PROJECTS / Summer Camp 1999
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Summer Camp 1999

From enemies to friends Report on Summer Camp 1999 for youngsters from Bosnia and Hercegovina, the Netherlands and Germany

Mistrust, prejudice and curiosity were in the hearts of many of the thirty-three children who arrived July 10th in Bonn, Germany to begin their stay at Summer Camp `99. The youngsters, ages fourteen to sixteen, came together from their diverse homelands of the Republika Srpska and the Bosniak-Croat Federation of Bosnia and Hercegovina, the Netherlands, and Germany to create a unique living experience between children who would otherwise rarely have a chance to meet each other. Twenty-four young Serbs, Croats, and Bosniaks had the chance to meet both children their own age from their country’s „enemy“ side and nine other participating children from other European countries (the Netherlands and Germany). Three weeks later the group had become friends, proved by bear hugs and farewell tears, and a dialog for peace had begun.

The youths were brought together by the non-profit organization „CAMPUS15 – Youth Goes for Peace“, a program now in its second year that helps young people who have grown up in areas of conflict develop trust and respect between their supposed adversaries and provides opportunity to meet with other young people from Europe. CAMPUS15 founder Hubert A. Simon, a retired German Air Force Colonel and fighter pilot and his co-founders believe that meeting people from the other side and spending time together in a supportive environment is the first step towards lasting peace. To create such a supportive environment a team of counselors from Bosnia and Hercegovina and Germany cooperated effectively under the leadership of Tanja Halberstadt of Cologne, a very gifted and specialized educator. Through their efforts, communication between the attending young people could flourish. One young man, Enes, a Bosniak from Tuzla, put it this way: „Before this camp I knew people from the Republika Srpska only through their shells and bullets. Now I know that they only knew me the same way. That gives me some hope for peace. At least I know they are humans just like me.“

The camp was held near Bonn on the grounds of the Malteserhof, a quiet, castle-like mansion surrounded by a beautiful wooded park located at the foot of one of the oldest nature preserve areas in Germany, the Siebengebirge. From this setting the youngsters‘ activities included rafting, swimming, rock climbing, hiking, and team sports, sometimes even with local sports clubs. Participants could choose from creative workshops offering wood carving / printing, theatre / role playing, rockband / percussion and mask making / play acting. With the support of young volunteer specialists they wrote their own camp newspaper, created a 30 minute radio program to be broadcast by a regional station, and produced a video tape on the highlights of the camp, thus getting acquainted with the basics of the media world.

The most difficult events during camp took place on six evenings when adult counselors and psychologists guided the youngsters in group discussions. Utilizing English, German, and Serb-Croat-Bosnian languages, the discussions centered around the children’s thoughts and emotions and explored sensitive topics such as loss of home, deaths of relatives or friends, personal loss and painful experiences. But future direction and solutions to overcome problems were also thoughtfully addressed. There is common ground between the youngsters from Bosnia and Hercegovina. Marijana from Sarajevo and Iris from Mostar, along with others spoke out very strongly: „We young people are not guilty of what happened in our country. We know that we have to change something at home for a peaceful future.“

Even in this peaceful Malteserhof, guns and bombs were never far from the thoughts of the youngsters from Bosnia and Hercegovina. The Kosovo War had brought back many of their own war memories. In particular the Serbian children from the Republica Srpska expressed their feelings about NATO going to war against the homeland of all Serbs. But positive atti-tudes overcame bad feelings. „I never met people who are so open for new things and who are so open with us“ was the overall impression of Bianca, a 16 year old girl from Germany. And Sladjana, a Croat girl from Sarajevo, wrote in the camp book: „ Thank you for showing us that life between people who can’t bear each other in our country is possible.“

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