Have fun sailing while teaching peace
Sarah Fink ‘05
Seeds of Peace International Camp
Excerpts From My Seeds Journal
So it’s my first night at Seeds. Mom, Andrew, my 16 year-old brother, and Emily, my 13 year-old sister, dropped me off at Seeds of Peace International Camp in Otisfield, ME (population not more than 1,000) this afternoon. Only about half of the 40 counselors are here so far. I am here early for an extra day of waterfront training. I’m still filled both with excitement and nervousness, the same two emotions that I’ve been feeling for weeks in anticipation of my first Seeds summer. Some of my insecurities about teaching sailing have been assuaged, as I was just introduced to our 3 Aquafins (imitation Sunfish, simple one-sail sailboats that are easy boats for learning to sail), our 19-foot blue sailboat, fondly called “the Blueberry Pancake” and the Whaler, roughly a 14 or 15-foot sailboat, affectionately called “the Blue Guitar”. The two larger boats, the Pancake and the Guitar, are primarily used for taking kids sailing during regular activity time, I’m told, because you can fit a lot of campers in them. From what I gather, it sounds as if we simply take the kids out for a sail and let them play with the tiller, the part of the boat used for steering, and the two sails, which power the boat.
I’ve loved meeting the other counselors so far. It is fascinating to hear about the work the other counselors have been involved with, as most of them are older than I am and have had a few more years to explore their interests inside and outside of college. Hearing their stories is both inspiring and thought provoking. For example, Jonathan’s work in the Balkans, Germany, and Austria in an after school program and Trent’s mediation experiences in small claims courts in Appalachia sound incredible. Ok, to bed I go. Looking forward to meeting the rest of the counselors tomorrow.
Almost all of the counselors arrived by today. There are roughly 40 of us in total, half female and half male, half returning counselors and half new ones like myself. At 19 I am the youngest counselor on staff. So far I have had so many moments when I’ve asked myself, “What am I doing here? What do I have to give to Seeds?” I feel as though my peers are so much more traveled and talented than I am, that they have clearer rolls here at Seeds, or clearer reasons for being here. Whether it is that they are Jewish, Muslim, have lived in Israel, Serbia, Canada, India or Pakistan; whether it is that they are Palestinian, Israeli, have studied and lived in Jerusalem, speak Arabic, or Hebrew, are former Seeds campers, are majoring (or have already majored in) Middle Eastern Studies, Peace Studies or are on their ways to graduate school in Psychology or Social Work, it just seems they have a very obvious perspective or set of experiences or expertise to bring to Seeds. I know I’m here for a reason, too. I never do anything in my life without obvious reason or clear conviction. I care about peace. I am energized by the work of youth empowerment, which is what Seeds does, empower youth, I believe. I care about people respecting one another as human beings and valuing one another for their differences and identities rather than hating each other for those very things. Other than keeping up with international news, I have not studied the Middle East or these other areas of conflict. I’ve never sailed boats like the Blue Guitar or The Blueberry before. I’ve never coached Softball before. But all of this I am here to learn, I guess.
The Seeds of Peace Vice President, Barbara Gotschalk, said this morning that SOP is everyone’s chance to be the person they want to be, change the things they don’t like about themselves, and learn how to make themselves better people. One thing I certainly want to work on is not being afraid to fail, and allowing myself to learn from failing. That fear is what inhibits me from fully enjoying news things when I first try them, I think. So that is something I want to work on, enjoying learning new things for the first time.
I know there are things I have to offer to Seeds. I can offer my energy, enthusiasm, love for people, and my ability to listen. It’s just hard to know if those things will be unique or even valued when the kids eventually arrive. I hope so.
As a part of our week long staff training before the kids arrive, speakers are invited to lecture to us about the different conflict regions our kids will be coming from. This first session we will be receiving campers from the following delegations, and more: Israel, Palestine, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Morocco, Jordan, Egypt, USA. In anticipation of understanding the present intricacies of the Middle East conflict, we heard tonight from Aaron Miller, the father of Jen Miller, a camper at Seeds for a number of summers and now currently a counselor on staff here with me. Her father is an advisor to Colin Powell, and from what I learned from him this evening, Mr. Miller is both a captivating speaker and an exceptionally compassionate and experienced man in respect to the Middle East.
