Most kids have been to some kind of summer camp before. There's sleep away camp or tennis camp or Japanese camp or dance camp or art camp where kids spend a week getting better at a particular skill. But last week, we hosted a day camp for neighborhood kids where the emphasis was less on getting better at a skill and more on being a better person and neighbor.
NeighbARThood Camp used different creative arts- drama, visual art, poetry, and music to teach kids skills of peacemaking. On Monday, we used drama and improv to talk about conflict resolution between family members. On Tuesday, we painted images of peace and connected that to the ways we can make peace in our schools. On Wednesday, we made signs with messages of peace and stood by the road waving and then wrote poetry based on the experiences of new immigrants to our country. On Thursday, we used music and rhythm games to teach cooperation as we discussed how peace happens in the world. And on Friday, we presented plays that we worked on all week which the kids wrote and starred in.
"I've never seen a camp like this before," one parent said to me during the week. And another insisted, "It's like you're giving these kids a moral compass." And that might be a startling thing to hear for some people considering the camp was led by two pastors. But for us, the week was not about teaching the components of faith (we never mentioned Jesus or the Bible or any religious content) but about tapping into a deep sense of what connects all of us.
And creative arts are the perfect way to engage questions of peacemaking. When children are free to think creatively and express themselves in all sorts of different ways, they are far more creative when it comes to really serious issues in our community and world. One of the plays, written by the kids, told a nuanced story of a homeless family who is able to find jobs and afford a small house, only to return to homelessness because of turmoil inside the home. The story conveyed some depth and understanding of an increasingly difficult issue in our community. And the play found its resolution through an act of selflessness and creativity.
What we found is that the things that fuel our passion- creativity, community building and peacemaking- can be a real asset to kids as they learn about themselves and grow to become a member of our community. And at a time in our nation when peace is often pushed aside in favor of fear, allowing a space for kids to learn and foster their own sense of peacemaking might just be the thing that holds us together into the future.