Something magical happens in Maine every year at this time. Thousands of children, carrying sleeping bags and armed with bug spray, descend upon one of the more than 100 summer camps and adventure programs that are hidden away among Maine's mountains and along the shores of its lakes. These young campers will spend the next several weeks swimming, canoeing, telling stories around campfires, and building new friendships that will last a lifetime. It is that lasting relationship that the founders of the Seeds of Peace camp in Otisfield hope will promote peace and, perhaps one day, help change the world.
|Senator Susan Collins represents the State of Maine in the U.S. Senate.|
Seeds of Peace was founded by a man named John Wallach. Mr. Wallach truly believed that we could promote understanding, reconciliation, acceptance, and peace by bringing together youth from conflict regions around the world. He wanted to do this at a camp in western Maine. In addition to the usual summer camp activities, the youngsters would be required to participate in dialogue sessions to discuss issues of coexistence and conflict resolution. The goal was simple: to dispel fear, mistrust, and prejudice by putting a human face on those that many of these teenagers had been raised to hate.
Mr. Wallach's dream was realized during the summer of 1993, when the very first session of the Seeds of Peace International Camp got underway with 48 Arab, Israeli, and American young people, who ranged in age from 14 to 16. Recently, Seeds of Peace opened its 14th season with a flag-raising ceremony at its camp in Otisfield. This year, Israeli, Palestinian, Jordanian, Egyptian, Indian, Pakistani, Afghan, and American youths participated in this unifying event.
Despite the tension between the Israeli and Palestinian governments, and the increasingly violent confrontations, Seeds of Peace is able to bridge borders by including Arab and Israeli youth in this year's program. Until now, these teens had never met. But, they will spend two weeks this summer living together in cabins, sharing meals, playing sports, and talking. Here in Maine, they will learn about, and from, one another and these valuable lessons will help shape their thoughts as they grow to eventually become the next generation of leaders... a generation that I hope will choose peace over violence when perhaps someday faced with this decision.
There is a saying at Seeds of Peace: "Governments negotiate treaties, peace is made by people." Sixteen years after its first summer session, Seeds of Peace continues to do what government cannot. Founder John Wallach passed away in 2002, but his dream lives on. Today, a dedicated group of staff and volunteers continues to fulfill the Seeds of Peace mission.
I recently had the pleasure of meeting with Tim Wilson, who is just one of the outstanding individuals who has dedicated his life to educating, encouraging, and empowering the next generation of world leaders and preparing them for the arduous task of peacemaking. Mr. Wilson is Vice President of Seeds of Peace and Director of the International Camp in Maine. He was in Washington, D.C. to accept the 2006 Peace Corps Franklin H. Williams Award, which pays tribute to returned Peace Corps volunteers of color who continue the Peace Corps mission through their commitment to community service. I congratulated Mr. Wilson on receiving this prestigious award, and we spoke about this summer's camp sessions. I was pleased to hear him tell me that this year, for the first time in its history, many of the camp's trained facilitators will be Seeds alumni who graduated from a professional mediation and conflict management course run through the Seeds of Peace Center for Coexistence in Jerusalem. Having already participated in the Seeds of Peace International Camp experience, these young people will have a unique perspective to offer new campers as they begin their own journey of learning and understanding.
Since its beginning, Seeds of Peace has graduated more than 3,000 teenagers from its leadership programs. One of those young campers, Arab Bashar from Israel summed up his experience with these words, "By translating between the two sides in coexistence activities sponsored by Seeds of Peace in which Jews and Arabs participate, I have learned that I can make a difference in the world." Perhaps a decade from now, Bashar, or any one of the thousands of Seeds of Peace alumni, will be in a decision-making position in his or her home country and they will remember their time at a special summer camp here in Maine, where the "seeds of peace" blossom each year.