Meet Sergio, K4P’s new D.C. intern

My name is Sergio and I’m the new intern at Kids4Peace. I’m originally from a small ‘rock’ in the southern-most tip of Spain called Gibraltar. Gibraltar is a British territory abroad, where unlike in Britain, the weather is usually very pleasant and mediterranean. For the past 6 years of my life, I have attended school in the UK – recently graduating with a politics degree from the School of Oriental and African Studies in London.

At the beginning of this year, the government of Gibraltar introduced me to an NGO called The Washington Center which organizes internships mainly in social science related industries for over 240 students from all around the world. Through them, I hascreen-shot-2016-09-15-at-2-56-18-pmve been blessed to be linked up with Kids4Peace. Coming into Kids4Peace, I hope to acquire powerful insight into the inner workings of a Non-governmental organization – gaining experience in communication, budgeting and organization. While at university, I learnt a lot about the theoretical aspects of NGO’s and development organizations so I enter Kids4Peace with a lot of excitement as I can now finally put my knowledge and ideas into practice.

In my time at university, I have had the opportunity to hone in on the fields of academia and politics I am most interested in, mainly focusing my studies on conflict in the Middle East. It is thus especially exciting to me, that Kids4Peace work in areas such as Jerusalem, where they aim to bring Palestinian and Israelis together through their work. I hope to utilize my experience with Kids4Peace not only to grow on a personal level, but also academically and professionally – seeing first-hand the impact of NGO’s and interfaith organizations on a global scale.

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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My Personal Alyiah

by Rebecca Sullum, Co-director Kids4Peace Jerusalem

“Two dates should be written on your tombstone, the years you lived and the date you made aliyah like Ben Gurion.”

I grew up believing that aliyah to Israel was a transcendental experience, a rebirth, similar to Muslims that make Hajj or others making pilgrimage. I always thought that aliyah, moving to Israel was the first step in the Zionist dream and not the end result, rather the beginning. Zionism to me isn’t enough to live in the land of Israel but rather what you choose to do in the land.

June 22, marks twenty-one years that my family has lived in Israel, moving here when I was fourteen from Allentown, Pennsylvania. Like many Anglos who have moved to Israel, we had lived life in the diaspora and knew what it was like to be a minority in a multicultural environment. Because of these experiences, diversity and cultural exchange has always seemed natural to me. My mother worked in the Jerusalem Anglican International School where she taught arts and ceramics to students from all cultures, religions and backgrounds. It was only during my high school years at a religious Jewish High School in Jerusalem, I discovered that for many of my fellow students, the Zionist dream was fulfilled just by living in Israel. It didn’t seem to matter how we treated the others living right beside us.iftar smiles

I couldn’t think of anything more appropriate to mark my alyiah, which my family has celebrated for the past 20 years, than being with the Kids4Peace community at an interfaith Iftar in Beit Safafa, a village in Jerusalem. For over six weeks, my colleagues and I have been putting together this evening. We believed if we planned an Interfaith Iftar, including learning from Muslim families about Ramadan, making arts and crafts, enjoying youth led walking tours and concluding with the traditional Iftar meal, then surely people would come. We were unsure of how many would attend since only thirty people had RSVP’d by the day of the event.

As the evening approached, the sports hall in Beit Safafa was filled with families: children, grandparents, aunts and uncles. Jews, Christians, and Muslims from all over Jerusalem were in attendance. The event drew in not only veteran K4P families, but also new families eager to celebrate Ramadan with their neighbors. When the time came to sit down for the meal at 7:51 pm, all of our one hundred fifty chairs were full and many people were left standing. I spent the rest of the evening trying to find spaces for everyone to sit, eat, drink and socialize with the K4P families.

It was an inspiring and exhausting night.

I shared the success of the Iftar with Yair, my four and a half  year old son who attends the Hand and Hand Bilingual Kindergarten. His response to my story was “Mom, you shouldn’t work so hard for others. If you work hard you are like the Israelites who were enslaved in Egypt”.

Yair expressed in that moment a fear that I think many Israelis hold, a fear of returning to be slaves in Egypt and being a minority in the Diaspora.

I replied by telling him “Yair, thiftar foode same way I worked hard to help my Muslim friends celebrate Ramadan, they also work hard with me in Kids4Peace to celebrate the Jewish holidays.”

In order for me to fulfill my Zionist dream I must live by the words of Rabbi Hillel  “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am not for others, what am I? And if not now, when?”

The following night Yair and I drove for the first time past the Qalandia checkpoint to Adnan’s home, a friend and K4P leader. There we shared in an iftar meal with his family and felt part of a community of dedicated people who are working hard despite the risks of peace work, so that we can share this land together in in harmony.

 

 

Meet Luke!

My name is Luke Froude and I am from New York State. I recently graduated from the State University of New York at New Paltz with a degree in Political Science. When I was eleven years old I was introduced to a peace education organization called CISV. For the past twelve years I have been involved with children from around the world to promote dialogue and friendship. Having participated in programs similar to Kids4Peace, I personally know how life-changing these experiences can be, which is why I couldn’t be happier to be a part of K4P! My time here will be spent reaching out to people who have participated in Kids4Peace and helping share their experiences on our blog. I look froward to mLuke Froudeeeting more people who have been impacted by their time with Kids4Peace and telling their stories!
Filed under: Blog, People, Volunteer/Intern

Introducing Emma, K4P’s DC Intern!

My name is Emma Yingst, and I have recently begun an internship with Kids4Peace! I am a freshman at American University, majoring in International Relations (with a focus in the Middle East and South Asia) and minoring in Print Journalism. I grew up in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and have always had an avid interest in the world outside of my hometown bubble. This led me to travel abroad with a group of students to BEmma Yingstali, Indonesia, where I got my first taste of volunteering abroad as well as being on my own in a foreign country. These experiences have led me to my major and to Kids4Peace. I heard about an event that Kids4Peace was hosting at Busboys and Poets, and for one of my classes, I had to go to one event outside of the college that deals with International Relations. I attended “Is Peace Still Possible? Q&A with Jerusalem’s Peace Activists.” I was enthralled at the event, hearing the different speakers and their stories, and I knew that I wanted to be involved in this organization in any way, shape, or form! At the talk, I heard that by people’s limited experiences with each other, they tended to form the “one-story” perspective; that is, only seeing one side of a multi-faceted person or people. To facilitate understanding, and essentially peace. I love the idea of bringing people together of different ethnicity, religions, and cultures, which Kids4Peace aims to do. While interning, I hope to broaden my knowledge of Israel-Palestine relations, as well as all that Kids4Peace does abroad and at home. I am excited for the work that I will be doing (social media/database) and am thrilled to be a part of the Kids4Peace team!
Filed under: Blog, People, Volunteer/Intern

Light in the Darkness: 137 Peacemakers

Last weekend, Kids4Peace Jerusalem brought 137 peacemakers (7th-12th grade) to Neve Shalom for a weekend full of learning, sharing, team-building, and mainly: Storytelling. Thanks to our generous donors, USAID West Bank/Gaza, and our incredibly inspiring hosts-Auburn Seminary, the youth dove deeply into their personal stories and practiced the art of self expression.

Friday evening, after everyone checked in just before the sun began to set, we tried something new for Kids4Peace. Because we had all of the age groups together–we decided to break into groups in new ways. First, we divided by faith–for over an hour–to spend some time with those whom we most identify to share, connect, pray, and even sing. For each religion, this process looked a little bit different: ranging from Kabbalat Shabbat services, learning teachings from the Prophet Mohammad, and Bible Study.

“I’m seeing people I haven’t seen before in Kids4Peace so its pretty cool.” -Rami, Christian

Costume parties. Skits. Scavenger hunts. Dialogue. Sports. Action plans. Yoga. Team building. Prayer. Story telling. Tons of good food.

All of the youth discussed the parameters of a good story: Setting. Outcome. Challenge. Characters, and more…

They all answered the tough questions: Where do our families come from? How did we get to be who we are today? How do we share our stories with others in a way that is engaging and true? How do we listen to others’ stories?

Youth practiced telling their stories one on one, providing feedback, sharing in small groups, offering tips to make the stories stronger, and finally whoever wanted performed in front of the entire community.

