How to follow along with 2018 campers this summer

From July 2 – 21, 2018, 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:

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Categories: 2018 Peacebuilders Camp |

Alumni Spotlight: Safiyyah Ameer

When campers say goodbye at the end of each session, our hope is that they will return to their communities and find ways to use their skills and raise their voices to advocate for positive change wherever they see a need. Peacebuilders 2016 alum Safiyyah Ameer (known at camp as Gracen) did just that, and what a difference she has made in her school and in her city! In the aftermath of the Parkland, Florida shooting on Valentines Day 2018, Safiyyah organized her peers in Tampa to walk out of class and march in protest. She has made speeches at demonstrations and at forums with community leaders to call for changes in gun laws so that all students can be better protected. Her passion, energy, and organizational leadership is inspiring others and creating change in her community. We can’t wait to see how she continues to use her skills to make an impact!

Categories: Alumni Spotlights |

Alumni Spotlight: Haden Bowden

In our first session of Peacebuilders 2018, campers learned about the right every human being has to a nationality. A few months after camp, one of campers from that week, Haden, met a man wanting to claim that right. Along with his mom and sister and some friends, Haden visited at Stewart Detention Center, one of the largest immigrant detention centers in the United States. Here’s how Haden describes the experience:

“(W)hen we got there it was like a prison. There were fences everywhere, there were bars on the windows and barbed wire all over the place. It looked just like a prison from a movie. The first man we wanted to talk to refused to talk to us, but the second man did talk to us. The man we met was 30, and he was really nice and friendly. He was born in Sudan, but he’s lived here since he was a kid. I wished I’d talked to him more, which I feel bad for, but I can’t change the past. When I was at the Stewart Detention Center I felt a little nervous. I don’t like the way they treat people in these facilities and how they might hurt them. I don’t think that places like this should be around and I think people should just be able to move to our country without all this drama.”

We are always excited to learn about social justice actions that our campers take after camp. We’re especially proud of Haden for stepping outside his comfort zone, offering friendship to a stranger in a bleak situation, and being open to learning and thinking about the need for change.

Categories: Alumni Spotlights |

Peacemakers Cody and Cortney Southerland of Special Kneads and Treats

Our final group of 2018 campers departed an hour ago – heading back to their homes in Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, and Ohio. We cheered loudly for each other as each name was called at our graduation ceremony. 18 of these 20 campers are returners – some for a third year! Then the kids exchanged contact info, signed each other’s t-shirts, and said sad goodbyes.

But Peacebuilders Camp is not over for this group. They each applied to Session Three with the hope of becoming part of Peacebuilders’ first ever PeaceJam Team. All week, campers have been working on designing an 8-month social justice project that they will present to a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and teens from across the southeast at the 2019 PeaceJam Conference in Tallahassee, Florida. In the time between now and April, campers will be collaborating on a creating a Toolkit for Change that they hope will inspire other young people to advocate for justice.

I invite you to read about their project here!

Courtney and Cody Southerland (3rd and 4th from the left) with campers Jorryn, Alex, and Zora

Their work for justice is inspired by the many peacemakers who come to camp to share their work, passion, and committment to justice. Our guests this week included bakers from Special Kneads and Treats in Lawrenceville, Georgia.

Though baking and cake-decorating on its surface may not sound radical – the mission of Special Kneads and Treats is! In starting the bakery, the founders sought to counteract two injustices they saw in their community: (1) not enough jobs with dignity for adults with disabilities and (2) many children and seniors with not enough resources to even have a cake on their birthday.

Today, Special Kneads and Treats is a full service bakery that employs over 20 adults with disabilities who bake and decorate cakes and other treats. One important mission of the bakery is to donate hundreds of cakes to people with limited financial resources. There is so much excitement about Special Kneads that they have a waiting list of over 175 people with disabilties seeking to work on the team.

Two bakers from Special Kneads, siblings Cody and Courtney Southerland, spent an afternoon with our campers exploring the right of the day, that “everyone has the right to work, to just and favourable conditions of work, and the right to equal pay for equal work.” Courtney and Cody taught our campers the skill of cake-decorating and our group produced six beautiful cakes!

