Vermont Chapter Gala

Fr. Josh Thomas —  November 25, 2014 — Leave a comment

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Vermont held its first Kids4Peace Gala on November 9th at Shelburne Farm’s historic Coach Barn.  One hundred Vermont & New Hampshire campers, families, community members, staff, and camper alumni came together for a reunion, fund-raiser and celebration of peace-making.

Rabbi Joshua Chasan and Bishop Thomas Ely reflected on the first year of Kids4PeaceVermont in 2007.  Camper/Counselor Noa Urbaitel and K4P parents Roberta Nubile, Elizabeth Berger, and Naomi Barell spoke about the positive impact that Kids4Peace has had on their lives.  Then our special guests, Yakir Englander, Montaser Amro and Fr. Josh Thomas, inspired us with stories of hope and acceptance.

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Rabbi Joshua Chasan

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Bishop Tom Ely

Lisa Speaks k4p fundraiser

Since our New Hampshire/Vermont chapters will be starting a new year-round program, our small staff is seeking assistance for this growth.  There are opportunities for community members to become a Friend and/or an Ambassador.

  • Friends will volunteer time and talent to assist with year-round youth activities, service projects, photography & video, mailings & administrative tasks, media & public relations, special events, etc.
  • Ambassadors will be trained to become spokes-people for Kids4Peace to help with camper recruitment, presentations to community groups, faith communities and spreading the message of peace.

(If you are reading this, please consider signing up at k4p.org/vermont  We need your energy! The choice of activities and level of commitment will be up to you.)

Surrounded by colorful posters & banners, delicious refreshments, and live music, the campers and staff shared hugs and group photos, rejoicing in the special community that brings us together in our mission of peace.

past & present k4p kids

Past & Present Kids4Peace Kids

The evening ended later with Vice President of Kids4Peace International giving a talk at the University of Vermont for students and staff.

Photo Credit: Kelley Gage

The Jerusalem “Bridge of Strings” that was inaugurated in June 2008 greets every visitor that enters into Jerusalem. The huge bridge has forever changed the Jerusalem skyline, as it can be seen from many places in the city.

The bridge was created to carry the Jerusalem light rail that has recently been both a target and a source of conflict .There was much criticism of the bridge due both to the high cost of construction,  70 million dollars, and the way in which it has distributed the skyline of the city.

As I re-entered into Jerusalem last night after spending a weekend/shabbat/seminar with Kids4Peace the majority of the florescent lights on the bridge we burnt out, leaving only a few of lights on to light up the bridge and the city. And even these lights that remained lit were dirty from the pollution of the city and the lack of maintenance. As I drove into the city, I was still decompressing the amazing and incredible Kids4Peace Jerusalem seminar where 101 of us, Palestinians and Israelis, Christian, Muslim and Jews had spent the weekend together. The seminar brought 7th, 8th and 10th grade youth together, the largest seminar that we had ever had, and even during these very difficult times in Jerusalem, we still pulled through and continued to build community in the midst of the conflict.

And then I realized, we, Kids4Peace Jerusalem, were the few lights left on this “Bridge of Strings”, we are trying to spread light and hope during these hard and violent times. The bridge to me is Jerusalem and slowly the lights are beginning to burn out, the lights are those of us left. The lights are the WE that believe in co-existence and peace, the WE that believe that we can share this city in peace.

I could continue to blog and bring you some incredible quotes from the youth and the team, to give you details of how we balanced and observed the Shabbat for our religious Jewish youth and still tried to provide a platform that would allow equality for all of our members but often actions speak louder than words and symbols can stay with you forever.

As Christmas and Hanukah, both holidays of light are rapidly approaching, I ask you to remember us, Kids4Peace Jerusalem the few lights left on the bridge. Help us re-kindle the other lights on this Jerusalem Bridge.

In peace,

Rebecca

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by Dagan, K4P Volunteer

On Friday, we started with a small sharing presence exercise in small groups asking questions: What do I see? what do I hear? What do I feel? Each kid shared a meaningful thought and we moved on to some tougher questions:

  1. Expectations from our parents — do our parents understand us? I asked if their parents had no expectations from them at all, how would it be for them?

