For some of our campers, the end-of-camp opportunity to write a peacemaking goal for themselves is a challenge, not because they are unsure of how they can make an impact in their communities, but because they have such a multitude of talents and interests. Narrowing all that passion and skill down to a single area of focus takes some effort! 2018 and 2019 camper Roan is one such teen. Roan’s busy mind moves easily from contemplating big-picture concerns like gender identity to discussing community issues like homelessness to considering how to be a supportive friend to a struggling peer. She puts her many talents to good use, leading her school’s robotics team, playing cello in the orchestra, and helping start a school club that encourages students to embrace differences and make everyone feel more included.
With so many varied interests and skills, choosing a single peacemaking goal wasn’t easy! In the end, Roan chose to focus on yet another talent in her toolbox: writing. Her goal was to “write songs and poems that not only inspire and connect with others, but also help improve my skills as an artist.”
We are always delighted when we hear back from campers and learn that they’re working to achieve their peacemaking goals. When Roan sent us one of her recent poems as evidence of her progress, it was a special gift that we are eager to share!
Melodies of the Soul
by Roan Gillin
The melody of the soul, A sound that few have heard. The soft murmur of this song is crisp as the golden leaves under your feet.
The melody of the soul, Whispered as though it is a secret for only the sparrows to hear.
The warm feeling of sunlight on your skin, even in the pitch black.
The sweet smell of lavender dancing in the air, making beautiful pirouettes of bright colors.
Melodies of the soul,
From the aching hearts of those who lost.
To the wide eyes of a child that’s yet to explore.
Melodies of souls, old and young. As the pain fades away, you’re left with the feeling of redemption and relief,
The murmur of music will crescendo.
And the melodic sounds of all souls alike will grow.
The melodies of the souls travel the breeze, waiting for new ears to bestow the simplistic beauty.
Although it’s hard to imagine days more extraordinary than the ones we’ve already had here in Merida, today was exceptional because it included the Billion Acts of Peace Hero Awards, where Peacebuilders alum Joshua Wortham was honored. Joshua’s award was presented by 2014 Nobel Peace laureate Kailash Satyarthi, a passionate defender of children’s rights.
Joshua’s project, “Coexist with Cookies” fights stereotypes and marginalization by bringing people together around their love of cookies. Joshua’s started his bakery business in 2015 to fund his tuition to camp, and discovered that he loved baking and that his customers loved his cookies! The bakery, Peaceful Pastries and Sweets, continues to thrive and Joshua has found many ways to build peace through the business. We are so proud that he was honored today as a winner in the “Best Social Enterprise Act” category.
Besides meeting eight Nobel Peace laureates, Joshua has also been able to meet and network with the other honorees, including 8 year old Xochitl Guadelupe Cruz, who invented a solar-powered device using only recycled materials to heat water for her community in Mexico and for those living below the poverty line; and Shine MSD, students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida who are helping youth who have survived gun violence deal with trauma through music and artistic expression. You can read about all the acts of peace that were honored today on the Billion Acts of Peace website.
Today’s speakers and workshops have reinforced to us just how critical it is that young people today receive the inspiration and training they need to become changemakers. And Joshua’s example affirms that Peacebuilders Camp can be instrumental in proving that inspiration and training! We will be returning from Merida ready to continue this critical work. We’d love to have you partner with us with your support!
(Thanks to Joshua’s mom, Rebecca, for the photos!)
So much learning happened today at the World Summit!
The day began with music and with a moment of silence to remember the victims of two devastating earthquakes that struck Mexico City on September 19, one in 1985 and one in 2017.
During the morning sessions that followed, panels addressed the issues of Social and Economic Development and Native Cultures and Regional Peace. Here are thoughts worth remembering from each of the Laureates we heard today:
Juan Manuel Santos (2016): The biggest threat to world peace since the establishment of the U.N. is climate change, which is not a possibility but a certainty.
Leymah Gbowee (2011): Decide to be insane in standing up against social systems that aren’t working.
Kailash Satyarthi (2014): When you gather the courage to change injustices around you, there is the seed of a Nobel Prize inside you.