Campers Patrick and Bryn decorating a cake for Cafe Campesino

Then in small groups, we delivered our cakes to the wider community. One went to the Koinonia Farm community as a thank you for their hospitality and kindness this week. Another went to Cafe Campesino, a huge supporter of Peacebuilders Camp that also does work for the right to equal pay. A third group of campers brought a cake to the United Methodist Childrens Home in Americus where a young girl was having a birthday. She was so delighted by her cake that she gave it a hug! And the final cakes were delivered to seniors celebrating July birthdays at Magnolia Manor and Innovative Senior Solutions, both a couple miles from Koinonia Farm.

It was fun to see first hand how much skill goes into decorating these cakes, and how much joy a birthday cake can bring to someone’s life!

A huge thank you goes out to Special Kneads and Treats and the Southerland family for not only taking off work to spend the day with us, but providing all the cakes, plus 60 cupcakes, and everything necessary to decorate the treats!

Here are some more pictures from the day:

Cody teaches us about cake-decorating

Campers Alex, Jorryn, and Zora decorating a cake for Koinonia Farm

Campers Crespo and Jubilee working hard at detailing their cake

Campers Maha and Farzana enjoying cupcakes

Categories: 2018 Peacebuilders Camp, By Jonah, Guest Peacemakers |

Creating a toolkit for change

The challenge: take a group of 20 independent-minded and passionate young people from many different geographical locations, have them spend a week together talking about the pressing issues facing their generation — everything from inclusion in the arts to mass shootings to the lack of funding for mental health services in schools to violence targeting ethnic groups in Burma — and have them all commit to working on a single peacemaking project over the next nine months.

The result: a project framework that allows flexibility for smaller groups to research and impact the issues that are most meaningful to them.

Our Session 3 campers have coalesced behind a creative idea that will serve as a model for other youth who want to change the world. They will be developing an online toolkit for social activism which will outline the steps needed to develop a successful initiative, and which will provide examples of how the campers themselves have implemented these steps to make a positive impact in their community.

Over the next months, pairs and small groups of campers will be busy working on smaller projects and compiling their reports and suggestions for the toolkit. Issues that these smaller groups are tackling include immigration detention, inclusion of children with developmental disabilities, LGTBQ allyship, combating religious persecution, and mental health services in schools.  By March, the toolkit should be complete and ready to share with the world! And when our campers reconvene in April to attend the PeaceJam conference in Tallahassee, they’ll be sharing their toolkit with several hundred youth from all over the Southeast.

Our campers have committed themselves to an ambitious plan. Peacebuilders staff are ready to give plenty of support as needed, and to celebrate with them their successful completion of their projects and toolkit!

Campers Farzana, Maha, Mu Ku, Crespo, and Anne consult about how to best uphold the right to practice one’s own religion.

Patrick gets some advice from Mario about his project with children with developmental disabilities

Hannah and Bryn think about how to support mental health services in schools.

Categories: 2018 Peacebuilders Camp, By Marilyn |

Peacemakers Douglas Scott and Full Radius Dance

Camper Patrick and members of Full Radius Dance

Peacebuilders Camp’s focus on human rights can lead us to take action in support of a wide range of causes and communities. In just these past three weeks, our campers have explored the Fair Trade movement, the Israel-Palestine conflict, health care disparities for migrant farm workers, hip hop and freedom of expression, Malala Yousafzai’s story and the right to education, the intersection of glass blowing and gun violence, domestic and international human trafficking, the right to leisure for people of all abilities, and the history of lynching in the United States.

Wow – that is a heavy list, but also one filled with stories of hope, activism, and connection. So to celebrate the successes of freedom movements and to relieve ourselves (if only for the afternoon) from the weight of systemic injustice, Tuesday at Peacebuilders Camp was a time to dance!