  2. Qualities of a leader: communications skills, charismatic, brave, powerful, thinks of others… Can anyone be a leader? Inside we all have the potential, but for some of us it’s harder because somethings is blocking us from achieving this goal (for example, a shy person).

  3. What can we change in ourselves? Somethings we are born with and cannot change, but inner qualities can change.

During our dialogue on Saturday, the youth had some incredible thoughts:

“If we are all human, why don’t we take care of each other?” -Eyal, Jewish

“War doesn’t resolve the conflict, it only makes it worse… the cycle of revenge.  We should remember that in reality, there are different perspectives than ours.  I don’t necessarily agree with you, but I can respect your way and your own thoughts.” -Lara, Christian

“If peoples’ needs are met, they will be no more reason for war.” -Ismail, Muslim

As the conversations got deeper, more questions were raised in the circle:

-What started the war in Gaza?

-Are we effective? Are we doing enough for peace? We meet each other and talk.. but then what? Can we do more?

-How will the world know about us? Some of the kids talked to other guests, and told them about K4P and even invited them to join us!

-What happened to us personally during the war?

Then Rebecca, K4P co-director asked the youth: What is missing in the dialogue? Where are the things that we don’t agree about, or hard for us to raise? Is talking enough? Can we do more? How can we take more responsibility?”

10801494_10152334784256292_753821377979961704_nBefore closing up the weekend, we all came together for a summary circle to look ahead at the eyar:

  1. During this year we’ll be going deeper into the subjects of this weekend seminar.

  2. One of our main goals: being more aware of ourselves, bringing our full presence to the circle.

  3. Learn to express more of our feelings, and notice the difference between feelings and thoughts.

  4. K4P is not only fun any more, this year will be more meaningful and demands more.

 

We asked the youth, what did you learn?

  • The importance of listening.

  • To respect others is key…

  • That I can understand someone without agreeing with him.

  • About myself and my friends.

  • On other’s opinions.

  • I don’t know all the facts about the war, and what I know is not the entire story.

  • Not to complain but to deal with the way things are.

Questions we take home:

  • What is unchangeable in me?

  • Is it enough to speak, or should we act (to give others hope)?

  • Do I do enough in my community?

  • Can anyone be a leader?

Naomi, originally from New York, is currently living in Vermont and has close ties to her Jewish faith and the area of Jerusalem. Living in Israel for some time, and returning there later with her family, Naomi has been greatly impacted by events in the area as have many others. She originally got involved with Kids4Peace when her daughter Noa participated as a camper in 2009.

“When Noa had the opportunity to participate she was really excited. She had the perfect peace pal and they are still in touch. It was a really great experience for her to be amongst those kids”

Naomi got more involved as a Jewish advisor in 2011 when her step-daughter Mira participated at the Vermont Camp. She told me about her experience there.

“It was the most difficult and most exhausting thing I’ve ever done in my life…it’s a learning experience not only for the kids but for the staff as well. The issues arise amongst the counselors more than conflict amongst the kids.”

“It was a moving experience and I thought how absolutely brave of these kids to come to a country so far away, often not being able to speak English well and going back home to a precarious situation…Knowing that they are going back to situations that could be much more challenging made me feel sad for them.”Naomi Pic 1

After 2011, Naomi stepped away from the organization for a while. She explained to me that it felt imbalanced among the three religions and she felt uncomfortable with that, though she knew it was a worthwhile organization and a worthwhile effort. Several years later, she decided to rejoin the organization and saw a real effort to “reorganize things and an effort to make things more balanced. Kids4Peace had grown out of baby steps and started to become a real player in the NGO arena.” Back in the organization, Naomi became the official blogger for the Vermont region and spent time last summer at the New Hampshire camp taking pictures and visiting with the kids. This camp had their first reunion last Sunday and Naomi was happy to report that the event had a good turnout and she saw the kids continue to be comfortable with each other.

I asked Naomi if she had any thoughts on the ideals Kids4Peace or what needs to continue to be done and she had some important comments on the organization and its aims.

“The main idea is to take kids from Palestine and Israel out of an area of conflict into a neutral zone and mix them with kids from the US that are also neutral zone. Give them an opportunity to learn from each other and discover what is so much the same between the groups. Its just a taste, the introduction to connect as people and as they get more involved in the continuum, they get involved and get into more issues. Kids4Peace gives them the tools and the support to continue what they start each summer.”

