• Seeds of Peace Photo Gallery

    OTISFIELD, Maine, July 27 --- For the past three summers, Arn Tellem, President and CEO of SFX Basketball, has taken a group of NBA players to Seeds of Peace International Camp in Otisfield, Maine. The camp brings together teenagers, marked as future leaders, from four areas of conflict. Its primary focus is the Middle East and the Israeli and Palestinian conflict.

    NBA rookie Sean May, Jason Collins, Brian Scalabrine and Daniel Ewing held a clinic on Tuesday called Play for Peace and were joined by nearly 200 teenagers from the Middle East (Israeli, Palestinian, Egyptian, and Jordanian) as well as a small group of American teens including some who are part of the Maine Seeds program, which brings together youth of all races and religions, including teenagers from Cambodia, Rwanda, Somalia, Vietnam, Sudan and Uganda who have recently settled in Maine, as well as youth from European-American families whose Maine roots date back several generations.

    Brian Scalabrine was one of four NBA players to visit Seeds of Peace.
    Ray Amati/NBAE/Getty Images
    Since 1993, Seeds of Peace has graduated more than 2,500 teenagers from four conflict regions from its internationally recognized leadership program. Through its International Camp in Maine, its Center for Coexistence in Jerusalem, international youth conferences, regional workshops, educational opportunities, and adult educator program, Seeds of Peace participants develop empathy, mutual respect, and self-confidence as well as leadership, communication and negotiation skills --- all critical components necessary for peaceful coexistence. May, Collins, Scalabrine and Ewing all shared their experiences of their one-day visit on Tuesday. For more information on Seeds of Peace, please visit www.seedsofpeace.org.

    Sean May: Eye-Opening Experience
    When I first arrived with my fellow NBA players, I thought, OK, I’ll have fun with the kids, go home and not really think much about the experience. Wow was I wrong. It was quite an eye opener, hearing stories about life and death from kids ages 13-16 who made the trip to Otisfield all the way from Israel, Palestine, Egypt and Jordan. We may have ran a basketball clinic for them on Tuesday but the day was more about educating us about their respective countries and what they experience on a daily basis.

    At lunch, I met a 16-year-old boy named Omar who is Palestinian. I was talking to him about some of the stuff that he goes through in his country and he told me a story about not being able to play outside with his friends during the summer when he was 10 because of an early curfew. He told me he almost got shot by a soldier because he was outside. That’s crazy. It puts things in perspective not only about the freedoms we enjoy here in the United States but really trivializes the things you tend to focus on.

    The highlight of the day were the dialogue sessions in which all of the kids gathered and discussed their feelings about what’s going on in their respective countries from the politics to the day-to-day fear due to the violence going on around them. I was so impressed listening to these young men and women who are 13, 14 and 15 years old talk the way they talk. It’s phenomenal, the heads on their shoulders and how they feel about things and being able to confront one another while having a respectful conversation yet still being able to reflect their opinions. It’s truly amazing.

    In the world we live in, there is enough blame and enough ignorance. People can have differences, but you have to respect one another’s opinion and the dialogue sessions epitomized that. I asked one of the girls, “What do you see important coming from this camp?” She said, “You know, I believe one person can make a difference.” My question to her was, ‘How are they going to make a difference?’ and she said, “Well these young men who are here are going to become soldiers and leaders in their respective countries. From now on, they will know how Palestinians, how people from Israel, really are. They’re not all bad people.”

    Jason Collins: Learning Something New Every Year
    This was my third year coming to the camp, but each year I’ve learned something new and each year the camp gets better. We’re just brought in their to teach them basketball, give them a diversion by bringing in NBA players to hang out with them. We end up taking more away from it because it puts everything in perspective for us, anything that’s going on in our lives, there are bigger issues out there that these kids are dealing with, people are dealing with in the Middle East.

    These young adults have had to experience more in life than most 30 and 40 year olds here in America. A young Palestinian girl was talking about how she had to sleep under her bed because bullets were coming into her house, into her bedroom, and she couldn’t sleep in her bed. Another time, she wanted to go outside to play and when she stepped outside, a soldier with a gun was telling her to go back inside because she was violating curfew. There are a lot of issues, a lot of negative experiences in her past that she’s trying to work through and just hearing her trying to express herself gives me a better understanding.

    Before this camp started, when I first came here three summers ago, I knew the situation was bad but I didn’t have a true understanding of the Israeli and Palestinian conflict and how difficult and segregated it is. I remember my first time here I was sitting at a lunch table and we were just having a normal conversation. There were about eight young adults there, counselors and I’m asking them about their favorite movies, books and musicians. I asked them where they were from and they started naming their home countries, and I was like, “Oh obviously you guys are friends, are you going to still be friends when you go home?” And they said ‘It’s going to be very difficult.’ They said in their homeland, having an Israeli and a Palestinian sitting having lunch together would never happen. It takes them coming over here to America, thousands of miles away, in Maine of all places, to talk like normal kids, normal young adults – normal people who have interests in school, interests in hobbies, just talking and eating lunch together. But it would never happen in their home. It made me feel honored that I was sitting at a table where this was taking place.

    Brian Scalabrine: Renewed Perspective
    What did this camp experience do for me? It put everything in perspective. I know that sounds like a cliché but it really did. You hear the problems that these kids are going through, and what we have to go through as far as an NBA game, or even small things like being stressed out in traffic or something like that and you really think to yourself, man, I have it so good, I am so blessed to live in America and have the freedom that we have.

    Here is a great example. Many of these Seeds have to go through checkpoints. You know how we complain sometimes about airport security, going through metal detectors, taking off your shoes, etc. In these countries, to go 15 miles could take them literally a day and a half. So what you have is a lot of people staying in the same neighborhoods. For us to go to New York City, that’s an hour drive from North Jersey. For them to go to a family member’s house, it could take three days to do it and it may be only 25 miles away.

    Our lives are great compared to what some of these teenagers experience on a day-to-day basis. We talked to one boy from Palestine, who literally for an entire summer had to stay in his non airconditioned house because of the violence outside. If he went outside, there would be Army jeeps chasing him back into his home. This went on for three months. All he could do was sit there.

    Some of the teenagers have returned for a second time at the camp and feel politically responsible for handling their countries’ problems. At least once a day, they discuss their political problems, trying to figure them out. You’re talking about 14, 15 and 16 year-old people, discussing the differences and the hatred towards other cultures and how they’re trying to co-exist and how they can make it work. Everyone is on the same page, they want to co-exist, they want peace, they’re just having a hard time figuring it out. There’s a lot of pressure when you compare what our 15 year-olds are doing compared to their 15 year-olds. It forces them to grow up really fast.

    Daniel Ewing: Planting Seeds of Hope
    You watch the news. You read the stories yet you really can’t understand the depth of the conflict that exists in some of these countries, especially what’s going on in Israel and Palestine. Then you attend a camp where young adults from these conflicted countries are gathered under one roof sharing stories, hanging out together and having fun. It was really heartfelt to see this camaraderie that unfortunately doesn’t exist back in their home countries.

    Hopefully, these kids are able to go back to their home countries and go to their peers and families and talk about what they learned and did and how they’re not different than their enemies. Hopefully this experience can bring about change.