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The excitement level today was sky high, as the kids prepared for a highlight of the Global Institute; tomorrow’s Advocacy day. All the leadership and advocacy training that they have gained over the course of the past week will come into play when they take the lead and advocate on behalf of support towards Israeli-Palestinian peace programs, as well as gun reform legislation. The morning was spent learning more about the American political system and how the government works. The kids were all engaged and asked intelligent and important questions as they tried to make the most of this opportunity and gain more knowledge. 38 meetings are scheduled for tomorrow in both the House and the Senate, with both Republican and Democrat Senators and Congressmen and women. The group was briefed on what the specific bills that they will be advocating for are, and of the importance that the passing of these bills will have on Kids4Peace’s work and growth. A large scale of time today was spent preparing for tomorrow’s highly anticipated and important meetings; meetings that will showcase the leadership ability of our youth that we are so proud and supportive of. Members of the Kids4Peace International Board helped some groups prepare, and some will be joining us tomorrow on Capital Hill and leading legislative groups. In addition to our board members, members from the Alliance for Middle East Peace and prominent D.C. lawyers will be joining our meetings. The support and faith that these figures show in our youth is admirable and appreciated, as we know of the great things that this group of young leaders can achieve.

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We took a break from our preparation to watch the World Cup, and everyone joined together for a good-spirited time. Despite the division of those rooting for France or Croatia, we all came together to watch and cheer for our respective teams. We joined the St. Johns Episcopal Church for services this evening, and enjoyed a nice dinner with congregants, Kids4Peace board members, and members of the community. Three of our youth spoke at the dinner and shared their story of why they joined Kids4Peace and what their experience involved in the organization has been like and taught them.

“I’m never afraid to share my opinion at Kids4Peace because I know it will always be respected, even if no agreed on by all” – David, Jerusalem, Jewish

We are looking forward to an eventful day tomorrow, and for our youth to walk onto Capital Hill with the confidence, knowledge, and leadership that they all have within them and are ready to display.

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This morning we were joined by Islamic Society of North America to hear about the Muslim-American community and the work that they do to create change in the US. An issue that ISNA is very passionate about and involved in is climate change. Colin, the representative from ISNA, explained that in many religions there is a focus on conservation, moderation, and being aware of our consumption and so climate change and environmental protection is something that is important to advocate for. As Mawish rightly stated, “Our goal is to take care of the community around us, because if we don’t do that who will.” Participants discussed ways that climate change is affecting their own communities and gave examples of the work that people are doing to combat climate change. There was a discussion on how different societies and cultures care more or less about the environment and the that pollution has, but how it is a problem that affects everyone and must be dealt with.

“It’s an issue that everyone needs to do something about in order to create change” – Will, Christian, Vermont

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This idea is one that relates not only to climate change, but to all issues in general. A constant point of discussion among the Kids4Peace youth is that we must all join together in order to create change. Without communication, connection, and working together, nothing can be achieved. We spent the afternoon at the ADAMS Mosque, where we were privileged to hear from Muslim, Christian, and Jewish religious leaders on the importance of interfaith building. “Humanity is about having peace in our mosques, our synagogues, our churches, our holy sites” – Imam Magid, ADAMS Center Executive Imam. A beautiful representation of Imam Magid’s words was when three of our own youth were able to share a welcoming prayer from their individual religions, with the entire group. ADAMS boy and girl scouts spent the afternoon with us, and led us on a tour of the Mosque where we were able to participate or observe in the Jum’ah prayer. Kids4Peace joined the ADAMS group for lunch, where they were able to get to know each other, ask questions to learn more about each other’s religion and life, and play games together. In order to maintain the relationships created today, the ADAMS center provided everyone with paper and envelopes, encouraging all of the youth to find a pen pal among the new group of friends that they made. Fr. Josh Thomas spoke to both groups about the shared message that Kids4Peace and the ADAMS center has; “You don’t have to wait till the future to be a leader, you can do important things right now.” From the start of the morning, hearing from ISNA, to our time at the ADAMS mosque, new ideas about religion and faith were shared and friendships were made.

“Before I joined Kids4Peace I didn’t have a lot of connection to my own faith, but once I joined I got to meet so many interesting people who really connected to their faith. This helped me connect more to my own faith and learning more about other religions helped me appreciate and understand my own faith better. I think that interfaith building is so important because it helps people understand the values that we share and use those shared values to create change through peace building and nonviolent action.” – Monica, Christian, Seattle

Today helped to frame the theme for the rest of the weekend, which will have a large focus on the faith aspect of our work. Tonight, we will attend Shabbat prayers at the Kesher synagogue in D.C., and members of the synagogue and of the Jewish community there will join us for a meal.

