OTISFIELD — Cheering each other on and singing national anthems and a song of peace, campers kicked off the 17th year of the Seeds of Peace International Camp on Wednesday.

Though the first of two summer sessions began earlier this week, Wednesday marked the traditional opening ceremony in which the flags of representative nations are raised outside the camp gates. Following the speeches and songs of opening day, the Seeds of Peace flag is the only one that flies inside the camp.
There are 147 campers from Israel, Palestine, Egypt, Jordan, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and the United States attending the first session, camp director Leslie Lewin said.
“You, just by being here today, have already demonstrated an incredible amount of bravery and courage and commitment,” Lewin said. “Three weeks is never enough to do what we want to do together.”
Seeds of Peace was founded by journalist John Wallach in 1993. The goal of the camp is to have young people from nations in conflict live and work together and have daily dialogue sessions to address controversial issues.
Richard Berman, chairman of the Seeds of Peace board of directors, said the camp helps people of diverse opinions, beliefs and culture come together to achieve understanding, respect and friendship with one another.
“We believe that you have the ability, along with the other 4,000 Seeds, to make this world a better world,” he said.
Returning campers from each of the eight nations gave short speeches before the group. The camp asked that their last names be withheld for confidentiality reasons.
Rishi, a delegate from Egypt, said each of the campers was influenced by different things and would have many stories to tell.
“Listen to all people’s stories, and tell your stories,” he said.
Hashem, a delegate from Jordan, said the campers would learn to put aside their differences and become friends.
“Seeds of Peace is just a small idea that tries to stop the cloud of bloodshed from covering the whole world,” he said.
Nur, a delegate from Pakistan, responded to criticism she had heard that the camp would not have a significant influence on world politics.
“They haven’t seen what’s beyond it,” she said. “You are not just dreamers; you’re leaders. You’re the leaders of tomorrow.”
Some speakers cautioned that there would be difficult times during the session but also offered encouragement.
“It’s not going to be an easy road,” said Monica, a delegate from Egypt. “But hang in there, guys. I know you can do it. I believe in you with all my heart.”

Rishi and Hashem said the Seeds of Peace idea is popular with student groups in their countries. Both work with organizations to do charitable deeds, including the creation of Braille books for children and sending food and medicine to troubled areas.
“You come here once, and you have the most amazing time of your life,” Rishi said.
“It’s like smoking,” joked Hashem. “You get addicted.”

Nada, of Palestine, left and Huda, of Israel share a tender moment as they listen to speeches during Wednesday morning’s opening ceremonies for the Seeds of Peace International Camp in Otisfield.

Campers and staff return to the Seeds of Peace International Camp after Wednesday’s opening ceremonies.

Campers and staff from Palestine sing their national anthem as their country’s flag is raised during Wednesday morning’s opening ceremonies at the Seeds of Peace International Camp in Otisfield.

Tama Salam of Israel, center with blue hat, joins other campers and staff at the entrance of the Seeds of Peace International Camp in Otisfield on Wednesday morning for opening ceremonies.

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