Tawakkol Karman (2011): Western countries must stop supporting and protecting dictators who are killing people and killing peace.
Shirin Ebadi (2003): Innocent people are being killed in fighting between world powers. The people have no problems with each other. The root cause of the conflicts is dictatorship, and the rule of international law is needed for change.
David Trimble (1998): Individuals can make a difference, but need the support of government policies to create peace.
Lech Walesa (1983): If you have a burden you can’t lift yourself, ask for help. All the problems identified today will require solidarity between peoples to solve.
Rigoberta Menchú Tum (1992): We must embrace the values of indigenous communities and weave a network of joy in our work.
Jody Williams (1997): We need to fundamentally change the way we see others, to see that everyone has the same right to live in the way they want, as long as they are not harming anyone else. We need a new system of distributing wealth. Communism didn’t work, but capitalism isn’t doing so well either.
Another honored speaker on the panel on indigenous rights was Bernice King from Atlanta’s King Center, and daughter of 1964 Peace Prize laureate Martin Luther King, Jr. She reminded us of her father’s words, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” If indigenous people are not secure, she told us, none of us are.
Afternoon sessions afforded more opportunities to soak up the wisdom of the laureates. Leymah Gbowee hosted a particularly high-energy workshop and engaged an enthusiastic group of participants in a discussion about finding passion and mobilizing for change.
Many of the ideas shared today reaffirmed the importance of the work that we do at Peacebuilders Camp. By bringing together young people from multiple backgrounds, instilling in them an appreciation and understanding of human rights, and affirming their power to make significant change, we know we are nurturing the seeds of peace that are growing within each of our campers. Whether or not any of those seeds produce Nobel Prizes, we are certain that they will produce a better, safer, more just and sustainable world.
Peacebuilders directors Mario and Marilyn are thrilled to be attending the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates in Merida, Mexico this week. As part of the PeaceJam delegation, we’re meeting with peacemakers and peace educators from around the world. We’re excited to share what we’re learning! Here are some of the highlights on this first day:
Opening speakers at the youth conference that is happening in conjunction with the Summit spoke to the theme “Leading by Example.”
The roll call of delegations introduced us to the many groups who are represented at the youth conference. More than 1000 young people and 180 advisors are here, from five continents.
The infectious enthusiasm of Chaeli Mycroft set the stage for the next few days. Chaeli is a South African ability activist with cerebral palsy who won the International Children’s Peace Prize in 2011 at age 17. We hope to see more of Chaeli while we’re here!
Jeremy Courtney, founder of Preemptive Love Coalition, challenged the gathered youth and adults to move beyond fear and create connections with people who do not share our beliefs or perspectives. Living in Iraq for the past 15 years, Jeremy has seen the effects of war firsthand and is committed to building “the largest, most diverse community of peacemakers on the planet.” Only in relationships can we build peace and understanding: “We cannot bomb ideas out of existence.”
A seminar for educators and advisors introduced us to the work of the Summit to provide resources for peace education.
15 busloads of Summit attendees made the 80-km trek to the Mayan ruins at Uxmal. What an extraordinary way to learn about the cultural heritage of this beautiful area! In the heat and humidity, Mario became everyone’s best friend, with his battery-operated fan.
At an evening reception for the PeaceJam delegation, we ran into Peacebuilders alum Joshua Wortham and his parents. Joshua will be honored later this week with a Billion Acts of Peace Hero award, and we couldn’t be prouder!
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. We are deeply grateful to New England War Tax Resistance (NEWTR) for a grant that helped fund this day. Campers were introduced to NEWTR and to the idea that by following their consciences, some people find themselves unwilling to pay the portion of their taxes which are spent to fund war and the military. Members of NEWTR instead divert those funds to support projects that promote peace. Campers had many thoughts and questions about the relationship between taxes and conscience, and a lively discussion developed.
With NEWTR’s example of conscience and conscientious objection in mind, the group set off for Columbus to meet another 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 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.
Jumping for joy at Providence Canyon State Park
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:
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?
Playing the “Disaster Relief Game”
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!