Getting an Early Start on Peace

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A Small World: Kids from four continents unite at an L.A. camp

The events of Sept. 11, the continuing crisis in the Middle East and rising tensions over Kashmir all show us the huge obstacles to achieving peace in the world. Some programs are offering teens a direct way to promote international coexistence.

Seeds of Peace, founded in 1993, holds three two-week peace camps each summer on a lake in Maine. U.S. campers, ages 14 to 17, join with teens from such places as the Middle East, India, Pakistan, Greece and Turkey to canoe, swim and play sports together. The campers also spend time in sessions in which they learn how to listen to one another with respect and compassion. Says New Yorker Liz Carlin, 17, who attended Seeds twice as a camper and returns this year as a volunteer: "Now I try to get as many perspectives as possible about current events and to start dialogues about what's happening in other places in my school through activities and clubs."

Meanwhile, in the San Gabriel Mountains of Southern California, the Global Children's Organization sponsors a similar camp, Turning Neighbors into Friends, for refugee children from such countries as Iran, Afghanistan, Colombia, Ukraine and Ethiopia who have come to the U.S. with their families. "We teach children that conflict is inevitable, but violence isn't," says Judith Jenya, who founded the G.C.O. 10 years ago. Can just two weeks have an effect on a child's life? "You bet," says Jenya. "Kids require air, water and hope."

A more extensive experience is offered at the United World College, which has 10 campuses around the globe. At the U.S. branch in the Pecos Mountains outside Las Vegas, 200 students ages 16 to 18 work toward a two-year international baccalaureate degree. In addition to academics, the curriculum includes classes in nonviolent conflict resolution. The object, says Philip Geier, president of U.W.C.'s American campus,

is "to create a global network of future decision makers." Recently four Israeli students joined two Palestinian classmates in a presentation on the history of conflict in their homelands. "We argued, hassled one another, agreed on some topics and decided we would never agree on others," says Gadi Maayan, 17, who will join Israel's army in six months. "If I am a guard at a checkpoint, and a pregnant Palestinian woman comes up, I would probably bend the rules now to let her pass."

Such encounters can be life changing for American teens too. "The world will never be the same for me," says Matt Farwell, a U.W.C. student from Virginia who graduated on May 25. "I can no longer make sweeping, stereotypical judgments about anywhere or anyone. And I feel responsible for sharing what I learned with as many people as I can." In the fall he will enter the University of Virginia to study international relations and Arabic. He hopes someday to have a career in international law.

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