Seeds of Peace is a nonprofit, non-political organization that helps teenagers from conflict regions learn peace-making skills. In the setting of a camp in the woods of Maine, Seeds of Peace offers a safe and supportive environment where youngsters can air their views and learn listening, communication, and other conflict resolution techniques that allow them to develop empathy for one another. Seeds of Peace equips the next generation with the leadership capabilities necessary to end the cycles of violence.
John Wallach created Seeds of Peace to address conditions he had witnessed during a thirty-year career in journalism. At a dinner party in 1993, Wallach asked Israeli foreign minister Shimon Peres, the Egyptian ambassador, and a representative of the Palestinian Liberation Organization if they would be willing to ask their governments to send teenagers to a summer camp in the United States where they would live together and learn about conflict resolution. They said yes, so the next day he put out a press release. The camp opened the summer of that year.
Originally, the program focused on Arab and Israeli teenagers from ten nations in the Middle East, but it has grown to include youngsters from Cyprus, the war-torn Balkans, and other regions of conflict. After several years of operating the summer camp in Maine, Seeds of Peace expanded its efforts to include year-round peace education by opening the Center for Co-existence in Jerusalem in 1999.
The summer camp in Maine is the organization's main attraction. Camp organizers and counselors aim to create a community of Arab and Israeli youngsters, as well as kids from other regions, who live together in cabins, share meals, and participate in numerous summer camp activities. The camp participants are often meeting teens "from the other side" for the first time, and they are encouraged to canoe, swim, and play sports together. In addition to the traditional camp activities, students build relationships through creative endeavors, including music, drama, and other fine arts, as well as state-of-the-art computer classes. The campers also attend many different types of religious services.
A total of 323 teenagers participated in Seeds of Peace in the summer of 2001: The camp in Maine hosted youngsters from Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Morocco, Palestine, Qatar, Tunisia, Cyprus, Greece, Turkey, India, Pakistan, Bosnia, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, and Yugoslavia. All international campers are selected by their respective governments. Each year the camp activities culminate with a trip for the students to Washington, D.C. to visit landmarks and meet with government leaders. This year, campers were greeted by President George W. Bush.
At the organization's Jerusalem facility, Seeds of Peace offers year-round seminars and coexistence groups. To extend its mission, the organization has also developed a CD ROM for teachers to use in Palestinian and Israeli classrooms. The CD ROM was made with the help of ten Israeli and Arab graduates of the Seeds of Peace Conflict Resolution program and features in-depth tours of Palestinian and Israeli homes; six hours of video answers on teenage life and perspectives on the conflict; the first joint Palestinian and Israeli historical timeline; and tours of refugee camps, Jerusalem, holy sites, and settlements.
After the September 11th terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., Seeds of Peace graduates from around the world gathered in New York City in November to participate in a conference focused on "Uprooting Hatred and Terror." Youth exchanged perspectives on the root causes of hatred and violence and developed the Charter on Uprooting Hatred and Terror, which was presented to Secretary-General of the United Nations Kofi Annan.
Seeds of Peace has been featured in the New York Times, USA Today, Washington Post, Time magazine, Christian Science Monitor, Wall Street Journal, and People magazine, as well as on the Nightline, 60 Minutes, Today Show, and Good Morning America television news programs and on CNN, PBS, and NPR.
The Seeds of Peace Web site offers information about the program and its history and developments in recent years. It also provides an events calendar that shows where founder John Wallach, other Seeds of Peace leaders, and program graduates will be speaking on issues related to peace and their experiences with the camp. Contributors can also use the Web site to make donations to the organization online.
The Clubhouse part of the Web site is an area designed to encourage peace and help Seeds of Peace graduates and other teenagers connect and stay in touch. The site provides links to news sources for teenagers, features news issues with coverage by both Palestinian and Israeli journalists, and publishes an online magazine called the Olive Branch. The site also has an area with the names and e-mail addresses of former Seeds of Peace campers as well as message boards for campers and others to discuss coexistence issues.