 

 

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Today, we traveled down to Baltimore, where we were joined by youth from Communities United to interact and engage with them. Together, we participate in multiple sessions and tours around Baltimore. Interacting with other youth, who are working towards creating change regarding equality and race in Baltimore, the kids saw first hand how much of an impact one group can make if they work together towards a common goal. The day, filled with interesting dialogue and new perspectives, sparked great friendships among the participants of Kids4Peace and those of Communities United. Our first presentation today was a Q&A with a local radio show host who shared with us his fascinating and eventful life’s background. Growing up in a segregated Baltimore during the Civil Rights Movements, and a child of Holocaust survivors, Marc Steiner explained how knowing and seeing oppression in society has shaped him into the person he is today and the views he believes in. He saw segregation first hand throughout his childhood and adult years, and heard about the catastrophe and genocide of the Holocaust. Both events taught him about the harm and danger that can ensue from hatred, racism, and segregation and he made it part of his life’s mission to ensure that segregation and hatred are not tolerated anywhere. He was the youngest white male to get arrested in Baltimore for participating in a sit-in during the Civil Rights Movement, at age 16, and used his story to show our youth just how important the work of young people is and how impactful it can be. A main theme of the day was learning about separation among people who differ from each other, and how important it is to bridge that divide. Our youth were taught about the importance of learning about each other’s histories and using that knowledge to better the world. The key to doing so is communication, and Marc used one significant word to define communication: listening. “Listening allows you to hear a person’s reality which shows that person’s truth, and there is a truth on every side of the story; a truth that must be respected.” We spent the afternoon exploring different parts of the city and seeing its many different realities. Baltimore is a complex city made up of some areas that are developed, some that are becoming more developed, and some that have been forgotten. The tour included City Hall, Baltimore’s Real News Media Outlet, China Town, and the Holocaust Memorial. Each stop added more to the theme that Marc formed earlier in the day, and each stop gave the kids more perspective on issues such as immigration, racism, income inequality, and hatred among people. The tour of city hall gave the youth some inspiration, hearing about how the hall serves as a place where people can stand up and make a claim for what they believe in.

“Everyday people can fight to make the changes that they want to see at city hall, and they can speak their mind regardless of their age or background.” – Catie, Christian, Seattle

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The Real News Media Outlet provided the youth with a realistic idea of what a career in journalism and media looks like, and taught them how important it is to share unbiased facts and to be committed to the truth.

“It was inspiring to hear how they remained independently funded through members of the Baltimore community and not corporations, in order to report what they wanted to report from the point of view of the people of Baltimore” – Sofia, Jewish, Vermont

A member of the group was even given the chance to share her own story on camera, and everyone was able to watch how videos are clipped together and edited at the news outlet.

It was empowering to share my story on a real platform and it was also a very cool experience, and something I would never had the opportunity to do elsewhere” – Lior, Jewish, Jerusalem

We finished off the day with a panel comprised of Baltimore residents who shared their own stories and explained the different tools they have used to fight for change in Baltimore. One popular tool is visual art and performance as a means for organizing movements. The youth were taught about cantastoria performances, and given the time to prepare and perform a cantastoria related to an issue that they felt passionate about. This workshop added to the message that other workshops have touched upon, of making your voices heard through public performance and narratives.  

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If one event could fully capture and brilliantly tie together all that our youth have been working on and learning throughout the Global Institute and with Kids4Peace so far, our event today with the US Institute of Peace did just that. The event was comprised of three aspects; a panel, roundtable discussions with policy makers, and a workshop led by USIP on nonviolent actions. The panel included USIP officials and policy leaders, as well as two recent graduates of the Global Institute, who are representing Kids4Peace on a speaking tour around the US. For the current Global Institute participants, hearing from such great role models and was inspiring. The two graduates, Omar and Eliana, exemplified to our youth the outstanding and admirable work that they can achieve when they use the tools and lessons they have gained from the Global Institute.

