From June 22 to July 20, 2019, we will be posting stories, pictures, and videos from Peacebuilders Camp at Koinonia Farm. We invite you to follow along with the campers’ activities and excitement. Here’s how:
July 17, 2019, besides being Peacebuilders campers’ day to focus on the right to freedom of expression, is also notable for another reason. This day is the 29th anniversary of the birth of an extraordinary young man, Mattie Stepanek. On this day, campers learned from Mattie’s example about their own ability to create peace.
Mattie chose to be remembered as a “a poet, a peacemaker, and a philosopher who played.” Before he passed away in 2014, Mattie published five New York Times bestselling poetry books. One of the books was co-authored with Jimmy Carter, who calls Mattie “the most remarkable person I have ever known.” Mattie’s philosophy of peace, and each person’s capacity to create peace, continues to inspire today. Today, our campers were among those inspired as Laura Bauer, executive director of Mattie’s foundation, shared his story.
After learning about Mattie, campers were given the opportunity to express themselves creatively. Some campers chose a poetry workshop with Laura, and fashioned their own poetry of peace after one of Mattie’s poems. Their work was gathered into a visual display that will be on exhibit at Georgia Southwest State University’s James Earl Carter library.
Other campers chose to exercise their freedom of expression in another way. They worked with Sulaimon Bamadele, a professional broadcast journalist and founder of Great Dreams Radio. Sulaimon is visually impaired and is originally from Nigeria. Assisted by Kevin Caron, a radio journalist with WRFG radio in Atlanta, Sulaimon guided campers to record radio spots about their home communities, which will be broadcast on Great Dreams Radio. Many thanks to Georgia Southwest State University for the space and equipment to make this experience possible!
Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that we all have the right to education. What does honoring that right mean to you? Better training or salaries for teachers? Access to schooling for girls in others countries? Less focus on testing? Bilingual classrooms? Free university education?
Whatever your educational priorities are, chances are that bringing about needed changes will involve government action at some level. Our campers today had the opportunity to hear two stories about advocating for better and safer education by appealing to those who make the rules. Andre Fields joined us to tell how as a teen, he organized an effort to lobby his local school board for better textbooks for his predominantly African American high school. That success propelled him into the political arena as an adult. After working as a special assistant to Stacey Abrams, he is now the political director of Fair Fight, promoting voting justice throughout the state. Ariel Harper and Nurah Abdul were our two other guests. As statewide leaders for March for Our Lives Georgia, they are deeply involved in advocacy efforts to make Georgia schools safer so that students can better take advantage of their right to education.
After meeting Andre, Nurah, and Ariel and hearing their stories, campers divided into two groups, legislators and activists. Legislators met with Andre for a discussion about how a proposal about education or anything else makes its way through the legislative process to become law.
Nurah and Ariel met with the activists and explained different strategies they could use to convince legislators to protect students by enacting stricter gun laws.
After lunch, legislators held a press conference and outlined specific points to the bill. Activists were ready with chants and challenges, and worked to sway the legislators to their position. They must have been convincing, because when the vote came, the bill passed unanimously! Governor Elizabeth wisely decided not to veto, and a legislative victory for the right to a safe education was celebrated!
Honoring the right to education can take many, many forms, but it was Peacebuilders’ honor today to educate our campers about their own power to make a difference through the legislative process. We can’t wait to see what these engaged young people will accomplish as they advocate for their own rights and others’ rights in the future!
Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says that we all have the right to freedom of expression and that we can “receive and impart information and ideas through any media . . .” This important right gets a lot of attention at Peacebuilders Camp, where we encourage the exchange of ideas and honor each person’s perspective. We also have the privilege of meeting extraordinary people who, in their own creative ways, bring new ideas to the forefront, encourage others to share their beliefs, give voice to those who have been silenced, or amplify the incisive words of others.
Such was the experience of our Session 2 campers on their last full day of camp. Our guest was Scott Stanton, also known as Panhandle Slim. Scott’s work is well known in Savannah, where neighbors enjoy his portraits that they see popping up around town. His simple drawings coupled with thought-provoking quotes entertain, educate and challenge others by sharing the words and wisdom of well-known and not-so-well-known people from the past and present.
