I didn’t know what to expect. But from the moment I sat down with their discussion circles and listened to what they had to say, I was astonished. The youth expressed that they were nervous about the Global Institute, and they even shared what they needed in order to feel supported.

Their abilities to open up and share their thoughts and emotions in front of people that they didn’t know, as well as people who came from very different backgrounds from them, was completely foreign to me. I wasn’t used to seeing kids my age being so honest while also focused on working productively. That first impression was a lasting one.

I also learned more about the career path that I hope to pursue throughout my summer with Kids4Peace. During the Global Institute, we visited the State Department, The U.S. Institute of Peace, USAID, and The Washington Institute for Near Etim kaine!ast Policy, to name a few, meeting with senior officials from each institution. We even had the opportunity to meet with staffers from fifteen legislative offices in order to discuss a bill that would increase funding for peace organizations in Israel and Palestine.

These experiences gave me an inside look on how international policy and peace-building functions on a federal level, and it furthered my interest in studying matters like this later in life.

I was inspired when meeting the people who are doing the work I hope to someday do in my career.

For example, we met with Mati Amin, chairman of the board for School of Leadership, Afghanistan, the first and only all female boarding school in Afghanistan.

I am passionate about fighting for women’s rights around the world, and through learning about his path towards women’s rights advocacy I learned how I too can pursue a career in this field.  

For example, I asked him during dinner what he studied in college to be able to do this kind of work. Instead of telling me a specific major as I expected, he told me to study what I love, and the career that follows college will be successful. It was a good reminder that passion is what makes seemingly lofty goals achievable.  

The Global Institute has also allowed me to learn about other cultures and have an inside look on their point of view of issues the world is facing. In the past year, I have listened to anti-Muslim rhetoric in the media, and among my peers.

While I am strongly against it, I have felt its impact on my outlook. On the second day of the Global Institute, I tagged along while the Global Institute attended a Muslim prayer service that was held in a church. This alone is remarkable; it represented to many of the participants as well as myself the unity and solidarity that is achievable between these two religions. This was the first Muslim service that I had ever experienced, and I didn’t know anything about what it would be like as I first walked into the church. I saw men and women of all ages take their shoes off and begin gathering in the center and sides of the church, as I sat in the pews.

As the service went on, I was able to see how Muslims pray and practice their religion, as well as listen to powerful words spoken by the Imam. He discussed the hatred towards the Muslim community during the election, and the hardships that the Muslim community faces these days. Hearing this issue being spoken about to a group of Muslims who are the people directly impacted by this, instead of by people simply sharing their opinion on the matter, made his words all the more significant. But instead of focusing his attention on these challenges, the Imam spoke about making peace as a community, and even encouraged those in attendance to attend the Catholic prayer on Sunday to show solidarity after the killing of a Catholic priest. While I was touched by the wise words of the Imam, it was painful to hear him discuss the Islamophobia occurring in my own country. It reminded me of why I must never ignore it, and keep fighting for peace.

Perhaps the most inspiring part of the Global Institute was simply having conversations with the participants themselves. I was able to hear their stories, each one very different from the next, and their thoughts on the experiences throughout the week.  From talking to the participants after visiting each place of worship, I learned that each experience reminded them of how similar the different religions truly are. They explained how each advocates for creating peace and unity, despite the prejudices that many have about certain faiths. They expressed how it felt to overcome their nervousness and gain confidence with public speaking, and what they learned from the speakers they met. They discussed the frustration they felt when disagreeing with their peers on serious issues such as solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Writing blogs for the Global Institute forced me to continually ask the questions that led to hidden parts of each participant’s story. Because of this, I have learned to connect with people that I barely know and I believe of all the skills I acquired from working with Kids4Peace, this will take me the farthest.

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I would like to thank Shoshana Abrams for giving me the opportunity to participate and be a part of the Kids4Peace team. Being able to help the participants share their stories and perspectives as well as helping more people learn about the great work Kids4Peace is doing was truly a once-in-lifetime experience that I will never forget. I have learned so much about myself and others, and I have made many new friends. While I thought entering this experience that I would be helpful towards the program, I have instead found it to be helpful towards my growth as a person.