“The prize that everyone is aiming for is so huge, and has such potential. It is important to forget why you are so mad at each other if you’re going to move forward. Don’t forget where you came from, but learn what compromise means. Compromise is that you get some of what you want but not all of what you want so the other can get some of what they want also. It is never going to be perfect or exactly what you want but the stake is huge. Palestinians and Jews together would be the pearl in the oyster of the Middle East. It would be amazing.”

“For us it is so important to continue to support the kids who have been involved in the program. Young kids are very idealistic, they think they can change the world then they come against the adults who say no you can’t and they lose creativity and enthusiasm. It is very important to give them avenues to continue their work and make them feel like they are making progress.”

As Naomi expressed, it is important that Kids4Peace continues to work to affect real change in the world with the education and empowerment of kids through camps and later followup experiences with the organization.

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by Montaser Amro

My name is Montaser Mohammad Mousa Khalil Suliman Mohammad Abdulrahman Mohammad Amro, but you can call me Mono. Recently, however, since returning to America, many people have had troubles with Mono, so I’m considering making it even simpler- Mike. Maybe even M. My story and the reason WHY I’m here, however, is not simple.

See, I’ve been an advocate for peace for almost ten years, and I believe that not only does peace come from within, but I believe that we can create change. I was born in Bethlehem, Palestine on February 20, 1991 to Mohammad and Lamia Amro. My parents expected the best from me. This caused me to excel academically from a young age. When I was a sophomore in high school, I was selected to be an international foreign exchange student. I was elated because I was going to finally see the America that had starred in all of my favorite movies. But where was I going? Would I be heading to the city that never sleeps, New York? Or maybe I could spend my academic year in the Windy City- Chicago, Illinois. Maybe I could create memories that could only stay in the city of Las Vegas! I eagerly awaited the announcement of where my cultural learning would take place in the states. However, my excitement came to a screeching halt when I read the name of a state I had never heard of before- Alabama. Little did I know, Alabama was the epitome of racial oppression, even in present day. My work was definitely cut out for me.

I arrived in the fall of 2006 and quickly realized that I could not live in this state for long. After several terrible living situations, I knew I had find a new host in Alabama or just return to Palestine and go back to the life I knew. The only person’s number I had in my phone was a guy I didn’t like each other very much, but I knew that he was a loyal guy. Corey ended up letting me move into his house, and even became my legal guardian while in the states! This experience dramatically changed my life, as well as my perception and tolerance of others, mainly because Corey and I hated each other in the beginning. After moving in, we spent many nights comparing Islam to Christianity, talking about racism and music. However, our deepest conversations stemmed around a subject that we both were passionate about- food. He soon started referring to me as his brother and showed me that not all Americans are the same.

Saying goodbye at the summer of 2007 was not an easy thing to do, even when just a few months prior, I was begging to go back home. I realized during my visit that no two people are alike. However, it didn’t stop at someone’s nationality, it also extended to their religious beliefs. Famous, influential musician John Lennon said it best when he said, “I believe in God, but not as one thing, not as an old man in the sky. I believe that what people call God is something in all of us. I believe that what Jesus and Mohammed and Buddha and all the rest said was right. It’s just that the translations have gone wrong.”

These spiritual leaders had many messages, verses and direction. However, every word ever spoken by them was deeply rooted by one simple message- love. It was also John Lennon that helped coin the phrase “all you need is love.” This message is so simple, yet so influential. All you need is love. The world does not need us. The world does not need the Bible, the Quran or any other religious text. Because that’s all it is- text. It is a tangible thing. However, love is intangible. It can not be physically touched, but can be felt. Love does not have an image, but can be seen. It can not make a noise, but can be heard. Love is the most complex, confusing, terrifying yet gorgeous and fascinating thing that will be a part of this Earth for eternity…as long as we let it.

After returning back to Palestine, I pursued a degree in Civil Engineering from Palestine Polytechnic University. While I was a senior in college , I decided to set my sights on my true passion- bringing peace. I searched around for different ways to help, and stumbled across an organization called Kids 4 Peace. I immediately enrolled to become an Advisor !