In the weeks leading up to camp, Scott generously invested many, many hours creating portraits of campers from photographs that they provided. When he walked into Fuller House on Friday morning, he immediately recognized the campers whose portraits he had painted!
Although Scott may not define himself first and foremost as a peacemaker, his work certainly identifies him as such. Never intending to become a folk artist, he began painting portraits as a hobby, starting with notable people such as Dolly Parton, Malcolm X, and Jimmy Carter. A turning point came for him when he learned of Trayvon Martin’s death. Knowing that neighborhoods in his own town were places where violence occurred and young people lost their lives, Scott started to think of his art as a potential tool to bring beauty and hope to these areas. Always respectful of the residents’ wishes and always humble about his own talent, he began to create art in these spaces. And then in 2015, another act of violence impacted his career. In Savannah’s neighboring city of Charleston, South Carolina, nine innocent people lost their lives in the horrific shooting at Emmanuel AME Church. Like so many others across the nation, Scott struggled to translate his emotions into a productive response. For him, this response came in the form of nine portraits, which he delivered to the church as his offering of love, condolence, and solidarity. That gift, he says, has led to beautiful friendships with the families of the victims of the shooting, and has reinforced for him the power of his art to make a difference.
After meeting Scott and his son Tex, campers had the remarkable opportunity to join the creative process and express what was important to them. Paint brushes in hand, they added thoughtful quotes to their portraits, expressing feelings, ideas, challenges, and even fears alongside their images. We think the results are pretty fantastic.
Because we are Peacebuilders, we know that the right to freedom of expression isn’t honored only by expressing our own thoughts and opinions. We know that we have responsibility to support that right for others. So after lunch, campers headed for Magnolia Manor, a retirement center in Americus. Ready with interview questions, they soon engaged in conversation with the residents and before long were gleaning nuggets of wisdom. Soon, many were off-script, asking questions about history and experiences and memories, and sharing parts of their own lives. Campers connected with the seniors is some amazing ways. Deyon and Elizabeth interviewed their partner, a former chaplain from a school for the Deaf, in American Sign Language. Ira’s new friend had recently suffered a stroke, and this was her first social engagement in several months. Ira’s kindness and interest brought her out of her shell and encouraged interaction. All of the campers and seniors shared much gratitude for the time spent in conversation.
Scott had gone to the extra effort of preparing portraits for all the residents who were interviewed, so back at the farm, campers again picked up their brushes and added words to images. These portraits will be gifted to Magnolia Manor so that the words of these women can inspire others!
Friday evening gave campers and staff alike one more chance to exercise their right to freedom of expression in our end-of camp talent show. Suli amazed everyone with his skill at plate-spinning, Willow and Zeph tore up the dance floor, Georgia and Arielle enchanted the audience with their gorgeous voices, Elizabeth shared jokes, and Hae Tha Blay showcased her intricate drawing. The night was made complete with a bonfire and s’mores, and a final dance party in the Koinonia coffee house. What a great way to end a phenomenal week with these outstanding campers!
Our Session 2 campers have traveled far this week in terms of miles: 60 to Columbus, Georgia on Wednesday, 40 to Lumpkin, Georgia on Thursday, and 2.5 on the Chattahoochee River between Georgia and Alabama. But the milage put on our vans and rafts was nothing compared to the distances most of our campers traveled outside their comfort zones in those two days. Much was asked of them, and they bravely accepted the challenge. And in doing so, they learned a lot about themselves and others, experienced the thrill of adventure, and brought joy to those trapped in a lonely and scary place.
Wednesday’s mission was to explore the right to freedom of conscience. With lunches packed and swim gear stowed, the vans were loaded and the group set off for Columbus to meet a hero of conscience, Roy Bourgeois.
Roy shared his life experiences with the campers. As a solider in Vietnam, he observed a Catholic priest ministering to children who had been orphaned by the war, and that example led him to join the priesthood as well. After working in impoverished communities in Latin America, he began to question the U.S. military’s involvement in those countries. He told campers how his conscience led him to engage in nonviolent protest against the School of the Americas (now known as WHINSEC) at Fort Benning in Columbus. For acts of civil disobedience at Fort Benning and elsewhere, Roy has served several prison sentences, and yet is content that his actions were right and just. Roy’s conscience has also led him to be a vocal advocate for the ordination of women as Catholic priests, a stance that led to his excommunication from the priesthood. His example of courage and strength of conscience is one that campers will not soon forget.