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Tearful last day of Leadership Camp (K4P & JPB)

by Jiries, Christian Counselor, Jerusalem

11807321_919913288065296_517511697718386362_o The boys woke up at 6am to finish packing their bags and getting ready for the last day’s activities. They showed each other the various gifts they bought for themselves and for their parents and siblings, right before putting them into their bags. Once they were finished, the campers and counselors sat on the porch with their plates full of delicious fruits and pancakes with maple syrup from right here at Acer Farm. It was their last meal at Acer Farm, a place that brought them together and united them with peace and love. Mixed emotions filled the room.11754494_919914171398541_4925827061641501649_o

11754399_919913101398648_677150522965500689_oAfter breakfast, the boys went back to the yurt for one last time and cleaned it out while the girls finished packing their bags and cleaning their rooms inside the log cabin. At 10am, all the campers were ready and began boarding the buses, all well-dressed for church and banner painting. The buses left camp towards the church. Singing and cheering and clapping made the trip towards the church even more fun. We got to church and took our seats.

During the mass, one group presented their skit about racism. After church, the kids spoke to and introduced themselves to some of the local parishioners. We enjoyed some drinks and refreshments and then had some hot dogs for lunch. Everyone sat closely together for the last meal, while cheering and singing camp songs.

Nearby the church, a huge peace banner was waiting to be painted with beautiful colors by the campers. A professional graphic artist named Russell helped prepare the banner and brought all kinds of colors for us to complete the masterpiece that will be displayed on billboards all over New England. In the background, the Brothers Yares sang melodic and soothing songs in English, Arabic and Hebrew. Arriving soon after we did, the Iraqi young leaders from World Learning joined our campers and helped complete the painting. Then, we presented our 3 skits that we had worked hard on with the playwright Court Dorsey. One was about sexism, another about homophobia and the last about racism.

The end was near. We sang, took photos, and got ready to get back to camp and get our bags and suitcases. The last thing the kids wanted to do was say goodbye to each other. It was a tearful and sad event, mainly because of the relationships that these campers developed with each other and with their counselors. Campers, counselors, and volunteers all shed tears and exchanged beautiful parting words. The American kids got in their bus, the Israeli and Palestinian kids in another bus, and they drove away from camp waving back towards the camp, counselors and staff. A sad moment, but a moment that will never be forgotten, because one day, we will meet again, and continue our fight towards peace together.

Too much watermelon at Leadership Camp – JPB and K4P

by Lana (Muslim) and Yosef (Jewish), USA participants

We woke up to a cloudy Saturday morning with all of us feeling tired and sad about leaving the next day. After breakfast, we split into three groups to complete our peace plans. Next, we completed our skits with Court. The skits are being preformed tomorrow, so we worked vigorously to perfect them. Just before lunch, we started writing song lyrics with the Yares’ Brothers for a song we are going to sing tomorrow. Then, we had another delicious salmon lunch courtesy of Dorothy.

After lunch, we had the renowned Crazy Olympics, which is a timed, team challenge of who could complete various crazy challenges. First, everyone on our team had to wear a freezing shirt to move on. The next challenge was to eat a whole watermelon after using any means to break it open. The hardest step was to drink a whole gallon of water. Some of the boys drank so much they almost got sick! To complete the Olympics we jumped into the pond, which started swim time.

Mary Fetchet the founder of Voices of 9/11 shared her story about the death of her son and talked about the goals of her nonprofit organization.

Then, we had a barbeque dinner made of lamb burgers that were perfectly grilled by Bishop Tom Ely and Fr. Nicholas. We ended the night with practicing our songs and an outdoor concert from the Yares Brothers.

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Learning. Service. Sharing. Prayer.

by Yosef, Jewish, USA participant

Today all the boys woke up at 7:30 AM, because we forgot to set an alarm for 6:30 AM for the morning run. After breakfast, we painted our masks. Each of these unique masks took shape along the contours of our faces. Likewise, the painting of the masks was unique. We were tasked with illustrating the characteristics that make each of us special and a peacebuilder and leader. The masks didn’t conceal our identity like most do, but revealed a picture of our true selves.

Next, we moved on to helping the community. We went to a local farm where we picked kale and cucumbers for a food shelter. With the baskets of veggies in hand, we loaded the cars to deliver them to the food bank. At the food shelter, we prepared the kale and ate a meal with members of the local community.

