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Peace Action Conference

mawishk4p —  September 11, 2018 — Leave a comment
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Vermont and New Hampshire’s Summer Peace Action Conference took place on the beautiful Dartmouth campus in Hanover, NH this year. Youth arrived to the grand community room of the Dartmouth United Church of Christ, where we were welcomed by the associate pastor Rob Grabil. This unique conference gathered both new and veteran Kids4Peace campers, so the first activity involved ice-breakers and name games. Our veterans Jewish faith advisor and Christian faith advisor, Judith Reichsman and Kelley Gage, were in attendance as well the VT/NH Director Jeff Mandell.
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The entire weekend was filled with exercises, workshops, and activities that allowed our youth to build relationships and learn more about Christianity, Islam, Judaism. Throughout the weekend, we were joined by several special guests, including Dartmouth’s Rabbi Meir Goldstein, Dartmouth’s Muslim Advisor, Khalil Abdullah, Kids4Peace New Hampshire Committee Chair, Cindy Benson, and many more. Each of our guests introduced an exciting element of community. A few of our special guests shared personal stories of their upbringing in America and travels outside of the country.
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Asad Akhlaqi, a Muslim from Afghanistan living in Vermont, talked about what it was like being selected as a teenager to come to the US to attend high school. After graduating, he attended college in Burlington and began a career working IT in schools. Asad’s wisdom about Islam was also welcomed, as students asked questions during the whole day he was here. Tracey Guion, an international explorer and peace worker, shared some stories about her time abroad. She presented her recent work in Rwanda, as well as a youth peace program she had been selected for that included teens from Armenia and Turkey.
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Whether it was providing a space for question and answers regarding religious observations and services or storytelling sessions that allowed youth to learn more about the different cultures and lives that create communities in Vermont and New Hampshire, youth had an opportunity to be inspired to build community and take action for their communities.

After a week of dialogue and relationship building, our International Camp participants were placed in charge of running religious services for everyone to observe. On day nine, our Muslim and Jewish participants came together and organized Jummah services, as well as Kabbalat Shabbat. Each service was designed to put students in charge of creating spaces for the different practices of each service to be celebrated. During Jummah, participants had the chance to not only observe the prayer, but learn about different sects of Islam that were represented at camp, including Shi’ism, Sunnism, Sufism. That evening, our Jewish campers came together to lead us through different songs and prayers for Kabbalat Shabbat that also represented the different sects of Judaism. Both practices were followed up by question and answers that our kids helped facilitate.

Our day was also sandwiched with daily electives, including zip-lining, intro to filmmaking, a photo walk, swimming, and much more. In our intro to filmmaking elective, participants were given the opportunity to interview one another for a Kids4Peace film about how they would like to see the world change. As camp comes to a close, International Camp is evolving to give students power to take ownership of the resources Kids4Peace seeks to give, by placing leadership in the hands of our youth who have the power to take action and make changes.

 

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Stories are passed down for for several reasons – to share histories, to inspire dreams, to memorialize moments…at Kids4Peace, story telling is an important tool that allows each of us to recognize how our experiences influence our role in advocating for justice. Day seven began as with a storytelling workshop that set the foundation in place for our next two days. On this day, students began digging into their personal experiences and considering how those experiences directed their presence at International Camp.

In continuation of the storytelling workshops that framed our previous day, day eight was a continuation of the power of story telling and the different ways that you can tell and share stories. Two of our camp counselors brought their expertise in sharing expression through spoken word and theatre of the oppressed.

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We have been lucky to shape the participation of our kids at camp with the skills and talents of our staff who are experienced in respective backgrounds. As Kiren led her workshop on spoken word, she shared some performances that she had done with a youth slam poetry group that she started with a group of friends, Muslim Girls Making Change. During this session, participants had the opportunity to listen, practice, and create their own pieces.

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Our Theatre of the Oppressed workshop was led by Emily, who is getting ready to take her acting skills from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts to London at the Royal Academy of the Arts. During her session, Emily led campers through exercises and discussions on power. The techniques that she shared are part of an international movement that uses theatre as a means of promoting social and political change.

DSC02776When we consider the number of conflicts that have resolved over time throughout history, community is has its focus. When communities come together, they form inexplicable bonds that allow issues to reach incredible resolutions. That’s exactly what we were exploring on day six of International Camp.

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As we reached our mid-way point during our 12-day camp, participants returned to their community agreements to reflect on the rules that they created for themselves early in the week. We moved through the day having conversations about what community means and how community stays and spent more time learning about the what makes community for us.

