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SUMMER 2021 REFLECTIONS - JPBLD youth in the Holy Lands

Despite a year that has posed many challenges, JPBLD's sacred work of peacebuilding has continued. Seeds of peace, sown in a time of adversity, began bearing their first, promising fruits in the launching of our annual summer institutes.

In an unparalleled display of team work, partnership, planning and support, JPB successfully and safely ran the first two of three summer youth programs last week, for the first time ever in the Holy Lands: Voyager Institute and Global Voices Institute. The week was full of reminders of both JPBLD's resilience for community building in a time of great separation and a passion for the effective, relationship-focused peacebuidling work that our organization is known for. And in keeping with tradition, our teens led the way.

Historically, Voyager teens participate in a nine-day intensive summer camp experience at beloved Camp Allen in Navasota, Texas. Yet, after safely arriving at the Eastern Mediterranean International School (EMIS), this year's Voyager cohort was more than willing to dive right into a busy week of programming after a long year of social-distancing.

"I remember some of the participants shared really difficult stories with the group. Hearing their different experiences and perspectives on the conflict, I believe I can learn how to be a better leader from everyone here. I hope to be a good leader, to try to bring peace." - Voyager participant

The teens exhibited both an openness and willingness to build their storytelling skills, engaging with each other and our staff in challenging group dialogues, workshops, and reflective exercises. Fostering engagement with belief systems beyond their own, the teens were also formally introduced to the three Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, through sessions with visiting, local religious leaders.

When not in workshops and sessions, our Voyagers were outside, forging bonds and forming friendships under sunny, clear skies - from trips to the pool and movie nights, to a talent show, "crazy olympics," a silent dance party, and more.

As the flurry of program activities began winding down on Saturday, our staff and students alike realized there was something undeniably special about this year's cohort.

Unfolding next to Voyager, our Global Voices Institute teens experienced a summer like never before. With a blended group of new faces and program alumni, this year's program focused on continuing the foundational work of understanding identity, nonviolent communication, active listening, interfaith engagement, peacebuilding activism, and the Hero's Journey.

While we did run successful online programs that engaged teens last summer in the midst of the pandemic, nothing could replace the power of in-person connection and exchange this summer.

"This year, I got to meet more teens my age and make new friends. It's great we get to meet each other face to face. This summer, I wanted to create connections, share my ideas and beliefs with other people, and learn new things." - Returning JPB Alumni

The sessions this year stretched our youth to the next level as young peacebuilders, but it was the time between workshops and dialogues that proved especially powerful for strengthening bonds and fostering new friendships. Our superstar staff stepped up to new levels of leadership and support, crafting fun icebreakers and activities that took full advantage of quality outdoor space and modeled strong leadership on diverse team. Our list of guest speakers and visiting local leaders also helped to foster new levels of innovation and inspiration among our Global Voices youth, encouraging unique approaches to peace and unity both internal and external to their home communities.

In a year that has driven so many of us in the peacebuiding community to reaffirm why we do what we do, explore alternative ways and means to advance the work of peace, and creatively pursue ways to gather, we are grateful beyond measure for the blessing of being able to safely and successfully deliver in-person programs; the heart of what we do.

We are so grateful for our staff, partners, participants and their parents for all of their hard work, contributions and engagement, we look forward with excitement to the future, to our next and final youth program for the summer - Interfaith Leadership - and for the next opportunity to all be together again.


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