Our 2016 Peacebuilders have been doing great things since camp in July. In honor of Dr. King, we’re posting highlights of our campers’ service. Scroll down to see how these committed young people are keeping the Dream alive!
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!
“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion,” says Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It’s a right that people in the United States and many other nations pretty much take for granted. We are free to decide what’s right and wrong based on what our conscience or our religion tells us. But identifying exactly how that freedom translates into behavior can be difficult.
Thursday morning, campers had the chance to consider how their consciences guide them. They were asked to take their place along a spectrum between “OK” and “Not OK” in response to several different issues. Is hunting for sport OK or not OK? How about buying bottled water? Serving in the military? Using recreational drugs? Lively discussion ensued as campers and staff alike justified their positions on the spectrum.
Later in the morning, we listened as Al Geiger, a conscientious objector from the Korean War era, shared his story. He led us to consider that in any conflict, there’s a third option besides running away and fighting back. After lunch, three different facilitators led discussions having to do with freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. Sarah Thompson, executive director of Christian Peacemaker Teams and our guest at camp all this week, encouraged campers to think about how people can navigate differences with each other in their conscience or religion. Asma Elhuni shared her perspectives as a Muslim feminist and challenged campers to examine their own perceptions of Islam. Willie Hager from Veterans for Peace in Jacksonville, FL, dealt with the issue of military recruitment and admonished campers who are considering military service to make sure they are getting truthful information during the recruitment process.
Over dinner, campers interviewed Koinonia community members, asking them what decisions they have made based on their conscience or religion. Several campers found themselves engaged in interesting and inspiring discussions as they got to know our hosts at Koinonia on a deeper level.
It was a day of lots of thinking, discussion, and sharing of perspectives. The themes that campers were introduced to are sure to come up again and again as they listen to the news, interact with people of other religions, and consider their own choices and options for the future. Campers are now better equipped to thoughtfully exercise their precious freedoms of thought, conscience, and religion as they tackle these issues and decisions.
After more than 9 months of preparations, Peacebuilders Camp welcomed Dwayne Szot of Zot Artz to Americus, Georgia. Dwayne’s career as an artist has led him to notice that the tools available to artists are not welcoming, useable, or accessible to many people with mobility differences. So he did something about it! He created Zot Artz, which makes art available to all, using tools like the Art Roller and Pogo Paint Pole. Now he travels the world, making art in inclusive community, bringing people of all abilities and mobilities together to create beautiful art and murals. Dwayne’s work helps bring about social justice, and we were excited to welcome him to Peacebuilders Camp!
Our campers discussed article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in the morning:
“Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.”
When asked why access to the arts would be considered a human right, campers answered that art allows people to express themselves, connect with their culture, and have beauty in their lives. Our goal today was to invite the wider community to join our campers in exercising this right to enjoy the arts.
Studio 47, a dance, arts, and youth community center in Americus hosted the Zot Artz event, and campers had a great time helping Dwayne set up the space. 150 square feet of paper was taped to the floor, almost ten gallons of paint was mixed and prepared. Tables were covered, foam, scissors, and markers were laid out for participants, and then we opened the doors.
Kids from the local community, families, adults, a group from a local behavior health center, and even a couple puppies in need of a home streamed into Studio 47. People with developmental disabilities, autism, and other less visible differences participated in the event. A young woman in a hot pink wheelchair rolled in. Representatives from the Perry Wellness Center, the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities, and Easter Seals attended. White, Black, Latino, and Asian people played and painted side-by-side. And everybody – campers and guests, young and old – worked together to put their unique prints on our giant 30’x50′ canvas.
By the end of the day, our campers were ready for pizza and a few hours swimming at the GSW pool. But we went to bed with smiles on our faces, and a giant multi-colored mural to remember the day with.
