UP Coach Dani Glass shares more of her thoughts on what she’s learned at Camp Ultimate Peace.
“He was 12, I was 17. He was dark-skinned and I light-skinned, he spoke no English and I no Arabic. But none of that mattered; we were just two people.” So began a description of my experiences with Ultimate Peace that went on many, many college applications. He was a boy with whom I played soccer during evening free time just before bed during the first UP summer camp. He showed me up – every time I tried to show off a trick, he answered with another, all of which were way more complicated and far more skillfully executed. I loved learning new tricks from him, and he loved teaching me. The next year, I came back able to successfully execute (some of) the skills he had taught me the previous summer, and I could tell he was proud.
Ultimate Peace provides a culture of teaching and learning. The typical roles are coaches teaching campers, the red, green, yellow, and orange shirts learning from the blue, if we go with this year’s colors. This young boy from 2010 and 2011 took so much pleasure and pride in this reversal of roles. I’ll never forget the grin on his face – he had a huge smile, and as I’ve said of so many campers this week, when he smiled the grin just took up his whole face; it was impossible to concentrate on anything else. It reflected such pride, joy, and success, during both the first year as he taught me as well as the second when I came back able to execute the skills.
I had a similar experience from last summer to this. Last night, I picked up a soccer ball and began juggling, soon attracting a crowd of young boys who were unable to stay away at the sight of the ball. Just like a Frisbee, that soccer ball seemed to have a magnetic effect. I found myself juggling with two boys with whom I had played last year (they didn’t know each other, at least not well). I remembered that each of them spoke little English, so my communication with them was limited to gestures and the black and white ball that says so much. As we juggled, I managed to communicate that I remembered playing with them last year, and it was clear they remembered me, too. We may not have said much, but we came to a mutual understanding. I may not know their favorite colors, how old they are, or how many siblings they have. I don’t know their favorite subjects in schools, what specifically brings them back to camp, and I don’t know how they bring Ultimate Peace back to their respective communities. But this time at night when we are not moving from practices to meals to activities provides me with a chance to get to know them on a level that is even more intimate than answers to those questions could provide. I am able to connect with them because as we reach out our feet and stretch our legs to keep that black and white ball off the ground, so do our hearts reach out in a web of teaching, learning, influencing, acting, and reacting to the choices and emotions of those around us. As we kick the ball back and forth we have a mutual understanding of what it means to be here at camp and we share a personal moment of interaction even though there are campers, coaches, Frisbees, music, and the laughter of others all around us.
What these campers don’t know is what they give to us. Coaches come not only from Israel and America but the UK, Australia, China – all over the world. We give knowledge, experience, discs, jerseys, and prizes but they give us the strength, gratification, hope for the future, and the desire to keep coming back. I cherish every moment of camp (well, almost – I’m not a big fan of the schnitzel we are served every day), but these unstructured, spontaneous moments are some of my most treasured. Nights like this allow for campers who would not ordinarily meet at camp to interact. They may come from different villages and they may be on different teams, but the presence of that soccer ball or that game of 500 crosses any divides they may have had. Campers get to know other campers and coaches get to know campers they would otherwise never have had time to meet.
Last night, one of the boys and I played right up until it was time to all get together to say goodnight. As we walked toward the dorms, he came up to me with a friend, who told me, “He wants to ask you a few questions, and I can translate.” In this conversation, we discovered that in soccer, we are both goalkeepers. A connection we never would have known about had we not taken the time to get to know each other through this phenomenon of connection through a similar interest. We are Ultimate Peace. At camp, we focus on Ultimate – playing Ultimate, improving our skills, and understanding how the game can change us. But it is these other moments that occur spontaneously that help to make camp the special and unique experience that it is. It is moments like these that make us forget who we are and where we are from and concentrate only on the connection being made at that specific moment in time. “He was dark skinned and I light-skinned…He spoke no English and I no Arabic.” But at camp, we are all just people.
Our campers don’t know what they do for us. The look of joy on these campers’ face as they have interacted with me outside the context of practice and games is something that will never fail to bring a smile to my face. It is beyond gratifying to see this – to see the campers not only as campers but as teachers themselves. And in fact they are every day. They teach me every day what it means to overcome social boundaries and cross cultural divides. They teach me every day how to question the way I perceive what I think I know. The moments like the ones I had last night, like the ones I had with the one boy from the first and second summers are what feed me, what fuel my desire to come back year after year. As much as we as a staff are changing the lives of our campers, they have equally changed us. And on the last day of camp, after the heartfelt and tearful goodbyes have been exchanged, I want to acknowledge them. I will miss them so very much, and will bring what I have learned this and every year home with me to try to create a more understanding and open community, just like they do every day here at camp.