Planning for peace

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

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

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

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

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

“We can create change by:”

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

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

Mario and campers consider project proposals.

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

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

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

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