“We started listening to each other and feeling like we understand what someone who might be our enemy goes through. We have been doing that in Kids 4 Peace for a long time, but at that moment I realized if we can do this with a group of people who are undergoing this conflict and who felt so angry about this conflict and get them to start talking about it in a respectful way then we can do it with anyone.” -Emanuel, Jewish

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Hala’s Story

At the K4P Jerusalem Winter Event last Tuesday, we were honored to hear from Kids4Peace parents Hala and Doron. Below is Hala’s story, a Christian mother of 2 Kids4Peace youth, Louis and Zeina. 

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أعزائي عائله K4P , الاولاد الاهل الطاقم الاصدقاء وكل الضيوف

יקירי משפחת K4P , הילדים ההורים הצוות החברים וכל האורחים

سأتكلم باللغتين العربية والعبرية على التوالي

( אני אדבר בשתי השפות ערבית ועברית לחלופין)

عندما طلب مني محمد جولاني المدير العربي المشارك في الK4P أن أتكلم بالحفلة السنوية بأسم  الاهالي العرب,عن تجربتنا كعائله كأهل واولاد في هذه المؤسسة , وجدت نفسي أتسأل, لماذا نحن في الK4P  ؟وطبعاً لم يكن من الصعب ايجاد الجواب :وجودنا كجزء من عائله الK4P يعطينا الامل , الامل للتغيير الأمل لمستقبل أفضل لنا ولأولادنا

לפני כמה זמן מוחמד גולני, המנהל הערבי השותף של K4P,  בקש ממני לנאום במסיבה השנתית של K4P בשם ההורים הערבים ובקש שאדבר על הניסיון שלנו כמשפחה, כהורים וכילדים בארגון.

?מצאתי עצמי חושבת ושואלת את עצמי: למה אנחנו בK4P

כמובן שלא היה קשה למצוא התשובה: היותנו חלק מקהילת K4P נותנת לנו תקווה, תקווה לשינוי ותקווה לעתיד יותר טוב לנו ולילדנו.

قبل حوالي 9 سنوات رجع ابني من المدرسة حاملاً أوراق سلمها لي قائلاً: المعلمة رولى صالح اعطتني هذه الاوراق لك لتعبئيهاو ارجاعها  .

أخذت الاوراق وبدأت اقرأ, وكانت هذه أول مره اسمع بها عن ال .

اتصلت على رولى  للاستفسار , سمعت اكثر و اكثر, ومن هنا كانت بديه طريقنا  مع وبk4P.

לפני כ 9 שנים חזר בני מבית הספר ובידו כמה מסמכים ואמר לי: המורה רולה סאלח נתנה לי לתת לך למלא ולהחזיר. לקחתי והתחלתי לקרוא וזו הייתה הפעם הראשונה ששמעתי על K4P . הרמתי טלפון לרולא, שמעתי ממנה פרטים נוספיםקבלתי אינפורמציה נוספת וכל השאר הוא היסטוריה – כי מאותו היום התחילה הדרך שלנו ב K4P.

ما زلت اذكر اللقاء للمجموعة ,الأهل والاولاد بعد عودتهم من المخيم بأمريكا ,رغبت جداً أن لا يكون هذا هو  اللقاء الأخير ,فاتصلت برولى وسألتها :ماذا يحدث هنا ؟!

بدون استمراريه ولقاء شهريه سيضيع  كل العمل السابق هباء .

وكانت الإجابة مشجعه: فعلا نحن نعمل على برنامج استمراريه لأول مره بالمؤسسة.

אני זוכרת כמו היום את המפגש הקבוצתי, של ההורים והילדים, אחרי חזרת הילדים מהקייטנה בארה”ב.  מאוד רציתי שזה לא יהיה המפגש האחרון של הקבוצה ובלילה הרמתי טלפון לרולה ואמרתי לה: מה קורה פה ? הרי בלי המשכיות  ומפגשים חודשיים כל העבודה שלכם עם הילדים תרד לטמיון.

קבלתי תשובה מעודדת מרולה: שבפעם הראשונה בארגון עובדים על תוכנית המשך.

وهكذا خلال أقل من شهرين بدأت اللقاءات الشهرية , ومن ذلك الحين  مرت 9 سنوات

ואכן תוך חודשיים החלו המפגשים החודשיים, ומאז עברו 9 שנים.

سألني ابني في بداية الطريق : أمي لماذا انت مهتمة بالأمر ! وانت شاهده انه عدد كبير من الاولاد والاهل يتوقفون عن الحضور والمشاركة باللقاءات بعد العودة من مخيم امريكا ,ومع هذا أنت تتبعين وتسألين متى اللقاء القادم ,وتهتمي بالمشاركة !

בתחילת הדרך הבן שלי שאל אותי: אמא , למה כל כך אכפת לך מהעניין הזה? הרי את רואה שחלק גדול מהילדים וההורים מפסיקים להגיע למפגשים ממש אחרי החזרה מהקייטנה מארה”ב. למה את, לעומת זאת, כל הזמן עוקבת מתי המפגש הבא ודואגת שנשתתף?

جوابي لابني كان جداً واضحاً ,لأني فعلاً أومن بأنه فقط من  خلال التربية  منذ الصغر  على معرفه وقبول  الاخر والمختلف ممكن أن نخلق مجتمع أفضل ,مجتمع مشترك ومتساوي نعيش به كلنا معاً كمتساوين .

תשובתי אליו הייתה מאוד ברורה: אני באמת מאמינה שרק דרך חינוך בגיל צעיר, אפשר להכיר ולקבל את האחר והשונה. רק דרך חינוך אפשר לבנות חברה טובה יותר, חברה משותפת ושוויונית יותר , שבה כולנו נחיה בה ביחד כשווים.

وفي ايامنا هذه ,وبسبب الظروف الصعبة التي نمر بها ,والتي بها العنصرية بزياده ,والكراهية والعنف منتشرين, أجد جوابي لأبني ملائما أكثر من قبل .

ובימים האלה ולאור המצב הקשה שבו אנו נמצאים, שבו הגזענות מתפשטת ומרימה ראש, השנאה והאלימות נפוצים כל כך, אני מוצאת את תשובתי לבני רלוונטית יותר מתמיד.

طريقنا هذه هي الحل الوحيد لحياه مشتركه عرباً ويهوداً ,هي جوابنا لكل الجنون الذي حولنا ,نحن لن نتنازل ولن نتراجع .

הדרך שלנו היא הפתרון היחיד לחיים משותפים של ערבים ויהודים, היא התשובה שלנו  לכל הטירוף הזה אנחנו לא מתכוונים לוותר.

لأنه لا يمكن لنا السكوت على كل ما يجري بالمنطقة, لأننا ملزمون بالمحاولة لتغيير الواقع.

مجتمعنا المشترك هذا الأهل والأولاد العرب واليهود ,هو محاولتنا الصغيرة الكبيرة لمحاربه العنصرية و الكراهية وكل الجنون من حولنا ,هي املنا لتغيير حقيقي لإقامه مجتمع سليم متساوي من أجل مستقبل أفضل لنا جميعاً.

כי אי אפשר להמשיך לשתוק לכל מה שקורה באזור. כי חייבים להמשיך לחול שינוי במציאות.

הקהילה המשותפת  K4P שלנו,  הורים וילדים ערבים ויהודים,  היא הניסיון הקטן והגדול שלנו להילחם בגזענות בשנאה ובכל הטירוף סביבנו, היא התקווה לשינוי אמיתי להקמת חברה בריאה ושוויונית  ולעתיד יותר טוב לכולנו.

Filed under: Blog

Growing up in Kids4Peace

1559567_929199380430648_1875217463551991434_n The past two summers, I found myself coming home from Kids4Peace camp with the same question: Why religion?
Religion creates all of the problems in the world, I find myself thinking again and again. Let it go, forget about it, it only causes pain and suffering. Yet I always find myself coming back to it. Why?

Maybe because it is simply how I grew up, or maybe because it makes me feel good, like being part of something greater than myself, part of a community. Regardless of the reason, its impact on my life is undeniable. Whether I am joining my parents for a Friday night prayer service at their small community synagogue, or lighting the candles that sign the beginning of the Sabbath in my new apartment, I always get a tingly feeling inside.

