East Hartford Rotary sponsors Peace Forum at East Hartford High School

By Rotary Club of East Hartford President Sheryl O'Connor
East Hartford - posted Wed., Apr. 10, 2013
(L-r) Ed Quick, social studies department head; Christopher Sparks and Todd Szwed, teachers; Sheryl O'Connor, president, Rotary Club of East Hartford; Seeds of Peace representatives Zoe Mercer-Golden and Alia Lahlou; and students from East Hartford High School's human rights classes. Courtesy photo. - Contributed Photo

On Wednesday, April 3, the Rotary Club of East Hartford sponsored a presentation by Seeds of Peace at East Hartford High School. More than 100 students from teachers Todd Szwed and Christopher Sparks’ human rights classes, along with members of CIBA’s and EHHS’ Interact Clubs, attended the presentation, given by Seeds of Peace representatives Zoe Mercer-Golden and Alia Lahlou.

Seeds of Peace, a non-profit organization based in New York City, was founded in 1993 by American journalist and son of Holocaust survivors John Wallach. After covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for a number of years and becoming frustrated with the lack of progress in reaching a lasting peace, Wallach proposed to then-Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres that a group be created to bring Israeli, Palestinian and Egyptian youths together on neutral soil in the United States. That first summer, 46 youths gathered in the woods of Maine for a month to live, play, learn about each other and discuss how to peacefully coexist. Since then, the program has grown to include 22 non-Middle Eastern nations, including Pakistan, India, Greece, Bosnia, Serbia, Kosovo, Macedonia and Afghanistan. Alumni of the camps often return as counselors and are referred to as “Seeds,” going back to their countries to “sow the seeds of peace.”

After an overview of the organization, the “Seeds” spoke about their own personal experiences as campers, then as counselors, in the summer camps. Zoe Mercer-Golden was born in Hong Kong, and grew up mostly between homes in San Francisco and London. She first attended the Seeds of Peace camp in 2006 as a camper, returning as a counselor. She is now a senior at Yale University, majoring in art history and English. Alia Lahlou grew up in Morocco, received a bachelor’s degree from Brown University and a master’s degree from Al Akhawayn University in Morocco. She first attended camp in 2003 as a camper, subsequently became a counselor, and now works for the organization in New York.

Both young women told the students how much their camp experiences had affected their lives and how passionate they are about the program and its successes. They related projects that campers had undertaken when returning to their countries, such as one 17-year-old boy who returned home to a Palestinian refugee camp and founded a youth organization that cleaned up the camp and mentored children, encouraging them to work together and take pride in the land. After the presentation, students asked questions about the program and how they could become involved.

Ed Quick, social studies department head, stated that the human rights class is a wonderful example of the theme-based social studies curriculum in place at the middle and high schools, and the students focus not only on world issues, but how to resolve them. Seeing how other young people have made positive changes in the world, individually or through organizations like Seeds of Peace, is a powerful message. The members of Rotary International, recognized as the world’s first volunteer service organization, have worked to further peace among nations throughout the world for decades, and have partnered with Seeds of Peace on a number of initiatives.

The Rotary Club of East Hartford would like to thank the Hampton Inn & Suites in East Hartford for providing accommodations for the Seeds of Peace representatives and Sodexo Education for providing refreshments for the event.

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