I was feeling overwhelmed tonight, thinking about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, about how I will fare as a bunk counselor, how I’ll do on the boats, and what on earth I’ll bring to these kids this summer. But then Aaron emphasized that what’s lacking in the peace process in the Middle East is human respect, and that respect is exactly what we need to give and model for our campers this summer. That’s the most powerful thing we can send them home from here with. He also paralleled the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to a marriage or a good business deal-both parties need to be getting what they need from one another. It needs to be an equal relationship, a give and take. No one can have the upper hand.
Tonight we heard from another State Department representative about Afghanistan. I’m still feeling both excited and nervous about the kids coming. Tomorrow we find out which conflict region the kids in our bunk will be coming from. It will be either Middle East or Indo-Pak. We will also find out which counselor we will be living with in our bunk, as well. I feel like I’m connecting more and more with the other counselors, which is nice. I just have to remember it takes time and effort. I’ve been running in the mornings with a few different people and have generated quite a following. On that note, I should get some sleep.
So the campers come tomorrow. Our second mock co-existance session for counselors helped me out a lot today. “Co-existance sessions” are the pillar of the Seeds of Peace summer experience. During the camp session, campers meet in co-existance groups made up of 12-15 campers from their conflict region. During these daily 1 _ hour sessions, led and mediated by two adult facilitators, the campers engage in a process of getting to know one another, building trust and learning to dialogue with campers “from the other side”. The hard work the campers do while at camp begins in these sessions, and then extends to every other facet of camp. In addition to their formal co-ex sessions, campers travel from activity to activity with their co-existance groups, as well. In this way, campers are challenged to do the hard work of getting to know, talking with, and hopefully eventually respecting and befriending “the enemy” both in their co-ex sessions, where they might argue and cry and fight, and also on soccer field, in the art shack, on the sailboat, or on the ropes course, where they must play together peacefully often in order to reach group goals.
During counselor training, counselors are given a sense of what co-ex sessions are like. Ours this morning made me remember what I’ve known for a long time but had forgotten. No one can “know everything” about the conflict regions, and that really the most important thing is being able to examine and reexamine all the facts and accept multiple truths. And I can do that. Ok, time for bed.
Our first camper just arrived! Rasha, a 15-year-old Palestinian girl from Ramullah. The campers arrive at camp at different times over the course of one day. They arrive based on when their flights arrive at Logan, at which point they are greeted by a few smiling Seeds staff in green shirts and are then loaded onto buses and sent up to Maine! It was incredible greeting our 1st busload of campers, the Palestinian delegation. The counselors’ excitement was absolutely contagious. Bobbie (Barbara Gotschalk) welcomed them, emphasizing that she wanted Seeds to be their second home, and immediately the campers initiated a round of applause. It blows my mind that they are so grateful to be here already. I can only imagine what is going thru Rasha’s head right now.
Snapshots from the first day:
Walking around with the girls from the bunk, taking them on a their first tour of camp. As I was walking around the upper field with Olga, a 15-year-old Russian Jewish Israeli, and Hana, a 15-year-old Arab Israeli, Olga turns to me and says, “Sarah, if you had told me four months ago that I would soon be walking around with a Jew, an Arab and an American, I would’ve said, ‘You’re crazy’”.
Later in the afternoon, Olga tells me of an experience she had with a Palestinian boy whom she approached that morning in an attempt to comfort. He was crying by himself under a tree outside, so, she tells me. She asked him why he was crying, and he said because a bloody Israeli shot his uncle. At this point she tells me she was unable to comfort him. I ask her why, and she tried to explain her mix of emotions, but the clearest thing I could take from her ramble of words is her final statement-”People can always hate, Sarah.”
Fortunately, humor can be found at every meal time, I soon learned after Jethro, my assigned co-table counselor. The table we shared together, Table 9, was an eclectic, unpredictable and often confusing mix of kids from Jordan, Pakistan, Israel, India, Palestine and Afghanistan. Campers, as well as counselors, are assigned to eat at one table the whole session. Tables are assigned in an attempt to give campers an entirely new set of kids to meet that are from neither their bunks nor their co-ex groups. A favorite moment from our first meal of the session had to have been a question from our 6 foot tall Jordanian, Elad, to Neeraja, a short, jovial 14-year-old girl from India who almost always found a reason to laugh and make trouble: “So do you ride lots of elephants in Bombay?” Elad asks. Neeraja returned with a full bellied laugh, “No, not lots! But I have ridden them before.”
It’s our first real rainy day at Seeds-not bad, huh? I’m feeling really settled here, finally. Many of my initial fears have been assuaged. I’ve realized that genuinely caring about these kids matters far more than knowing the intricacies of their conflict regions.