Today was a day full of activity and full of issues to consider. Guests from Liberia Orphan Education Project (LOEP) did their part to keep our bodies and minds busy this morning and early afternoon. They shared with us great information about Liberia and their work there, including their support of teachers and students through the recent Ebola crisis. They helped us to consider the right to education, who gets left out of that right, and why. What if you need to spend several hours a day carrying water to your home? What time is left over to attend school? What if the latrine at your school is neither private nor sanitary? How much of a deterrent is that to school attendance? What if you are continually sick because of unclean water or disease transmission from unwashed hands? How able will you be to focus on your studies? Campers made the connection between water issues and education, and then got to try their hands at hauling water for just a short distance — nothing like the long journeys children make daily in some developing countries. Our campers struggled to carry 40 pounds of water in their arms, unlike Liberian children who easily carry that much on their heads. After hauling the water, campers washed their hands, trying to minimize the amount of precious water used. Then we took turns reading several water facts. Did you know that Sub-Saharan Africa alone spends about 40 billion hours per year collecting water, the equivalent of a whole year’s worth of labor by France’s entire workforce?
Next, Emmalee, Beth, and Gary from LOEP led groups of campers in assembling tippy tap hand washing stations from PVC pipes. It was a teamwork challenge that got our campers problem-solving together, and soon we had four stations built. We’ll be donating the stations to Koinonia and to Habitat for Humanity’s Global Village, where they’ll be put to use cleaning hands and helping people think about the importance of hand washing.
Although the right to water is not mentioned specifically in the UDHR, it fits easily into the spirit of Article 25, which states that we all have the right to a standard of living adequate for our health and well-being. Also under the umbrella of Article 25 is the right to food. To explore what that right means, and who gets left out, campers were treated to a “hunger dinner.”
Four campers, along with a few Koinonia residents, were invited to sit down to a multi-course, candlelight dinner. They were waited on and treated with the utmost respect. After a lengthy wait, a second group was shown to a table and given instructions to help themselves from a buffet with beans, rice, and chicken. After an even longer wait, the majority of campers were rudely told that they could get a plate, but only after they sanitized their hands, and that they were free to serve themselves from the leftover beans and rice and sit on the floor. Campers were initially confused by the inequitable treatment, and the longer they waited, the more frustrated those in the last group became. A couple of campers rebelled, and refused to serve themselves at all until they were treated with more respect. Some in the middle offered part of their food to the third group, and one camper left her place on the floor to sit next to a “wealthy” diner until she was shooed away. Later, we processed the emotions and reactions, and campers were asked to describe their experience in one word. “Displaced,” said a camper from the third group. “Outraged,” stated a boycotting camper.
“Sad,” admitted a camper from the elite table. It was not hard to draw parallels between this experience and the reality for millions of people in our world who themselves feel displaced, outraged, and sad about the unjust ways our resources are shared, and the degrading way in which people in poverty are treated.
A final opportunity for reflection was our “peacemaker of the day” story that Jonah shared with the campers this evening. He made the story of George Washington Carver come alive, relating how this former slave and humble scientist helped bring about greater food equality in the U.S. South in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Besides his extensive knowledge of peanuts, soybeans, and sweet potatoes, Carver also had plenty of wisdom about life. “Take your share of the world, and let others take theirs,” he said. A good rule, it seems, to live by in this era of growing inequality between rich and poor, as we think about the right we all have to food, water, and education.
Each week as we welcome new campers, we have the opportunity to introduce them to this remarkable place called Koinonia Farm. One of the first activities of our camp schedule is a tour of the farm. On the tour, we try to convey some of the values that have sustained the farm for almost 75 years. In particular, we emphasize the values of simplicity, sustainability, community, equality, and hospitality. It is this last value, hospitality, that has been so evident to our campers and staff since we arrived. We have been told over and over again, in many ways, how happy Koinonia community members are to have us here; we’ve been served delicious meals and have been treated to hayrides and campfires; Koinonians have participated with us in our programming and have made and effort to get to know our campers. We are grateful and honored that for this month, we are absorbed into the Koinonia community, made welcome through gracious hospitality.