Returning to the farm we hurried to Muslim Friday prayers, which was in a shaded spot up on the side of the hill. After that, we worked on our social justice skits with Court. We used improvisation to create, sculpt and script our scenes. After the acting, we came together to talk about the meaning of our masks. We had a great dinner and then listened to our guests the Yares’ Brothers, who sang beautiful songs for Kabalat Shabbat. Lastly, we worked on our peace plans for Jerusalem. Through heated negotiations, we discussed possible ways to improve the current situation.

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Day 8 at Leadership Camp (JPB & K4P)

by David, Jewish participant, Jerusalem

Jiries woke me up this morning at 7 AM, so I decided I might as well go and take a morning shower to wake me up instead of lying bleary-eyed in bed. When I got back to the yurt (Tent) I was already wide-awake most of the boys were up and about, preparing for breakfast.

11703415_917495861640372_8423428611353324971_o After breakfast, we all went to the backyard where we played a human-sized version of “Mastermind” and that was pretty fun, even though sadly we only had enough time for a single good round. Then Edward Turner, the founder of an international law organization called Lawyers Without Borders came and taught us about the Rule of Law.

Mr. Turner explained to us how do our justice systems function and what is the Rule of Law and that was very interesting. He spoke well and he brought up questions that were very controversial, which made us think about and learn new things from each other. Later on we had some free time, then we all prayed together and had an awesome lunch (Whoohoo!), which for me was mainly comprised of hot dogs and salad. Afterwards, we had a Drama for Social Change session with Court. In that session we defined all the words that conflicts mean to us and talked about conflict for a while, and then we did some skits, sort of like the ones we did yesterday just more dramatic and less of the straight-up funny type.11754539_917495134973778_719835407030994304_o

Later, we had our fifth leadership session in which we talked more about violence and were divided randomly into three groups: Israel, Palestine and the U.S., and we had to use an iceberg model to display examples of direct, cultural, and structural violence we could identify and then present them to the other two teams. That was really interesting because I was in a group with two Israelis (including myself) and three Palestinians, and it showed me things that I didn’t think about before (which usually happens when we speak about Israel and Palestine).

After the leadership sessions, most of the campers went horseback riding and surprisingly only the Jews went swimming, so we jumped on the opportunity and did a “Mikve” with our guest Gordon. A Mikve is a Jewish tradition of getting cleaned by dipping in the water several times quickly (We did it in our own version of just jumping up and down and screaming “MIKVE!”, not the real one).11782481_917496058307019_8715352717662375565_o

And then came the highlight of the day: we were separated to three groups and each of the groups was sent to a different non-JPB-K4P family, who lives in the area, and we dined with them and learned about their lives. I went with Tom and Connie and their two sons Sam and Peter (who are both 20 years old) and they served us a delicious spicy chicken dinner and taught us about Brattleboro. They then took us with them for a 30-minute walk in Brattleboro which I really enjoyed. I was very happy that local families support JPB and K4P, and that they are so generous with people they never met before to support the cause of Peace.”

A day of courage for Leadership: K4P & JPB

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by Nicole and Ayyoub, Muslim Participants, Jerusalem and USA

Today we started the morning with delicious waffles. After that we had a Courage workshop put on by the junior counselors, Jiries and Christina. During the workshop, we had to admit our own fears to ourselves, and then some people admitted them to the whole group.

At the same time, we sent four people to continue editing the videos we took on our cameras with Gordon. We also did mini interviews with each camper.

Later after the break, we had an Etiquette session with Jude in which we learned how to introduce others and ourselves, how to communicate with new people, and deal with awkward moments.

We worked on our improvisation skills, and about resolving conflicts. We talked about different prejudices in society like racism and sexism and made groups for skits that we will preform on Sunday.11754561_918370454886246_3280295842532938881_o

After lunch, we had our last unit of Leadership with Jack. Using our conflict resolution and mediation skills, we began coming up with our own peace plans for the Holy City of Jerusalem. It took some time and we plan to continue our work on them tomorrow.
For dinner we enjoyed some great grilled chicken and salad, and then we had an art session with Stuart. We made little cut outs of the word “peace” in Hebrew, Arabic and English.11728705_918370334886258_4239331381902999342_o

And to end the night, we climbed a mountain in the dark, WHILE BLINDFOLDED!!!!! It was very challenging, but we all made it and came together in the end. We sat around a bonfire, just to rest and sing. The counselors gave us talismans to take home and always remember this leadership camp and the struggles we overcame together.”