Sailing has been a huge success recently. I went out once on the Blueberry Pancake, our 19-foot-sailboat, with Genny, my co-sailing instructor, and a group of boys. This excursion was highly entertaining, as many of these kids are not huge swimmers and most have never been on a sailboat before. Then yesterday I took 8 boys out alone in the Blueberry Pancake. There wasn’t much wind, but we had a good time floating around on the lake, the boys taking turns controlling the tiller and the main sail and the jib. I even landed the mooring on my first try on our way in! Had a little trouble getting the boys back to the dock, as we all either have to swim in from the mooring or we take a row boat, but with a little convincing I got most of them to swim in. How different teenage boys are from teenage girls! I had forgotten! I had this boy, Julian from the American delegation, in the boat yesterday-he’s not psyched about being here at camp. He’s struggling with how to contribute in co-existance, I think, which is contributing to his feeling like he has no place here as an American. He hates sports, which certainly dominate the daily activities for the campers, but he is into arts and drama and other things that require thought and creativity. Yet when we were out on the boat sailing yesterday he announced that sailing was the best part of camp for him so far. Then I had him in fishing Special Activity this morning. (Over the course of the session, the kids get to choose two Special Activities to do for 5 mornings each. These are activities not usually offered during the normal camp day, and they kids don’t have to go to them with their co-ex groups.) We were able to continue our conversation about his camp experience, which was great. When I made sure he was able to use a rod that cast smoothly towards the end of the period, he asked me, “Why do you care so much? About me, I mean?”, his genuiness catching me off guard and leaving me fumbling for words with which to respond. “I just do, ” I said. ” I care about all of you guys, and Julian, I think you have a lot to offer people here at Seeds. You think a lot, and you have so many thoughts, only the tip of which you share with me. I want you to be happy at this place and feel comfortable here, just being yourself, but I realize how hard that can be to achieve, especially as an American. I think you’re trying very hard and I appreciate that.”, I said as I handed him one of the better fishing rods. I think I may have to switch from teaching fishing to sailing as a special activity, which makes me very sad because I had gotten excited about the relationship I was starting to form with Julian. It will just take a more conscious effort to seek him out and continue our dialogue, I guess.
I led a “canoeing expedition” out onto the lake in what were literally gale force winds yesterday. A somewhat nerve-wracking and crazy experience, but the kids said they came away from it loving canoeing. I’m not sure how, but that is certainly the goal so the activity period was a success.
Two other counselors, Ben and Niaz, and I ran a new and exciting evening activity last night for all the campers. “Create your own dream bathroom” was the title. Definitely a big hit with the kids, even if it bordered on crude.
Olga just asked me what the English word for “harness” is. Awesome. These kids work so hard to learn languages other than their own, especially English. Makes me feel like my attempts at learning Spanish are so pitiful! Look to them for inspiration when you have to take Spanish again this spring, Sarah. You’re going to need it. Alright, letter writing time.
Peace and Love
Been slacking on my journal writing recently. Each day I think I become more and more confident of my skills here, whether it’s knowing how to comfort a camper, teach sailing, or softball, or canoeing, ect. Camp gets better as I learn about myself, I’m realizing. Hoping to do a Triathlon on Saturday with another counselor or two. A couple is getting married just down the lake and they are hosting a Triathalon for their guests and Seeds was invited to participate. I’m really excited. I just want to finish it! I still wish I knew more about the Middle East and I wish I had another academic year under my belt so that I could be here in this rich environment and be more informed and engage more actively in counselor conversations and debates, but I just need to keep pushing myself to engage, ask questions, and listen.
I can’t believe it’s been a whole week since I last wrote. A reflection of the pace of Seeds right now, I guess.
Seeds’ founder, John Wallach, passed away today. I am shocked. I knew he was sick, but I had no idea he was so close to leaving us. I never had a chance to meet him.
We gathered as a camp to pay tribute and grieve. It was incredible how the campers responded when they were told. They started to talk to one another, speaking about John and his dream of peace. And then they started singing Winds of Change, on their own, without Jethro, the one to usually lead the camp in guitar-accompanied renditions of the revolution-rooted song. The counselors not coaching a Color Games team, otherwise known as the officials, or White Team, for the 3 _ day Seeds tradition, were told of John’s passing first, then sent to the Dining Hall. The 170 campers and their 12 coaches were then gathered and told the news. But when the campers started singing, the White Team was called back to the fire pit from the Dining Hall to observe an inspiration at work. After singing and crying and hugging for a bit, we all walked back to dinner together. It was a solemn meal. The kids went on with their Color Games events, though, because that’s how John would’ve wanted it. Jess, Mira and I, other fellow White Team counselors, took a respite trip to Pears, the local ice-cream store. Then the whole camp convened for short religious services of our own, Muslim, Jewish and Christian, followed by a coming together of the whole camp. We circled together and sang one of John’s favorite songs, “The Other Night I Had the Strangest Dream”. Then it was bedtime.