People often ask me what Kids4Peace means to me. There is no simple answer to this. When you truly have a passion for something, you’re following everything with your heart- not your mind. Therefore, I can not quite put a simple answer into words. However, I reflect on my past. I think back to the days that I vowed to see Israel fall. I think back to the days that I viewed America as a corrupted country. I then think back not too long ago when my mind was changed and I realized I was wrong. I could not continue to live life generalizing every culture.

Kids 4 Peace has helped me utilize my tools to show that love can overcome anything. To quote another wise man, Master Yoda, “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” Kids 4 Peace taught me that love can make us brave. Love can bring joy and can end the suffering.

During the Israeli-Palestinian conflict of 2014, there were 2200 reported deaths on both sides. However, the true numbers will never be known. What can be known is that during the same year, Kids 4 Peace held a camp with over 100 campers from both conflicting sides. If each camper told 10 people of their enlightened time spent with the organization, we could reach almost half the number of the reported casualties…in one year. Amazing. The organization is still young, and so is my role within it. However, I plan on being an integral part of this organization for however long they allow me. I feel my purpose on this Earth is to make change and bring peace. Change starts young, with kids. I can bring change with Kids 4 Peace.

I would love to thank the organization for helping me come back to where I now call home- America. I would also like to thank them for allowing me the oppurtunity to create the change that my heart aches for every day. Many people walk through life wondering what purpose does their life have. I’m privileged to not only know what my purpose is, but be able to fulfill it. I would not be able to do this without the help of Kids 4 Peace, their staff and especially their donors. No matter the amount of resource you donate to us, we would not be able to do anything without your help. We are the vehicle driving peace, but our donors are the drivers, and for that, we are forever indebted to you for your selfless contributions. We are nothing without you. Thank you.

by Naomi Rouach, former Co-Director of Education

Naomi joined Kids4Peace in 2006 as a Jewish Advisor and since then, together with Reeham Subhi, she founded Leap, Roots, Leadership, and Counselors in Training programs in Kids4Peace. Naomi studied Judaism and Christianity at Hebrew University in Jerusalem and has a teaching certificate from Kerem. Naomi completed the Seeds of Peace advanced facilitation course, which helped prepare her for her most recent position as co-director of education. Naomi recently stepped down from her role in Kids4Peace as she, her husband and daughter Natalie Sarah recently moved to the Big Apple– New York City. Kids4Peace will miss having Naomi on staff, but knows that she and her family are part of our community forever!

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“There are few places I can call home. Kids4Peace is has been one of the few for over seven years. I joined Kids4Peace while studying religion and education at Hebrew University in 2005. I was ambivalent to join the program because I had no experience and intercultural work and well, I was distrustful and afraid of Arabs.

When Yakir Englander first asked me to join as an advisor I told him “no”. I don’t like to be persuaded to do things, but months later when he still had not found a suitable volunteer Yakir was able to convince me to join. To my surprise, I immediately fell in love with Kids4Peace.

The children melted away all my preconceptions. Their energetic and hopeful spirits rubbed off on me. As fall neared and summer faded away it was unfathomable to me that the youths’ new friendships would fade away too. That year we began our continuation programs. Very informal at first, we met for pizza or a movie at my parent’s house and at youth’s homes. We went on our first seminar to Ein Gedi.

The following year I met Reeham and we immediately became good friends and colleagues. We planned the second Kids4Peace seminar that took place at Givat Haviva. Over the next few years, together we built the Leap, Roots, Leadership and Counselor in Training Program. Dedicated to the program, inspired by the youth, we listened to the youth and tried our best to build a program that met their needs.

I went on and studied facilitation so we could make more out of the youth dialogue sessions. I still remember the fear I felt the first time we truly enabled the youth to talk about the “situation”. The youth had voiced that it was important to them to share their experiences and opinions with one another. As educators, Reeham and I felt that it was imperative to offer the youth an opportunity to hear the voice of the other and allowed all the youth to be heard. Still, we feared the repercussions. What would parents think? Up until then we had only spoken about religion, and dealt with the conflict on a very basic level. What would outsiders think? Would they label us as a political organization just for allowing voices to be heard. Would the youth be able to hear one another? Would it break up the group? Would we be able to handle whatever came up?