A different kind of courage was needed for the next adventure. After saying goodbye to Roy and enjoying a picnic lunch at a Columbus park, campers embarked on a whitewater rafting trip. The idea of getting into an inflatable raft and taking off down the Chattahoochee was definitely not within the comfort zone of several campers. But with support from their fellow campers and with true bravery and determination, every person in the end chose to participate, and had a great time! We’re so proud of those who overcame their fears and rose to the challenge!
The challenges didn’t let up on Thursday, when campers were asked to consider the right to asylum and the hardships faced by people trying to claim that right in the U.S. Vans were again packed, and campers headed to Lumpkin, Georgia, home to El Refugio and Stewart Detention Center. El Refugio is a hospitality house a couple miles from the detention center, where family members of incarcerated men are offered welcome. Campers were greeted by Loyda Paz, who explained the mission of El Refugio and also prepared the campers who wanted to visit with men detained at Stewart.
With Roy’s example of courage fresh in their minds, most of the campers again chose to take a huge step outside their comfort zone, pass through the gates and under razor wire and security cameras, and enter one of the largest immigrant detention centers in the country.
After two hours in the waiting room, the first group of campers was escorted through security and into the visitation area. There, through plexiglass windows and over phones, they met men from Cameroon, Belize, the Dominican Republic, India, and Sierra Leone. Many of these men are seeking asylum in the United States and are incarcerated as they await the court hearings that will decide their fate. During their visits with Peacebuilders campers, they got to forget for a little while their uncertain futures and their profoundly difficult present situations. Campers offered them friendship, jokes, stories, listening ears, and something that many of the men had not experienced in quite a while: dignity, gratitude, and honor.
Back at the El Refugio house, another group of campers was hard at work offering another act of service. Under the direction of Juan Ramirez, they stained the huge new deck that will provide El Refugio’s guests a lovely place to relax and unwind after visits to the detention center. Under the hot July sun, this work was indeed a labor of love!
The visits and the work at El Refugio stretched late into the afternoon. By the time campers were back in their familiar surroundings at Koinonia, their hearts and minds had traveled far beyond the confines of comfort, expanding their appreciation for their own capabilities. These brave, thoughtful, kind, and strong young people offer hope for the future, and we couldn’t be prouder of them!
On Monday of this week, our Session 2 campers arrived ready to tackle new ideas, make new friends, consider new perspectives, and gain new inspiration. After a day of orientation and settling in, they were an eager group on Tuesday morning when counselor Merseigne posed this question: What does a humanitarian do? Answers were offered, but no real definition of humanitarian work surfaced. Clearly, humanitarian work involves humans, but beyond that, just what is it?
What better way to understand the work of a humanitarian than to meet one? And there is no better humanitarian for young people to meet than our facilitator for the day, Cara Yar Khan. It was a true honor to introduce Cara, who has served all over the world with UNICEF and other United Nations agencies, to our campers. With Cara’s help, they explored how Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights applies to disaster situations. The basic rights that this article protects, including the right to food, shelter, clothing, and healthcare, are particularly critical in areas where there have been natural disasters or human-made disasters of war or violence.
Cara started out by telling the story of how she learned about the United Nations as a child and determined that some day, she would work for the UN. She set about learning languages, volunteering, and getting international experience, and in her early 20s, was elated to land an internship with the UN in Ecuador. From that point on, she traveled the world over as a part of a team responding to disasters in places like China, Haiti, Madagascar, Angola, and Thailand. She shared with the campers examples of how very diverse skills and talents are all needed to bring basic needs to people in disaster areas, and she encouraged all of our campers to consider humanitarian work as an option for their future. Her stories of her own experiences as a humanitarian inspired campers and staff alike.