John’s death comes at the end of an intense session. It comes on the first day of Color Games for our first session campers. But of course, there is never a right time, or a “best time” for the passing of a human life. We take life for granted. John would want us to continue to do the “J-O-B”, that’s what he called the hard work we do here at this camp. That’s what he got us all, kids and staff, here to do, so that’s what we’ll do. For me, I will talk to those I care about and tell them I care about them. I will reprimand less, listen more, and be less critical, show love and not dislike or disapproval, I will spread love by loving others and myself. Have confidence, Sarah.
I have so many thoughts and I’m clueless as to what to do with them all. We finished Color Games today and the Blue Team won. Then we had a service for John Wallach. Many of the staff are in CT for his funeral today. Camp feels a little empty without leadership right now. I’m feeling unsettled. Reflecting on John’s life and vision makes me question what my own is. I feel so unfocused in comparison to most of my counselor peers here. I feel anxious about not finding a focus at Dartmouth academically and anxious about not exploring the “right tracks” first and missing out on discovering my passions in others. Which way shall I go? War and Peace studies? Sociology? Psychology? Biology? English? Government? History? Should I keep sailing or is that preventing me from discovering other passions? Should I look into Mediation programs in NH/VT courts? A Tucker program? What do I want to change, both at D and in the big picture of my life? Something domestic or international? About myself? What is sailing an outlet for? Fun, challenge, and competition? Stress relief? Caring friends and community? Could I get the same thing from training for triathlons on my own? And then would I be happier, more satisfied and would I have more chances to explore the things that really make me tick at Dartmouth? Is the SEA Semester Program right for me next winter? Could I be doing other things?
What do I want to explore at D? Should I go into the fall with this totally clean slate and literally “reexplore D”? Re-look at courses, definitely. Rexplore Dicky and Rocky and Tucker? Look into Govy classes?
Despite all this questioning and reeaxming of myself and my choices and my future and my goals, I really must remember what Laurie (my dad’s best friend from college who passed away last summer) said all the time, especially when he was surrounded by family and friends: “It just doesn’t get much better than this.” He appreciated every moment of his life.
I can’t believe it’s been so long since I last wrote. Second session has flown by. Jocelyn, my co-bunk counselor, and I have a Cypriot bunk this time around, which means we have girls from Greece, Turkey, North Cyprus (Turks) and South Cyprus (Greeks). The dynamic is definitely much more relaxed from the start in comparison to our Middle East bunk last session. The Cypriots are a generation removed from the extreme violence and death that is a part of the history of their conflict, so I think that is the root of the slightly less initial tension in the bunk and a quicker more relaxed atmosphere. On the girls’ first real night altogether as a bunk they had a heated co-existance talk (having not even started co-ex yet) about our Flag Raising Day, usually the second day of camp. Their discussion was over Seeds’ decision not to have the Cypriots raise the Cypriot flag. Usually at flag raising, each delegation gets to sing their anthem and raise their country’s flag. Then one camper gets to say a few words to the rest of the camp as a representative of their delegation. Seeds made the decision not to have the Cypriots raise their flag due to the political situation in that country at the present. Since 1974, the country has been divided into two halves, separated by the Attila Line (or Green Line). The north is Turkish and the south is Greek. There is very limited crossing of that line, and it is patrolled by UN troops, Greek military and Turkish military. The Cypriot government is Greek, and they control the island. Yet the Turks in the North recognize themselves as not a part of “Greek Cyprus”, but as the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus, or TRNC. Though Turkey is the only country that also recognizes them as such. North Cyprus has it’s own flag, and anthem, as a result. So Seeds decided that to raise the Cypriot flag would be to raise a flag that only half the Cypriot delegation identifies with, and it would also be saying that Seeds recognizes only the Cyprus that is controlled by the Greeks, dismissing the Northern Cypriots’ feeling of lack of representation by their own country. Having such a discussion in the bunk so early on was a positive thing for many reasons. It allowed our PS’s, Peer Supporters, otherwise known as campers who are coming back for their second summer, a first chance to take the lead and help mediate the discussion. It also gave our bunk the opportunity to talk as a group about guidelines for discussions like this. It also raised the question of whether or not the girls wanted “coexistence” conversations to continue in the bunk or not. We decided on guidelines for discussions if they should come up again, and agreed as a group on ways to make the bunk a safe space. They agreed that if some of the girls are not feeling up to continuing co-ex discussions in the bunk at any given time, we won’t have them. They decided their first priority was keeping the bunk a safe space that they could count on being able to come home to anytime they wanted. They did not want to be judged or forced to give their opinions when they really didn’t want to. That’s what co-ex is for, and they get that for close to 2 hours every day anyways.
