Kids4Peace

The Jewish Tribune – August 23, 2007

FORGING PEACE THROUGH FRIENDSHIP AND DIALOGUE

By Shlomit Kriger
Special to the Tribune

TORONTO – While conflict continues to ensue in the Middle East, a group of Jews, Muslims, and Christians, representing Israel’s largest faith populations, recently caught a glimpse of peace in Ontario.

Faith leaders and 12 11-year-old children (four from each faith) from the Galilee region of Israel joined Canadian faith leaders and 12 children comprising the same denominations through the program Kids4Peace. They gathered from Aug. 6 to 15, spending about a week at an outward bound camp in northern Ontario and then visiting some of Toronto’s tourist sites and places of worship, in an effort to build bridges and promote cooperation and respect between people of the three faiths.

Founded in 2002, Kids4Peace is an interfaith education-for-peace initiative of St. George’s College Jerusalem, launched with the cooperation of St. George’s Cathedral Pastorate Committee. The program is managed entirely by volunteers from the three faiths and receives all of its funding through donations from various community organizations and individuals.

“We believe peace is a process, it won’t come overnight, but we have the power to achieve it,” said Father Samuel Barhoum, director of the Kids4Peace Galilee chapter. “We want the children to respect each other as they are and know each other’s faiths the right way.”

“The initiative is a good example of people taking action for peace,” added Rev. Joseph Horrigan, a member of the Kids4Peace Toronto chapter. “These are regular local people saying we want peace and we’re going to do something about it.”

In the program’s first year, 12 children from Jerusalem attended a summer camp in Houston.

Since then, about 120 children from Jerusalem and Galilee have participated in summer camp programs with the help of organizing Kids4Peace chapters in Houston, Atlanta, Toronto, the Galilee, and Jerusalem. This is the third time that Toronto has hosted the program.

At the Toronto camp, the children spent the mornings engaging in interfaith activities to learn about diverse aspects of each other’s faiths, including holy days, dietary laws, the calendar year, and life passage ceremonies. In the afternoons, they participated in regular summer camp activities.

One of the highlights of the camp was when the children wrote and performed a play titled The Abraham Tent for the Canadian parents, through which they shared each religion’s core beliefs and traditions and discovered many areas they have in common.

Following the camp, the children stayed at the homes of the participating Canadian families.

“The children bond very closely when they are together,” said Janet Ritch, also a member of the Kids4Peace Toronto chapter, “and individually they gain a lot of confidence for the rest of their lives. For example, last year, a very shy Muslim girl blossomed in her schoolwork and school activities following the camp.”

Shefa, one of the Muslim participants from Galilee, said she had a good time at the camp. She enjoyed presenting her faith through The Abraham Tent.

“I learned to give respect to other faiths,” she added.

Renana, a Jewish participant from Galilee, had met the other Israeli participants several times throughout the year before the program with the aid of the Galilee chapter organizers. She made more new friends in Toronto and plans on staying in touch with them.

“I learned that we’re all equal human beings,” she said. “Each faith has some positive and negative things, but when everyone is together they will support and complete each other.”

Mais, a Christian participant from Galilee, said she also learned a lot from the program and was happy to meet more children from other faiths.

“We need cooperation and reconciliation between the different faiths,” she said. “Through this program, whether we like it or not, we had to spend time with people from the various faiths and learn to get along.”

“I have a different attitude toward other faiths now,” added Liya, another Jewish participant from Canada. “Before, I was a bit more concerned because of such things as rising anti-Semitism, but now I see that most people are good.”

Mohsin, a Muslim participant from Canada, said the best part of the program was getting the chance to engage with the other children in some of the activities that he likes, including basketball, swimming, and rock climbing.

The faith leaders encourage the children and their families to maintain their communication following the program, and many do. Working to support and strengthen the communities in the Middle East, the organizers from Galilee also run some conflict resolution workshops for the parents to help them learn to better handle some of the difficult experiences they may face in the region.

For more information visit www.kids4peace.ca.

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