We emphasize to our campers that even though Koinonia is a Christian community, a warm and equal welcome is extended here to people of all faiths and to people who do not identify with any faith. As a concrete demonstration of that welcome, the community’s tradition of reading a Christian devotional at mealtimes is put on hold while campers are here; instead, the story of a peacemaker or a prayer for peace from another faith is read. This evening at dinner, Koinonia’s director, Bren Dubay, shared this Islamic prayer:
In the Name of Allah, the beneficent, the merciful: Praise be to the Lord of the Universe who has created us and made us into tribes and nations that we may know each other, not that we may despise each other. If the enemy incline towards peace, do thou also incline towards peace, and trust in God, for the Lord is one that hears and knows all things. And the servants of God Most Gracious are those who walk on the Earth in humility, and when we address them, we say, “Peace.”
As we have received hospitality, we can in turn can offer hospitality. We have been stretched this summer to find new ways to demonstrate welcome to campers with special needs. We have adjusted some of our activities and programming to be more accessible. We have created a space for prayer for a Muslim camper. We have offered extra support to campers who are in the process of learning English. We are becoming more adept at offering genuine hospitality, and not just because it’s the right thing to do. Such hospitality is a building block of peace. When we welcome these young people from different “tribes” and “nations,” different racial/ethnic/language/religious/ability groups, we allow them to know each other, and not despise each other. We present them the option of inclining toward peace. We offer them to chance to address each other saying, “Peace.” In doing so, we create the possibility for a better world.
Session 2 of Peacebuilders Camp 2016 wrapped up today, and we are pleased to send twenty energetic young people back to their communities with goals for how they are going to transform them. Here’s what these new grads will be up to in the next months:
For the next six months I will be more inclusive and stand up for a kid in my community who is an outsider, by changing my behavior toward him.
I will fundraise $50 by Thanksgiving to get $5 Burger King gift cards to pass out to the homeless, with the help of an adult friend to fundraise and my dad to drive me around. I’ll have all the gift cards given away by December.
I will volunteer to go with my grandma and other elderly from the clinical home on at least two field trips in the next two months.
Because there is fighting in my school, at least one time in the next six months I will stand up to a bully who is bothering someone else.
At least two times in the next six months, I will teach the little kids at the skating rink to skate with the help of my uncle.
In the next six months, I will join the community cleaning organization and help clean up our community because there is a lot of trash present.
My goal is to inform people about human rights. I will pick three human rights from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and write a song about them. I will perform the song in front of my entire school.
My goal is to rebuild an old garden in my neighborhood. Once I go home, I am going to call the owner of the garden about reopening it. When the owner gives me permission to reopen his garden, I am going to go and plant things. I will also invite others in the community so that they can help me more, so I can build connection with other people.
I will make a Powerpoint on what constitutes a fair trial. I will try to present it to my community at least 1 or 2 times over the course of the year. My family will more than likely be my main helpers.
For the next two weeks, I will pick up trash in my neighborhood. I will do it every afternoon for two weeks. I will get my friends to help me by walking around and asking them if they want to help me pick up trash.
I will try to educate my school about the education around the world and hopefully inspire them to do better in school. I will do this with the help of my father, mother, and the head of the school, starting on August 10.
Before school starts, I will read one book by Jimmy Carter to understand how he was a peacemaker.
By the end of September, I will talk to my school about starting a composting program to not waste food. I’ll ask my friends to support me in this.
Next week, I will be practicing for my camp for the talent show. I am going to dance with my group.
For two weeks after Peacebuilders Camp, I will help beginners on how to play the flute and teach them the symbols on the music sheets.
In a week I will help on the farm more by moving the cows and picking blueberries. A fellow resident will help me, and most likely my mom will help me, too.
Everyone has the right to leisure. I will help people laugh often starting today.
When my school year starts, I will start an LGBTQ+/Straight alliance club so that people can be educated on things that regard LGBTQ+ people, and people who would like to talk to people like themselves can feel like they’re not alone. I will ask the students that also want to start this club to back me up and help me get it started. I will also ask the teachers if they would like to help start it.
