K4P participants from Galilee in Israel are boys and girls from three faiths and two peoples, divided by a common land, but united as voices for peace. They will get to know each other before the journey through a series of shared activities sponsored and hosted St Georges Cathedral and the Anglican Dioceses Youth Ministry. They will explore each other’s realities, traditions, languages and dreams. Then, in a faith and conducive atmosphere of camp summer experiences, they will enjoy a distance from the tensions of the conflict and receive the gift of care and support. This unique program is designed to nurture these children as pioneers of peace showing the way to a better future for Israelis and Palestinians. The parents of Kids4Peace are committed to peace and coexistence. They will be an essential link to connect the week-long summer camp adventure to the challenging realities of life back in the conflict zone. Follow-up projects and education for peace initiatives with these children and their families and with other K4P families in the future will determine the real value of this program in the long run. In the midst of ethnic and political difference in Israel and Palestine, Kids4Peace is a program that dares to dream beyond the narrow boundaries of today’s politics. A moral commitment to peace and dialogue is shared by the Jewish, Christian and Muslim staff advisors and parents of Kids4Peace. In the light of this commitment, they recognize that today’s children are tomorrow’s leaders and that education for peace can turn the hearts of two peoples toward each other and toward a just and peaceful resolution of today’s conflict.
In the centre of the Church Hall a dozen youngsters were seated in a circle together with three adults. All held an olive branch in their hands.
The group consisted of Jewish, Muslim and Christian boys and girls, two boys and two girls from each faith and all were eleven year olds. The adults were advisers from each of the faiths. This was a training meeting of Kids4Peace in the town of Raineh on the outskirts of Nazareth in Galilee.
Kids4Peace is an Inter-Faith educational program initiated by the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and Middle East. I first visited the founder in Jerusalem three years ago, but I was formally re-introduced when the Founder met with a group from Knox Presbyterian Church, Agincourt while we were on a pilgrimage tour in Jerusalem in March last year. We were excited by the presentation, and chose to host a congregational dinner as a benefit event for the program when we reported to the church on our trip.
But that is not all. Following our return to Canada, I accepted a locum position in Galilee. I discovered that my new colleague in ministry ran a Galilee chapter of Kids4Peace. His group finished their training programme each year with a visit to Canada to holiday with an equally varied and balanced group of Canadian youngsters.
In my first week in Galilee, my wife and I located our new colleagues. In our second week, we next attended their weekly meeting. That brings this story back to where I started – that circle of eleven year olds in the church hall with olive branches in their hands.
The youth were strangers learning about others who their culture and community encouraged them to regard with suspicion. ‘Peace’ is a difficult concept for eleven year olds. They knew that the olive branch was a sign of ‘peace’. They were asked what it might mean in their family and in their school. Each one, clutching the symbol, attempted an answer. They also attempted to express their understanding of other difficult concepts – trust, freedom, security and so on. The discovered the negative effect of suspicion and distrust. They discovered how their wants negatively affected the same value for others. But it was not all heavy stuff.
On another visit, we saw them supporting each other in a four person high human pyramid. On another visit, the twelve were standing on or supporting each other standing on four chairs shouting and laughing together – as they saved each from a ‘crocodile infested floor.’
They learned from each other what they did when they went to worship on Fridays or Saturdays or Sundays – and why they went.
After their three months of meeting and learning together, they came to Canada on holiday to have more fun together – and to have fun with Canadian peers. At the end of camp, and the end of the course, the participants shared with others what they had learned. The event was called the Abraham Tent – because all three faiths are children of Abraham. Last year’s tent was in Knox Presbyterian Church, Agincourt where parents and congregational members were visibly moved by the insight and understanding of the Israeli Jewish and Palestinian Arab Christian and Muslim youngsters enjoying each other.
They were building peace one young life at a time. I look forward to seeing them grow together in Raineh, Galilee in the weeks ahead, and later seeing them celebrate each other in Canada.