The San Diego Union-Tribune – Pam Kragen – July 16, 2019
This year’s 42 participants — all ages 15 to 18 — include 10 Jewish Israelis, 10 Palestinians, 6 Palestinian citizens of Israel and 16 Americans of Jewish, Muslim and Christian faiths. The program began on July 10 and continues through July 29. Over the next few weeks, the students will present cultural skits, paint murals, learn speech-writing skills, have a dialogue with Mexican teens at Friendship Park on the U.S./Mexico border and listen to speakers, including Azim Khamisa, whose San Diego foundation teaches students peace and forgiveness in memory of his slain son, Tariq. Khamisa forgave the teenager who killed his son and formed the education foundation with the boy’s father.
The program’s centerpiece is a series of often-heated group dialogues where the teens confront the political, humanitarian, cultural and religious issues that divide them. These sessions are off-limits to everyone but the youths and their session mediators. To protect their identities, the Middle Eastern teens use only their first names.
Sarah Heirendt, site director for Hands of Peace in Carlsbad, said many of the teens from the Middle East arrive each summer with biases and strong feelings about who and what is right and wrong. But as the weeks progress, they begin to open their minds to new perspectives. The ropes course is the ideal way to start opening those doors.
“Before today,” Heirendt said on Sunday, “they have all been sticking with their delegations, sitting together, eating together and speaking in their own languages. But being up there, blindfolded, 40 feet off the ground and speaking the common language of English, they’re forced out of their comfort zones and form friendships. They become a group. The energy is always electric on the bus ride back.”