Cara also shared about her new mission: advocating for the rights of people with disabilities. At age 30, Cara was diagnosed with a rare form of muscular dystrophy, and has been losing muscle strength ever since. She told the story of how in Haiti, using leg braces and canes, she encountered a great deal of discrimination in spite of her high-level position with UNICEF. Instead of letting others define her and her abilities, she was able to change the thinking of those who wanted relegate her to a dependent position. Now relying on a wheelchair for mobility, she is a brilliant example of a person who continues to live a life of passionate service to others regardless of physical challenges.
After questions and answers with Cara, campers split into groups to play a board game to learn more about needs and challenges in disaster situations. The board presented real-life situations that humanitarian workers face:
- Well-meaning donors have sent fancy dresses, high-heeled shoes, and toys that require batteries. Clothing and children’s services teams have to spend valuable time sorting through these donations.
- Heat and high humidity are causing clothing and tent materials to mildew.
- Shipping containers full of canned foods arrive, but there are no can openers.
- Healthcare workers need to know what types of blood are available in different areas for patients who need transfusions, but communication systems are down.
Players worked together to help each other proceed through the game board so that their imaginary community would have all basic needs met. Debriefing after the game with Cara added more insights to the work that she and other humanitarian workers do all over the world.
After lunch, we celebrated the cultures of places where Cara has worked and where disasters have struck in the recent past. Groups cooked foods from Guatemala (which experienced a devastating volcanic eruption in 2018), China (Sichuan earthquake, 2008), Madagascar (multiple cyclones), New Orleans (Hurricane Katrina, 2005), and India (Cara’s home country).
Before long, amazing aromas were wafting from the Fuller House oven and Jordan House kitchen. While banana bread was baking and red beans and rice were simmering, campers made flags from their assigned areas and decorated tablecloths representing the history and culture. By dinnertime, a huge buffet was set up and we ate our way around the world!
If you’d like a taste of our day, here’s the recipe for banana bread from Madagascar, which was a big hit, especially with the impromptu addition of chocolate chips!
- 3 very ripe bananas, mashed
- 1 1/2 cups rice flour
- ½ cup butter, melted,
- ⅔ cup brown sugar
- 2 eggs
- 2 tsp vanilla
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1 TBSP oil
Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Mix all ingredients together well, pour into a buttered and floured loaf pan, bake for an hour or longer until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool before removing from the pan.
For this first time ever, we led a week of Leadership Training for our summer staff between Sessions One and Two of camp. It was a time for relaxation and recharge between groups of campers. But it was also a space for our impressive group of counselors to learn, discuss, and serve.
The week started with exploring our personalities in a workshop with Coach Doris Shannon who used the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator as a tool to help us look more deeply at our type preferences. Coach Doris taught us that everyone can perform each personality type, but by knowing our type preference, we can be more mindful of our strengths and therefore more effective in the world.
Our next step in examining our place in the movement for peace and justice was to explore our identities. Just as personality is affected by our genes and our upbringing, our identity is also influenced by both. We may be born with a certain skin tone, gender, or sexual orientation, but society confers meaning and privilege or oppression on each identity.
Each of us wrote down our most full name and told a story about our name. I was moved by how much of our identity is connected to our name. From our name stories, we learned about each other’s African birth, deeply held Christian faith, death of a loved one, tight-knit community, multi-generational family connections, strong Muslim values, difficulties with English as a second language, and relationship with our parents. What do the stories about your name convey about your identity?
As we wrote extensive lists of our intersecting identities, we asked, “What privileges do we gain from our identities? And what oppression do we experience as a result of our identities? Are there identities that we don’t even realize we have but that provide us privilege in the world?”
Living in a hearing-focused world, most hearing people don’t even realize they are hearing. But Deaf people sure know it! We wrapped up the week with a workshop about hearing privilege. DeAnna Swope helped us explore the privilege that comes from being hearing in a culture that centers hearing, and the oppression Deaf people experience living in that same culture.
As we welcome Deaf campers during Session Two, our staff will be more mindful of how all our identities, Black, white, immigrant, woman, Queer, … and hearing affect our relationships with campers.
