OTISFIELD — They are the 300 teenagers chosen from among 8,000 to get a bunk this summer at the Seeds of Peace International Camp on Pleasant Lake. They were selected not for their athletic or intellectual abilities, but for their belief that world peace is possible.

“You will be told that this won’t happen,” said Zeena, one of the second-year campers who spoke about her expectations for peace at a flag-raising ceremony Thursday morning outside the gates of the camp. Security here is not taken lightly. None of the campers’ last names are made public, and Maine State Police monitored the entrance.

“The only thing you can do is carry on,” the young woman from Egypt said. “We live in a world of atrocities. The journey you are embarking on is not easy. But if you want to enjoy the honey, you must endure the sting of the bee.”

“Be brave. You are blessed to be here. Bloodshed and hate and war are not inevitable. We are the Seeds of Peace. Welcome home.”

This year marks the 18th season for the camp, founded by journalist John Wallach and co-founded by Bobbie Gottschalk, who attended Thursday’s opening. Palestinian youths and others from Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Afghanistan Pakistan and India are attending one of the two three-week sessions.

Ramesh, from Afghanistan, talked about how his previous summer at the camp had changed his life.

“For me, this was the start of a new life, a new hope, a better way. And I thank you for the opportunity.”

Rayan, a member of the Indian delegation, said, “I have used this opportunity to grow as an individual, but I know it does not end here. I must use the skills I have learned to solve problems in my home community.”

For the first time this year, well wishers have an opportunity to welcome the campers by posting messages on the organization’s website, www.seedsofpeace.org. Dan Ettinger, external relations manager, said the messages will be printed out and posted for the campers to see.

Since 1993, more than 4,000 teenagers have graduated from the Seeds of Peace program. The cost for campers, some of whom find sponsors, is more than $6,000, including transportation.

“Our mission is made possible by our sponsors and countless donors and benefactors,” said Communications Director Eric Kapenga. Two supporters, Bob MacLeod and Steve Byckiewicz, attended the ceremony. The two men are the founders and owners of Kiss My Face, natural personal care products. They donate a portion of the proceeds from the sale of their all-purpose soap to the camp.

Executive Director Leslie Lewin called the campers “very brave, for taking this first step. You’ve worked very hard to be here.”

Director Emeritus of the camp, Tim Wilson, who first came to the camp in 1960 as a counselor, said all of the young people will continue to work for peace when they go back home. Wilson told reporters before the start of the ceremony that he was “the first black camp counselor hired by Dr. Joel Bloom” 50 years ago, when the all-Jewish boys’ camp was called Camp Powhatan. He went on to become director of the camp and later, a coach at the University of Maine. The camp property is now leased by Seeds of Peace.

“A lot of people have put their hearts and souls into this program,” Wilson said. He lamented the fact that peace isn’t talked about much anymore.

“It is possible,” he said. “Governments do not make peace — people make peace. Peace is a job because you have to work at it. Everyone here has a job to do once this is over. Go home, keep working, no matter what.”


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