OTISFIELD – More than 150 teenagers from eight nations gathered Thursday at the front gates of the Seeds of Peace International Camp, raised their national flags and sang their national anthems.

It’s the only time they will see those national flags in the next three weeks.

The campers from Egypt, the Palestinian Territories, Israel, Jordan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and the United States will unite under one flag — the Seeds of Peace.

Many of the campers walked arm-in-arm from their cabins on Pleasant Lake to the opening ceremony. Representatives from each country spoke before the flags were raised.

Zeena, 16, said she almost didn’t make it to the camp from her home in Cairo. She was stopped by airport officials on Tuesday and told she would not be traveling. There was a misprint on her airline ticket.

(Seeds of Peace doesn’t allow campers to disclose their last names publicly, to prevent any repercussions to them or their families.)

Zeena told the campers to make the most of every opportunity, be brave and face their fears.

“This is a place where we see one another as equal people,” she said. “Look around you. Look at these faces. This is your new family. Behind those gates is your new home. Remember, you are blessed to be here. Let us stand hand in hand and make a difference.”

The campers will spend their time in meetings to talk about their fears and animosity over the continued conflicts in the Middle East and Afghanistan. The private sessions will be led by Israeli and Palestinian Seeds of Peace alumni who have been trained in mediation and conflict resolution.

“They’re able to delve into the tough issues during the dialogue sessions, and that is where the suppressed emotions come out,” said Eric Kapenga, the camp’s communications director. “There’s a period where the dialogue is very intense and emotional, and the kids are crying. After they have gotten their emotions out, they are able to have conversations.”

After the discussions, the campers engage in typical activities, such as swimming, canoeing, arts-and-crafts and sports.

Tim Wilson, the camp’s director emeritus, told the campers that counselors and delegation leaders are committed to using the word “peace” and never walking away when someone says it’s not possible.

“Peace is possible when people take the time to listen to each other and respect each other,” Wilson said. “There can be some commonalities. Governments do not make peace. People make peace. You have to remember that.”

More than 4,000 teenagers have participated in the leadership program for young people who live in regions of conflict. This year, 8,000 youths applied to attend.

Ramesh, who came from Afghanistan, encouraged campers to make new friends and be honest with each other.

Rayan, a second-year camper from India, said his life has changed in many ways since he began the program. He said he will use the experience to grow as a person.

He encouraged other campers to make a difference.

“As each of our countries are plagued by different issues and crises, it is here at Seeds of Peace that one begins to gather the courage to rectify and confront these issues,” he said. “Have the confidence to believe in yourself.”

Staff Writer Melanie Creamer can be contacted at 791-6361 or at:

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