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.  Peacebuilders Camp 2012 reduced the number of campers to twelve so that stronger relationships could develop between campers and with the adult leaders.  Jonah and Marilyn that year also 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.

Also in 2012, an advisory board was convened to bring new ideas and energy to Peacebuilders’ program, and to provide logistical and moral support to the co-directors.  Advisors come from diverse backgrounds and communities, and include local activists, parents of former campers, representatives from religious communities, staff from some of the sites that campers visit, and folks from Koinonia Farm as well.

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 each year have changed slightly.  In 2013, a mid-week visit to Andersonville National Historic Site was added to the schedule along with a discussion of war and the possibilities for peacemaking even in times of conflict.  A tour and service project at Perry Wellness Center expanded the conversation around the right to healthcare to include mental health services.  Facilitators from Art as an Agent for Change helped campers discover how their creative talents can be harnessed for peacemaking.  As new resources in and around Americus become available and issues within society change, Peacebuilders’ curriculum and programing will continue to offer relevance and challenge to young people passionate about changing their world for the better.

Each summer, a new journey awaits.  Come join us!