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Friday, August 3, 2012
Sowing seeds of peace
The Arab Spring uprisings have brought a new sense of optimism to young people from troubled nations as they spend time at a special camp nestled in the hills of western Maine where they confront and resolve their differences. "It gives me the feeling that everything is possible and nothing is impossible," said 17-year-old Lina, a camper at Seeds of Peace who witnessed the regime change in her home country of Egypt. "We believe that with change, peace is possible. We believe we are the leaders of the future."

Seeds of Peace is now in its 20th year bringing together children from countries in conflict. The more than 200 campers this summer — the most in the camp's two decades — include Israelis, Palestinians, Jordanians, Egyptians, Indians, Pakistanis and Afghans.

The pine-shaded camp features outdoor activities such as soccer, volleyball, cricket and swimming, interspersed with dialogue sessions, the core of the program. Campers, working with facilitators, are encouraged to voice their views on conflicts and seek to resolve their differences. This year's 3 1/2-week session also comes as a regime change in Egypt ensues, invigorating the optimism that young campers like Lina can carry their message to the world.

The Seeds program is committed to keeping connections active with campers after they graduate through a variety of seminars and other gatherings all over the world. "Given what's going on in the world today, our work is probably more important than it's ever been," said Leslie Lewin, the organization's executive director.

Conflicts remain to be resolved in a number of regions, but with the Arab Spring "we've seen real results from young people who want to make a difference in the world, and that gives us more motivation to support these talented and committed young people," Lewin stated.

Liav, a 26-year-old counselor from Haifa, Israel, said lessons from Seeds of Peace can be transmitted through the kinds of contacts graduates will have in their professional lives. Liav is eyeing an environmental career that could bring her into contact with Palestinians over issues such as water rights. "I feel the main thing I've gained here is the ability to talk and listen," she said.

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