When I was 15, I went to Seeds of Peace, a leadership camp for teenagers in communities divided by conflict. I had 90 minutes of dialogue each day with Israelis, Palestinians, Egyptians, Jordanians, and other Americans. We yelled at each other about settlements, the right of return, the holocaust, and 1948. The rest of the day we played, ate, slept, and laughed together. It was the place I learned most about other cultures and perspectives. I started to question the things I thought were facts and gained the confidence to be a leader. I came back as a counselor in the summer of 2015 and I supported teenagers while they engaged in difficult conversations with people they might never have otherwise interacted with (Israelis and Palestinians; Pakistanis, Afghans, and Indians; teenagers from northern Maine and some of the Somali refugees who were living in Portland). I had spent a lot of time working on farms and at my college's garden, and after my first summer as a counselor I realized how much I wanted to share my passion for growing food with these campers. I applied for grants and raised enough money to build a large garden at camp, 24 4'x8' raised beds. I gathered a group of volunteers and we build, filled, and planted the beds. Then I spent the summer back as a counselor, gardening with the campers and delivering fresh vegetables to the dining hall. The campers really took ownership over the space. During their free time they would come by to weed, think, or snack. One dialogue group would harvest carrots together after their daily dialogues--it allowed for a reflective and communal moment after a difficult 90 minutes. It was the best form of giving back because I gained a ton. I learned so much from creating a space to grow food and talk about it, and I learned way more from watching the incredible campers engage with the garden.
Review from #MyGivingStory
Deep in the heart of Maine, the almost unknown little town of Otisfield just north of Portland, is transformed into an oasis, into a paradise of woods, water, and hills, that opens its arms to youth, not the traditional summer camp that busy parents send their kids to and call vacation, but a camp to which young adults come from the most explosive areas of the world.
For a short time Otisfield becomes home to Hundreds of young leaders, young adults from the most violent sectors of the world. Israeli Youths Play soccer with their Palestinian counterparts. Young Indians canoe with their Pakistani neighbors. Teens caught in the crossroads of decades of hostilities are brought together, to work together to play together and to search for answers together. South East Asian youth that have seen decades of war, Egyptian, Jordanian Afghan youth leaders come together with American Youth to break through cultures of explosive rage and violence, years of animosity and fighting, daily blood baths.
Young adults taught a language of hatred now for the first time can see their enemies up close, eye ball to eyeball, sharing breakfast, lunch, a marshmallow roast over a campfire, in competition not with guns and mortar but with racing, playing, running laughing and most of all a deep lesson that so many of us have yet to learn, that this planet has to be shared with those that do not share the same religion, the same nationality, the same race the same culture, the same politics that we have.
This small insignificant little town in Maine, plays perhaps the most significant role in global relationships. While the Halls of Parliaments’, and Congresses around the world, while the UN in its plush offices in Lower East Side, endlessly debate politics and economics, these children are learning it where it counts and how it counts.