Jessica Garland and Rachel Brown Sow the Seeds of Peace
Lara: What attracted you to Seeds of Peace?
Jessica and Rachel: We are really interested in international affairs and also in the conflicts in South Asia and the Middle East. We had heard from a former Seeds of Peace participant what an amazing experience this program offered, especially by giving one an opportunity to help bridge serious differences among students and people from countries in violent conflict. It sounds cliche but, as it turned out, it was really a once in a lifetime experience.
Lara: What are some of the highlights of your time at Seeds for Peace?
Jessica and Rachel: There were highlights everyday! A especially memorable event is from the last day of our Seeds of Peace camp. The camp was divided into 2 groups named by colors and the groups competed in different games. Despite intense competition between the two groups during the games, at the end, everyone had to jump into a lake and sing the Seeds of Peace song all together and in unison. Still with their group clothes on, everyone was hugging and crying. Suddenly you realize that although the games had been fiercely competitive, at the end of the day, everyone loves everyone else no matter if they were on the blue or green team. And then it hits you that it does not matter if someone is Israeli, Palestinian, Pakistani, Indian, Afghani, or American -- you just see everyone as the most amazing friends in the world and you don’t notice whether they have a blue or green shirt on, let alone what color their skin is underneath that shirt.
Lara: What did you personally take away from Seeds of Peace? What impact did it have on you?
Jessica and Rachel: Attending Seeds of Peace definitely changed our perspective on how we approached reading and learning about conflict in the Middle East and South Asia. After attending Seeds of Peace, when you read a headline that says “Five Killed in Jerusalem Bombing,” you don’t just see the facts as impersonal statistics, but immediately wonder whether any of your friends from camp or their friends or family might have been injured. Befriending fellow campers (seeds) from all over the world brings seemingly distant conflicts home. Also, it is fascinating to hear how seeds on both sides of conflicts actually respond when regional tensions flare up in their respective countries. During the 2008/2009 Gaza War and the Gaza Flotilla, the online debates between seeds got quite heated. But there are also times, such as after the 2008 Mumbai bombings and during the Arab Spring in Egypt, when there are huge outpourings of support and concern for the safety of fellow seeds. The Seeds of Peace experience drives home the idea that there are two (or more) sides to every conflict and it is worthwhile to try to understand ideas you may vehemently disagree with -- a lesson that applies not only to political conflicts but also to many other aspects of life.
Jessica with Arab and Jewish Seeds
Lara: How can Seeds of Peace and other organizations working in the area of peace and conflict resolution be more effective in the future?
Jessica and Rachel: We think the biggest issue for Seeds of Peace is keeping the seeds believing and practicing what they have learned at camp. Once you get back in normal life it may be incredibly hard to remember what you learned at Seeds of Peace – especially, if you are surrounded by conflict. When you read the news or watch TV and it is saying terrible things about “the other side” it is hard to remember that those people on the other side are some of your closest friends and that they are not horrible, terrible people, but people just like you and me. It is hard a year later, but think about about how hard it would be 5 years later, let alone 10! Eventually you lose touch with most people and keeping the spirit of peace and friendship from Seeds of Peace can get harder and harder. We think the hardest thing for Seeds of Peace is keeping people involved after they leave camp and to ensure they remember what they learned at camp.
Lara: Would you recommend Seeds of Peace to fellow students? Why? How could they prepare themselves to get the most from their time at Seeds of Peace?
Jessica and Rachel: Without a question, we would recommend Seeds of Peace. It was amazing, truly the best experience in our whole lives. We think that we really need to come to Seeds of Peace with an open mind. It is also helpful if you know the history of the countries in conflict, but it is really important to be aware that not everything you read about conflicts is necessarily accurate – what one reads may be skewed in favor or one party or another, so it is important to read stuff from all the sides and be discerning.
In our dialogues with Pakistanis about the American stuff going on in Pakistan, we realize that a lot of stuff that we had considered true without a doubt was not always viewed as accurate facts in their minds. Although in the beginning we fought about the facts a lot, by the end we realized that they don’t matter as much as seeing the other side as a person, as a friend, as someone you care deeply about. We think that by the end of the Seeds of Peace camp most participants didn't agree on the facts, yet pretty much everyone thought of everyone else as some of the best friends that they will ever make and that’s what really counts.