Hip hop, graffiti, and angel wings: the right to freedom of expression

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. 

C. Grimey engages his workshop participants in discussion.

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!

Camper Ava, counselor Elizabeth, and camper Silver work on theater skills.
Isis adds some final touches to the campers’ graffiti art.
Counselor Zephyr is proud of his contribution.

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. 

Caelie shares her musical talent.

Jose, Amir, and Marco perform their hip hop composition with C. Grimey


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. 

Categories: 2019 Peacebuilders Camp |

All about clothing: a day of service and learning

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. 

Morning discussion with Cutter

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!)

Bouchra and Anaya model a pair of jeans that will soon be made into many pairs of shoes!
Shukuru examines the sample Sole Hope shoe as Jose looks on

Shamseh and Isis carefully cut out shoe parts.

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!

Darwin and Litzy work together on a shirt


Marco and Bouchra choose colors

Roan is all smiles about the project!

Image may contain: tree, plant, grass, outdoor and nature


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!

Categories: 2019 Peacebuilders Camp |

The right to housing, far away and close at hand

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.

Campers Charity, Scott, and Kallissa, CIT Rebecca, and camper Litzy at the entrance to the Global Village

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. 

Exploring the poverty housing neighborhood

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? 

Campers Caelie and Bouchra atop the India house

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. 

Staff members Suli, Rebecca, Elizabeth, and Mercy at the Global Village

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. 

 Campers Litzy, Amir, Shamseh, and Scott, along with counselor Elizabeth learn with guest Brian about homelessness



Campers and guests in front of Fuller House, named for the founder of Habitat for Humanity

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.

An evening bonfire and singalong ended our very full day.
Categories: 2019 Peacebuilders Camp |

Building peace through . . . rugby?

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.

Phaidra with attentive listeners Silver and Bouchra

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.

Listening to instructions for the next game


Bouchra and Amir race for their teams

Team Bob gets some pointers
Caelie and José jump for the tip-off

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!”

Categories: 2019 Peacebuilders Camp |

Session 1 off and running!

What a great first day with our fantastic Session 1 campers! It’s hard to believe that this group were mostly strangers 12 hours ago. Friendships are emerging, ideas are forming, and learning is happening!

CIT Rebecca is ready to welcome campers!

Thanks to a round of energetic ice-breaker games, our campers quickly learned each other’s names and started to find things they have in common. They enjoyed a treasure-hunt type of activity to learn their way around the Koinonia campus, and also learned a bit about what makes this such a special place. As an introduction to the human rights we’ll be exploring every day this week, we watched the video The Story of Human Rights and were challenged to think this week about what each of us can do in our own communities to support human rights and to build peace. 

Friendships in the making
Soccer is a great way to meet new friends!

Free time gave some campers the opportunity to get hot and sweaty again on the soccer field, while others took the chance to rest a bit. Then we gathered together again for an activity where each camper was asked to choose three characteristics that described themselves. Each characteristic was represented by a different type of wristband. When every camper had chosen three wristbands, they found others with whom they shared one characteristic, and were asked to find answers to these questions: 

  1. What is one thing that’s positive about being ____________?
  2. What is one thing that’s not so positive about being  _____________?
  3. What is an assumption that someone who’s not ____________ might make about someone who is ________________?
  4. What is one thing about being ______________ that you’d like everyone to know? 
  5. What is one important issue you that you might have a different opinion on than others because you are  ___________ ? 

Answering the questions in their groups proved to be challenging for some, but some very thoughtful answers resulted. Here’s a sample: 

One thing positive about being creative is that we find expressing ourselves to come easier. 

One thing positive about being vegetarian or vegan is that fewer animals die.

One thing not so positive about being a gamer is that people often get mad (raging) when they lose.

One thing not so positive about being multilingual is that other people might think you are talking about them. 

An assumption that someone who’s not vegetarian or vegan might make about someone who is, is that we’ll get grossed out by seeing someone eat meat. 

An assumption that someone who doesn’t live in the suburbs might make about someone who does is that there are a lot of robberies. 

One thing about being creative that we’d like everyone to know is that all art pieces have meaning.

One thing about being athletic that we’d like everyone to know is that sport is open to everybody. 

One issue that we might have a different opinion on because we are multilingual is whether only English should be spoken in the U.S.

One issue that we might have a different opinion on because we are gamers is the impact of gaming on students’ schoolwork. 

Sharing, discussing, thinking

After dinner our staff presented skits in which people were not being treated with dignity, and campers were invited to enter into the action and transform the situations. The solutions they came up with and acted out were not only insightful but also very entertaining. To an irate “boss” berating his “assistant” for spilling coffee and ruining his “million dollar laptop,” camper Anaya reminded him, “If you bought it once, you can buy it twice!” Other campers jumping into the skits helped remove victims of bullying from demeaning situations, separated arguing classmates, and reminded the actors of the value of each human being. With these acts of respect in mind, campers then created a list of ways that they as a community will honor each other’s dignity this week. 

We finished off Day 1 with a sunset hayride around the farm and pecan orchard, an introduction to tomorrow’s activities, and an evening reflection. We’re tired but inspired, and eager for the adventures that this week holds!

Categories: 2019 Peacebuilders Camp |

Countdown to Peacebuilders 2019!

Our staff is gathered at the farm, and preparations are well underway to welcome our first session of campers on Monday morning. Our counselors and CITs arrived on Thursday from close by and far away, Michelle from down the road in Americus, Elizabeth from halfway across the country in Indiana. Mario greeted them all with thoughtful exercises to help them get to know each other, and with long, long lists of tasks for them to complete. For the last two days, they’ve been hard at work sorting supplies, shopping for groceries, sweeping floors, getting to know the farm, going over policies and procedures, making beds, figuring out room assignments, and thinking about their own roles as supporters and mentors to the campers. And this afternoon, friends from Americus Mennonite Fellowship introduced Zeph and Michelle to families who will benefit from our free laundry service project on Thursday, our “right to clothing” day. They passed out laundry bags that the families will fill with clothes they want washed, and we’ll pick them up Thursday morning and return the clothing clean in the afternoon.

So many tasks completed!

Even in the midst of all the tasks, our staff are finding meaning in their new roles and in considering new ideas. Among the highlights of the last couple days, they mention an appreciation for learning about the sustainable culture and powerful history of Koinonia; getting to know everyone in the group through a comic book activity; being impressed by how welcoming the community is; noticing how quickly relationships have started to form as they ask questions, talk and joke together; and having the experience of delivering the laundry bags to people of different cultures.  

Tomorrow holds more preparation, a review of activities, and putting the final touches on the schedule. Stay tuned! The next week is going to be a whirlwind of learning, growing, stretching, serving, and having a world of fun, for campers and staff alike. We are eager to share it with you!

Check out the bios of our 2019 super summer staff here!

We’re looking forward to the weeks ahead!
Categories: 2019 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 |