Also during Leadership Training Week, we listened to and discussed stories of social change movements:
- Gandhi’s independence movement in India
- The Deaf President Now movement at Gallaudet University
- The Civil Rights Movement in Albany and Americus, Georgia
- The Fair Food Movement led by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers
- El Refugio hospitality house in Lumpkin, Georgia
- The New Sanctuary Movement
And each day, we had a discussion about a complex question within social justice movements:
- What leadership roles (if any) should be played by people who don’t share the identity of the movement?
- What values (if any) are you not willing to compromise on?
- What should the role of violence be (if any) in social change movements?
- What is the balance that should be held between providing immediate relief of suffering and working towards systemic change?
We also practiced playing Peacebuilders Camp’s newly minted “Disaster Relief Game” in preparation for teaching the campers to play.
Also in preparation for camp, our group visited immigrant detainees at Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia. We were struck by the deep conversations we had with these men. We met someone who had been detained for over 10 months, someone who had a harrowing trip from Africa to South America to the United States, and someone who had just been granted asylum!
Even though we said goodbye to our Session 1 campers on Saturday, our staff continues to reflect on all the great experiences of the week. On Friday, campers had a special chance to engage creatively to learn about the right of the day, the right to freedom of expression. We started by thinking of the many, many ways that people can express themselves, and then asking, as we do with every right, “Who doesn’t have as much access to this right as they should?” As campers offered answers to this question, we were again impressed with their depth of thinking and understanding. To end our discussion, campers were asked to respond to opinion questions about freedom of expression. The one that generated the most varied answers was a hard one: “Should all people have the right to express themselves freely, even if what they’re expressing is hateful?” Some campers shared personal experiences of being hurt by hateful speech and thought that people should not have the right to inflict that kind of pain on others. Some campers strongly defended the right to free expression regardless of the content. Even though no consensus was reached, we all found a new perspective from which to examine the question.
Next, we welcomed back Cameron Williams, aka C. Grimey, a hip hop artist and historian. Just like last year, C. Grimey captured the campers’ attention with his stories of how hip hop became a vital form of expression for people of color. Many campers were eager to try their hand at composing, and with the help of assistant Tameka Parker, had that chance! C. Grimey and Tameka asked them to first consider their own fears and to express those fears through words and drawings. In the next step, those words, thoughts, and feelings were transformed into poetry and rap. Most of all, C. Grimey offered support, encouragement, and acceptance and was a great role model for all our campers.
Two other workshops brought out other creative talents as campers thought about the many ways to express themselves. Counselor Elizabeth led theater exercises and games, and taught a lot of tongue twisters! Director Mario asked campers to consider graffiti as a form of expression. Then he passed out spray paint and let them express themselves all over the wall of an unused building on the farm! Thank you, thank you to Koinonia for going along with this idea and making that wall available to our creative campers!
In our talent show that evening, we entertained by singing, skits, a comedy routine, dance, and a performance by C. Grimey. We celebrated not only the right we have to freely express ourselves in many ways, but also the myriad talents of these amazing youth, and the friendships that they built over the week of camp.
Before heading for bed, campers participated in an activity that allowed them to express their appreciation and affirmation for each other, and then they heard the story of Romaine Patterson, a young woman who had to answer for herself that hard question from the morning’s discussion. When hateful people came to disrupt the funeral of Romaine’s friend Matthew Shepherd, she had to consider how to respond in a way that still honored the group’s right to express themselves. Her angel wings project is still being used today to contain hateful speech, and it stands as a shining example of a productive way to respond to hate that neither flees from the hatred nor fights back with more hate. We are hopeful that all that our campers learned during their busy week at Peacebuilders Camp will enable them to use their creative talents in similar ways, to promote peace, to stand up to hate, and to produce positive change.
The right to clothing is tucked into Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, one part of a list of basic human needs that everyone should have access to. On Thursday, we took that one little element of Article 25 and blew it wide open, looking at the right to clothing from many different angles. Some questions we considered:
- Why is clothing important, beyond just keeping our bodies covered?
- What consequences do people face if they can’t keep their clothes clean?
- What people or groups might not be able to exercise their right to clothing?
- What can we do to support people who need clothing or clean clothing?
- What is fast fashion, and what impact does it have on the world?
