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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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

 

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.

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.

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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