I volunteer for an organization called Kids4Peace. After being a camper in this program as a kid, now as an adult I have been volunteering for over 3 years.  Alongside my childhood in the Jewish-American-Israeli world of West Jerusalem, Kids4Peace is like my second home, and it has opened up doors to a different understanding of religion then I would have, had I not been a part of Kids4Peace.

Kids4Peace has changed my life in many ways by challenging my view of the world and widening my perspective on the way I feel about religion in particular. I came to an understanding that religion is our common ground, and not what divides us.

When I was younger, I felt that religion was a tool; a tool that I was given to create groups in the world in order to differentiate between me and them, right and wrong, good and bad. Essentially, I felt that religion was a tool for me to create “the other”.

 

Since having been a part of Kids4Peace– the perspective I hold now has changed. I still believe that religion is a tool, however, this tool can and should be used to draw people together instead of tearing them apart. We should dare to build friendships with people who are different from us in religion, skin color, and even cultural practices. That way we can grow to be more tolerant and accepting of those who are different than us, realizing that even though we may not have the same perspective on ideas of “normal” or “right”, being open-minded enough to both listen and share with others is the key for letting religion draw us together. We should dare to LOVE everyone, including “the other”, and then we should dare to keep that love even when facing our differences that sometimes challenge our own beliefs. With the goal of love in mind, we can use religion as a tool to help us grow together, and closer to each other, rather than apart.

 

In Kids4Peace we work on creating, building and maintaining friendships. It’s always friendship first, conflict second. Kids4Peace’s methodology, which over the years has become my own methodology as well, is that if I am friends with this person, if I care about this person, if I love this person, then I need to learn how to hold that love together even when things like difference in belief, religion, and culture make it challenging to see this person as similar to you. If I have done this – I have succeeded!

 

I see the world and humanity as whole, as a body with immense potential to build, create and love. We just need to be guided by the right people, and be willing to open ourselves up to new and different opportunities.

 

In Judaism we have a well known saying “ואהבת לרעך כמוך” (“Love thy neighbor as thyself”), (-Leviticus , Chapter 9, verse 8). Rabbi Akiva’s interpretation of this verse is that we should love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Thanks to a good friend, whom I met this past summer while working together at camp, I have come to a recent understanding that perhaps Rabbi Akiva had it all wrong. We should love our neighbor as themselves and not as ourselves because maybe being equal to one another does not necessarily mean being the same. Perhaps instead equal means having the same right to and capacity for life, love and happiness, no matter the differences in our beliefs and practices of what life, love and happiness means. My neighbor may not be like me, therefore I cannot love him as I love myself, but I can grow to accept and love him/her as him/herself.

 

At Kids4Peace we work very hard on making sure everyone feels equal. Every single kid gets equal attention from the staff no matter what is their religious or cultural background. This experience has allowed me to come to my own understanding that we must see each kid based on who they are as an individual, not based on the judgements or stereotypes of their religion or culture. This way we can learn to see past the boundaries of differences and learn to love one another as individuals having their own unique experience.

 

So why religion?

10560354_10204441571901114_6827573235899721355_oReligion is a tool I was given by my parents and by God. But Kids4Peace has  taught me how to use it , to help build a better world: a society with a better future, a society which doesn’t love their neighbors as who they themselves are, but as who their neighbors are, a society that loves the other because they are different, and not in spite of that.

I wish everyone a year of peace, love and understanding.

A shanah tovah u’metukah.

A good and sweet year.

Montaser Amro “We plant the seed of peace”

Mono Pic 3Montaser Amro, or as his friends call him, Mono, is from the city of Hebron the southern West Bank. He related to me that he grew up surrounded by a city of mainly close minded people, not open to new ideas and often unwilling to seek peace. “My family understands and supports me in my work but sometimes if it’s pretty tough, like with the recent war, a lot of people get more emotional.”

Mono is currently a Muslim Advisor for Kids4Peace and when I asked him about his plans, he told me plain and simple:

“I feel that what I am doing right now is one of the best things I could ever do. I am trying to make change in a nation and I am going to keep working for Kids4Peace.”

He was raised in a family of educated people, studied at a United Nations school and even attended 11th grade in the United States as a foreign exchange student. He continued his schooling to receive an engineering degree however; Mono’s life course altered when he was introduced to Kids4Peace and recommended to become a Muslim Advisor.

He started the winter of 2013 and since then has been involved in two camps; one in Atlanta and one in New Hampshire. Mono was involved in bimonthly meetings with kids prior to their camps in the US, which teaches aspects of community and peace and how religion is a push towards peace. In participating with the kids, Mono had some surprises along the way.Mono Pic 1

“I had this image of how the kids would behave but it was totally different. Once they are in the camp and get involved in the activities, they start becoming like really good friends.

Some of the kids have kept working with Kids4Peace. I was shocked that some of the naughtiest kids are actually being responsible and doing good and the shy kids are interacting a lot more with others. I am hoping to see the same thing from the kids next year.”

I asked Mono to tell me some about how he saw Kids4Peace and what peace meant to him.

“At Kids4Peace, we plant the seed of peace into the kids so that when they are grownups, they will understand what it means and will work for peace. I met two leaders who were youth advisors and in the camps ten years ago and I see that the program is growing and growing. There will be a lot of grownups who can affect change. Each person talks to five or ten of their friends and will spread the ideas of peace.

Peace is the most wonderful thing that you can ever see. Seeing a lot of people from different colors, backgrounds and nationalities live as if they are from one background living together. I cannot imagine what peace is going to be, but it is going to be awesome.

Mono Pic 2

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Hassan| I Saw a Change

Eventually I’d like to return to Jerusalem to work in the politics of the region.

Originally from Jerusalem, and now a university student in Menton, France, Hassan Abu Dalo descends from a Muslim background. He says that coming into Kids4Peace, he had little knowledge of his own religion. He grew up in a Jewish neighborhood and attended a French school with a diverse student body. He had scratched the surface of different cultures, but K4P gave him a chance to go a step further and learn more.

What attracted him to the program was the opportunity to face both sides of the conflict in a community where opinions and experiences could be shared. I wanted to learn more about his experience, and what he’s up to now. I was grateful to have the opportunity to sit down and chat over Skype, and here’s some of what I learned.  Interview by K4P International Intern David Rowan.

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“My family accepted [my participation in K4P] very well, in fact my dad is part of the steering committee in Jerusalem, my brother is a participant, and some of our neighbors signed their kids up as well. It had a good impact on our local community and was very well received.

The first time I arrived to the US, I expected for whatever I had seen on TV to be reproduced in real time. At camp, I instead saw a different side of American youth: more open, intelligent, bright, interesting, and understanding.

During those two weeks, you build these small temporary communities where you forget what was in Jerusalem by building a new chapter where everyone is there for each other. It’s like a clean slate, and all of a sudden people want to learn about, listen to, and play with each other.

The K4P leadership program is a point when the conversation gets serious, and it’s easy to listen since you’re already acquainted [with each other].

One of the first years of camp, it occurred to me that I had never seen so much food being wasted, and I voiced my concern to an advisor. During dinner, he called me to speak in front of everyone. I went up and sort of started to panic, being only 12, and thinking, “What do I say?” In the end I managed to say something, and in the days that followed, I saw a change, and I saw that what I did was good, and I felt good about it. It changed peoples’ attitudes, and I never would have done that if not for the advisor who pushed me to speak out. It’s something I’ve even used that story on my CV!

There was one friend who I became very close with, we participated in both K4P as campers, and then later in Leadership Camp. He’s Israeli, I’m Palestinian, and we managed to keep our friendship going, though lately it’s been tough since he’s started his mandatory military service. The thought of seeing him one day at a checkpoint with a gun pointed is troubling, we’re no longer on an equal level.

In France you meet people from all around the Middle East, and they are generally willing to engage in talking about the conflict. The conflict is even taught at my school, we had an Israeli ambassador come and speak about it. It’s easier to relate to a personal perspective of someone coming straight from the conflict, instead of just basing their opinions on what they hear on television.

I study social sciences at my school, which was conceived to educate future leaders of France and worldwide. Eventually I’d like to return to Jerusalem to work in the politics of the region.

First Leadership Camp

 

Logan| Wise Beyond their Years

Invest in the kids that are going to shape the future by giving them an environment that is conducive to their own discussion. Dynamism is a lifestyle: the mission is not one until the problem is solved. You have to set goals, and K4P has those goals at its core.

