At least one good thing came out of the terrible violence of the Second Intifada: the uprising against Israeli occupation sparked the founding of Kids4Peace, an international program that unites Muslim, Jewish and Christian youth in study and play.
It was profound concern for the future of the region’s children on both sides of the Arab-Israeli conflict that launched the visionary education-for-peace program in 2001/2002.
According to Kids4Peace Canada board member Fr. Joseph Horrigan, SJ, the program was the brainchild of Dr. Henry Carse, an American-born theologian at St. George’s College in the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, after Arab-Israeli hostilities had brought pilgrimage to a virtual halt. “The empty college was keeping staff on at reduced hours, and Henry said, ‘Instead of just cursing the dark, let’s do something positive,’ ” Horrigan recalls. ” ‘Let’s get kids of different faiths together and teach them how to live respectfully and share the city and the land.’ ”
Under such banners as “Moving toward a culture of peace-one child at a time,” the interfaith NGO works with Jerusalem-area children and their families in the cause of unity. The driving principle of the rapidly growing NGO is that concord in the Holy Land will come through interfaith tolerance and understanding. The enduring friendships forged by Kids4Peace will cross the lines of conflict when participants emerge as young community ambassadors. According to Horrigan, the communities where Kids4Peace is active have lower rates of violence.
Under the auspices of St. George’s College and Cathedral, the first summer camp brought together 12 Jewish, Christian and Muslim girls and boys, ages 10 to 12, in 2002 at an episcopal camp near Houston, Texas. “The kids went from sleeping in bomb shelters with rockets raining down to a safe and peaceful environment,” says Horrigan. They learned that life does not have to be lived under the constant threat of violence.
Since then, the rapidly growing NGO’s two-week camps, funded largely by North American corporate donors, have taken place under the aegis of North American chapters in cities such as Boston, Atlanta and Toronto.
As part of the Canadian program, children and parents participate in a program of interaction in Galilee leading up to the trip to Canada. Professional advisers and facilitators of the three faiths continue to guide the 12 children for eight months.
In Jerusalem, the expanding Kids4Peace program brings together preteens and teens for cross-cultural after-school activities, weekend events and summer camps, both locally and abroad. “With a two-week summer camp, the trick is to schedule to avoid high holidays for all three religions,” says Horrigan. “That can be tough since Ramadan moves around quite a bit.”