FOCUS ON BOSTON
by John Vernaglia
24 kids: 12 from Boston, 12 from Jerusalem: 12 boys, 12 girls: 8 Jews, 8 Christians, 8 Muslims all coming together for 1 life-changing experience. This is Kids4Peace Boston. This innovative program was created as a chapter of Kids4Peace International, whose mission is to “inspire hope” in the seemingly hopeless Israeli-Palestinian crisis.
However, the unique part of Kids4Peace is kids themselves, who are learning and doing the actual peacemaking. As Peggy Stevens, founder of Kids4Peace Boston described, it is about “getting kids to value crossing boundaries.”
Stevens was inspired to start a chapter while visiting Israel/Palestine, where she learned that the International program was turning away more than 100 enthusiastic applicants a year; so in 2011, she held the first Kids4Peace Boston session.
The Kids4Peace Boston experience begins when 12 year olds from Jerusalem and Boston meet for the first time for a two-week intensive camp experience. Not only does this camp give kids a chance to learn about each others’ religions, but also to do team-building activities so they become good friends. What has separated Kids4Peace Boston from other chapters is the continuation program, keeping youth involved through their high school years.
As Elizabeth Nies Greeley, a 12th grade Christian participant, describes, “Kids4Peace isn’t authoritative, it’s a family. It includes kids, teens and families.” This “family” only becomes more powerful through the connections between the kids and the work they are able to do together.
For Yasmine El-Kattan, an 11th grade Muslim, one of the most powerful experiences for her occurred during the continuation program when she had the opportunity to recite her own prayers in a church. “It showed me that although we come from different religions we are all connected and can coexist in this world.”
This encapsulates the core of Kids4Peace mission: getting kids to appreciate their similarities and see the possibility of greater peace.
Discussing the future direction of Kids4Peace Boston, Executive Director Sindy Wayne states, “We need to grow the number of kids involved.” At the same time, Wayne points out that current participants need to stay engaged as Kids4Peace Boston has turned a summer camp experience into a 6-year program. Throughout it all, the mission is clear. Wayne explains, “Youth can make a difference.” The program now includes an annual High School Interfaith Conference led by teens. Teen leaders s[eal at local houses of worship and participate in social justice and service projects. Their work is far from finished, but they hope to build on their already strong foundation as peace leaders in the community and abroad.
Teen leader Greeley confidently states, “I used to believe peace was possible, but now I know it is.”
John Vernaglia joined Kids4Peace Boston in 2012. He is currently a junior at Concord Academy in Massachusetts. John is serving his second term on the Advisory Board for Creative Kids magazine, where he is a frequent contributor. John’s poetry and writing have resulted in more than forty publications and awards.
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