“It was inspiring to hear how much work they are doing after the Global Institute because that is one of the things I feel is most important about this program; not only do we get our tools here and learn all about public speaking, sharing our stories, and making a change, but we can continue to make a change when we go home. I thought it was extremely inspiring to see the changes they are making in their own community, and seeing them use what they gained from the Global Institute to make those changes. The Global Institute is not only this amazing experience over these intense 10 days, but it is also about bringing what we learned home with us and using these new skills and tools to make a change where we are and when we can.” – Catie, Christian, Seattle

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The officials and peace leaders on the panel described how the USIP works to achieve peace through ‘bottom-up’/grassroots and ‘top-down’ efforts. They explained how from the top down, the USIP works with government officials and policy makers to create active change. Additionally, the grassroots efforts are equally as important, as a member of the panel said; “what you all do with Kids4Peace is not simply a nice and optional addition to our peacemaking, but a necessary addition.”  The USIP addressed the importance of our youth telling their stories, connecting today’s lessons with what was taught yesterday, and further encouraging our youth to make their voices heard. Roundtable discussions were held, where our youth were able to ask policy leaders important questions and have conversations on relevant and important topics with such qualified people. These questions included; ‘how do you try to engage in conversation and dialogue with people who are from the “other side” or who don’t agree with your opinions?’ and ‘what inspired or attracted you to become an advocate for peace?’ The USIP also led a workshop on nonviolent action and how to achieve a just, peaceful society through peaceful measures. Our youth were given examples of conflict situations and asked how they would respond, in an exercise focused on teaching the best ways to solve a problem in a peaceful manner. Later in the evening, we were joined by Nina from an organization called Shoulder to Shoulder to hear how music and visual arts can play a role in promoting peace. Our youth discussed how lyrics in songs often speak to people, and motivate them to take action. It was an impactful day all around and the day ended on a high, when the kids finished off the music workshop with a dance party and performance by our very own musicians David and Ido.

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Mawish Raza, our very own Communications Manager, started off the morning by leading a workshop on public narrative and the importance of sharing your story. She introduced the workshop by sharing her own story, providing the youth with an example of how one story can inspire others. Mawish emphasized the importance of having a community, explaining that “what Kids4Peace does is it teach us how to relate to the community we are a part of.” The group discussed how stories shape the world, and themselves as individuals. A focus was placed on how leadership is driven by stories, and how leaders can spark a movement and inspire others to take action through public dialogue. Every participant of the Global Institute has a story to share, and this workshop served as a reminder to him or her that they should be aware of how their story can impact others. Mawish spoke to the group and encouraged them to raise their voice and make their story heard; “If you have ever gone through a challenge, you have a story to tell. If you ever had to make a difficult decision that made an impact on your life’s direction, you have a story to tell. Each one of us has a story to tell. Your lives are very unique to yourselves, and regardless of if you think you have a story to tell, the life choices you have made are one of many stories you can share.” The youth responded positively and used the lessons that they took away from this workshop to practice telling their own public narrative.

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“I now understand the importance of telling my story, whether it’s sharing my own narrative, a group’s narrative, or the narrative of a situation that’s affecting present times.” – Liat, Jewish, Jerusalem

Project Over Zero joined us to discuss locating and responding to our fears. A variety of activities and discussions took place and the takeaway lessons from this workshop were significant.

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“The fear I’ve experienced in my life has motivated me to work harder. I’ve learned that how you react to fear determines whether or not the outcome will be positive, and you should try to overcome the fear and create a positive change from it.” – Fawzi, Muslim, Boston

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Later in the evening, we watched a documentary called After Freddie Gray: What Now?, in preparation for our trip to Baltimore. We wrapped up our movie night with Hidden Figures. This significant, historically based movie touches on the realistic obstacles that three woman of color who worked for NASA faced and overcame; successfully helping to launch astronaut John Glenn into space. Both films are incredibly inspiring and educational, and our youth gained a lot from watching them and learning about conflicts that are still very sensitive.

 

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We kicked of the global institute today and so far it’s been a major success. The morning was spent familiarizing ourselves with one another and discussing guidelines that formed our community agreement; an agreement that will allow our time together to be productive and respectful on all accounts. We took time to reflect on our experience at Kids4Peace in our hometowns, and what we have learned from our participation.

“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, Christian, Kids4Peace Boston.

