Kids4Peace is an interfaith education-for-peace initiative originally started by St. George’s College in Jerusalem and was launched in 2002 with the cooperation of St. George’s Cathedral. The St. George’s Cathedral and College are institutions of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem and the Middle East. In 2009, the Kids4Peace program was shifted from oversight by the College to oversight by the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem and the Middle East.
The Beginnings of Kids4Peace
Under the direction of Henry Carse, then Program Director of St. George’s College and now Director of Kids4Peace, and with the support of the Dean of the College, enquiries were made about the possibility of a camping experience for Jewish, Christian and Muslim ten to twelve year olds in the United States. At the time, the Dean was visiting Houston and raised the idea at a dinner meeting. He received an immediate and favorable response, which resulted in twelve Jewish, Muslim and Christian children going to Camp Allen near Houston in 2002.
Prior to the children’s trip to Houston in August of 2002, Henry Carse visited Toronto in June of 2002. During his visit Henry attended a dinner at the home of David and Cathie Ross. In attendance was Mary Hill who previously worked for CBC television and who listened with great interest to the Kids4Peace planned trip to Houston. She was excited by the Kids4Peace initiative and enquired about making a documentary of the kids in Houston, which Henry enthusiastically supported. Encouraged by Henry’s response, she talked about her idea to her husband, Don Hill, Chairman of the Foster Hewitt Foundation. She asked him if the Foundation would consider funding the project and Don later advised her that the Foundation would provide the necessary financial support.
The Toronto Chapter of Kids4Peace
Unfortunately, the 2002 film project fell through, but David Ross asked if the Foster Hewitt Foundation board would redirect the $20,000 allocated for the filming as a contribution to fund a program for a Kids4Peace program in Toronto. Don Hill and his Board agreed and became the initial financial supporters of Kids4Peace.
David Ross approached John Hunkin, President of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, for additional support. John immediately agreed to donate through the Bank and executives $30,000, which would cover the then estimated $50,000 cost for a Canadian Kids4Peace program to commence in 2004 in Toronto.
A new chapter of Kids4Peace in Toronto offered other possibilities. Since Toronto is a cosmopolitan and diversified city a different approach was decided upon from the model used originally in Houston where the American host children were all Christians. In Toronto the Canadian hosts were to be the same composition of age, gender, and faith as those from Israel: four Christians, four Jews, four Muslims children; two boys and two girls in each faith; and all eleven years old.
Summer camps and the curriculum
Both the US and Canada use commercial summer camps as the base of operations. In Canada until 2009 the children have gone to Camp Outward Bound near Burk’s Falls Ontario, which is about a three hour drive north of Toronto. Outward Bound in 2008 shifted the emphasis of the camp programs from group cooperation and excellence to individual achievement and excellence. After the Kids4Peace 2008 camp, it was decided to seek new facilities and the Cedar Glen Camp of the YMCA just north of Toronto in the Caledon Hills was chosen where the emphasis would be on group development.
It was suggested that Toronto should work out its own curriculum and there was much discussion, particularly among the different faith Advisors who had the responsibility to lead the interfaith elements of the program. It was decided that each day would be divided between interfaith education and regular camp activities designed to develop mutual trust and respect and, by extension, understanding and knowledge of each other’s faiths. The visits to each faith’s place of worship are one of the highlights of the trip.
Another feature of the Toronto curriculum in the past has allowed each Canadian Kid to take home a Kid from Israel of the same faith for a couple of nights to see how each faith functions in a very different culture and to foster friendship between them. The Kids4Peace program has been held in each of 2004, 2006, 2007, and 2008. Because of concerns over the H1N1 flu pandemic in 2009, the next program will be held in 2010.
A dedicated volunteer organization
The Toronto Chapter of Kids4Peace is totally operated by volunteers. The Toronto Chapter Board of volunteers, with the valuable assistance of Blake Cassels and Graydon LLP, incorporated a federally chartered company, Kids4Peace (Canada), which in May of 2009 was designated as a charitable corporation. The Toronto Chapter is very grateful to the Trinity Anglican Church of Aurora for making Kids4Peace one of its projects and for accepting and issuing receipts for donations in earlier years.