Logan Crossley just joined Kids4Peace in 2013 as a counselor in Houston. Originally from Dallas, and a first year student at UT-Austin, Logan says that K4P was the best camp of his life, and that he’s eager to continue.

The first time he heard about K4P, he knew it was something he wanted to be involved in. With an aim to pursue Diplomacy in his academic career, this kind of hands-on peace work is a perfect fit. What Logan didn’t expect was to be blown away by the campers the way that he was. “Each one of them was wise beyond their years, and just so much fun to work with,” he remembers.logan headshot

Logan maintains contact with most of the campers and counselors by way of social media. He regularly exchanges texts with his fellow counselors, 4 of whom live in Israel and one that lives in Vermont. “We grew very close over just 9 short days, and we all hope that we will be able to reunite through K4P and continue the mission.”

I sat down with Logan to learn about more about his background, his experience with K4P, and his reflections. Here’s what he had to say:

It’s unfortunate that most Americans only tend to hear about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict when missiles are being fired, and when peace treaties are being broken. A lot of us don’t realize the day to day tensions between the opposing factions. K4P gave me a chance to hear about what it’s like to live there as a 12 year old kid—it was eye opening.

What you learn with K4P is different than what you learn in a classroom setting. I take with a grain of salt the fear mongering tendencies of the media, only focused on escalation of war and conflict, and now I see more through the lens of innocent kids that have been impacted in every aspect of their life. The grassroots movement is gaining momentum, and that’s what I want.

Kids would whisper things to me about other kids, judgmentally, and it was hard to tell if it was stemming from the conflict, or if it’s just kids being kids. We’re raising the next generation of leaders of our communities. They are going to return home fired up with a lot of the issues worked out in the discussion room that they can hopefully implement back in the community in a more on-the-ground type of approach. They’re inspired to try and make a change.

There was one camper whose English, while proficient, made it still challenging for him to express himself at times. Nevertheless, he would deliver these one-liners about deep topics where he just nailed it, short and sweet. He was wise beyond his years.

I bonded well with the other counselors after the campers went to bed. Being a first timer with minimal experience, I had many questions about the conflict, and they had well articulated answers that demonstrated their deep thinking, discourse, and passion about finding a sustainable resolution. I envision a place where the campers can go deeper in the discussion too, while offering them a fun experience simultaneously.

I came into college an international relations major. Having taken Spanish all through high school, Latin America or Europe looked like the two places I wanted to end up. I’ve been thinking about trying to pick up another language, and now I’m considering giving Arabic or Hebrew a try, and prioritize the Middle East, specifically Israel, in my academics. I’ve thought a lot about what we did, and what I’m excited to do in the future, and the broader mission in general. It’s really significant. What goes on over there is something that we as a country have a vested interest in. It has opened up my mind to looking beyond what seemed to be the easiest default path, and to look to regions where the situation is more urgent.

K4P was a great exercise in empathy. Even people who have deeply rooted hatred and animosity toward each other tend towards peaceful solutions when they see things from a more objective point of view. That’s why I think an outside voice—American, in this case—is so important.

I’ve told quite a few people about my experience, and I’m excited to tell them about where the organization is headed as well. Nobody here had heard of it, but should awareness be disseminated, I think people will get fired up about it.

Invest in the kids that are going to shape the future by giving them an environment that is conducive to their own discussion. Dynamism is a lifestyle: the mission is not one until the problem is solved. You have to set goals, and K4P has those goals at its core.

The mission of K4P isn’t just to go back to your community with more knowledge than you had, it’s to go back and inspire a change on the ground.

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Maddie | Close Friends

 That’s what I love about K4P: I get an inside look into what others believe is the way to start solving problems and becoming peacemakers.

As a high school junior living in Waterbury, Vermont, Maddie Baughman was one of our youngest counselors in 2013. She participated in Leadership Camp in 2012, and waIMG_1516s a camper before that.

Maddie comes from a Christian family, but doesn’t describe herself as highly religious. When she’s not studying, she spends time helping out with her parents’ composting business, working at a local bakery, playing basketball, participating in theater, and daydreaming of joining Kids4Peace again!

“Kids4Peace is anything but abstract. We have the rare opportunity of getting to know and love amazing people from halfway across the world—and that’s real,” she notes. She loves learning about the array of cultures and religions represented at camp. She doesn’t take for granted her ability to take part in K4P. She feels lucky to have so much support, and knows that can’t be said for all participants. That’s one reason she hasn’t hesitated prioritizing K4P in planning her last few summers.

Keeping in touch with campers and counselors alike has helped her to stay connected to the cause. She says she and her K4P friends “discuss everything from our favorite types of cars to political and social occurrences, such as Israeli involvement in the Syrian civil war.”

I caught up with Maddie to get a more in-depth understanding of how her experience with K4P changed her outlook. Here’s what she shared:

“I’ve definitely learned a lot about what the day to day experiences are for those I’ve met through Kids4Peace. As a result, my family and friends hear a lot about what’s going on too. When it comes to talking about the conflict, I don’t think people know where to start. That’s what I love about K4P: I get an inside look into what others believe is the way to start solving problems and becoming peacemakers.

I picked up a lot of skills as a counselor, namely leadership and listening. One night, there was some religious disrespect going on, and intentional or not, there were hurt feelings. With the help of the other staff members and counselors, we were able to get the campers to understand each other and resolve the issue.

As counselors, we got to explore how we can be leaders. It was a powerful transition from camper to counselor, suddenly becoming an adult in this world of conflict. The intermediate time (Leadership Camp) was the place where we learned the most, had the best conversations about the conflict, and could talk about what was really going on. People were serious, and it got intense at times, but we also had a lot of fun. Between us, we built respect and trust, the fundamentals of long lasting friendships.

The Americans that participated in this year’s camp in Houston brought their learning and hope back home. They were very enthusiastic when they came, and even moreso when they left. They brought that to their friends, communities, and households. It’s important for people everywhere to understand the different perspectives of people living in conflict in the Middle East, as well as other places around the world—including the US. The US is a great place to host the camps so that we as Americans can understand what’s going on over there.

I’m still in touch with my friends from K4P, I feel as close to them as I do with my friends at home. We bonded over exploring different cultures, languages, religions and their respective ceremonies, noting the similarities and differences. I really enjoyed that.

K4P helped stir my interests when it comes to thinking about college. I’m curious about global studies and international relations. I’ve come to realize that regardless of where you live around the world, it’s possible that we’re all still able to connect on a personal level.

 K4P has definitely caused me to examine what I want to do with my life and how I want to be a positive influence on the world. In day to day conduct it’s important to understand people as people rather than what makes them different. It’s been a wonderful way to learn about myself and who I want to be.”

At Kids4Peace we’re all on the same level, we interact with each other as other people, rather than people from different countries.

– Interview by David Rowan, K4P International Intern

Maddie - Houston 2

Maddie - Houston

Hagop | K4P Changed My Perspective

Back when I was a kid I had thoughts about revenge, and I have experienced an amazing 180 degree change—I’m really happy. I have hope and faith that there will be peace, maybe not my generation or my kids’, but we have to work for it and teach our kids the right way.

Hagop is an Armenian Christian living in Jerusalem.  He was a K4P camper in 2004 and has been involved ever since, as a counselor and now a Christian advisor.  

hagop-headshotThe last time I went as a camper was in Atlanta, 8 or 9 years ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday. It was an amazing experience that really exceeded my expectations. I learned so much, and it helped my personality develop. We have all this conflict between Jews, Christians, and Muslims here in Jerusalem, and the experience taught me to accept everyone.

It’s not that the conflict is between only Muslims and Jews, it’s more between Arabs and Israelis. I never felt left out of the conversation. The media often triggers tension by focusing on religious differences, but that’s not always how it is. Living here, you see it. There is also conflict between Christians and Muslims, but less often because we feel as though we are one united nation.

When you speak about peace anywhere in the West Bank, people will say, “We’ve been talking about peace for 60 years and we haven’t seen anything different.” People are tired of talking about peace, they want action, they want all that’s been said to be done.

You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. You’ll almost never get an older person to believe there will be peace. When you work with young kids whose minds are open and who want to learn, they learn from their surroundings and their personalities are built through what they see on TV, what their families think and what their parents say.

