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

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.

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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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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.

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.”

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.

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.”