Peacebuilders Camp at Koinonia Farm

Camp is a safe space

This group of campers has been remarkable. It’s an odd mix of young people to have in a room together, and I wasn’t sure how it would play out this week. So far the eclectic backgrounds have only added to the group dynamic. One big thing I’ve noticed this week is how big a deal it is that camp is a safe space. Outside of the content of what we’re talking about and the activities we’re doing, for many campers just having a safe, welcoming, community-oriented space where they can re-invent themselves and try on new identities away from home is so important.

Because of the age group, we have conversations going on with campers really grappling with how they want to define themselves and appreciating the acceptance in the group. My co-director remarked that usually creating a safe space and welcoming atmosphere feels like a given, and we don’t put a lot into our program to intentionally cultivate that. So it seems surprising that that element of camp is what is speaking to a lot of campers. It’s reminding me how many layers there are to peacebuilding work.

Campers’ comfort has become apparent in the way they’ve been sharing about their families and their lives. On Tuesday our focus was the right to work and our activities included a field trip to a wellness center and produce stand run by and for people with mental illnesses. We also learned a lot about fair trade and visited the local fair trade coffee roastery, Cafe Campesino, for drinks and a tour. Today our focus was the right to seek asylum in another country when in danger. We visited a local community center for Latino immigrants and later in the day enjoyed a cookout with Mexican tamales and burritos and heard from two undocumented immigrants the story of their journeys to the United States. All the speakers today contributed valuable stories and knowledge to our discussion of asylum, immigration, and the current debate around undocumented immigrants in the US.

I’m struck by just how real campers in this group have been and what’s it meant to the rest of the group to learn about their fellow campers on that level. In our breakout groups talking about asylum, some of our campers who are Burmese refugees to the US spoke about how their parents fled when their villages were burned and what it was like living in a refugee camp in Thailand. Campers recognized the immigration stories of other campers whose families came from Mexico for different reasons. And these are only two examples in full days where campers and staff are opening up and sharing what it’s like when injustice affects them personally. I appreciate how genuine and close-to-home these conversations have been.

Here are some photos from Tuesday and Wednesday:

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