So when you teach those kids that peace and harmony is possible between conflicting parties, they grow up and teach their children who then teach their children and so on. Just one child taught about peace can get excited, interested, and serious about the matter can make a real change.

My family descended through the Armenian genocide. What happened to us then was not easy, and what we are going through now as Palestinians is also not easy. As a Christian we have to forgive, but not forget. It’s stressful having that history, all the torture and evil things my ancestors experienced. It’s not easy, but for now we have to learn to get along and hope for the best.

Kids learn everything from their surroundings, their parents, and especially the media. I never thought I’d have Jewish friends. All the talk is about how they’re treating Arabs badly, killing them in cold blood. As a 12 year old kid, you just get the wrong idea. At first participating in K4P was a little hard, but then I started to notice those kids are exactly like me aside from language and religion. I was then able to accept Jews and realized there is no bad nation, just bad individuals.

At a meeting before we left to Atlanta, there was a guy called Amichai, and we started to become close friends. I was trying to talk in Hebrew so the Jewish families could understand better, even though there was an interpreter—I wanted to be challenged. Amichai came over to me as I was speaking some in Hebrew and some in English and he starts helping me remember certain words. That was the moment I thought, “Wow, this guy is nice. I like him, and he’s not as bad as I thought he was.”

A few years ago I was asked to become a leader in K4P. I was very excited when I learned that Michal was going to be the girls’ leader. We had been at the same camp in 2004, and stayed in touch. So to see how the kids were learning and interacting, it brought us back to how we were. We never realized any of it would matter in the future, but having that history with each other really helped us both.

I go to Bethlehem University in the West Bank. Conflict comes up every single day, especially coming and going, dealing with the checkpoints. There are many conflict related topics to study at school as well. It’s sad to say but I wouldn’t see an organization like K4P as very popular at my school. Even my close friends think that what I’m doing with the organization is a waste of time. They tell me, “You know it, I know it, there will never be peace.” But deep down inside I like to hope and pray for peace worldwide.

Business wasn’t my first choice as a major, I always wanted to be a pilot or engineer. Flying planes as a Palestinian person, especially after 9/11, is nearly impossible. My father owns a business, and any job in the world requires business, medical or anything else. So I thought that was a wide goal for me, and after I get my BA I can decide if I want to go in a particular direction. My dream is to make what my father built—a travel agency—bigger and stronger by widening the horizon with new partnerships, and see what happens from there.

Communication is so important. I try to keep in touch with K4P alumni to see how they are doing, where they are in life, how they are progressing. Even just a 5 minute check-in goes a long way. These relationships are built stronger by communication.

Having K4P in my life really changed me, I never thought I’d be the man that I am today. Back when I was a kid I had thoughts about revenge, and I have experienced an amazing 180 degree change—I’m really happy. I have hope and faith that there will be peace, maybe not my generation or my kids’, but we have to work for it and teach our kids the right way.

I’m interested in recruiting for K4P, helping to grow our diversity. We’re not teaching religion, it’s the door we come through to teach kids peace. I consider us farmers, planting peace seeds in the kids’ hearts and we can grow with them, teach them how to stand up straight so in the end they will be fruitful with their children and grandchildren.

Magda | Camp is Over, K4P is Not

I learned so much about other faith traditions and myself. I learned about self-reliance, patience, kindness, acceptance, love, and friendship

Magda

 

Magda attended Kids4Peace Atlanta in the Summer of 2013. She is pictured with artwork created for a gallery display at the Fernbank Museum of Natural History, in conjunction with National Geographic’s Jerusalem IMAXmovie.  

A little more than one week can mean many things. It can mean how long you have to wait for a package, how long you have to finish a project, or how long it took you to read an incredible book. I’ve done many things in a little more than one week, such as planting a garden and baking cookies. Although, some of the things I’ve done in a little over a week stand out.

One of the main things that stand out is Kids4Peace.  In Early July this year, I sat in the back seat of a large, shiny, black Subaru weaving through old country roads to Camp Mikell in Toccoa, Georgia. I had made this trip many times before, but the butterflies in my stomach were especially colorful. “Alright”, my mom reminds, “You should get your stuff together. We’re almost there.” I remember my gut tightening, and taking the turn off for the Camp Mikell conference center. In hindsight, this fear could not even compare to the fun, love and knowledge I was going to receive in the next couple of days.

Slowly, our group began to become more cohesive – like wood glue, slow to set, but extremely stable when dry. We learned each other’s cultures through group chats, expeditions, and activities. We talked about the world around us and inside of us. We observed and honored beliefs, and we tried out each other’s traditions. Some things were not as serious as others, like our pizza dinner on Jewish Shabbat, countless bedroom pillow fights, or the visit to Target. During long car rides, we would sing/scream along to music, talk, and play games such as “who can irritate the counselor first”, “are we there yet”, and “I’m hungry/thirsty/bored”.

Although we had a tremendous amount of fun, we learned a lot, too. In fact, I would not give up what I learned for almost anything. I learned so much about other faith traditions and myself. I learned about self-reliance, patience, kindness, acceptance, love, and friendship. Of course it was hard and exhausting, but I had people to hold me up, and to help me. In such a short time, I grew so much.

After a little more than one week, filled to the brim with so many experiences and friendship, it was time to say goodbye. After my mom picked me up, it took me a while to realize camp was over. I simply couldn’t accept the fact. Months afterward, I know camp is over, but Kids4Peace is not. I am still in contact with the kids in my group and I get to see them sometimes (the Atlanta kids, that is).

Right now, I am debating what to get my peace pal (pen pal), Mais, for Christmas. It’s a toss-up between a large collection of Maybelline makeup or Cover girl makeup. She’s very particular about it. Although I know the package is going to take long to get there, our friendship has already arrived.

Brian | A Faith Based Program

This is going to become the thing that stops the conflict and that allows both sides to start talking to one another. Kids are going to not only be the future, but also the force that influences the present.

Brian Sullivan, the cuBrianSrrent President of Kids4Peace International, was born in White Plains, NY, but moved down to Georgia early in his life. After finishing his degree as an Art major at the University of Georgia, studying Printmaking, Sullivan decided to go to seminary and was ordained an Episcopal Priest in 1997. While working with youth at St. Anne’s, Sullivan worked with two members of his congregation who met Henry Carse in 2003, the founder of Kids4Peace, with whom started the Atlanta chapter of the organization. Later, Sullivan moved to North Carolina, where is started the North Carolina chapter of Kids4Peace.

From a young age, Sullivan understood the importance of mutual respect and dialogue between people from different backgrounds, and hoped to reduce the conflict through a program that evoked these ideals. “I’ve always known that it is important for people who are different to get along. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the extreme version of what happens when people get too far entrenched in their own group.”

From his work with youth, Sullivan understood early on that kids are the key to changing the future. “I think kids have a way of teaching adults how to do things differently.” After working closely with Israeli, Palestinian, and American children in the Atlanta chapter, Sullivan realized not only how complex and multifaceted the conflict truly is, but also the strong impact Kids4Peace leaves on its participants. “When I met the kids for the first time and started to understand the tip of the iceberg of the conflict, I knew that this program has a chance of making a big difference.”

For Sullivan, the impact of Kids4Peace derives from its influence on the lives of the children participating in the program. Sullivan believes that once the youth from both the Palestinian and Israeli side communicate, interact, and care for one another, this respect and amity will also transfer to the parents. “On the surface, Kids4Peace looks like a really cute summer camp. But that’s only the first year of the program. For every one child involved with the program, there are five or six adults who are also involved. The kids are learning skills to prevent violence and to understand who they are on a deeper level, and they bring these skills back home with them. This is going to become the thing that stops the conflict and that allows both sides to start talking to one another. Kids are going to not only be the future, but also the force that influences the present.”

For Sullivan, the commitment to expand Kids4Peace came from getting to know the participants of the program. After working with Palestinian, Israeli, and American youth from differing religious backgrounds, Sullivan saw the importance of faith as a uniting factor for the different groups, one which will ultimately bring mutual respect and dialogue for all sides.

“Kids4Peace is a faith-based program. A lot of the different movements in the world that have made a difference, such as the civil rights movement, ending of apartheid, or Gandhi’s influence in India, were led by faith leaders.