By the end of August, I will tell five friends about Peacebuilders Camp to encourage them to come next year.
In the next year, I will perform in poetry slams, write letters and educate myself to change the pay gap between men and women.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which our campers have been studying all week, includes 30 different articles which outline the rights that all humans should be afforded. Near the end of the document, the writers acknowledge that making these rights a reality takes more than just good intentions on the part of individuals. Article 28 states that one of the rights that humans have is the right to “a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized.” Declaring that food, for example, is a basic human right is meaningless if a country is so torn by war that no food can be grown or distributed to its citizens. Our right to participate in our country’s government becomes irrelevant in a country where the government has collapsed. Whether a community adequately supports the right to leisure or not becomes immaterial if residents are fearful of violence in the streets. Without Article 28’s “social and international order,” it’s not really worth talking about many of the UDHR’s other articles.
Here at Koinonia Farm, we are just a few miles away from the home of one of the greatest champions of the kind of social and international order that makes other rights possible. Jimmy Carter’s boyhood farm in Plains is now a National Historic Site, and our campers visited there today. They toured the farm, and were given the challenge to discern what roots in Carter’s childhood led him to become a leader in human rights advocacy.
The tour of the farm takes visitors back to the 1930s. Our campers learned that as a boy, Carter and his family enjoyed neither indoor plumbing nor electricity. The home was heated by fireplaces, which were fueled by wood that had to be chopped. Work on the farm was hard, workdays were long, and pay was low. But the richness of Jimmy’s childhood was also made clear: the values instilled by his mother, Miss Lillian; his deep and loving relationship with his father’s tenant farmers; the hours spent devouring books. Our campers got to try out some of the farm chores that Jimmy did as a boy. They fed chickens and gathered eggs, they scrubbed laundry on a washboard, and they ground corn for the chicken feed. Our guide, Ranger Patty Kuehn, made stories come alive and gave us a real taste of life on the Carter farm.
We also visited the school building in Plains where Jimmy attended classes. The building is now part of the National Historic Site, and displays Carter’s Nobel Peace Prize.
Later, after some peanut butter ice cream and the drive back to Koinonia, campers considered Carter’s accomplishments as Georgia’s governor, as president, and through his continuing work with the Carter Center in Atlanta. We hypothesized that his stand for racial equality as governor stemmed from the friendships he enjoyed as a child with African American neighbors. The hard work of farm life doubtless prepared him for the demanding workload of the presidency. His mother’s acceptance of all people likely set the stage for his ability to cross cultural barriers in negotiating for peace. And we guessed that Miss Lillian’s work as a nurse instilled in him a passion for the right to healthcare, inspiring his work against guinea worm and other diseases.
Jimmy Carter’s many accomplishments certainly have helped create a social and international order in which human rights can more easily be realized. We could not have found a peacemaker who would be a better example as we discuss Article 28, and to find him so close to home is a double blessing. Thinking about his childhood influences and how they shaped him makes us ask ourselves how the influences on our young campers’ lives are shaping them. What lessons will they take with them into adulthood that will prepare them to be peacemakers? How can we strengthen those lessons for them? And what can these passionate and energetic youth teach us along the way?
Today’s focus was Article 10 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “Everyone is entitled in to a fair and public hearing.” We were lucky to have Marilyn Primovic, an experienced Fulton County district attorney, return again this year to help campers understand elements of a fair and public hearing. A lively discussion this morning covered many important topics, including what a young person should do if arrested.
In the afternoon, the campers went to the Sumter County Courthouse and borrowed a courtroom for a mock trial activity which Ms. Primovic had prepared. Each camper took a role and the trial was conducted as if it were a real hearing. The defendant was a 17-year old who borrowed a car from a friend’s brother which turned out to be stolen. Was he guilty of theft by possession? Witnesses for the prosecution, the owner of the car and the arresting officer, were examined by the assistant district attorney and cross-examined by the defense attorney. The passengers of the car pleaded the fifth amendment and declined to testify. The jury of eight deliberated briefly and returned a verdict of not guilty. Other roles included the bailiff and the judge. All the campers were enthusiastic in their roles and gained a lot through acting out the trial.
