GCO Camp in Northern
In August 1999 and again in August 2000, GCO held summer camps called “Turning Neighbors Into Friends” for children from “the Troubles” of Northern Ireland.
We hosted over 80 kids from Belfast, L’Derry, Omagh both Catholics and Protestants. Some had witnessed horrible violence and had the seeds of hate and anger planted in their young minds, so GCO needed to find new ways to reach out to these kids and issues facing
Northern Ireland. They needed to be approached with sensitivity, flexibility
and diplomacy. With the help of some compassionate and giving Irish counselors, we were able to adapt our program and address their needs.
With rain an obstacle, and cultural differences a tangible issue, we had much to discuss in our daily Staff Meetings. It was in these discussions that the passions and commitment of our staff really shined. During each meeting, Judith asked the volunteers to participate in a GCO tradition: to share a special moment they’d had with the rest of the staff. It was these shared moments which moved and further empowered many of us to connect with the wee lads and girls of the North, and to our new friends-the volunteers.
Like our camp from the other side of Europe, there were community building activities. We also played football, volleyball, basketball, painted, performed in drama, made a peace mural, took walks to the beach, visited Falcarragh, our local town, made art in the sculpture garden, sang, danced and danced some more. We were entertained by traditional performers from the region, including local puppeteers and musicians. We also hosted a unique interfaith service which prompted one child to comment: “I didn’t know they had the same God!”
Several people documented the Irish camp, since it was the first of its kind for GCO and for the region. The Oakland public schools and their TV station cosponsored a film project this
summer about the GCO Volunteer Experience. Another LA volunteer is doing a short film on the kids. “The New York Post” already ran a story on July 30, 1999. And the Irish publication “Sunday People” ran a wonderful, uplifting piece on our camp.
In 2000, through extensive arts programs together with childhood play and a traditional camp curriculum of outdoor sports, the children attending the GCO camp in Ireland found common ground and an appreciation of others. From this Jaz Pollock, our Belfast Coordinator, formed Peace and Reconciliation in Theater for Youth (PARITY) , a cross community theatre group for children from Belfast.