A Brief History of Peacebuilders Camp at Koinonia Farm
In the spring of 2009, Marilyn McGinnis, who was then teaching history at a small private school in Atlanta, led a group of six middle schoolers on an overnight field trip to Koinonia Farm in Americus. The goal was to learn about the farm’s role in the Civil Rights Movement and about the work of unsung heroes, both past and present, who have helped bring about about social change. The impact that this brief visit to Koinonia made on the students was impressive, and Marilyn began to consider how other youth could benefit from a similar experience. At the same time, she began to identify other places in the Americus vicinity that provided opportunities to teach and inspire youth, and the idea for a week-long camp focusing on human rights and peacemaking was born.
Marilyn teamed up with co-teacher Jonah McDonald, who had plenty of experience organizing and leading excursions for youth and adults, and together they established Peacebuilders Camp early in 2010. After a year and a half of planning, sixteen campers and two volunteer counselors joined Jonah and Marilyn in Americus in June of 2011 for the first Peacebuilders Camp. Together they spent a week immersed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in Koinonia’s intentional community, in farm life, and in conversation with activists making a difference in their world. Interspersed with all the serious thinking and discussions was plenty of time for swimming, basketball, campfires, hayrides, water fights, storytelling, and crazy fun. Jonah and Marilyn realized what potential for transformation their program provided for youth from many different backgrounds, and committed themselves to developing a structure so that camp could continue for many more years.
That structure has continued to develop since the first year. In 2012, Jonah and Marilyn that recognized the gifts that volunteer counselor Erica Schoon brought to the program and asked her to join the leadership team as the third co-director. As planning for Peacebuilders Camp 2013 began, the team decided to take a leap of faith and expand camp to two weeks, one week for each of two different age groups. Largely due to Erica’s tireless effort, those two weeks filled with eager campers. With paid counselors for the first time, camp was even more successful than in the past.
Another change in structure since the first year of camp has been a more formal partnership with Koinonia Farm itself. Now under Koinonia’s fiscal and programatic umbrella, Peacebuilders Camp at Koinonia Farm enjoys even more support and involvement from the partners, interns, and volunteers at Koinonia.
The camp curriculum, too, has continued to evolve. Still based solidly on the UDHR, the specific rights highlighted and the venues visited vary from year to year. We have discovered more local people whom we rely on to facilitate various sessions, and we also are drawing talent from further afield, as in 2016 when Dwayne Szot joined us from Michigan to lead our campers in hosting a community art fair, and in 2017 when glass artists from Project FIRE in Chicago helped us explore the right to participate in the arts.
In 2016, Mario Burton took over Erica’s role as Program Director, and added his talents and expertise to our leadership team. Besides offering strong leadership to summer camp programming and guidance and support to our summer staff, Mario is also working to create year-round opportunities for campers to reconnect, to continue learning about human rights, and to inspire and be inspired by fellow Peacebuilders.
Now running three summer camp sessions of 20 campers each, Peacebuilders continues to grow and evolve. Beginning with Peacebuilders 2018, our oldest campers will be invited to participate in a partnership with PeaceJam, where they will have the opportunity to meet other youth from across the southeast U.S. who are also passionate about creating peace in their world. Stay tuned for more information about this and other new developments as Peacebuilders Camp continues to adapt to provide innovative human rights education to youth and to prepare them to thoughtfully consider and respond to the ever-changing challenges of their communities.
Each summer, a new journey awaits. Come join us!