And as with any community gathering, the day ended with a party! Campers broke out into a small group dance competition to rival over the best dance.

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We continued our journey at International Camp on day five by taking some time to think about what space do we take up in this world. Our day was split into two parts: traveling down two paths at Hooker Falls in DuPont State Forest and sharing stories and experiences at spaces that structure our daily lives at home (i.e. favorite restaurants, schools, etc.). While the hike allowed participants to step away from camp life, it was an opportunity to take a moment to marvel in the world around us. This flowed effortlessly into our group conversations, as our campers added to dialogue about the similarities and differences that they shared in spaces that surrounded them. These two activities helped build up to a larger question that we are exploring throughout the week: where do we create justice?

“Can you bring your whole self to a place? [This activity helped build] an understanding that we will show up differently in different places.” – Kelly (K4P Adviser), Christian, Seattle

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Our identities are complex and, for many of us, they allow us to manifest different versions of our self based off those environments. This also allows us to think about the larger questions that influence the role that we play in our homes, our communities, and those spaces that frame our daily lives. As we continue to move through this week, we are working up to understanding what justice means to us in our daily lives and how we can be advocates.

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“There is a conflict happening everywhere. This is about how you can make a difference in your own community” – Stephanny (K4P counselor), Bogota

Conflict comes in many different shapes, sizes, and colors. It takes up different spaces in different rooms. Especially in a room of middle schoolers who experience conflict in so many different ways through their lived experiences. Yesterday, our participants spent time defining conflict and hearing about different conflicts that impact their lives and different communities around the world. Participants heard stories about what how conflict has disrupted different societies in Bosnia, Rwanda, South Sudan and Columbia.

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“Knowledge is power…and learning about things really gives you power to make a difference about it.” – Arwen, Unitarian Universalist, Seattle

While most of those our campers hadn’t had an opportunity to live and see the conflicts that had or have divided these countries, youth recognized that there is an importance in learning about different conflicts. After learning about the Bosnia conflict, one camper shared that it was “good to hear about a conflict” aside from the one she lived in Jerusalem and that it was “important to learn about other sides.”

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The day ended in a celebration of music and dancing as a reminder that even in moments and discussions of conflict, there is power in hope, light, and unity.

DSC02510Once International Camp participants had a day to get acclimated to the new camp, we started off the second day by framing conversations and action in faith. Our 72 youth are coming from a range of backgrounds from Israel, Palestine and America, and with them they are bringing different practices, beliefs, and experiences that shape their religious and spiritual identities.

“[My faith is] something I can trust, that will give me a hand when I need it, that will support me in a time of need.” -Tuvia, Jewish, Jerusalem

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Because Friday is a religious day for people of many different faiths, participants were able to take part in the weekly prayer that Muslims take part in together in the afternoon, known as Jummah, and the celebration of Kabbalat Shabbat through a service that prepared us for the day of rest. At the end of each service, youth had the opportunity to engage in discussion to ask questions and gain a better understanding about the intentions and reasoning behind the practices that were observed.

IMG-20180803-WA0001These spaces grant our young minds an opportunity to gain clarity and bridge gaps that allow us to live and share the world around us in harmony. As we are moving through our days, youth are creating spaces to actively listen and share their identities with one another, while also forming community through the outdoor elective sessions that engage excitement, friendly competition and laughter.

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Global Institute may have just ended, but our work doesn’t end there. As our 50 Global Institute alums returned home to put their learned skills and experiences to the test, Kids4Peace was busy getting ready for our batch of 72 Israeli, Palestinian, and American youth for our first ever International Camp at Blue Star in North Carolina!

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International Camp aims to begin shaping the minds of 8th grade students by driving them to consider the space they hold in this world and how they can learn to build community with others. While gathering today, they spent time getting to know one another by leaning into discomfort, leaning into vulnerability – in order to gain trust and build community.

“To create a bond, [it’s important] to not create distrust in a community. It helps to build beyond surface level conversations.” Owen, Christian, Atlanta. 

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As participants acclimated to their new home for the next 10 days, they had a chance to explore the camp and see more of attractions that the site has to offer — like canoeing! Along with our introspective education sessions, our kids have been spending time getting to know their peers, counselors, and advisers by taking part in different outdoor activities together.

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“I’ve realized that we can do so much more than we thought we could do, before we got here” – David P., Jewish, Jerusalem

10 days of intense dialogue, workshops, skill building, and new interactions helped form a new wave of young leaders. Our 2018 Global Institute graduates are ready to stand up for what they believe in, fight to make their community and the world a place of change, commitment and peace. This group of 50 youth, half from Jerusalem and half from across the US, are an inspiration and proof that change is possible and age is not a factor in determining success. After their participation in the Global Institute, they have seen their own leadership potential and are ready to use it and continue taking action.

