April 28, 2009

It’s indescribably hard to start writing this knowing that one of the best adventures of my life is over. I do know that it’s better to focus on the positive, but the emptiness that I am feeling right now is too big to make place for any other feeling. I had to go back to my normal life right away, starting with school early morning on Monday. It’s been two days and I haven’t done absolutely anything but stare like I a sedated patient and think about Peace Camp, or better said about the people of Peace Camp. I am addicted.

I feel it’s a sin to try and describe this journey with words as there is no word in any language that could express the true atmosphere Peace Camp brought to our lives during those 10 days. It is the definition of fun and the definition of personal growth. I’ve learnt many things. The most important one, it’s not about where you are, it’s about who you’re with. There isn’t anything else in this world better than people. Interestingly enough, the organization that made this possible for us is called People to People. Not caring one bit about objectivity, I can wholeheartedly say that for me, it’s the best organization in the world. I am so grateful to have had the chance to be a part of this and I am endlessly envious to future participants that will get the privilege to live this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

I’ve been Facebooking like crazy since I came back. It’s the only thing that is helping me get through this. I am totally indifferent to anything happening around me and it’s probably the rush of the moment and the effect of having had such a great time, but Peace Camp was my life for 10 days. I could only wish everyday life was like that. A life where you learn and never get bored, where you wake up at 6 am, go to bed at 3 am and wake up again after three hours feeling as relaxed as ever, and a life where you get to hang out with people that you wish you had near you everyday. That’s what Peace Camp was to me. Almost utopia.

Earlier today, my friend Camellia wrote a beautiful quote by William Shedd, saying “A ship is safe in the harbor, but that is not what ships are built for.” Then she said that sailing from Peace Camp is hard but we will weather the storms. Physically, I have started sailing but my mind and soul are still on that island and won’t leave for a long time to come. I can only wish that while sailing through the troubled ocean called life, when we least expect it, our ships will meet and together raid through the storm and not stop until we reach the shores of that island we left two days ago. Until then, one of my biggest wishes will be made of one word. That word is reunion. That’s what I want.

Noar Sahiti – Kosovo


JOFEH, KINGDOM OF JORDAN—My respect for these kids grows by the day.

These kids are 48 teenagers (high school and college students) from 28 countries who have gathered in Jordan for Peace Camp, sponsored by People to People International.

At Peace Camp, students 16-19 are engaged in a cultural exchange, including moderated dialogue about culture, religions, gender roles, and peace journalism. An important part of the camp is building lasting, cross-boundary friendships. Campers “start the peace process within themselves and then apply it to their own communities and nations.” (ptpi.org).

I respect these youngsters, first, for their bravery. Imagine going to another country, and diving head-first into what are often difficult dialogues with people from different cultures whom you have never met. Throw in a bit of homesickness, and you have a difficult situation. Yet, these young people seem to have handled it all with grace and aplomb. Notably, I haven’t heard any of them complain about anything. (I did hear a rumor about a few scattered complaints, but that the complainers were quickly admonished into silence by the “no negativity” police.)

My warm feelings about this great group of kids was confirmed on one of the last days of the camp, when we visited the Holy Land Institute for the Deaf in Jofeh, near the Dead Sea in Jordan. The institute is awkwardly named, since they serve more than deaf kids. Indeed, they teach not only vision impaired children but also those with mental disabilities. No one was quite sure how many children the institute serves, but the number is in the hundreds, since some children are taught on site, while others are taught in their own homes or in schools.

We toured the Holy Land Institute, and saw the wonderful work the all-volunteer staff does with youngsters of varying abilities from pre-school to high school. There were art classes of various kinds, classes where blind children were doing puzzles to enhance their dexterity, a sewing workshop, and another area where the students made paper using recycled materials. I tried one myself, but my paper looked pretty sorry.

After the tour, our Peace Campers were each assigned a classroom and some children to work with. This is when the Peace Campers’ true colors came shining through. They dove right in with these differentially-abled children, helping them draw, color, make paper, do needlework, and so on. The art rooms were the most fun. In one room, our students sat on the floor and helped the children create some water color paintings. I scared a boy whom I sat next to, but the students in our group were much gentler, and their kindness eventually erased the shyness of some of the children.

In the second art room, our students sat at a table next to their more youthful counterparts. The students in this room were as engaged as I had seen them all week as they focused entirely on their partner’s needs. I was especially touched by one young man, Elliott, a native Missourian, who was having a great time with an energetic hearing impaired boy. They did puzzle after puzzle together, their smiles growing larger after each task was completed. It’s impossible to say who had more fun, or who benefited more from their brief time together.

It doesn’t take long for an outsider to figure out that our Peace Camp students are academically gifted. Indeed, those who aren’t already in college are headed to some of the world’s most prestigious universities. What’s less apparent, but even more important, is heart—what’s on the inside. That’s usually harder to see, although it was wonderfully evident during our visit to the Holy Land Institute. So, while I admire our Peace Camp students for their academic acumen, I respect them for their big, open hearts.

Thank you, Peace Campers, for reminding me of what is truly important.

Steven Youngblood - USA

Steven Youngblood is an associate professor of Communication Arts at Park University in Parkville, MO USA. This column appears courtesy of the Parkville Luminary, where he is a weekly columnist. Youngblood is teaching Peace Journalism to the Peace Camp students in Jordan. He has taught Peace Journalism in Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, and the U.S., and will also be teaching for USAID this summer in Uganda.

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