PBC in the ATL, Part 1

In spite of rainy weather, the first three days of Peacebuilders Camp’s first ever Atlanta camp have been great! Here’s a summary of all we’ve learned and accomplished.

Monday, July 5: Right of the day – Dignity and Equality

After getting to know each other with some fun icebreakers, campers took a tour to get to know the lovely property where they’ll be spending their week. We’re so grateful to Berea Mennonite Church for making their space available to us. Because we wanted to stay Covid-safe and outside as much as possible, the church property, with its beautiful farm and outdoor classroom, was ideal. 

After the tour, campers were joined by a very special guest, former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who had time-traveled to 21st Century Atlanta from 1947 and Geneva, Switzerland. She graciously took time out of the committee meetings where she and colleagues from around the world were working to compose the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Thrilled by the opportunity to speak with young people from the future, she solicited their opinions on what rights should be included in the UDHR. Highlighting the Declaration’s emphasis on equality and dignity, she challenged the campers to find ways to be involved in their communities so that the progress that has been achieved in the last 74 years can continue. 

Later, campers were asked to envision what an ideal community, one that would honor the right to equality and uphold each person’s dignity, might look like. Using boxes, chunks of wood, sidewalk chalk, and other materials, three groups built communities that included healthcare and educational facilities, recreational opportunities, alternative energy sources and transportation options, and much more. 

Mia and Mateo show off their ideal community

As campers got to know each other during free time, they were given the assignment to learn one thing and teach one thing. Later, they shared some of the things that they learned and taught: soccer skills, the rules of baseball, that gender is a social construct, reasons for vaccine hesitancy, and how a sighted person can best guide a blind person. 

A campfire with s’mores rounded out our first night!

Tuesday, July 6: Right of the day — Asylum

Our exploration of the right to asylum began with an imaginary journey from Honduras, through Guatemala and Mexico, across the U.S. border, and finally to our ultimate destination in Ohio. Counselor Merseigne led our “family” group through the perils that many migrants face on their real-life journeys, and asked us to consider the many difficult decisions that must be made along the way. Do we wait in line for weeks to cross a border legally, or do we bribe the border guards? Once denied asylum, do we appeal our case through legal channels, or attempt to stay in the U.S. in hiding? Our family group lost one member to murder and eventually decided to remain in the U.S. without documentation, to give the children of the family a better chance for education and a decent life. The realities of the asylum process were made even more clear when Merseigne shared his own story of coming to the U.S. as an asylum seeker. 

Deciding whether to leave Honduras for the U.S.
On the journey
Arriving at the Mexican border

Dinner that day was a catered meal from Aleppo Kitchen. For a few campers, this was their first taste of Syrian food, and they discovered how delicious it is! Barwin, the owner and chef at Aleppo Kitchen, graciously shared with us her story of leaving war-torn Syria, where the family was in danger and her children could not attend school. She explained how new friends in Atlanta helped her family overcome the challenges of starting a new life in the United States. We are so grateful to her for the wonderful food and for sharing her experience!

We so much appreciate the time that Barwin and her daughter spent with us!

After dinner, we took some action to support people who are seeking asylum. We assembled care packages for women coming out of immigration detention, and we tie-dyed onesies for babies whose families have recently arrived in the U.S. Campers also all dyed camp shirts for themselves!

Wednesday, July 6: Right of the day — Education

Two special guests and helped us think deeply about the right to education. “Madame Triantafilou,” (a.k.a. Atlanta actor Carolyn Cook) was a demanding art collector with specific instructions for what the campers should sculpt with Play Doh. Although she gave her instructions clearly in verbal French and in written Braille, most of the campers failed to understand what they were expected to create. Those who succeeded in the task earned Madame’s enthusiastic praise and a special treat. Those who did not ended up with a smashed sculpture. Struggling to pick up clues to the rules of the game, campers were able to empathize with peers who face barriers to education because of language differences or learning disabilities. Finally with some hilarious hints from Madame, everyone was able to complete the task and received “payment” for their artwork.

Thank you, Carolyn Cook, for making learning about educational barriers so much fun!
Andrew, Mateo, and Connor attempt to follow Madame’s directions

Following up on this lesson, camper Raveena introduced the rest of the group to the basics of Braille and demonstrated how she uses her Braille writer. And then everyone joined in a fun game of Braille Uno!

Thank you, Raveena, for teaching us all about Braille!

It was a double delight to welcome our second guest for the day, former Peacebuilders Camper Royce Mann, who is presently running for a seat on the Atlanta Board of Education. Royce shared with the campers his own passion for equitable education and his vision for how Atlanta Public Schools can get closer to that goal. Campers were able to share their stories of their own educational experiences, ask questions, and consider how the right to education can be better extended to all students.

Following Royce’s presentation, campers considered two questions currently being debated by education leaders: Should Critical Race Theory be taught in public schools, and should standardized testing be used to evaluate students’ progress and teachers’ competency? By arguing both sides of both issues before their “school board,” campers got a taste of how they can use their voices to impact decisions that affect their schools and their communities.

With two more days of camp to go, so much learning, connecting, and community-building has already happened. Stay tuned for more!

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