Douglas leading a discussion about language related to disability and the importance of the arts

Full Radius Dance is professional company that brings, powerful, passionate, innovative dance to audiences around the world. Their founder, Douglas Scott, has become a leader in physically integrative dance that is inclusive and challenging for people of all physical abilities.

There are many therapeutic programs for people with disabilities, but Full Radius prides itself on being an arts-based dance company that also is inclusive of physical differences.

In our workshop with Douglas and the Full Radius dancers, each movement that we practiced was possible to perform from the floor, seated in a chair, or standing. Participating in these movement exercises and learning about physical differences helped us see how providing access to the arts for everyone can foster connections and equity.

And then the dancers performed for us. Watch!

When the performance was complete, Patrick, a 3rd year camper, approached the dancers and asked if he could perform for them. They agreed and Patrick strapped on his in-line skates and weaved and twisted in a beautiful skate dance. The professional dancers gave him positive and supportive feedback. He was all smiles afterwards and says that Full Radius inspired him to be an even better dancer! (Patrick is 2nd from the left in the picture at the top)

Categories: 2018 Peacebuilders Camp, By Jonah, Guest Peacemakers |

Planning for peace

“What kind of world do we want to create?”

Peacebuilders Camp is stepping out of its comfort zone with our third session this year. We’re trying something new, and we’re not so sure how it’s going to turn out. But if the first two days of this session are any indication, we’ve got a very high chance of success.

For a few years, we’ve been looking for a way to extend our campers’ learning and growth into the months after camp. How can we harness the energy, enthusiasm, friendship, and passion for justice that are generated during camp and help campers take the next step to action that will transform their communities? When we learned about an opportunity called PeaceJam, we believed we found one answer.

“What skills, talents, and resources do we have?”

PeaceJam is an international organization that, among many other programs, holds peacemaking conferences for high schoolers in many parts of the world. For the Southeast U.S., the conference is held on Florida State University’s campus in Tallahassee. Groups from all over the southeast come together for a weekend each April to present the peacemaking projects that they’ve been working on in the previous months. Their audience always includes a Nobel Peace Prize laureate. After attending PeaceJam Southeast 2018, Marilyn knew that this was an opportunity that Peacebuilders Camp needed to offer to campers. So the idea for the special PeaceJam-bound session took shape. We are thrilled that we have convened such a great group of youth to represent us at next April’s conference.

“We can create change by:”

With the PeaceJam conference in mind, campers are spending this week developing their plan for their project. They will have some challenging parameters to work within. They represent geographical areas spreading from Huntsville, Alabama to Charleston, South Carolina. They have access to different resources and they come with differing levels of knowledge and experience in social justice awareness and activism. We are carefully guiding them through a process of brainstorming ideas for their project, narrowing down and modifying the suggestions that have been generated, and building consensus around one plan.

To begin, campers were asked to envision what kind of world they want to create. The world they came up with sounds pretty wonderful: a world with free, equal, and just education; with equitable energy distribution; with climate justice and prompt asylum for refugees. Next, we talked about strategies for creating change, beginning with changes in our own behaviors. And then we took stock of the talents and skills that we have available to us, which amounted to an impressive list as well.

Mario and campers consider project proposals.

Taking into account our goals, possible strategies, and the skills we bring to the table, each camper and staff member was asked to propose a possible peacemaking project, with outlandish suggestions welcome. In small group discussions, our 28 suggestions were then reviewed, modified, combined, and reduced in number to 19. Each camper was then given the chance to indicate the few that they felt the most passionate about, and the choices were narrowed to eight:

  • Circulate a petition to abolish the death penalty. Combine this with education/speaking engagements. 
  • Go to Burma to confront the army and prevent people from having to run away from their homes. 
  • Create a Youth Activist Toolkit to share with peers or give to schools to distribute. We could sell the Toolkits to raise money for causes we care about. 
  • Help Peacebuilders Camp develop our first youth-driven clubs in schools. 
  • Develop a public service announcement about modern slavery to present at the beginning of the ads at movie theaters. We could also put it on the radio or make it available in other ways. 
  • Public speaking events in schools about bullying and suicide prevention. 
  • Sell t-shirts to raise money for an organization that raises awareness about mass incarceration 
  • Volunteer at homeless shelters or other shelters and bring needed supplies 

The next step is for groups of campers to take ownership of the proposals that most inspire them and to flesh out a plan, deciding what suggestions are practical and achievable and whether to modify or eliminate those that aren’t. We’ll keep you posted during camp as they work together to choose and develop their project, and later on as they implement it!