Faith as a tool allows children to really focus on who they are. I think the most important part of Kids4Peace is that we are a program that tries very hard to get kids to be who they are, to grow up and understand who they are, and to learn what it means to be Jewish, Christian, Israeli, Palestinian, or Arab.”

For Sullivan, the most meaningful and inspiring part of Kids4Peace is the opening of hearts of the participants of the program. Sullivan shares two stories that inspire him to expand Kids4Peace, and that “iconic” to the message of the program:

“One of the first stories that inspired me was when the kids from the Atlanta chapter from 2003 went home and their parents, one Palestinian, one Israeli, had dinner together at each other’s houses. Then, the two families decided they wanted to go to the Western Wall to pray. A guard stopped the father and asked him what they were doing there. The father responded, ‘Well, they just want to go to the Wall.’  The guard did not understand how that was possible, that a Palestinian and an Israeli kid wanted to do this together. When the guard was not looking, the kids snuck around him and went and prayed in front of the Wall together.”

“One of the most recent stories that inspired me is the story of a woman and a young Palestinian coming through a check point. When they reached the checkpoint, the Israeli soldier treated the woman with respect, and asked for her name. The woman wanted to know who his parents were, how he was brought up to, and to understand why he was acting the way he was. The soldier said he was acting this way not because of his parents, but because of a program called Kids4Peace. The woman also participated in the program. That to me is the icon of what we’re trying to do, for example, having soldiers who are doing their jobs, defending their nation, but who are doing it with respect and who understand who they are.”

Raouf | Acting for Peace

I believe Kids4Peace is thus the place where a real interfaith movement can be built. It is the place where we can give our children the chance to grow up believing in peace and justice, hoping that they will use these tools to do what they can to change the violence and discrepancy in our country.

RaoufDr. Raouf Azar was born in Bethlehem and lives now in Jerusalem.  He is an Arab Christian involved in the Lutheran Church and serves as a member of the Kids4Peace Jerusalem Steering Committee.  Two of his six children are part of Kids4Peace (so far!). 

Describe your background:

My father was born in Jaffa and became a refugee in 1948 in Bethlehem.  My mother was born in Nazareth.  My parents belong to this country where I also was born. It allows me to be sure that this is my place, the place where I should serve.  Yet otherwise, as a Christian, I believe that the place of living on this earth is not important.  What matters is how you live your life.

Is your family involved in Kids4Peace?

Yes, my daughter Carla joined Kids4Peace in 2011 at the Boston camp, and Charlie-Achim attended the 2013 camp in Atlanta.  After the first year, both my kids wanted to continue with the program. Thanks to Kids4Peace, they became more responsible and they are open to other people and new things. They are able to hear more, communicate,  and they can think much more to the outside of their own box.

What influenced you to work with Kids4Peace?

The love for all people living in this country. This is the Holy Land, but in the last hundred years nothing holy has happened here. I think through K4P, we can educate a new generation of kids believing in peace, in justice, and in having respect for others. Through K4P, we can bring together – and help build – friendships of families from different religions,  cultures , educational backgrounds, etc.

When my daughter Carla was accepted to be in K4P Boston 2011, I realized that Kids4Peace is a place where the seeds of peace are not only planted in the hearts of our children, but that these seeds can also be planted in our families.

I joined the Steering Committee because I think that I can help bring some stones together that can help us change and build together through the three religions.  We can work as a big family,  not only in talking, but also in acting in peace building.

How does Kids4Peace impact your daily life?

Kids4Peace influenced me very positively; it is not merely a wish for peace, it is an organization truly acting for peace.  I think my work with Kids4Peace is a way to let a new generation of Muslims, Jews, and Christians grow together as friends with the belief that they all have the same rights and duties in their one country.

What do you want to tell others about Kids4Peace?

We are not collecting the kids and the people to preach about politics.

We are bringing them together to learn about others, about their beliefs, their culture, and the background of others.  We are trying to help them find what they share in common, and to better understand the differences they have.

I believe Kids4Peace is thus the place where a real interfaith movement can be built. It is the place where we can give our children the chance to grow up believing in peace and justice, hoping that they will use these tools to do what they can to change the violence and discrepancy in our country.

We help them understand and believe that they as Christians belong to this country in the same way that Jews and Muslims belong to it.

What is the most powerful memory you have from Kids4Peace?

When we (from the 3 religions) came together spontaneously to pray for peace and ending the violence between Israel and Gaza.

Nancy | Recognition and Respect

Kids4Peace helped me recognize my own faith while respecting the cultural and religious differences of others. It is that recognition and respect that we hope Kids4Peace offers the children, as well as the adult staff.

Nancy Stone is a volunteer with Kids4Peace Vermont and the art teacher for the Vermont/New Hampshire summer camp. 

Describe your background:

My dad was in the army during World War II, so I was born where he was stationed in Detroit, Michigan in 1943. Currently I live in Williston, Vermont, near Burlington and Lake Champlain. I was raised in Massachusetts and went to Alfred University in New York where I majored in ceramic design. In college, I explored a very broad range of aNancy Stonert, as well as English, history, and art education.

How has your background led you to K4P?

In 1983, I heard about the Children’s Art Exchange with the Soviet Union and I could not sleep. It really stirred me, being a mother, an artist, as well as an art educator. I wanted to use my art for peace so I became the Art Program Director for the Children’s Art Exchange. I went to the Soviet Union three times, bringing art from American children and carrying back art from the Soviet children. We also had an exchange of teachers and children. What I loved about the Children’s Art Exchange was that it combined peace, nurturing children, and art. Kids4Peace has the added element of addressing Faith. Having been a church and choir member since childhood, the spiritual aspect of Kids4Peace makes it even more special.

Kids4Peace inspires me because I want the world to be a safer place for my children and grandchildren. We have a son who was born in 1968 and a daughter who was born in 1971. They both moved back to Vermont to be near us so we do child-care for the three grandchildren. I’ve taught all levels of art from Pre-K to College level but I knew I could not keep that up if I was going to do the childcare. So, I ended many commitments but decided that I would keep working as art teacher for Kids4PeaceVermont. It has grown to a much larger commitment but I’m glad it’s still in my life.

As art teacher for Kids4PeaceVermont, I work with the camp director to come up with art projects that are significant and meaningful to each summer’s programming. We have themes such as ‘things we share’ (i.e., the earth, water, wind, etc.) and I come up with projects that reflect the theme. We have made plaster gauze masks on each other’s faces. It is amazing to see two kids from different cultures, many times with a history of deep conflict, having the trust to build a mask on each other’s face.

How did I become involved with Kids4Peace?

Well, one night in 2009 my husband asked if I wanted to go to a church Peace Potluck. I reluctantly agreed, although I was tired and didn’t want to go out to another night meeting. Soon after the camp director started the presentation and I saw a video of children from Palestine, Israel and Vermont, I was flooded with a feeling that I must become involved! So, I went up to the director and said I hoped that I wasn’t too old, but if they needed an art teacher, I was willing to become actively involved. At the time it seemed like a small commitment, just ten days in the summer, but it has become a year-long involvement with monthly meetings, a peace-walk, buying art supplies, giving sermons to my church, speaking at Rotary meetings, etc.

How has Kids4Peace influenced your life?

Through my work with Kids4Peace, I have gained a new outlook and appreciation for life. In a selfish way, it makes me appreciate the peace and freedom we have in our country now. It also makes me more conscious of the situation in Israel and Palestine, and I worry about the kids and staff members when there are reports of conflict or attacks. In the beginning, I embraced getting to know everyone in the different religions and felt that separating myself from the group to go up and take communion with only the Christians was being disloyal to the group. But after searching my heart, I realized that being a Christian is part of my personal identity. That summer, Kids4Peace helped me recognize my own faith while respecting the cultural and religious differences of others. It is that recognition and respect that we hope Kids4Peace offers the children, as well as the adult staff.

Today, Kids4Peace is a very special part of my life. I can talk to people from other religions more deeply, and I can have meaningful conversations about faith and culture.

A Muslim advisor from camp, now living in Vermont has become a dear friend. Kids4Peace makes me feel that even at my age, (I just turned 70), that I’m still a useful part of society and that I can help young people also see that they can become leaders for peace. I am so happy to be doing my work with Kids4Peace. Recognizing that the problems in our different societies are long-standing and difficult, we can empower the children with skills and understanding so that they can work for peace, perhaps even using the arts, making changes in attitudes so that we can find new ways of interacting with each other.

