Areej is a woman whose passion for peace comes from personal experiences of violence and hatred in her own life. She lived a very nice life in Iraq within a highly educated family for some time, however with the war of 2003, Areej and her family’s identification as Shiite Muslim put them in danger. Areej described to me the feelings she experienced during that time.
“There was no security, no safety, and you don’t know if you would live to tomorrow. It was very hard to find your way between the troops.”
Recognizing the danger of the situation, Areej and her family left Iraq for Jordan and eventually moved to Vermont. Though Areej has degrees in computer science and electrical power engineering, she became involved in different places as an interpreter, first as a medical interpreter and eventually working with refugees and in the school district helping newly arriving families. In working with a teacher who had a connection with Kids4Peace, Areej became aware that they were looking for a Muslim advisor for the Vermont Chapter of Kids4Peace and she was eager to help.
“When you already have a real experience where you have no hope for tomorrow you really love to help and work in a peace field to help the honest people who deserve to live a good life. I lived and had this real experience.”
Not only does Areej have a passion for peace, but she has a passion for children also. She described to me that “I love them because I feel that there is a lovely connection between my soul and theirs.” The kids seem to share this connection because Areej shared with me that at one camp; they chose her as “camp mom.”
“If I could, I wish I could put them all inside my heart and save them from the world. I wish for a very bright and colorful future for our kids.”
Areej and her sister have been board members on the Vermont Chapter of Kids4Peace since 2009, and in 2010, she participated in her first camp. Areej explained to me that “each camp has a unique spirit.” Similarly, each child has a story and sitting around in a circle, the kids each tell their story. Areej told me of one story where a boy said it took him two and a half hours to get to school and a girl spoke up and said “I am sorry my friend, I only need ten minutes.” In these telling of real stories, the kids learn to live the experiences together. Areej presented this as an example of what the real world should be like. “We need to think in a good way and listen to each other instead of killing each other.”
I additionally asked Areej about her experience at camps and she responded with a good story.
“One man came up to our group who was a part of the church we were visiting. He said that we were giving the church a good example of how we can live all together. The kids could live together having fun, doing good things and selling the message then we can do it too. He said he was hesitant to talk to a Muslim, wondering if he is going to accept him or not. I told him to go talk to him and tell your feelings. Don’t worry, just talk. Nobody can refuse nice words and a positive attitude. We are all human beings.”
Even though the mission for peace is easy in theory, Areej described to me some of the difficulties of being a part of an organization which works to change societal ideals.
“Our mission is not easy. It is a very hard type of work. I told my friends that we are carving in the stone and the stone is very hard and harsh. We need to find a way to carve to mark in the stone so it will stay a thousand years or more. It is also like learning a new language. It looks easy but when you practice it and apply it, you can’t see your fruit easily.”
Areej additionally talked to me about her hope for the future. “I want to have a soldier checking during a check point and that soldier was a Kids4Peace camper. This is the story I want.”
“I do believe we are changing the world and I have best friends from all around the world from Kids4Peace. I didn’t have any Jewish friends before, now I have Jewish, Christian and Serbian friends. I hadn’t visited a synagogue or talked to a rabbi. Now Kids4Peace is in my blood. I feel so proud of myself that I am doing this job.”