Assistant District Attorney Hezekiah shares, “I thought the mock trial was a learning experience, and it taught us a lot, from being on jury duty to being the defendant. I have a feeling that the world would be a better place if people would take jury duty a whole lot more seriously.”
Attorney Meh Sod states, “I feel more educated after doing the mock trial. It is good to experience the trial and know the rights you have.”
Campers returned to Koinonia for recreation and dinner, then enjoyed a bonfire with s’mores as the sun set. During the evening circle time, Mario shared some stories from the Innocence Project. This group works to exonerate wrongly convicted people through the use of DNA testing and to expose the biases inherent in our justice system. Campers listened to the stories of trials and decisions that the Innocence Project has been successful in getting overturned. Based on what they had learned earlier in the day, they were able to point out elements of the trials that had been unjust and had led to wrongful convictions.
As Ms. Primovic reminded the campers today, soon it will be their responsibility to ensure that the justice system offers a fair hearing to all who are on trial. They are off to a good start in understanding what that means, and to committing themselves to protect this and many other human rights.
Our campers met some superhumans today.
The day’s focus was the right to rest and leisure, and, as always, we asked who might get left out of that right. One group we identified was people with disabilities, who often have limited access to recreation and sports. We set out to discover how people with disabilities are claiming this right for themselves, and who their allies are in expanding access to this right.
First off, we watched an amazing video highlighting Paralympic athletes and disabled musicians, dancers, and others. The video is called “We’re the Superhumans,” and it’s hard to think of a more apt name. Our campers were so astounded by the skills depicted in the video that we needed to watch it twice to let it sink in. The theme song’s lyrics, “Yes, I can . . . yes, I can . . . yes I can . . . ” replayed themselves in our heads as we set out on our field trip to Georgia Southwestern State University in Americus.
Three super women met us at the GSW gym. Annie Garrett and Hope Rosenlund from Camp Twin Lakes explained about their work providing summer camp experiences for children with a wide variety of chronic diseases, disabilities, and other conditions that make recreation a challenge. Harriet Kay from Catalyst Sports, a double amputee and adaptive rock climber, shared her story of growing up with a disability. Her parents, she told us, never assumed that she couldn’t do what her peers were doing, so she learned to run, bike, swim, and play right along with her friends. As an adult, she decided to try rock climbing and became hooked. She coached our campers as they each took a turn climbing the GSW rock wall, and then gave us a demonstration of her own skill. Her superpowers of openness and enthusiasm inspired our campers as much as her climbing skill did, and we greatly appreciate the time she spent with us.
While a few campers at a time climbed with Harriet, Annie and Hope met with the larger group in the adjacent gym. They led us in a team-building exercise that also illustrated some of the challenges that their own campers face. Many of our group were assigned a limitation of some sort: they could only speak in 2-word sentences, for example, or they were blindfolded, in a wheelchair, or limited to the use of one arm. Then they all lined up, holding a very long rope. They were given the challenge of tying a knot in the rope in a certain spot, without letting go. It took many, many attempts, and persistent teamwork (plus a few hints!) but the task was finally accomplished. More significant than the completion of the task, though, was the processing that took place afterward. Campers were able to express how their assigned limitations impacted their ability to participate as a team member, what they needed from their peers to be able to contribute to the group, and how they felt about the process. They asked questions about the best way to offer support to people with disabilities, and recognized that many disabilities are invisible until you get to know a person. One camper, himself on the autism spectrum, was able to speak from personal experience about how his disability impacts his life, and in the process, he was able to help his fellow campers understand him better. His courage in sharing his story definitely qualifies him as a superhuman as well.
Our campers will not soon forget today’s experiences. From pushing themselves beyond what they believed they could do on the rock wall, to seeing people with disabilities as new friends and teachers, to using their varied abilities and insights to solve a group problem, to learning to appreciate the point of view of people who interact with the world differently than they do, it was a super, super day.