What are your  favorite memories from Kids4Peace?

One of my most striking memories from the Kids4Peace camps happened when we had early morning meditation along Lake Champlain. In the beginning, the kids were restless and shifting around. Eventually they settled down and just sat silently on the huge boulders, looking out at the water and mountains. When we walked back up the dirt path, one boy from a Palestinian refugee camp took the hand of another boy, a new friend who was a Jew from Vermont. It was such a beautiful moment! It still gives me shivers.

George | “It Challenged Me”

I found through K4P that the best types of relationships are the ones that challenge you to expand your point of view

George SpencerGeorge Spencer is from Atlanta, Georgia and joined Kids4Peace in 2005.  He is currently a student at UNC-Chapel Hill. 

How did you change because of Kids4Peace? 

I think Kids4Peace was the first time I really understood that there are so many different people in the world. I think by participating at such a young age it is a very formative experience that I had. It’s not something you realize while you are involved; it’s something that you understand and begin to evaluate and comprehend when you are older and can see how significantly the program has opened your eyes to the perceptions of other people. It is a humbling and empowering program that allows you to see the world from many viewpoints.

Why is Kids4Peace important to you?

Kids4Peace is most important to me because it challenged me. At a young age, I was, thanks to this program, exposed to wonderful people from broad ranges of life, who all offered something different to the program. It challenged me to grow as a person not just in my experiences during the program, but even more, after I was finished when I could reflect on my memories in the daily contexts that I face as I get older.

What do you want to tell others about Kids4Peace?

I would tell them that it changed my life. I can honestly say that I would not be the same person I am today without this experience.

What did you learn from Kids4Peace?

The most important thing  I learned was how easy it is to be compatible with people from all different walks of life. I feel like it is a common thought that people coming from different places and circumstances are innately incompatible, and aren’t able to have relationships with each other. However, I found through K4P that the best types of relationships are the ones that challenge you to expand your point of view with a person that comes from a completely different background.

How does Kids4Peace inspire you today?

I strive for a much more open-minded perspective in life. I try to understand other people’s backgrounds and opinions without passing any judgments.

Describe Kids4Peace in one word:

Universal

Matt | Inspiring Friendships

Matt-1For Matt Loper, a job with Kids4Peace seemed unimaginable six years ago. While in undergraduate, he studied theater design and human development at Northwestern University and had no connection to K4P during his college career or even any aspirations to work with youth. But after connecting with the “incredibly inspiring” participants that first summer of camp in Boston, he was instantly hooked! While today Kids4Peace is an important part of his life, the path to working with kids and interfaith organizations in Boston was not clear to Matt immediately after graduation. Thinking at first about starting a path toward the medical field, he had a moment of clarity after Kids4Peace camp.

“I had this really informative experience where I was thinking about how one semester of school would cost a similar amount to making two or even three trips to Israel and Palestine. Feeling such a strong pull toward Jerusalem and away from school, I knew then just how important Kids4Peace really was to me.” Today, Matt, who at first was a staff member at the camp, is now responsible for organizing and supporting the Kids4Peace chapter and program in Boston, acting as the Boston staff director.

Matt is fortunate enough to work with young people both at an episcopal church and through Kids4Peace Boston. “Peace is such an important part of my faith that it really informs why I do Kids4Peace and why Kids4Peace is important to me. I like the fact that at my church I work with the youth group. I work with kids who are the same age as the kids in Kids4Peace. It gives me an opportunity to look at the world and what we are doing in a single faith context, and to then be able to bring that to Kids4Peace.”

For Matt, one of the most meaningful parts of Kids4Peace is his exposure to different religions. For Matt being able to understand the values and the traditions of both Islam and Judaism, as well as the daily life in Israel and Palestine has been really moving. “I knew so little before traveling to Israel and Palestine and working with the kids. I am now able to understand that part of the world and those faith traditions and relate to it all a bit more, which is really helpful for me.”

Working with others in a non-profit organization, and learning new skills from them, has also allowed Matt to gain a deeper understanding and become more open to the realities between Christians, Jews, and Muslims, not only in Israel and Palestine, but also in Boston. For Matt, the relationships made through Kids4Peace are extremely meaningful. “I work with people who are working so hard to make peace. It was amazing to see what impact it had on their lives and what sacrifices they had to make.” Through Kids4Peace, Matt was introduced to people who deeply inspire him, people who he would not have otherwise met, claiming he is a “much better and more peaceful person because of it.”

Yet for Matt, the most inspiring part of his work with Kids4Peace is the kids. “Anytime I have a rough day and get to spend time with them it totally turns my day around. The kids are really inspiring, in terms of their ability to interact with one another in atypical, more peaceful ways as well as to ask inspiring questions of one another.” One of Matt’s most cherished memories from his work with Kids4Peace was during camp one summer, when he heard the boys being quite loud and talkative during their bedtime. Matt went in to ask the boys to quiet down. When he entered their room, “I saw one boy was reading the Qu’ran, and all the other boys were sitting around respectfully around him, just listening. It was a really powerful moment, to be able to see Christians and Jews absorb the wisdom of the Qur’an through this young man’s reading.”

For Matt, this ability to learn and understand other cultures and religions, as well as to work closely with people who deeply inspire him has been profoundly meaningful. “Kids4Peace has brought the most incredible friendships into my life. It has brought people into my life who really inspire me, and my life is so much better because of it.”

Jodi | A K4P Mom’s Story

The mission and philosophy of Kids4Peace paralleled our beliefs and that which we are teaching our son. It is my greatest hope my child and his children will live in a world where all humanity can live in peace, accepting and celebrating each other’s differences.

My son, Eli, loves to tell the story of how he first learned of this organization. I am a little embarrassed, but appreciate the enthusiasm of his retelling. It was a day like any other, absolutely nothing unusual.297

Eli was taking a shower and I had just sat down to read The Voice, the monthly newsletter of our synagogue, Temple Kol Emeth [in Marietta, GA]. I saw an advertisement seeking children who would be entering the 6th grade to take part in an interfaith summer camp. Four interested children were to be chosen to participate in the summer camp, which would include children of the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths. These children would come from the Atlanta area as well as the Middle East. I could barely contain my excitement!

I immediately jumped up and ran into the bathroom as he was taking a shower to tell him of this exciting opportunity. I don’t think he was too excited, but that was more likely due to having me interrupt his shower! Later, we discussed the program and he agreed this was a fantastic opportunity not to be missed. Ours is a family very much interested in promoting peace through interfaith dialogue, education, volunteerism and good deeds.The mission and philosophy of Kids4Peace paralleled our beliefs and that which we are teaching our son.

Three other children in our congregation, who would also be attending the camp, joined Eli in the first meeting. At that time, the Atlanta area kids had an opportunity to meet each other and immediately began to learn of the differences and similarities of each other’s faith. The adult leaders had engaging and interesting activities to draw out the children into a lively discussion. A great sense of satisfaction came over me as I watched these children discussing religion without fear, distrust, or hate. It was clear this is where the dialogue for peace and understanding needs to begin, with our children.

Eli attended the week long camp during the summer, where he met other children from Israel. He was introduced to these religions and visited various houses of worship during this time. He engaged in activities and discussion of the various religions and how each other experiences and practices their faiths. At the conclusion of the camp, the parents were invited to Abraham’s Tent, a celebration of all the children had learned. We were treated to skits representative of various holidays of each faith. It was obvious the children had much fun in putting this together and took great pride in sharing what they had learned.

It is my greatest hope my child and his children will live in a world where all humanity can live in peace, accepting and celebrating each other’s differences. Kids4Peace is one very valuable method to attaining that goal and I am so pleased my family and I are able to participate. We look forward to a long relationship with this organization.

Jodi, Mother of Eli
Kids4Peace Atlanta

Read more on the Kids4Peace Blog 

K4P Kids4Peace Jerusalem

Toot, Louis & May | A Community of Respect

K4p for me is already a community that represents that future, the future of this land. A community of respect, a place where everyone is equally represented with the same opportunity, a place were Arabs and Jews sit beside each other as one community. 

 

 

Presentation at the Kids4Peace 10th Anniversary Celebration
January, 2012, Jerusalem

Toot (Jewish), Louis (Christian) and May (Muslim)  Kids4Peace youth who have participated in the full six-year  program. 