- How can our clothing choices be more environmentally sustainable?
- How can clothing deliver a message about issues that we care about?
Our fabulous guest for the day was Cutter Huston of The Laundry Project. Cutter, a new high school graduate, has for four years been organizing free laundry days, first in his community in Florida, and now in Charlottesville, VA, where his family has relocated. He shared how his passion for helping people obtain clean laundry started with volunteering, and with meeting a man who told him, “When I am wearing clean clothes, people see me.” He helped campers think about how having to wear dirty clothes can contribute to a downward spiral of unemployability, poverty, and the continuing lack of resources needed to wash clothes. Additionally, he challenged his eager listeners to find a project that they can be passionate about in their own communities, and where they can gain experience working with others toward positive change.
Campers then split into groups to work on three different service projects to support people with clothing needs. Four campers accompanied Cutter and two counselors to pick up laundry from families who had prearranged to participate in our free laundry service. They returned to camp and washed and dried the laundry, and in addition helped out Koinonia’s hospitality crew by washing linens. Another group cut patterns out of used denim jeans which will be sent to Sole Hope’s project in Uganda and made into shoes for toddlers. These shoes will protect children from a parasite that causes debilitating disease. (Thanks so much for local independent clothing company Tepuy Activewear for the loan of the fabric scissors!)
And a third group tie-dyed t-shirts that will support Koinonia’s Hospitality Beyond Borders. The shirts will be included in bags of clothing that Koinonia assembles and delivers to nearby Stewart Detention Center in response to requests from men who are held there and are awaiting deportation. The shirts that campers dyed will end up in all corners of the world and hopefully will be a reminder to the men who wear them that there are U.S. Americans who care about their needs. All campers also got to tie dye their own Peacebuilders Camp shirts!
After completing our projects to serve those with too little access to clothing, we turned our attention to the opposite problem: too many clothes, and the consequences of “fast fashion.” After a fast relay race that involved taking on and taking off many items of clothing, we watched a video that defines fast fashion and explains the environmental impact and labor issues associated with it. Campers were challenged to work toward buying fewer clothes, buying used clothing, buying quality clothing, and washing it only when needed.
Our final challenge for the day came from CIT Suli, who inspired the campers with the story of how in the past few months, in his senior year of high school, he started his own clothing company. Called Moral Fabric, the company’s goal is to market quality, inspirational clothing that features the designs of young artists. Campers were wildly enthusiastic about the designs that Suli shared, and many offered to provide designs of their own for him to use in future clothing lines! Both Suli and Cutter, who are each only a few years older than the campers, are fantastic examples of what’s possible when a passionate young person puts their mind to making a difference. Many thanks to both of these inspiring teens!
The day ended with a dance party and lots of merry-making. It’s hard to believe this group has only been together for four days. So many friendships and significant experiences have been shared. We are lucky to be with this band of happy campers!
When the United Nations developed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, some rights seemed so basic that they didn’t require much debate. Article 25 includes many of those rights: the right to food, to clothing, to medical care, and to housing. But debate certainly can arise when we ask how those basic needs should be provided to people who lack them, and what constitutes adequate healthcare, food, clothing, or housing. We started Wednesday’s exploration of the right to housing trying to find agreement on some of those questions. What needs to be included in a house or other shelter to make it adequate?
After generating lots of ideas about what a shelter needs to have so that it meets basic needs, the group narrowed the list down to five: a solid structure; clean, running water; a toilet; beds; and internet access. List in hand, we set off for Habitat for Humanity’s Global Village to learn about Habitat’s work around the world and to see the types of houses that Habitat partners build in many different areas.
Our first stop after our welcome and introduction was the poverty housing neighborhood. This area simulates the kind of housing options available to people who live in very poor conditions in many places in the world. Some of these shelters had beds or a sleeping area, but nothing else from our list was available, and most obviously, the shelters lacked any sort of solid structure. It is this kind of neighborhood that Habitat seeks to replace with solid, clean, and adequately provisioned homes.
