OTISFIELD – The Seeds of Peace camp kicked off its 26th summer Sunday morning with the tradition of a flag-raising ceremony, which included the singing of each national anthem that was represented by the campers, a call for more listening and less talking and encouragement that the world can, in fact, be changed.
Tim Wilson, senior adviser at the Otisfield camp, said the Maine State Police were “more vigilant” this year with security at the ceremony, and that the heightened vigilance was “just a product of the times.” He praised the state troopers charged with keeping the campers safe, and said they are “a credit to what Maine is all about.”
“They have helped kids understand that not all uniforms are bad guys,” Wilson said.
The summer camp has two sessions, each three weeks long. The first session hosts campers from the Middle East and Asia, and the second is for campers from different parts of the United States.
Leslie Lewin, the camp’s executive director, said the first session welcomes 187 campers from seven different countries, and the second session will host 170.
Wilson said the second session will focus on local issues, including the tension in Lewiston-Auburn.
“Recent events have highlighted the issues we’re working on,” he said.
Some campers returning for their second year took up the role of Paradigm Shifters, and looked forward to building leadership skills to assist the next wave of “seeds,” and shared their reasons for being involved in the program.
Roberta from Jordan wanted to get to know more people of different cultures, and saw the program as a way to “expand (her) horizon of abilities and be more knowledgeable of the world around (her.)
“People should be more aware about the conflict in the middle east,” she said. “Conflict just divides the world into two groups, and here, the two sides sit together. I’m so proud I’m part of the Seeds of Peace family.”
Hamada is from the West Bank of Palestine, and came to the camp his first year to learn more about the conflict surrounding his country.
“I wanted to know about the other side,” he said. “It’s amazing how in three weeks you have friends that people would call your enemy back home.”
Now he is hoping his time as a PS will give him the skills to “go back home and make a change.”
For Hadeel of Israel, and many other campers, it is hard to go back home.
“My opinions are very different from my family’s,” she said. “I feel there is no room in my own home for my opinion.”
Wilson told campers during the ceremony that he knows making a change is not easy, but he encouraged them not to give up.
“Build that tool kit, go home and do what you need to do,” Wilson said. “Don’t quit. Just keep at it. Be a real human being.”
Tamar of the Seeds of Peace Israeli delegation sings songs with her fellow campers during the flag raising ceremony at the Otisfield camp on Sunday. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)
Ismail of Egypt is one of 187 campers who celebrated the start of Seeds of Peace Camp in Otisfield on Sunday. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)
Seeds of Peace campers and educators sing a song as they walk to the flag raising ceremony at the Otisfield camp on Sunday. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)
Betty Danon, leader of the Israeli delegation at the Seeds of Peace Camp in Otisfield, leans on the shoulder of Tamar, a camper from Israel, during the flag raising ceremony on Sunday. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)
Saeed, right, of Israel sings with his fellow campers as the flag of Israel is raised during the flag raising ceremony at the Seeds of Peace Camp in Otisfield on Saturday. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)
Camp Director Sarah Brajtbord started with Seeds of Peace Camp as a camper herself in 2006. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)
Campers drink water on a scorching hot day during the flag raising ceremony at Seeds of Peace Camp in Otisfield on Sunday. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)