Kids4Peace Leadership Camp 2011

Kids4Peace Leadership Camp Celebrates First Year

July’s Leadership Camp at Acer Farm in Brattleboro was nothing short of amazing.  The Muslim, Jewish and Christian teens, counselors, volunteers and guest educators harmonized to produce important breakthroughs in their relationships and understandings.  The twelve days together in Vermont were a powerful time, and the positive feedback has been overwhelming.

The Leadership Camp’s goals were threefold.   1) To develop greater responsibility, initiative, self-expression, communal awareness and good-will in each individual.  2) To deepen personal, national and religious connections between American, Israeli and Palestinian youth.  3) To strengthen the campers personally, intellectually and spiritually to be effective leaders and peacemakers for a future beyond the status quo.

Personal Development:  The political and religious challenges in Israel and Palestine are complex, and substantive transformation requires maturity.  The Camp program focused on developing that maturity.  Our daily leadership seminar taught positive communication and conflict management skills.  Regular group counseling and learning sessions with guest educators like Ambassador Philip Wilcox, Imam Bilal and military officers Erez and Nour fostered both self-expression and communal awareness.  Chores of cooking and cleaning reinforced personal responsibility and accountability to the group.  The purpose was to nurture the teenager’s character and confidence in order to realize that history’s conclusions are not forgone and they are not obliged to perpetuate their grandparents’ war.

Deeper Relationships: Personal relationships are everything in the Middle East.  They are how one navigates impenetrable bureaucracies and limited opportunities.  The Camp’s small size, high adult-camper ratio, daily routines, recreational and religious programs focused on encouraging those essential relationships.  Over the course of twelve days the campers argued and played, confronted each other and themselves, laughed and prayed.  They shared meals and worship, learned to canoe and horseback ride, and listened to the truth and made new friends.  With the result that even when the group reached bitter impasse, they refused the temptation to give up on each other’s humanity or on our God’s promise of peace.  The peace of Jerusalem will be built on that trust.

Effective Leadership: Overcoming the knotty obstacles to peace for two peoples and three religions in one land will require creative leaders.  The Camp’s program challenged these Muslim, Christian and Jewish teens to learn their limits as leaders and to expand them.  Integrated rooming arrangements and interactions with religious leaders helped them confront bigotry and moral indifference.  (Imagine speaking to an imam for the first time.)  Learning new sports and frank conversation in the group counseling sessions helped them confront fear.  (Imagine walking in a dark forest for the first time.)   Wrestling with the presentations of diplomats, philosophers, politicians and military officers helped them see a truth and a possibility for their land beyond what they have known.  (Imagine acknowledging the justice of your enemy’s cause for the first time.)  The key to peace is leadership.

How do we measure the camp’s success?  It is a good question, and at this early stage of our work, our answer can only be if one of teenagers responds deeply to the program and commits his or her self to peacemaking either as a clergy person, politician, aid-worker or camp counselor then that is the mark of success.  We are delighted to report that not one but three of our teens returned home to Jerusalem intending to become committed peacemakers!

God’s grace abounded throughout the entire effort.  Among the other life-giving surprises we experienced were the forging of dynamic partnerships with Kids4PeaceUSA, Combatants for Peace, the Foundation for Middle East Peace, and the Building Abrahamic Partnerships Program at Hartford Seminary; witnessing the wisdom and ability of the counseling staff; designing and painting a highway billboard that will hang around the country, courtesy of Barrett Outdoor Communications; and the filming and production of a short video about the camp, courtesy of Brooklawn Productions.

The two great strengths of the Leadership Camp at Acer Farm are the small, carefully selected group and the religious emphasis.  The former allows for an intense, transformative experience.  The latter emphasis opens up a powerful but largely neglected resource for Mid-East peacemaking.  We plan to leverage both these strengths for the benefit of the campers and staff next year’s July camp.

Thank you for your prayers, encouragement and generous support.  We believe that the history of Jerusalem is the history of the world.  Peace is possible in Jerusalem, but peace is for the strong.  Therefore it requires patience and determination, and this is always difficult.  We hope that you will choose to remain part of this pioneer work.

By The Rev. Nicholas Porter
Camp Coordinator & Host