Sitting beneath the flags of their countries, more than 70 teenagers from around the world gathered at a Massachusetts boarding school on Wednesday to draw peace and healing out of a tragic, common bond-the death of a loved one to terrorism.
They came to Governor's Academy, about 30 miles north of Boston, for a summer camp known as Project Common Bond. The program, now in its fifth year, is part of the New York-based nonprofit Tuesday's Children, which helps families of victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The campers, ranging from 15-20 years old, came from the United States and 15 other countries--some via scholarships. The camp's curriculum, taken in part from a mediation and negotiation program at Harvard Law School, aims to equip teens with conflict resolution and leadership skills that they can bring home to their communities. Terry Sears, the nonprofit's executive director, said the camp is a chance for participants to heal and work on becoming the world's next generation of peacemakers.
For 19-year-old camper Farah Sarrawi, a Palestinian, the camp is a true test in choosing peace. Sarrawi saw her father die in 2001 when Israeli soldiers shot him on the balcony of the family's home. For Sarrawi, the camp is a chance to make friends with Israelis-something she never expected could happen.
"At first, it was hard," Sarrawi said. "But I look at them now as humans ... and I believe that in every country we've got some crazy people that make that conflict."
Sarrawi grew up wishing that her father, who used to spin her on the dance floor, was still with her. She said she can't imagine that someday she will get married and not have him there to see it.
But for Sarrawi and her fellow teens, the camp helps maintain both hope and fortitude as a place where their peers understand what they've gone through.
Camper Joanne Murphy has difficulty explaining the barrage of "what-ifs" that follow her through life to people who haven't experienced the same thing. But at camp, she doesn't have to explain.
Murphy, a 20-year-old law student from Northern Ireland, lost her Catholic grandmother when British soldier shot her in a 1971 raid during the Northern Ireland civil unrest-an event known as the Troubles. Murphy said there never has been justice. The camp provides Murphy and other teens with the opportunity to discuss how they can turn their past experiences with injustice into positive actions that can help others.
On the windowsill of one of the boarding school's windows, a white candle burned in memory of Astrid Malamud's father, who was killed in the July 18, 1994 bombing at the Argentine Israeli Mutual Association in Buenos Aires. Malamud's father was one of 85 victims in the terrorist attack-the bloodiest of its kind to take place in Argentina.
"I think you get independent sooner and you grow up faster because you need to understand things little kids don't understand," Malamud said later. "... I wish we all weren't here. If I could take my flag off of there, I would. Or any flag."
Wednesday was the anniversary of the attack, and although Malamud was far from home, the 20-year-old Argentine university student still felt close to people who understood her loss. "Even if you don't talk about it with these people, there's a strong bond," Malamud said.
"You can feel it."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.