Teenagers Plant 'Seeds of Peace' at a Unique Summer Camp in Maine

michelle kaufmann seeds of peace photo

Image courtesy of Michelle Kaufmann, Seeds of Peace

All of the media around questions of the mosque being built near Ground Zero is a powerful reminder of how intense and raw feelings are and how quickly those those feelings can turn to hatred and to violence. Hatred of the other is at the root of what caused the horrific and devastating loss on September 11, 2001. How do we stop the this ever increasing spiral of fear and hate?

A group of teenagers may have some answers for us.Last week I was in Otisfield, Maine, and was able to visit the Seeds of Peace camp. At first blush, it looks much like the camp I attended as a teen in Iowa: lots of kids singing, swimming, playing basketball, helping each other on the ropes course, canoeing, and in the process making lifetime friendships. However, this camp is quite different in one BIG way. The campers are not all from the same county in Iowa, with homogeneous beliefs and experiences. Not even close. These kids are from very diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds. They are from regions of the world with the most intense conflict and centuries of embedded hatred.

I was so deeply moved by the simplicity and power of this idea: Empower young leaders from regions of conflict with the leadership skills required to advance reconciliation and coexistence. The camp is designed to reverse the dehumanization process that fuels conflict and serves as a departure point for continued coexistence activities in the Middle East and South Asia.

seeds of peace montage photo

Image courtesy of Michelle Kaufmann, Seeds of Peace

Free from the pressures and prejudices of their home communities, hundreds of Middle Eastern and South Asian teenagers meet their historic enemies face-to-face. In this neutral (and might I add extremely beautiful) setting, participants learn more than just leadership and coexistence skills—they develop the friendships and trust necessary to build lasting peace. In addition to the campers learning how to make a fire, how to race a canoe without tipping over (ok, I never mastered that one), and gaining a great appreciation for our environment, they also learn about each other. For an hour each day the campers break into small groups for a mediated (and apparently often intense) dialogue.

Founded in 1993 by journalist John Wallach, Seeds of Peace has had campers from Israel, Palestine, Egypt, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Cyprus, and the Balkans. Its leadership network now encompasses over 4000 young people. The camp and its programs have had a proven impact and great success in the Middle East, which has earned it international recognition as an effective model for resolving conflict worldwide.

Similar to those of us who lost family and loved ones on 9/11, many of these campers have had great personal losses caused by conflict stemming from ethnic and religious hatred. If they are able to find peace with coexistence, there is hope that all of us can.

Madeleine Albright, former US Secretary of State, said:

Seeds of Peace is one of the most remarkable organizations that I have heard of or even participated in. The global impact of this organization, I think, is essential.

Roman, a participant from Afghanistan, commented:

I am so happy at Seeds of Peace. I have met so many people here and they're from many cultures. And, when I go back to my home country, I want to teach the peace.

The popular tag line: "Maine: the way life should be" makes it the perfect home for the Seeds of Peace camp where their tag line is: "Seeds of Peace: the way the world should be."

This video above is much like the very sad last day of camp I remember in Iowa, but the powerful possibilities for the future coming from the bond of friendships created here are infinitely hopeful.

Read more about living in peace:
The World Peace Diet: Love, Equality, Sustainability Through Vegan Eats
Nobel Peace Prize Goes Green
Global Peace Film Fest Promotes Peace and Environmental Justice