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Sharing a different world


The 12 children attending the Kids for Peace Camp in Carroll County may never look at bananas quite the same way.

They learned about the plantations where bananas are grown and the poor conditions under which many Guatemalans - including children - are forced to work.

They also learned that some Guatemalans work for American companies under conditions that would be against the law in the United States.

"We want to teach the kids to listen to all points of view," said Mary Hilton, the camp's director. "I hear all the time, 'those people,' and I go crazy in my mind. ... We try to teach an appreciation and respect for the way people from different parts of the world think and live."

Created in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, the Kids for Peace Camp aims to introduce children to other cultures, said Hilton, who has two bachelor's degrees, in Russian and Latin American studies, and a master's degree in social sciences.

Armed with passports that are stamped at the end of each week and journals to record what they have learned, the children at the camp at Carroll Community College in Westminster are exploring the cultures of such places as Guatemala, Bolivia, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Africa and Syria.

Hilton started the camp in the summer of 2002 on Towson University's campus as part of the school's International Programs department, where she was working at the time.

Kids for Peace has since expanded to three sites - Towson University, St. John's Episcopal Church in Ellicott City and Carroll Community College - with about 80 campers among the three locations. This is the camp's first year in Westminster.

The nine-week camp, which has ongoing registration for children who want to attend specific sessions, delves into the cultures of two different countries each week through arts and crafts projects, book readings, games, field trips and lunches based on recipes from the regions being studied.

For instance, the campers recently studied the importance of the Guatemalan rainforests by learning about the various animals that inhabit the tropical havens.

Using construction paper and bright hues of crayons and markers, they made paper versions of creatures such as the quetzal bird, which they learned is culturally significant to the Mayans because it represents one of their gods.

During the week, the children explored Guatemala, and camp counselors asked them to consider how some of the things they take for granted - such as bananas - make their way to the United States.

"We asked them to think about whether if they buy a banana or some other fruit from a company [that allows its workers to work under poor conditions], are they agreeing with the practice or supporting it," said Michelle Guderjohn, the camp's Westminster site director.

"It was a tough discussion because in school they learn that there is always a right answer," she said.

"But here, we try not to draw conclusions for them," Guderjohn said. "We talked about it and what we all thought, but we told them that sometimes issues can be so complicated that there may not be a right or wrong answer."

The children discussed ways they could respond to such situations, including boycotting a company or supporting companies that help children.

The discussion inspired Nicole Sackett, 11, from Camp Lejeune, N.C., to ponder the plight of Guatemalan children who are forced to work to help their families survive.

"I think I'd probably help them out because they don't have a lot of money," she said.

Most of the children seemed eager to try meals from different cultures, such as the Bolivian-inspired empanadas and rice dish, but at least one boy - Dylan Keller, 6, from Finksburg - had his own review.

"I hate spicy foods," he declared before moving on to the snacks he had squirreled away from the pinata that the campers had cracked open during their celebration of the Bolivian festival of La Diablada.

The annual festival, the campers learned, is marked by locals dressed in costumes parading in defiance of death.

Dylan's cousin and Nicole's brother, Alex English, 10, who is visiting for the summer from Ohio, said he not only enjoyed the empanadas - a dish he has tried with a friend from Puerto Rico - but he also learned a lot at camp.

"It was interesting learning about the Incas and the Spaniards," said Alex, who held the distinction of having whacked the pinata hard enough for its seams to give way.

He said that while he was learning a lot, the camp didn't feel like school because it has been so much fun.

Camp organizers are heartened to hear such reports.

"Doing this gives me more hope in tomorrow," Guderjohn said. "We're helping kids to become aware of what life is like in other parts of the world - not just that there are poor people in these countries, but also that they have rich cultures."

The Kids for Peace Camp runs through Aug. 19 with activities from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. each weekday. The weekly rate is $225. For an additional fee, before- and after-care is available from 7:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. For registration information, call the college at 410-386-8100, or Kids for Peace Camp at 410-418-4195.

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