K4P Kids4Peace JerusalemToot: I want to tell you a story about a Jewish girl who lives in Jerusalem. Her parents met at the university and she is their eldest, she has a younger sister and a younger brother and they all live in a pleasant neighborhood. The girl went to kindergarten, elementary school and later on to high-school. She is a good student; loves art and plays basketball, she tried singing but she wasn’t very successful at that. The kids surrounding her at school, at the afternoon activities, and around neighborhood are more of the same – some play the piano, others dance. There are tall kids, short ones; good students, bad students; funny kids and some that were very serious. There are kids that she likes more and others that annoy her. All speak the same language, share the same program of study at school and are members of the same religion.

But then there were these other people. She was not sure who they were exactly. She saw them on the TV; she heard about them on therRadio, she read about them in the newspaper. Adults would talk about them. However, she could never figure out who exactly they were. All she knew is that they were very different from her. From the tone people had used when they were talking about them and from the pictures she saw, she felt that “the other people” were different in a negative way.

Louis: Growing up as a Christian Arab in Jerusalem, I always lived with Jews, in school, camps, kindergarten and other programs. I always knew there was a conflict but I never really felt it because I lived with Jews in peace and never saw a difference between us, this environment created somewhat an illusionary world of peace and love and I never really thought that there was a serious conflict. When I was 10 years old I changed my school and I attended a school that is mostly Arab. There I started feeling the conflict more because I hung out with Arabs who never met Jews before. Listening to their stories and opinions about the Jews and experiencing the fights that happen between the Jewish and Arab youth on the streets, I really started feeling the conflict. This along with other incidents showed the huge problem that we are facing.

Toot: When the girl was 12, her parents introduced her to “kids for Peace”. There she met the “other people”. It was then she realized that the other people, like Louis, are also more of the same- some played the piano, others danced or play sports. There were tall kids, short ones; good students, bad students; funny kids and serious ones. There were kids that she liked more and others she didn’t like at all. Even though they did not speak the same language, they did not share the same program of study at school or were not members of the same religion, they were all kids just like her. The girl in the story is me, but she could be anyone else that has got to know “the other people” as human beings instead of pictures and symbols in the media.

Louis: That same year that I changed schools, I learned about and joined the Kids4Peace first year program. As I started going to the meetings and participating in the dialogues, I noticed that k4p has a different approach to the conflict than other programs I grew up in. I think that programs like k4p are the most effective in achieving peace, because in k4p we face the problem and talk about it instead of pretending it doesn’t exist. Now I am training to be a k4p counselor for next year and a proud member of the k4p community and I keep attending the program because I believe in the change.

May: K4P is made up of different stages. When we first join the program, whether we have already met people from the other religions or not, we meet people from other religions and their own who might be new to us. Personally in my first year, the fact that some kids were surprised when they heard about other religions’ basics shocked me. Because even though I’m a Muslim, I was always exposed to Jews and Christians and felt close to them.
After going to summer camp and ending the year, we accomplish the first and minor step of K4P, the real learning begins. We enter a new world with a lot to explore. This world is called: K4P Continuation. There are two programs, year 1 and year 2. At each stage, the learning gets deeper. The youth are wiser and they start to open up more and more. After the first few years when we feel comfortable with our fellow Kids4Peacers, we have a chance to go to the leadership program. It’s a smaller group of kids, between the ages of 14-15 who discuss the problems we face living here in Jerusalem and really share our opinions. We go to a summer camp to continue our discussions and sharing. We also listen to stories and outside speakers. At that stage we really open up and aren’t afraid to defend our opinions.

Toot: Looking back at my years in Kids for peace (first as a participant, then in the leadership program and today as I am being trained to be a counselor) what I found even more important than learning to know the others is getting to know myself. I think I can say today that I know better who I am and how it’s being reflected by the place I live in (Jerusalem) and the variety of people who live here with me. I’m not saying I can solve the conflict, but I do think I can make a change. A change could be one person, one life, one action and that for me is a huge change.

Louis: About a month ago I mentioned to someone that I was going to k4p, and he replied by saying: “you still believe in this peace nonsense!”, giving up on the idea of peace in this land I think is reasonable because of how impossible it appears to achieve, but about 150 years ago before slavery in the united states was abolished and African Americans were enslaved by white people, I bet no one thought that black people will ever have equal rights, or that they will ever be treated the same, that just seemed impossible; yet today the United states has a black president who has been reelected for another 4 year term of presidency. So there is no reason to give up on peace, we will have peace, and we will have a country with Arabs and Jews living side by side.
K4p for me is already a community that represents that future, the future of this land. A community of respect, a place where everyone is equally represented with the same opportunity, a place were Arabs and Jews sit beside each other as one community. We would like to thank you for being a part of this community and supporting us.

Emily | “Peace Lasts”

We begin to have faith in human kind and gain the confidence to transform our violent and unjust surroundings into a land that we can feel content with due to the realization that one person has the ability to make a difference in the world through peace and communication.

 

Episcopal AtlantaPresentation to the 107th Annual Council
of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta
November, 2013

Good morning. My name is Emily, I am fifteen years old, and I am currently in the tenth grade. I attended my first camp of Kids4Peace in 2009 when I was eleven. Kids4Peace is an interfaith and cross-cultural Jerusalem-based organization comprised of Jewish, Muslim, and Christian youth that focuses on conflict resolution, mending the broken situation of the Middle East, and uniting peacefully to make a difference that will impact the world.

EmilyAtCouncil

It almost seems unfair to make an attempt to define this organization, for words seem unable to express the profound impact and true significance of this organization. I have found that there are certain moments and experiences throughout life that catch us by surprise. They affect us in ways we don’t anticipate and change the course of our lives and how we choose to live them forever. Kids4Peace was definitely one of those journeys in my life.

At the first camp, I was completely submerged into one of the most safe, open, and loving environments I have ever been exposed to. After a lot of reflection, I have found that the first camp is a lot about realization. We began to break down the wall of intolerance that has been crammed into our minds until that wall shatters altogether because of the realization that “they” are just people.  began to recognize and determine what needs change in the world upon the realization that places, people, and societies throughout the globe need change.

We begin to have faith in human kind and gain the confidence to transform our violent and unjust surroundings into a land that we can feel content with due to the realization that one person has the ability to make a difference in the world through peace and communication.

This past summer I was fortunate to be able to attend the Kids4Peace Leadership Camp. The first camp is about figuring out what needs to change, and Leadership Camp is about learning how to dissect, understand, and execute that change. This camp goes much farther in depth into the conflict and the more intimate and sensitive topics. We acquired skills related to every aspect of leadership itself, communication, and compromising. The concept of peace has the tendency to come off fake and cliché. One of the things I have learned is that conflict isn’t necessarily wrong. A speaker who visited my camp this summer told us something that really stuck with me. She said, “Conflict isn’t bad. Conflict is healthy. Conflict is normal. However violence is not.” These camps have helped me to understand the motivation, causes, and dynamics of conflict itself. Understanding conflict is the first step before attempting to resolve it.

One of the most tragic elements of the nature of conflict is the continuation over generations. People grip onto hatred, resentment, prejudice, and burden themselves because that’s all they know. This cycle is not easy to break. However, one of the most amazing epiphanies I have had is that this pattern occurs with peace as well as hatred. Humans aren’t bred with that hatred inside them.

This camp begins the chain and process of peacemaking at an age before that toxic hate has the chance to penetrate their loving hearts. It plants the seed of reconciliation and unity in the middle of a battlefield.

As we grow and evolve, peace has different meanings to us. We associate peace differently, and our understanding of it deepens as we learn. Kids4Peace has helped me with this. It has helped me to sort out and analyze the wadded knot of emotion and observations into skills and these “realizations” throughout my journey of peace. This path doesn’t have an end because peace doesn’t have an end.

Peace lasts. Peace makes a mark. That’s why Kids4Peace is so life changing.

Kids4Peace paved the way of truth, harmony, and acceptance. It is up to us now to choose whether or not to trek down the road of understanding together until we achieve our desire: peace.

Thank you.

by Emily Combs (Christian – St. Gabriel’s Episcopal Church),
2009 Atlanta Camper, 2013 Leadership Camp Participant