Acknowledging our fears and concerns and with the support of the Kids4peace team, we decided to take a leap forward and I believe it is one of the best decisions Kids4Peace ever made. I am proud to have been part of this growth.

Today, in Kids4Peace, we have youth dedicated to peace, not out of naiveté but out of an understanding that there is room in Jerusalem, in Israel and Palestine for different voices to be heard and that we can live together, with our differences. While I officially leave my position at Kids4Peace this week, it is only a technicality. Kids4Peace is in my heart, is my home and I take my home with me wherever I go.”

 DSCN1788ogj8389epMtKwqCEn4jRr40HRqlAoywRIS7XOoP6CIY 315391_10151050136361703_937209051_n   10377078_10154317035190434_6839337099533503270_nThank you Naomi! We miss you already an look forward to your return!

10384548_584137851692281_1333149366989193792_nIn the wake of continued violence in Jerusalem, we in Kids4Peace decided to speak out. Dozens came out to show their support on last minute’s notice. With international and local press coverage and a wide array of religious and political support, we took our message to the streets.

We are tired of the violence and hatred. It’s time for the world to see our peaceful community of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim, Israeli and Palestinian residents of Jerusalem. It’s time to act for change. Together, peace is possible.

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Check out the event here.

See Event Photo Album HERE.

Kids4Peace Jerusalem was honored to have spent an evening with Shaun Casey, Special Advisor to John Kerry on Faith-Based Community Initiatives. After Rebecca and Mohammad had the opportunity to meet with Shaun last year at a RoundTable discussion hosted by the US Consulate, it was clear that a follow-up would have to take place. Rachel Leslie, the Cultural Affairs Office at the US Consul General in Jerusalem and supporter/friend of Kids4Peace Jerusalem, facilitated this private meeting with Shaun.

Toot and Louis, two Kids4Peace counselors in 11th and 12th grade told their stories to  Shaun and shared their hopes for the future of Israel and Palestine. Inspired by their passion and honesty, Shaun turned to us, the staff of Kids4Peace Jerusalem and asked “How can the US government help support your work?”

It’s not everyday that a top US State Department official can take two and a half hours to brainstorm with Kids4Peace youth and staff on how to do our work better. We feel so inspired by his dedication to our cause and look forward to more and more collaboration as Kids4Peace continues to work toward ending the conflict and inspiring hope for peace in Jerusalem.

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Adnan Pic 2Adnan Abu Rmalieh was born in an Arab neighborhood in the old city of Jerusalem and from an early age, he experienced the violence brought on by the conflict in his area. His parents were told to leave their neighborhood but refused, and because of their courage, their house became a target for hand grenades. Only then did his family leave, fleeing for their lives. Adnan is officially registered as a Palestinian refugee and noted sadly that “we ended up as refugees in our own hometown.”

Adnan worked to get an education however, graduated from Bersic university in the West Bank and received a masters in teaching English as a foreign language. Adnan is currently married with six children and teaches English as a second language in Jerusalem where he has been teaching for twenty years.

Adnan first became involved with missions for peace in 1988 with a program between Jerusalem and France. In this program, Palestinian and Jewish kids went and met the French. Adnan described the experience as one of exchange but without dialogue. Through this involvement, he saw that

“it is possible to talk to others, to travel with others and to just have fun. We always have the idea of Israelis as occupiers but at the basic human level, we have a lot of fun and a lot of interests.”

After this experience, Adnan “kept looking for opportunities to do it again” and found his opportunity in 2006. He was offered to become a chaperon of Peaceittogether in Canada, which took ten Palestinian and ten Israelis for three weeks of filmmaking. He also was involved in PeacecampCanada in 2007, though this program soon ended.

Last year, Adnan made the decision to join Kids4Peace as a Palestinian Muslim advisor. He went during the summer to the Boston camp and saw that “the people in Kids4Peace are really sophisticated people.”Adnan Pic 1

Speaking with regard to his past experiences with peace initiatives, Adnan described to me that he saw “no hidden agenda” in Kids4Peace and that it was “more like a family” than he had experienced before. This summer, Adnan participated with the New Hampshire Vermont Camp, and at this camp, he made an important observation.

“Very often, I look at the kids from far away. I know who is Muslim, who is Christian and who is Jew. But when you look at them from far away, you cannot tell. All are walking side by side, laughing together, hugging each other and playing together. Who’s who? You can never tell.”

