The final two days of Peacebuilders 2016 found our 13- and 14-year old campers giving their time to others, sharing their many talents, affirming their new friends’ skills, and setting goals for themselves. They have found so many ways to make significant difference in their world!
Friday morning, campers were able to choose between two service-learning activities, each focused on a different human right. One group considered the right to shelter and worked with Fuller Center for Housing. Under the direction of Thaddeus Harris from Fuller Center, these campers helped make improvements to the home of a woman who has recently suffered a stroke. While some campers installed a handrail on the porch stairs, others cleared away brush and beautified her yard. It’s great to know that Peacebuilders campers have made a positive difference for this Americus resident, and have learned some new skills in the process.
The second group of campers spent the morning thinking about Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.” They also learned how some people coming to the U.S. seeking asylum are denied that right. A 40-minute drive took them to the small town of Lumpkin, Georgia, home of Stewart Detention Center, one of the largest immigrant detention centers in the United States. The first stop was at El Refugio, a hospitality house about a mile from the detention center, which offers meals and overnight lodging free of charge to travelers who have come to visit their detained loved ones. Accompanied by El Refugio’s summer intern, Jake Wilson, and several other adults, the campers drove to the detention center itself. The sight of the barbed wire encircling the facility left no doubt in the campers’ minds that regardless of the terminology used, this is a prison, incarcerating hundreds of men only because they have come to the U.S. seeking safety and a better life for themselves and their families.
Campers had been encouraged to keep a flexible attitude about how the visits might go, and sure enough, plans had to change almost immediately upon entering the facility. Instead of the one-hour visits we had expected with eight different men, the situation in the visiting area required that campers group together and visit only five men, and most of those visits were for only 30 minutes. Nevertheless, our campers knew that they brought a lot of joy to men who have received only infrequent visits during their months of incarceration, and they got a whole new perspective on how our county’s immigration laws impact those seeking safety here. Two campers visited men who spoke limited English, and were able to hear their stories through generous adults who interpreted. Sarah Thompson interpreted for Isis as they visited a Spanish-speaking man from Central America, and Asma Elhuni interpreted for Hilena as they visited an Arabic-speaking man from northern Africa. Both these men told harrowing stories of their immigration to the U.S., and expressed in no uncertain terms their fear in returning to their own countries. All of the campers had a lot to think about as they covered the miles back to Koinonia, and will likely never hear comments about “illegal immigrants” again without seeing the faces of the men that they visited.
Back at the farm, all campers spent part of the afternoon working on creating talent posters for one another. They cut out or drew words, phrases, and pictures that represented the skills and qualities that they saw in each other. Staff assembled the posters and had them ready to present to campers later that evening. Staff and campers alike joined together for a talent show after dinner, where they joyfully celebrated each other’s music, skits, artwork, and dance. This group has so much talent to share!
Saturday morning, campers were asked to consider the talents that their peers had affirmed in them, and think about how to put them to use to make change in the world. Each camper met with a staff member to write a goal that they will accomplish over the next few months that will help advance human rights. The goals were read aloud as part of our graduation ceremony and were met with loud cheers of support. Here are some of the ways Peacebuilders campers will be impacting their communities:
- I will volunteer at the Fuller Center 5 times a month for the next 3 months.
- My goal is to make posters or signs with articles from the UDHR on them and hang them in my school. My objective is to make students aware of the UDHR and their own human rights. I hope that if more students are aware of their rights, they will become peacebuilders too!
- When I see someone being disrespectful at school, I will tell them to use more respectful ways to interact with others, and I will be a role model.
- On the last Sunday of September, 2016, I will perform a dance at church to “We Are the World” to spread the message of peace and unity.
- In the next six months, I will volunteer at the senior home in my community at least twice.
- I will encourage others who love to sing and dance and create art to keep doing what they want to do!
- People in our church don’t always treat people with dignity. There are people on the sidelines that don’t feel as if they are welcomed because of skin color, sexuality, and lack of money. I’m going to change the system by educating my community with the rights we all have as human beings.
In these final two short days, our campers made a big difference in many lives. An Americus resident now has easier access to her home and a tidier yard to enjoy. Several detained men have been reminded that they have not been forgotten and that they have value as human beings. Each camper’s talents and gifts have been recognized and affirmed. And goals have been set so that the power of peacebuilding will continue into the coming months. As Peacebuilders Camp 2016 comes to an end, we know that all our campers leave us better prepared to be peacemakers themselves, and that they’ll continue to make a big difference in their communities and in their world. We are so honored to be a part of these amazing young people’s lives!