“The most important thing is to begin by telling your story to the right people, to the people who you know have a way to understand, then from there your confidence will grow, and you will be able to share with more people. You will realize that it’s never wrong to share your own experience, and you never know what can come of it.”
- Lana – Muslim American participant, 18 years old
Speaking for myself, I think young people are most afraid of being judged. I was afraid to tell my own story for a long time. I had never been able to speak to my friends at school about the things that had happened to me in Iraq—until I had gone to Kids4Peace. I remember the first time I told my story to the circle at camp, and the counselor looked at me and said, ‘Lana, tell us your story.’ And I remember everyone looking at me. But I knew that these people had heard stories like mine before, so I knew I could tell them, and I trusted them to listen.
When I was done, swimming in my own pool of tears, I had built my confidence for the first time to share.
The most important thing is to begin by telling your story to the right people, to the people who you know have a way to understand, then from there your confidence will grow, and you will be able to share with more people. You will realize that it’s never wrong to share your own experience, and you never know what can come of it.
I grew up in Iraq, but in 2006 we had to move because of the war. I was six year old. My memory of the war was the fear of the bombs… having to literally run away from a bomb is something that has stayed with me. Our house had been threatened by the bombing and my parents received a notice that within one week, all the things inside the house, and any people inside as well, would be destroyed. My parents told my sisters and I to go pack a bag for two weeks, and we would go to Jordan, and then return. But two weeks turned into two years, and we never came home. To this day, I haven’t seen my childhood home.
Coming from Iraq, being new in America, my family had always taught us from a young age never to jump to conclusions. We knew how people tend to do that looking at us, so we were always taught never to do that to the people we met. My parents always reminded us to look beyond just how things may appear at first. My mom is Shia and my dad is Sunni, so in Iraq, they constantly saw how people reacted to their marriage—but they never looked at each other in those terms, and they never had conflict about that. So we learned from a young age to look beyond those labels.
Starting at a young age is so important—peacemaking becomes as normal as brushing your teeth. Having an open mind comes from my family, but also from being in Kids4Peace every summer—it’s a habit for me to think about where the other person is coming from.
The value comes as you begin to connect the dots and suddenly what we’ve been practicing at camp makes sense on a much bigger level. After the hiking, swimming, and games, we’d come sit together, and get to work, and it was difficult. Those discussions were hard. But at such a young age, the experience really affects you and opens your world.
Within our current political situation, it is one of the most important times to be having these hard discussions. In a country where it’s getting harder and harder to be heard, we have to speak up, and try to get heard. Talk to your local political leaders, to your neighbors, try to have difficult discussions and conversations that you would normally want to shy away from.