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Seeds of Peace is a summer camp in Maine dedicated to empowering youth leaders from conflict regions. The camp brings together 14-16 year olds from Middle Eastern and south Asian countries for three week long sessions that incorporate dialogue groups about conflicting issues along with standard American summer camp activities.

I drove to Seeds of Peace yesterday to pick up a friend for a rock climbing adventure. My friend is currently working at the camp, and gave me some insight into their activities.

The “Seeds,” or participants, attend normal camp activities. Well, at least they are normal by American standards, but playing football and going water skiing are not necessarily normal in the Seeds’ home countries. During these activities, the Seeds are encouraged to integrate as much as possible, breaking down the initial cultural and language cliques that inevitably exist.

Twice a day, groups of Seeds participate in carefully facilitated and often intense dialogue sessions. This is an opportunity to bring up many conflict issues facing their interacting cultures. While the tendency is to argue histories, the Seeds are asked to stick only with personal stories. These sessions can be tough, and the counselors can sometimes see the effect on personal relationships in their activities.

In the final three days of the session, all Seeds participate in a game called Color War. The teams are mixed and are forced to work together in this all-encompassing game. It gets intense, as if a valuable prize is at stake. In the end, though, all the winning team gets to do is run into the lake 10 seconds before the losing team. They run in with their team’s color painted on their faces, but as both teams enter the lake, the paint washes off and everyone enjoys the game’s culmination together. My friend described it as a very symbolic end to the session. While the Seeds may associate with different countries, or languages, or Color War teams, these surface level issues can wash away like the face paint and interacting peacefully and happily with each other is all that really matters.

The oldest boys at my camp will be visiting Seeds of Peace tomorrow. In years past, these boys have found this to be an incredibly enlightening and moving trip. I’m sure that tomorrow will be no different.

(Photo: Blue Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey, 2009)

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