As we moved on through the village, we came to homes like those Habitat builds in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Pacific. Campers explored each house and noted what each included and what each lacked from our list of basic needs. Some included electricity and most, but not all, running water. Toilets were present in most houses, but varied in style. All houses had a solid structure that was appropriate to the climate, weather patterns, and available materials in each country represented, and all had a sleeping area of some sort. No one was surprised that all lacked internet access — but how long will it be before this amenity, too, is considered a basic necessity?
The chance to see inadequate shelter side by side with decent housing really helped illuminate what the right to housing really means: not just a roof over one’s head, but a place where needs are met, where people can thrive, and where real community can be built. We are grateful to the work of Habitat for making decent housing a reality in so many, many places.
Back at Koinonia, we welcomed our afternoon guests to learn about the right to housing closer to home. Marshall Rancifer (whose work is highlighted in this article) and four other formerly homeless people from Atlanta graciously made the trip south to play a board game with us, a very special board game called Home Sweet Homelessness, adapted for use with this age group. In this game, players start in a neutral position and then are directed by the roll of the dice and by “challenge” and “opportunity” cards to move up the board toward home ownership or down the board toward homelessness. Each roll provides a new issue or situation to consider:
- If you lost your home, would you be able to stay at the same school? What would you tell your teachers?
- Where would you do your laundry?
- If you had to choose between paying your rent or keeping your car, which would you choose?
- If you became homeless, what would that mean for your faithful pet?
- What would you miss most about your home if you lost it?
- How would you maintain your self-esteem?
- What would you do for fun if you didn’t have a home?
Our guests acted as “game guides,” offering their own answers, perspectives, and experiences to make this more than a game, but a window into the lives that hundreds of thousands of people in the U.S. live every day. We are deeply grateful for this willingness to share their stories and educate us about the realities of homelessness.
But we didn’t just learn about the problem. We were also inspired by the possibility for solutions. Marshall shared with us stories from the endless work he and his fiancée Lisa do to help people secure and retain housing. One thing became very clear: honoring the human right to adequate shelter requires much more than just governmental policies. Honoring this right means challenging the status quo, demanding better housing solutions, approaching problems creatively, and seeing value in every single person who asks for assistance.
Back in the 1970s, Koinonia Farm birthed a movement that brought all of those elements together to bring about change for dozens of families in Sumter County. That movement is now making a difference the world over under the Habitat for Humanity name. It was an honor to meet at Koinonia some of today’s superstars who are also creatively defending the right each person has to live in a decent home and to be regarded as valuable.
Day 2 of Session 1 of Peacebuilders Camp 2019 has been a day to remember! Our focus today was on Article 24 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which tells us that everyone has the right to rest and leisure. Not much resting went on today, but we did think about why the right to leisure is important, and who might lack access to that right. And we heard from some experts about how leisure in the form of sports, and in particular the sport of rugby, has been life-changing for them.
Our guests were Phaidra Knight, USA Rugby’s 2010 Player of the Decade and Bob Lujano, 2004 Paralympic medalist in quad rugby. They joined us at Koinonia in the morning to meet our campers and tell their stories of how they became involved in rugby, after being excluded from other sports because of gender or disability. They each shared how their current work pushes wider and wider the circle of who can be included in sport. Phaidra’s efforts to honor the right to all people to participate in sports have led her to teach rugby to incarcerated youth and others; Bob’s role at the Lakeshore Foundation in Birmingham supports athletes with a wide range of disabilities. As they both graciously answered question after question from our insightful campers, it also became clear what great role models they are, and how well they demonstrate inclusivity, passion, and determination on and off the rugby pitch or court.
Bob and Phaidra accompanied us to Georgia Southwest State University’s gym for some active learning and fun! They ran Team Phaidra and Team Bob through various drills and relays, a raucous game of capture the flag, and 4 on 4 matches that brought out the competitive spirit of campers and counselors alike.
After two hours of hard play, we all enjoyed lunch together at GSW’s dining hall, where Phaidra surprised all the campers (and staff!) with a promise to send a signed rugby ball for each person.
We are so grateful that these two gifted athletes gifted us with their stories, wisdom, and time. Their gift will certainly multiply as new insights shape our campers’ understanding of the power of sports and the power of inclusivity. As one camper reflected, “I never saw sports as welcoming before!”