2010 camp photo by Bobbie GottschalkWhile governments can do important work to promote it, peace, tolerance and understanding come mostly from people. That’s why the South Asian Seeds of Peace participants will be important messengers in countries back home — Afghanistan, India and Pakistan.

This week, teenagers complete a three-week camp program in Maine designed to promote conflict resolution and mutual understanding. They were joined at the camp by Palestinian, Israeli, Egyptian and American teens.

2010 camp photo by Bobbie Gottschalk

“During your weeks at camp you established new friendships that cross borders and barriers,” a State Department official told the campers in a gathering on Wednesday.

Seeds of Peace “is more than a summer program,” said Under Secretary of State for Public Affairs and Public Diplomacy Judith McHale. “It is dedicated to empowering young leaders from regions of conflict with the leadership skills required to advance reconciliation and coexistence.”

The South Asian participants were among 164 campers who arrived at the Otisfield, Maine, camp on June 23 for the program’s 18th season. Beginning with 46 Israeli, Palestinian and Egyptian teenagers in 1993, the Seeds of Peace alumni includes more than 4,000 young people, some of whom now serve as camp counselors or work elsewhere within the organization.

With support from the State Department, the program was expanded to include participants from South Asia, beginning in 2001.

Now ambassadors for the program, each of the participants began their journey at a flag-raising ceremony on the first day of their camp experience. A second-year female participant from Egypt told the participants who are idealistically expecting peace that it will be an elusive goal, but that the program nevertheless asks them to courageously pursue it.

“The only thing you can do is carry on,” she said. “We live in a world of atrocities. The journey you are embarking on is not easy. But if you want to enjoy the honey, you must endure the sting of the bee.”

“Be brave. You are blessed to be here. Bloodshed and hate and war are not inevitable. We are the Seeds of Peace.”

According to a July 14 State Department media note, participants remain in touch with each other after their camp experience, both online and through digital videoconferences, as well as face to face through home stays and regional programs.

The visit to Washington at the conclusion of their camp experience allows them to share their experiences and gain exposure to U.S. policymakers. Along with the State Department, the ‘Seeds’ also visit the White House and meet with members of the U.S. Congress.

Addressing the Seeds, Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert Blake said, “All of you are really going to be serving as important bridges between all of your three countries.”

(Produced by America.gov, edited by Good News Network)

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