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“Kids4Peace is like one family. I’m never nervous or shy to talk in front of them because I know that all of the members of Kids4Peace are like brothers and sisters to me and I really appreciate how close we are” – Qais, Muslim, Jerusalem

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It is hard to believe that this tight-knit group did not know each other prior to the Global Institute. The bonds formed here are so strong, strong enough to overcome the differences in opinion and ideas of the world that they may have. And that further emphasizes and proves the importance of respectful dialogue, mutual listening, and understanding. Tough conversations were brought up on a day-to-day basis over this program and these conversations often led to further dialogue outside of official programing. But despite these differences, these young leaders understood that friendship and differences of opinion are not mutually exclusive. Leadership is about considering all points of view and taking them into account when making a decision. Leadership is about communication and honesty. Leadership is being able to say ‘I understand you,’ even if don’t share the same view. Leadership is overcoming your fears and challenges that come up. Our youth learned all of these lessons, among so many more, during the Global Institute. And they return home motivated, energized, and capable of achieving greatness. We believe in their power to create change and we can’t wait to see what they do next.

“We may have different beliefs and religions but we are all similar in that we are all striving to make the world a better place.” David R., Christian, 15

 

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‘With great power comes great responsibility.’ This recognized saying has been at the forefront of conversation throughout the week, as our youth discussed what it means to be a leader and the responsibility and obligation that come with leadership. As the participants accepted their Certificate of Achievement in recognition of the completion of the Global Institute, they knew of the responsibility that they were taking upon themselves by becoming young leaders. This moment of acceptance was one that they had been preparing for over the course of the past 10 days, and throughout their involvement in Kids4Peace over the years. Every piece of information, skill learned, tool gained, and outcome of their participation in this program has allowed them to grow and use their capabilities towards creating a positive change. Now, as they move on to the next phase of their work with Kids4Peace and take charge as the youth leaders helping to lead the movement, they are even more encouraged and prepared to create real change.

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“I consider all of you my colleagues” – Fr. Josh, Director of Kids4Peace International

Two final important aspects of the Global Institute took place today, before they became graduates. The youth spent time this morning creating a plan for how they were going to bring what they gained from the Global Institute home with them and work towards creating a positive change in their own communities. Whether that overlapped with their continued involvement in Kids4Peace chapters back home, or expanded past the Kid4Peace community, these young leaders were so excited and passionate about this next phase of their story. In Jerusalem, the youth will move on to the YAP track of the chapter there and are already thinking of new programs and ideas to increase their impact on creating peace. In the US, every person thought about issues going on in the country and specifically in their hometowns and began working on plans for how to overcome these issues.

“I want to work on poverty in my community and finds ways to end poverty there. I will take the leadership and advocacy skills that I’ve gained to help spread the word and get more people involved in coming together to solve this issue”– Risa, Jewish, Seattle

Kids4Peace will be there for each and every person, as they continue on their journey towards making a change, and this community and family will always remain as tight-knitted as it is tonight. Additionally, the youth know that the communities around them back home can be important tools to help them in their work.

“I now know how important it is to utilize your community and the people you have around you” – Monica, Christian, Seattle

The second, concluding aspect of these past 10 days, was community service acts. The group divided into three and volunteered at the Urban Greens Farm, The D.C. Central Kitchen, and the Common Goods City Farm. Even when it started to rain, the kids who were working on the farms continued their work until they weren’t able to anymore. It was a really important and meaningful aspect of the program, and a perfect way to conclude this experience where they have learned so much about giving back.

“‘If we’re not going to do it, who else will’ is a lesson that we’ve learned over these 10 days and we’re applying it to our work here, today.” – Kareem, Muslim, Jerusalem

This group of incredible and devoted people are the leaders of tomorrow. They are the future of change and the future of peace. And tonight, they became official graduates of the Global Institute and began their journey to the next phase of peace and advocacy work. It was an emotional night, filled with tears of joy and tears of sadness to be separating from these friends whom they have made such deep connections with. These past 10 days, though intense, flew by fast and though they might not want to leave these memories behind, they are more than ready for the next steps.

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“While this might be a graduation ceremony, it is only the beginning of your next phase in Kids4Peace, and we can’t wait to see what you accomplish in the future.” – Jordan Goldwarg, Director of the Global Institute