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.”
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.