“This is the kind of moment that gives me pleasure to see all these kids as equals. These people have been fighting for so long and now they are together. No one is patronizing each other, no mistreatment, no prejudice. They have been hearing so many stereotypes but they realize that they are talking to another human being who is worth being heard, and being felt.”

I also asked Adnan why he thought this organization, and other peace organizations, find it so useful to involve kids.

You get honesty from kids which is not found say when adults are around the negotiating table. Adults have their own agendas, and so many things to think of…very often they are not interested in the real or actual thing. But when you leave it to kids, kids make it work because they want to play, have fun and talk. What is on their mind is immediately said on their tongues. Sometimes its not their homeland’s interest that they are looking out for but with kids it is the simplicity and honesty that they have in their behavior.”

Adnan additionally shared with me his thoughts on the future and on improvements for the program. He explained that the Jerusalem staff undergoes extensive training and spends quite a bit of time with their camp kids before sending them to camp. “What I would like to see work better is that the US staff goes through the same training and hold the same kinds of meetings that we do.” In general, training “helps a lot…because you come to know how to deal with kids and what to expect.”

Adnan also expressed for me his satisfaction with the Kids4Peace organization saying, “I hope to continue with this program because I am so comfortable. I don’t feel pressured or pushed around.”

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SONY DSC Hannah Hochkeppel is an enthusiastic Kids4Peace leader who is originally from Virginia. She grew up as a Christian Baptist, however in college, Hannah became a Catholic and went on to study Pastoral Studies in graduate school at Seattle University. She is currently a children’s minister at a Catholic Church in the Seattle area.

I got a chance to sit down with Hannah to discuss her Kids4Peace experience thus far. She got involved with Kids4Peace through being a graduate assistant for a Rabbi on the Kids4Peace board. She describes the way things fell into place as “Kids4Peace magic.”

Hannah got involved with Kids4Peace just in time for preparation for Seattle’s first summer camp experience. She related to me that having a new camp meant freedom to break boundaries. They were able to take information from past camps and play on new ideas. Hannah describes the camp experience as being just as she expected.

“In the first few days the kids tended to stick to their own groups. The first few days are somewhat awkward. By the middle of the week however, the kids were interacting and playing all together.”

The new camp however came with inevitable difficulties as a result of the different cultural groups within the camp attendees.

“A lot of disputes came from language barriers and cultural barriers.”

“Often times the immediate reaction is to become offensive and standoffish when someone else does not understand you or your culture and that was a major challenge. We ended up spending a lot of time on getting the kids to work out and learn how to communicate.”

Hannah gave me an example of two boys at camp that seemed unable to get along for the entire duration of the camp. When the boys were sat down together to talk out their differences, one was upset because the other picked on him and called him names. The other boy then said the only reason he did that was that he had not been allowed to sit with them at lunch the first day. In the end, it was a misunderstanding, which could have been solved if the boys had been able to communicate better. This may be one of the challenges for Kids4Peace in going forward is making sure to take into account cultural differences and learning how to communicate with language barriers.

Despite language and cultural barriers, kids4Peace still hopes for a world of peace and though peace is hard to define, I asked Hannah to give me her own definition:Hannah Pic 2

“I define peace with the idea that you don’t necessarily understand everything about someone, but that you take the time to talk things out before you decide not to like them. A lot of times people jump to conclusions about people they don’t really know about and Kids4Peace is making a change away from that.”

I also asked Hannah to give me her thoughts on the future of both Kids4Peace as a whole and the new Seattle Chapter.

“At Kids4Peace each day is like a week. It is so long and so much happens at one time. You are completely drained emotionally and spiritually but we hope to take the ideas from camp to the real world. Kids4Peace is becoming a brand name in a sense that people know what you’re talking about. As long as that continues, I hope that it becomes a symbol and sign of peace worldwide. Seattle specifically will be focusing on relationships from camp but also we are going to be focusing on food justice.”

This new program for the Seattle program will focus on helping local people gain better understand of and access to food facts, nutritional information and produce.  It is the hope of the entire Kis4Peace organization that the Seattle program and others continue to grow and develop ways to find peace worldwide.

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