Your donations are needed to support the dream
All costs of the Kids4Peace program have been raised by donations. Please click here if you wish to make a donation in support of Kids4Peace.
The August morning sun shone brightly. The ground was dry…except for the tears that dropped ever so gently on Mother Earth’s surface where I stood….the Green P parking lot at York Mills and Yonge just south of the 401. The Galilee kids had just come from Nazareth weeping tears of fear shed scarcely twenty-four hours earlier…from the bunkers that provided shelter from rockets, bombings and bullets each time the sirens went off. Are Mom and Dad; are my family safe at home tonight? For the Canadian half of the K4P Campers the beauty of the day was enhanced by the poignancy of the moment: Mothers and Fathers, their eleven year old sons and daughters sharing the pain of separation – their tears falling gently. Another K4P camp was launched I was witnessing for the first time a bus filled with Kids4Peace going to camp Outward Bound near Huntsville, Ontario...
As I looked around there were lots of sniffles and tears. It was easy to see that the 24 campers were equal numbers of girls and boys. But my challenge was to distinguish Jew from Christian from Muslim from Jew from Christian – we ALL shared the pain, the expectation of what was to come…KIDS4PEACE CAMP and its goal of peace with justice. We all could respect our unique experience of that separation. Life was about respecting one another while cooperating together to share our pain in achieving equality and respect for ALL.
That was an Aha moment for me…our pain, our joy, our expectation can be shared…at those moments we turned to role models in our Torah, our Bible, and our Quran. Life was not about imposing my sacred values on my sister or brother; life was about finding strength in my faith so that I could walk with the other as we both shared our pain; as we both worked together relying on our respective faiths to achieve a world where PEACE and JUSTICE are our first and only concern. Our faith, our religion, strengthens our cooperation for PEACE and JUSTICE…NOT to prostitute our faith, our religion for Political purposes
As someone who works with children on a daily basis, I believe strongly that children have the potential for learning through multiple perspectives and they have the ability to empathize and show compassion for one another. This means that Kids4Peace is doing the right thing to get children to think of this world in a different way than we do.
When I get frustrated with adults of this world, I look to children for signs of hope. I want to help them with ideas to keep hope for peace alive. I believe K4P kindles that desire to think that peace is possible, albeit on a small scale. The only way to bring change in the world is, to work with others. What better people to work with than all these volunteers of K4P who are so committed, dedicated and enthusiastic about bringing about positive change in the world?
What left a lasting impression on me?
During the past few years of working with K4P, there have been many occasions which have left deep impression on me. For the ten days when people from different faith groups are together, the barriers are down. The focus is towards collaboration and common goals to make the camp a successful experience for everyone.
One year I noticed that the Muslim girl from Canada and a Jewish girl from Israel had bonded with each other and so they insisted that they be partnered to go home together. It was a break from the usual routine which was to pair each child with the one from the same faith. I remembered the puzzled look on the faces of all adults. The permission was sought from the parents of both girls and all went well. This kind of experience validated the objectives of K4P, which is building relationships, acceptance and friendships.
One year when the Israeli Kids were leaving, one Palestinian girl was hugging everyone and kept crying. She came up to me a few times and hugged me and started crying again. She told me while struggling with her limited English language skills, that these had been the best days of her life and that she was scared to go back.
Recruiting kids for our program has its own challenges. The biggest hurdle is the lack of trust and suspicion by the parents of kids who don’t know the people from Kids4Peace. It takes time and energy to convince people that there are no hidden agenda here. I can imagine it must be difficult for parents to trust their young 11 year olds with strangers. But thank God, we have always been able to get the kids we need every year through word of mouth most of the time. Usually those are the kind of kids and parents we want for Kids4Peace – people who believe in the dialogue and proactive approach to peace.
Zahida Murtaza, Chairperson Programming