Categories: 2018 Peacebuilders Camp, By Marilyn |

Peacemaker Isabella Pfeiffer

Isabella and camper Hannah

The February 14, 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida stunned and saddened our county. But in the midst of calls for thoughts and prayers, the surviving students stood up and took action.

Isabella Pfeiffer is a rising senior at Stoneman Douglas High. After surviving the shooting, she and some of her classmates decided to transform the tragedy into positive change. (Here is an article that features Isabella.) They started Students for Change, a 501(c)3 nonprofit that aims to empower students across the country to advocate for what they believe will make them safer in their schools and communities.

This kind of youth-led social action is exactly what we are trying to foster at Peacebuilders Camp. Activism does not have to rise only from tragedy, but instead can be spurred forward when regular people notice injustice. We hope to introduce our campers to models for leadership and give them a toolkit they can use for social change.

To this end, we invited Isabella to come to Session Three and share her story and experience with our campers.

Isabella tells her story of tragedy and social action

Isabella sat with Peacebuilders campers and told her story of the shooting and afterward. She also shared some about the process of creating Students for Change. She encouraged campers to become involved in their own communities and advocate for their own safety. And she talked about the lack of funding for mental health resources at her school prior to the shooting. Isabella lifted up this problem as one that many schools around the nation face – and our campers agreed, asking many follow-up questions about that topic.

Camper Hannah felt especially connected to what Isabella shared. Hannah helped organize the Atlanta March for Our Lives (which grew from students’ activism following the Parkland tragedy) on March 24, 2018 and kept telling Isabella how great she was. Isabella repeatedly responded by saying how great Hannah was, and thanking her for stepping forward on this issue even though she was not personally affected by it. We all smiled, hearing them argue about which one of them was the most amazing. (We know both of them are! See their picture above.)

Hannah plans to keep in touch and hopefully attend a summit that Students for Change is organizing in DC this fall.

One spark can lead to another spark, and another, and another. This week, I’ll be sharing stories with you about ways our campers intend to continue their learning at camp with an ongoing project designed to increase peace, justice, and access to human rights in their home communities. Stay tuned!

Categories: 2018 Peacebuilders Camp, By Jonah, Guest Peacemakers |

Peacemakers Jessica Lamb and John McKown

Thursday at Peacebuilders Camp was centered around one of the most stark and intense human rights: “No one should be held in slavery for any reason.” Unfortunately, human trafficking – a form of modern day slavery – is all too common in the world … and in the United States.

When slavery is mentioned, many people have an image of a southern plantation in 1850, not a young girl being forced into sex work or a young man whisked away from his home and forced to work on a chocolate farm, coffee plantation, or cattle ranch.

Modern-day slavery is way more pervasive than we would like to believe – and it affects all of us. Check your slavery footprint!

After learning some facts about modern slavery and human trafficking, our campers met with people who are working to stop this practice and provide comfort for survivors. Let me introduce them to you:

Jessica Lamb with camper Emalie and counselor Carla.

At the age of 15, Jessica Lamb was sexually abused by a “friend” of the family. This led to a downward spiral of self-harm and she started experimenting with drugs. After being told by a teacher she was a hopeless cause, Jessica dropped out of high school and ran away from home. She answered a job ad in a local paper and was lured in by a trafficker. She was branded (tattooed as property) and exploited for 5 months. She escaped in October 2003.

Today, Jessica is the founder of Atlanta Redemption Ink, whose mission is to restore dignity to survivors of exploitation, trauma, and abuse by taking marks of hurt and turning them into depictions and stories of hope and healing. ARI gives survivors an opportunity to have their “brand” replaced by a cover-up tattoo that symbolizes freedom, beauty, and redemption.