As I write, the girls are almost 2 weeks into co-existance and they are getting closer and closer in the bunk. Mixing, coexisting, even forgetting they are from different delegations at times! And now as I write they are having a “group sleep” time, as they call it, during rest hour. Aylin, from Turkey, and Helena, from Greece, are napping together in Aylin’s bed, and Maria, from South Cyprus, and Nicoletta, from Greece, are sleeping together in Nicolleta’s bed. It is precious.
I definitely did feel the “lull” the other counselors described after the first week of second session, but now as the girls have gotten to know one another better and better they have opened up to one another and Jocelyn and I more. The later it gets in each session, I’m realizing, the more interesting and fun the kids become as they get better adjusted to Seeds and become more comfortable with each other here. I think I still need to make more of an effort to get to know more kids better by approaching them and initiating conversations one on one. I also feel I need to do the same with the counselors. Hmm, so many goals that pull me and my time in different directions, yet at the same time it involves the same personal goal, of taking more risks, and asking the hard questions I’m sometimes afraid to ask for fear of sounding ignorant or hurting someone’s feelings.
So yesterday I also found out why Dad and Andrew can’t come visit me at Seeds. Apparently Dad has been having really bad headaches recently and needs to have a biopsy done on a cist in his brain on Monday. Definitely turned my world upside down when I heard. I’ve already realized it’s impossible to only be engaged 75% with the kids here and be preoccupied with other things. Impossible. I’m finding it difficult to be 3 hours away from home and in this intense place while also processing what’s happening to my family right now. I feel like I could be really important to mom right now, to support her and comfort her and take some weight off her shoulders by taking care of Andrew and Emily.
And that was the end of my final journal entry at Seeds. Seeds ended up giving me an extended day off, which is usually only from about 8:30am to 1am that night. I was able to leave on Sunday afternoon, take the bus home, be at home Sunday night and be around all day Monday at the hospital while Dad’s biopsy was happening. I took the bus back to Seeds late Monday night. The biopsy went fine, but the results I knew would not be ready for a couple days.
Upon returning to Seeds late Monday night, I was told I was chosen to be one of the 12 coaches for second session’s Color Games that would begin the next day and continue thru the end of the week. What a thrill. I couldn’t have asked for a bigger honor. 12 counselors are chosen each session to coach the camp in 3 _ days of competitions. The camp is split in half by the 12 coaches before the coaches know which side they are coaching. This allows for the most even teams possible to be made. The philosophy behind Color Games is that by engaging the kids in intense competition that they quickly come to care a great deal about, the campers are presented with a big challenge. Can they put their nationalities, religions, backgrounds, opinions and prejudices aside in order to work as a team and reach a goal? Color Games really serves as testament to the success of the camp session and reflects how hard the kids worked in their co-existance sessions and in general during camp to meet and make friends with campers outside their own delegations.
The opportunity to coach on a team with 5 other counselors and good friends of mine was incredible. During the days we coached the kids in competitions and at night we arranged lineups and assigned campers to certain activities and races. We slept very little, cheered a whole lot and lost our voices within a day, but we were able to get to know 80-90 campers in such a special way that the experience was more than worth it. Pushing individual campers to compete in something they’ve never done before, boosting them back up after losing a tough match, congratulating them after a big win, and making them feel like they are all on top of the world was once of the best experiences I’ve ever had. Saying goodbye to the campers of session two was unique because of the relationship I had formed with some of them during Color Games.
Reflections on my experience as a whole:
Seeds is a magical place. It is not magical because it is in the remote woods of Maine, although it’s environment is certainly conducive to feeling at peace. It is magical because of the people who decide to devote their time, their minds and their hearts to the process of peace and understanding. The campers make it what it is. The staff make it what it is. It matters very little what your expertise is coming into this camp and joining this community. I think the only prereqs are the capacity to care and the patience to listen and learn. I hope other Dartmouth students will be inspired to join the Seeds community in the future. I know I will go back to it at some point in my life, for sure.