Bahai News -- The Herald-Mail - Keep the peace Friday August 8, 2003

Keep the peace

by KATE COLEMAN

katec@herald-mail.com

With the first day of school just a little more than two weeks away, the laid-back days of summer are fading.

Kids have to prepare for the routine of schoolwork, homework, extracurricular activities - working to be the best they can be and working to win.

Competition - even friendly and sanctioned competition - is everywhere, and conflict sometimes results. Adults are preparing children to take care of problems they face and encouraging them to get along with others.

Earlier this summer, Washington County Public Schools held a Peer Helper Camp for about 30 high school juniors and seniors at Fairview Outdoor Education Center north of Clear Spring.

Nick Mowen, a counselor at Western Heights Middle School, attended the two-and-a-half day session designed to teach students to resolve conflicts and help other students do the same.

The training teaches: focusing on facts; hearing both sides of the conflict; discussing the pros and cons of the opposing points of view; and coming to agreement.

"In most resolutions, everybody's got to give a little," Mowen said.

That's an idea behind another camp, held this summer for the second year, designed to teach kids about cooperation.

Peacing It Together is Fun, an interfaith day camp held in June at Shepherd's Spring Outdoor Ministry Center in Sharpsburg, involved kids and parents from five Tri-State area faith communities.

"I felt like we needed to do something good," said camp coordinator Susan Pritchard, who attends Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church in Shepherdstown, W.Va.

It started with a bunch of women concerned about the negative reaction against Muslims after the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, said Naomi Rohrer of Berkeley Springs, W.Va., a member of the Baha'i faith.

"We wanted our children to have a different perspective," Pritchard said.

Charlotte Baker-Shenk, who also attends Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church, said she and other mothers were concerned about their children picking up on all the negative rumors. The women wanted to reach out to people in the Muslim community.

This year, five faith communities were involved: Presbyterian, Catholic, Muslim, Jew and Baha'i. About 40 first- through sixth-graders attended, and more than a dozen older kids offered to help the 35 adult volunteers who planned the camp.

In all of the day's crafts, games and activities, the focus was on cooperation.

Working together was the way to get things done, the way to win.

Joe Hill, 11, a sixth-grader at Shepherdstown Middle School, teamed up with 10-year-old Isaac Shade for a few rounds of arm wrestling.

The kids stretched out on the cabin floor to wrestle. Each pair of wrestlers was given two paper plates, one full of snacks and one onto which to transfer the pretzels and chips each time one of their arms was pinned. The duo that transferred all the snacks first won.

Joe and Isaac figured it out quickly. Rather than struggle and battle to pin each other, they looked ahead to the prize and simply smiled and pinned, and pinned, and pinned until all the snacks were transferred.

"It was kind of obvious," Joe said.

This concept of cooperating toward a common goal is not always so obvious. It took awhile even for some of the adult camp organizers to "get it" while previewing some of the games.

"We were too busy arm wrestling," Pritchard said.

The name tags were in the shape of puzzle pieces. One of the crafts was making and painting picture frames of jigsaw puzzle pieces. Other cooperative games were played. Volley up is similar to volleyball, except that points are scored not by spiking the ball to the other side of the net, but by players on both sides working together to keep the ball in the air for 25 volleys.

Pritchard's 11-year-old son, Steve Pritchard, attended last year's camp and met Haj Sabhi. They were paired as buddies. He had not previously known anyone of the Muslim faith.

"We were surprised that we like a lot of the same things - soccer, video games," Steve said.

They have stayed in touch via e-mail and have gotten together. Steve said Haj is his first Muslim friend. "We have a lot in common."

"I think it's really cool," said 14-year-old Sofia Latif, who is Muslim. Sofia, who will be a freshman at Smithsburg High School, said she thinks the camp is a really good idea because, if people become friends when they're little, there will be peace in the future.

Susan Pritchard said it's important for kids to get the message of cooperation and peace. Rather than just tell them, she wanted something that would involve them.

"We want kids to learn that they don't have to compete or win to have fun, and that activities can be more fun if everyone cooperates," she said.

About 20 campers of different sizes, different colors, different faiths gathered for a game of "tug-of-peace." They all held on - with two hands - to a large circle of rope. Pritchard directed them to sit with their legs crossed, bottoms on the damp ground. Moans and "yucks" were universal.

"Pull the rope really tight," she said. "Steady yourself. One-two-three rise."

Although the rise was not as smooth as intended, the kids held on and got to their feet - finally coming together.

Busy summer schedules got in the way of a planned August session of the interfaith camp, but organizers are looking ahead to continuing in 2004.

And the ideas behind the camp have gone far beyond the Sharpsburg campgrounds and five local faith communities.

Lucille "Sis" Levin, author of "Beirut Diary," the account of her husband Jerry Levin's 1984 kidnapping in Lebanon, spoke at Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church the day after the interfaith camp. She, a teacher, and her husband, former Middle East bureau chief for Cable News Network, have devoted their energies to conflict resolution, working with Christian Peacemaker teams, especially in the Middle East, Susan Pritchard said.

While in Shepherdstown, Sis Levin learned of the local camp and asked for copies of its "curriculum." She planned to take it to Israel and use it in a school attended by children of the Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Druze faiths.

"You never know when you plant the seeds where they're going to grow," Pritchard said.

©Copyright 2003, The Herald-Mail (Hagerstown, MD, USA)

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