What an extraordinarily complicated and emotional summer it has been thus far. Below is our story from this dramatic camp season and a bit about how we are dealing with the current upheaval in the Middle East.
Due to the 30 days of Ramadan coming early this summer, we had to conclude both sessions of our camp by June 28th. This forced us to schedule the camps to occur right after school in the Middle East ended, and to run them concurrently. We also had to find a new camp site to accommodate the amount of campers and staff. As it happened, we discovered the perfect place, Kfar Silver, an absolutely great fit for Camp UP. Multiple fields with lights, our own pool, a huge gym, nice dormitories, all on a private lush school campus vacated for the summer. Its location, Ashkelon, was a concern from the outset, being 8 miles from Gaza, but we hoped tension would not rise in the region around camp time. We were in for a surprise.
Our talented and diverse staff arrived at Ben Gurion Airport during the days following the awful kidnapping of the 3 teens. Over 80 wonderful volunteers, coming from the USA, Canada, Brazil, Australia, China, Uganda, Germany, and Great Britain were taken aback by the feeling in the air. The country was tense. The search was on for the 3 boys in the West Bank, a few rockets had been shot in the South from Gaza, and people were on edge.
The borders between Israel and the West Bank had been closed, and we were hearing that our Palestinian campers may not be given permits. The night before we began our staff orientation and training, many staff went out to a local cafe in Ashkelon. Suddenly a siren went off and we saw a rocket in the sky. It looked like it had been intercepted and no damage had been done, but we were all a bit shaken. Would camp be cancelled? Would all that we had worked for be for naught? Would parents let their kids come to camp? Should they?
After much consultation with local security experts, army experts, and reflection amongst ourselves, we decided to proceed. We must have spoken to and reassured at least 40 different parents before and during camp, explaining the protocols and safety plans in detail. Though there were a few booms heard from afar during the week, there were no sirens.
In the end, despite all the tension, this year’s camps turned out to be our greatest yet. Running two camps in a new setting all at once might have been overwhelming, but this was our fifth year, we have learned a few things, and our staff, well, these people are simply incredible.
Karym Barhom, our Middle East Regional Director, had made sure that every last detail was taken care of at Kfar Silver. Nancy Melrose, our Educational Program Director, had devised a brilliant schedule and set of activities that allowed both camps to function beautifully side by side and interactively. Ben Spears, our UP fellow who had been living in the region for the past 6 months, had prepared all of the campers during that period for camp, and had trained the local Middle East Coaches in new advanced coaching technique. There are countless other staff that made a huge impact – for future emails…
To experience the magic of the Camp UP experience from beginning to end, please take a look at this wonderful 7-minute video made by volunteer Dany Proby from Canada. As you watch, consider a future where this is the norm.
Ultimate Peace Camp 2014
Unfortunately, over 30 Palestinians were not able to come to camp, as the borders remained tight all through camp. This was very hard for the Jewish and Arab campers and staff who missed their friends terribly and felt torn about having so much fun in their absence. A night of planning led to a full busload of 40 coaches going into the Bet Sachur in the West Bank the day after camp, and making a UP day camp for those kids who could not come into Israel for camp. In a very safe and welcoming community right near Jerusalem, it is what we all needed!
As you know, this is not what the region looks like today. The conflict has escalated and there is no immediate sign of peace, let alone cease-fire, in sight. In fact, just about every camp in Israel was cancelled just days after ours finished – many kids in the West Bank and Israel will not have anything close to the summer they so deserve.
As you can imagine, our campers and program participants, now numbering over 400, are upset, confused, and scared about the uncertainty of their future. The cycle of violence is out of control and everyone knows someone who has been harmed or killed. Ultimate Peace is one of the most important activities these amazingly resilient kids have in their lives. Sometimes UP is the one thing that brings them hope, and we all know it will be harder and harder to implement if this continues. With despair at an elevated level, this letter went out from David Barkan this past week to try to help.
Dear UP Family,
It is critical during these sad, scary and uncertain times that we stand together, remain united, and never stop working towards greater understanding and peace in the Middle East – we know this is our only hope.
Taking sides is instinctive, natural, easier. Trying to understand the many sides of what’s going on is complicated, uncomfortable, much harder. And yet, especially right now, it is so necessary.
We in UP remain committed to learning about all perspectives and points of view, whether we agree with them or not. We may not change one another’s minds, but just like when we play Ultimate, we must listen to one another, try our best to understand, and never give up on one another.
What do we do with the anger and frustration we feel today? Where do we find renewed hope for a more peaceful future? How do we continue to build bridges when people on the other side appear to be doing and saying things that weaken those very bridges?
These are the times when humility, listening and learning are most critical. It is simpler when times are peaceful, though never easy. But during conflict our emotions are raw. Fear, despair, and anger can get the best of us. It is important to feel feelings and to share them, but to never let them destroy the tender alliances we have built.
What can we actually DO to promote our five values during these times: Mutual Respect, Integrity, Non-Violence, Fun, and Friendship?
Here are some ideas:
1. Reach out to your UP teammates online and say hi. Ask how they are doing. Remind them of how much fun you had together. Share pictures. If possible, make plans to see them, even if it’s just on Skype or video chat.
2. Make something together – a slideshow from camp, or of your team, and post it. Or do something else. Be creative. We could all use something to smile about right now.
3. Learn about the different perspectives on the Middle East conflict. You might be very knowledgeable when it comes to your point of view. How can it be that other people in the Middle East can see things so differently? Read, ask questions, study.
4. Be careful about what you post on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. Think before you post – Could this upset or offend any of my friends? Ask yourself how it will be helpful.
Let’s start with these – other ideas are welcome! UP energy forever!
– Ultimate Peace Leadership
Of course, there are things we can control and things we cannot. Our leadership, staff, and multitudes of volunteers have committed to making sure that whatever takes place in the region, Ultimate Peace will not only facilitate its year-round programming and young leadership training, but grow and expand assertively. Current events only confirm how critical our program is towards raising a new generation of young adults who know peace and want to change their futures accordingly.
We thank you for your support of Ultimate Peace, and as always, welcome your input, suggestions, advice, and financial support during these very difficult times.
Peace, Salaam, Shalom.
David, Linda, Karym, and all of Team UP