After hearing Jessica’s story and creating their own drawings of freedom, beauty, and redemption, our campers met John McKown of the organization Truckers Against Trafficking. John told our campers his story of having his eyes opened to the realities of human trafficking in truck stop parking lots. I invite you to watch his TED Talk here:

John McKown and camper Mia

Hearing his story and learning more about human trafficking, camper Mia was inspired to seek ways to stand up against modern-day slavery. The day’s discussions were significant to her and made her think a lot about victims of trafficking. She wants to be more diligent and aware of when it might be happening in her community.

If you’d like to learn more, watch this video produced by Truckers Against Trafficking:

And a big thank you to the American Trucking Association and Truckers Against Trafficking for helping John visit Peacebuilders Camp!

Categories: 2018 Peacebuilders Camp, By Jonah, Guest Peacemakers |

“I feel so powerful!”

Learning and growth happen at camp in many different ways. Sometimes learning happens because of the carefully planned curriculum, sometimes because of the ideas and experiences that campers spontaneously share with each other, and sometimes because of the serendipity that brings eager learners and inspiring teachers together in an environment that fosters exploration and knowledge-sharing.

Serendipity certainly abounded on Tuesday! Our morning facilitator, Beth Dierschow, after leading a great program on the right we all have to appropriate education, stayed on for the afternoon to help with our building project. Campers were building two picnic tables and playground equipment for Casa Alterna‘s afterschool program in LaGrange, Georgia. Guests from Casa Alterna included Keyal Loveland and her husband Josh, along with Casa Alterna founder Anton Flores and three young friends. Groups of campers tackled different parts of the job. Beth and Keyal gravitated toward two groups of girls who found themselves with piles of picnic table parts, and before long it was clear how much girl power was at work. Directions were deciphered, boards were positioned, screws were put in place, bolts were racheted in, power tools were utilized, surfaces were sanded, uncertainties were overcome, and successful completion of two sturdy tables was celebrated. “I feel so powerful!” one of the campers exclaimed when mastering the use of a new tool.

This project, on right to education day, was supposed to be about supporting a meaningful afterschool program that serves immigrant kids. But seeing these girls working together with a collaborative spirit, learning from Beth, Keyal, and counselors Lily and Carla, it became clear that much more was going on: young teens were learning from strong women about their own competencies, and recognizing how empowering it can be to step out of their comfort zones and try out new skills.

Georgia, Catherine, Macy, and Angie get started on their picnic table


Keyal, Angie, and Beth consult about the next steps


Seham tightens a bolt


Hae Paw finishes up with the power sander


Emalie, Jaliyah, Mia, Divine, Josie, Seham, and Arica bask in pride over a job well done!


Categories: 2018 Peacebuilders Camp, By Marilyn, Guest Peacemakers |

Don’t be a bystander!

During our discussion of the right to dignity, we seek to give campers tools with which they can disrupt injustice. What can you do when you see someone being disrespected, hurt, or oppressed?

Campers first discussed the bystander effect:

…and then they watched this video:

Then campers split into groups of four and created skits about moments when they’ve seen or experienced disrespect or injustice. Their stories included:

  • Seeing someone shoplifting
  • A young person being bullied on the school bus
  • Police hassling a person of color in a wealthy neighborhood
  • A female person of color being sexually harassed by a group of white boys

While watching the skits, campers were invited to stand up and enter the scene, trying out ways they might disrupt the situation. Approaches they experimented with included:

  • Using their voice to interrupt the situation
  • Using their phone to video an interaction
  • Sitting down next to a bullied person to be an ally
  • Standing between two people in conflict
  • Telling an offending person they are wrong

What other techniques might you use? Are there situations where it might be unsafe to intervene? Would your reaction be different if you were the only person that saw the situation? Or if you were in a huge crowd of people? Would your reaction change depending on your identity, race, or gender?

Categories: 2018 Peacebuilders Camp, By Jonah |