By: Alumna Fenna Slenter (‘10, ‘11)
I always tell people about how my participation in Camp Rising Sun was really a life-changing experience for me, which is the usual phrase uttered when describing the impact that CRS can have on campers’ lives. However, when people ask me why so, I find it difficult to put this feeling into words. Yes, my CRS years (2010 and 2011) brought me in touch with friends for a lifetime, living all around the globe, and yes, the experience made me grow from the 15-year-old child I was then into a more mature and independent young adult. It made me understand the fundamentals of what it means to be a leader and taught me how to face personal and institutional challenges. These have all been incredibly valuable, but I was still left searching for what exactly constitutes the essence of my life-changing experience.
The answer to the above question became clear to me during my time in Amman, Jordan. Over the summer of 2018, I have been volunteering at the leading, global non-profit organization Generations For Peace (GFP) for two months, as a blog writer under Communications and the GFP Institute, the organization’s research arm. Generations For Peace is a preventive peace-building organization, which means that they focus on conflict transformation at the grassroots, empowering young leaders to promote active tolerance and responsible citizenship in communities experiencing different forms of conflict and violence. This is done via carefully-facilitated activities that engage community members of all ages to enable sustained behavioral change.
The similarities between CRS and GFP are striking. Both see youth as the driver of sustainable change; after all, they are the leaders of tomorrow. Targeted youth will carry with them the lessons they have learned for a lifetime, as I experienced myself. Furthermore, youth usually stand at the center of their communities in a way that they are able to influence and transform their communities for the better. Both GFP and CRS are striving for diverse, tolerant and peaceful societies. The vehicles for such change that GFP uses are sport-, arts-, advocacy-, dialogue-, and empowerment activities, all of which can also be found within the program of CRS: instructions, projects, and evening programs offer a multitude of such activities.
Whereas GFP specifically focuses on communities struck by any kind of conflict, CRS targets youth in all parts of society. However, one of the evening programs that I remember most is the one addressing the Palestinian-Israeli conflict by our two campers from the region, which familiarized me with the complexity of the conflict for the first time. The evening, for me, was really a prime example of how dialogue and informed discussion can lead to real understanding of both sides of the conflict, which is necessary to build towards a workable resolution in the future. I guess it was no coincidence that both campers were sleeping in the “United Nations” tent in our first week of camp.
Lastly, the slogan of GFP is “pass it on...” which is exactly what CRS expects its campers to do once they return home after summer. This cascading model in both CRS and GFP makes it possible to let more people benefit from the experience than only the direct participants themselves. It is about spreading knowledge, ideas and a worldly perspective that could have a positive impact on other people’s lives, who could in their turn again pass on this message.
After a month in Amman, it hit me there and then that I probably would have never ended up in Jordan would it not have been for CRS, thus answering the question of how camp changed my life. Flying across the ocean at such a young age and experiencing a variety of cultures, languages, ideas, and values transformed me into a world citizen, more aware of the diversity around me. There is more to life than the small community I grew up in, and having had this realization has made me eager to discover, to connect, and to engage with others. This eagerness is what eventually brought me to Jordan, too.
CRS and GFP show that connection, dialogue, and kindness create active tolerance and nuanced understanding. I am confident that we, as campers and as human beings, can and should take it upon ourselves to spread this message