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LearnServe International and Hear My Voice joined us this afternoon and introduced the concept of social entrepreneurship and provided us with tools to work on creating a solution to issues that are currently facing people and places all over the world. The issues brought up included climate change, bullying, access to education, disabilities awareness, and others. Our youth used LearnServe’s Problem Tree Method to find solutions to different problems that affected their communities. This method involves understanding the root of the problem and considering the effects that branch from this issue. There was a great deal of focus placed on educating the younger generation about current issues and situations, in order to prevent ignorance from having a negative influence on society. Two participants spoke about the importance of hearing all perspectives to an issue and the issue of ignorance:

“You need to see the validity of the other side of the argument and not only shoot down ideas because you don’t agree with them. Our younger generation is often shot down and said to not be capable of making any changes because we don’t understand the situation, but the perception of our inability to change things is false.” – Hallel, Jewish, Philadelphia

“The root of so many of the problems we’ve been discussing is ignorance. Do your research, don’t believe everything you hear without checking the facts first. Share your opinion but only if it’s based off of the truth. You don’t have to accept someone else’s beliefs as long as understand them and are willing to listen.” – Evan, Christian, Kids4Peace Seattle

LearnServe explained that it is not always possible to address the entirety of a problem but that should not discourage efforts. A centralized focus on specific aspects of a problem can allow for a greater impact, and that impact can then effect even greater change. The issues and possible solutions that were discussed today are a part of the personal plan work that the youth will be focusing on next year, after graduating the Global Institute. Scott said it best when he explained that; this is not the end of the conversation but the start of it and the beginning of working towards a solution on the problems that you’ve been discussing.”

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We were privileged to hear from Aaron Jenkins from the Expectations Project this evening, to discuss the challenges we face and how to push past the hard discussions in order to have a meaning conversation and create change. Aaron explained the importance of surrounding oneself with people who are optimistic and believe that change is possible. Movements like Kids4Peace and The Expectations Project, and those who are involved in them, are examples of such optimism in the power of change. Incredible signs of leadership were displayed today passion and desire that these youth have to make a real change is inspiring.   

K4P VFC Conference

This past month, Kids4Peace youth from Vermont and New Hampshire came together in Burlington, VT to attend the Voices for Change Youth Conference and the Vermont Peace Conference.

At Voices for Change, our youth were inspired by renowned Muslim slam poet Amir Sulaiman. They also networked with other youth from the area and engaged with a youth-lead panel on diversity and inclusion.
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The next day at the Vermont Peace Conference, Kids4Peace listened in on keynote speaker, Beata Tsosie-Peña, as she talked about her experience fighting for human rights in New Mexico. Our youth then presented their own workshop, sharing their life-changing stories in Kids4Peace. Regional director, Jeff Mandell, lead the group in an activity to build awareness of how we show up in conflict: including new strategies to participate in conflict.

 

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Kids4Peace youth also attended a workshop titled: #MeToo and Global Feminism, led by their curiosity to move toward full equality for women. Meanwhile 2017 camper, Deklan, recorded a radio spot in New Hampshire to get the word out about our upcoming camp this June.

The weekend provided for inspiring experiences that allowed Kids4Peace Vermont and New Hampshire to represent K4P in a larger movement. In one youth’s words, “it was so incredible to continue to learn from old friends and get new ideas from new people. I was so happy to hear that people were inspired by us and what we stood for!”
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Kids4Peace Vermont and New Hampshire finished off their energizing weekend on a sweet note, with a visit to the Church Street Ben & Jerry’s scoop shop.
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Left: Renee Atkinson, Operations Manager; Right: Mawish Raza, Communications Manager

As Kids4Peace is evolving and strategizing new ways to empower our youth to lead the way towards action, its family is also growing! We recently welcomed two new people to Kids4Peace International’s office in Washington D.C. and wanted to give an opportunity for you to hear and learn more about our new Communications Manager, Mawish Raza, and Operations Manager, Renee Atkinson.

Mawish Raza joins K4P as the new Communications Manager. She comes to K4P after years of working in film, communications, and education and is committed on further driving the intersection of media and action. She has directed and produced several films and has spent time teaching the power of storytelling in the classroom. During her free time, Mawish takes every opportunity to seek live music and new food.

Renee Atkinson joins K4P as the new Operations Manager.  She has an extensive background in nonprofit, volunteer and event management and is eager to apply her skills to helping K4P behind the scenes to make it so that other staff can thrive in their roles.  She has recently returned from a 3 year posting to the Philippines where her husband worked for the US State Department. She is the mom to two teenage daughters and in her spare time loves to cook and garden.

We are so excited to have Mawish and Renee joining the Kids4Peace team! They are both eager to get to know the supporters and advocates that have make it possible to empower our youth — from Seattle to Jerusalem. Feel free to reach out to them with any questions or comments at info@k4p.org!