From 28 May to June 3, 2011 we held our 8thannual Peace Camp. This year the camp was made up of 18 participants from Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) representing Bosnia’s many different ethnic and religious groups, while three additional international participants came from the United States, Sweden and France.
Peace Camp provides a unique safe place in an otherwise segregated society for Bosnian youth from different ethnic and religious backgrounds to come together, breakdown prejudice and stereotypes that they hold about one another, and build lasting, supportive relationships that cross religious and ethnic divides. Over the course of the six day camp participants have the opportunity to formally learn about other religious and ethnic traditions and engage issues related to identity, shared fears and needs, conflict, and trauma. At the same time, all participants practice workshop facilitation and develop concrete skills in nonviolent communication and conflict transformation in order to be better able to promote peace and reconciliation in their home communities.
This year, as in past years, participants found Peace Camp to be a unique and transformative experience. Many participants began to recognize the prejudice deeply rooted in their society: “Stereotypes are deeply rooted and the ideas of peace/coexistence and accepting the other side still need to be worked on for many years,” said one participant, while another noted, “I learned that people -however much they say that they don’t have prejudice – lie, lie, lie to themselves.”
Other participants expressed that Peace Camp had enabled them to see “other” identity groups in a new light. Said one participant, “I learned that regardless of which ethnic group we belong together in substance and that we all have similar problems. Standing in the shoes of others I better understood the ethnic group that I don’t belong to.” Yet another commented, “I improved my view of other people. I saw that every generalization is a lie. Now I am convinced to change phrases like ‘They are’ into ‘some are … the majority are’ or something similar. To change ‘We are’ into ‘I am.’”
As participants return home, we’ve asked them to continue use the learnings and skills they acquired during the course of the peace camp to promote peace in their home communities. As such, each participant is required to implement at least 20 hours of nonviolent communication workshops with children and youth over the course of the next year. First year participants that complete these requirements may return to next year’s Peace Camp to be trained as trainers.