Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large
What next on Iran’s nuclear deal: follow the news here
Jordanian, Egyptian and Israeli girls play volleyball at the Seeds of Peace summer camp in Otisfield, Maine. The camp is celebrating its 20th anniversary of bringing kids together from countries at conflict.
Jordanian, Egyptian and Israeli girls play volleyball at the Seeds of Peace summer camp in Otisfield, Maine. The camp is celebrating its 20th anniversary of bringing kids together from countries at conflict.

Arab Spring inspires new generation

Summer camp celebrates 20 years of bringing together children from countries in conflict.

OTISFIELD, MAINE // The Arab Spring uprisings have brought a new sense of optimism to young people from troubled nations as they spend time together at a special camp nestled in the hills of western Maine.

Here, they can confront and resolve their differences.

Lina, 17, from Cairo, witnessed the regime change in her home country of Egypt. Now, on a sunny afternoon at the lakeside Seeds of Peace camp, she said: "It gives me the feeling that everything is possible and nothing is impossible.

"We believe that with change, peace is possible. We believe we are the leaders of the future."

Seeds of Peace is now in its 20th year of bringing together children from countries in conflict. There are more than 200 campers this summer, the most in the camp's history, including Israelis, Palestinians, Jordanians, Egyptians, Indians, Pakistanis and Afghans.

The three-and-a-half-week event also comes as the regime change in Egypt concludes, fuelling the optimism that young campers such as Lina can carry their message into the world. For security reasons, the camp has a policy against campers revealing their full names.

"The media and politicians make it seem impossible for 'enemies' to want to live together," said Hatem, 16, also from Cairo. "Camp doesn't end when you leave. It begins when you leave."

The pine-shaded camp features outdoor activities such as football, volleyball, cricket and swimming, interspersed with dialogue sessions, the core of the programme.

Campers, working with facilitators, are encouraged to voice their views that reflect conflicts and seek to resolve their differences.

"We're not here to shy away from the conflict. We're here to confront it," said Eric Kapenga, the communications director for the non-profit organisation.

The activities are designed to build trust. For example, youngsters from different countries and varied backgrounds are paired up on the camp's ropes course, where teammate trust can be crucial in keeping safety-harnessed participants nine metres aloft.

Seeds of Peace was founded by John Wallach, a foreign news correspondent and co-author of two books about the Middle East. He died in 2002. Since its launch, more than 5,000 campers and educators from 27 countries have attended.

Other states and countries also have children's camps and programmes based on similar culture-sharing themes. For example, the non-profit Tuesday's Children - based in Manhasset, on New York's Long Island - creates programmes that bring together children and families whose lives have been dramatically altered by terrorism.

It has also branched out to a new venue - the sea - to promote its goals. A 38-metre schooner this summer travelled from Portland, Maine to New York and Boston with 18 camp graduates, or "seeds", working together as crew members. It is the second year of the Seas of Peace programme, said Leslie Lewin, the organisation's executive director.

The Seeds programme is committed to keeping connections active with campers after they graduate, through a variety of seminars and other gatherings around the world.

More than 65 Seeds graduates are currently meeting in Ireland for a programme on conflict resolution.

Among the graduates, said Mr Kapenga, are a filmmaker whose video went viral and became an anthem for the Egyptian revolution, a Palestinian who is working through the United Nations for Middle East peace and a newsreader on Israeli TV.

Majib, 24, a Seeds counsellor who first visited the Maine camp in 2002 and is a news correspondent in Afghanistan, his home country, said the programme opened his eyes to "a huge spectrum of views". "Even if I don't agree with different opinions, at least I can tolerate them," he added.

Liav, 26, a counsellor from Haifa, Israel, said the lessons learnt at Seeds of Peace can be transmitted to contacts graduates meet in their professional lives. She wants to pursue an environmental career that could bring her into contact with Palestinians over issues such as water rights. "I feel the main thing I've gained here is the ability to talk and listen, she said."

Back to the top

More articles

Editor's Picks

 Iranian President Hassan Rouhani greets supporters after his arrival in Zahedan, the regional capital of Sistan and Baluchestan province on Tuesday, April 15, 2014. During Mr Rouhani's two-day visit, he will tour several other cities and hold meetings with local scholars and entrepreneurs. Maryam Rahmanian for The National

On the road with Hassan Rouhani

Iran's president is touring some of Iran's most underdeveloped provinces. Foreign correspondent Yeganeh Salehi is traveling with him.

 The Doha-based Youssef Al Qaradawi speaks to the crowd as he leads Friday prayers in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt in February, 2011. The outspoken pro-Muslim Brotherhood imam has been critical of the UAE’s policies toward Islamist groups, adding to friction between Qatar and other GCC states. Khalil Hamra / AP Photo

Brotherhood imam skips Doha sermon, but more needed for GCC to reconcile

That Youssef Al Qaradawi did not speak raises hopes that the spat involving Qatar and the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain might be slowly moving towards a resolution.

 Twitter photo of  Abdel Fattah El Sisi on the campaign trail on March 30. Photo courtesy-Twitter/@SisiCampaign

El Sisi rides a bicycle, kicks off social media storm

The photos and video created a huge buzz across social media networks, possibly a marker of a new era for Egypt.

 An Afghan election commission worker carries a ballot box at a vote counting centre in Jalalabad on April 6. A roadside bomb hit a truck carrying full ballot boxes in northern Afghanistan, killing three people a day after the country voted for a successor to President Hamid Karzai. Eight boxes of votes were destroyed in the blast, which came as the three leading candidates voiced concerns about possible fraud. Noorullah Shirzada / AFP Photo

Two pressing questions for Afghanistan’s future president

Once in office, the next Afghan president must move fast to address important questions that will decide the immediate future of the country.

 Friday is UN Mine Awareness Day and Omer Hassan, who does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan, is doing all he can to teach people about the dangers posed by landmines. Louise Redvers for The National

A landmine nearly ended Omer’s life but he now works to end the threat of mines in Iraq

Omer Hassan does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan and only has to show people his mangled leg to underscore the danger of mines. With the world marking UN Mine Awareness Day on Friday, his work is as important as ever as Iraq is one of the most mine-affected countries in the world.

 Supporters of Turkey's ruling AKP cheer as they follow the election's results in front of the party's headquarters in Ankara on March 30. Adem Altan/ AFP Photo

Erdogan critic fears retaliation if he returns to Turkey

Emre Uslu is a staunch critic of Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Now, with a mass crackdown on opposition expected, he is unsure when he can return home.


To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National