PHILADELPHIA – The prospect of teaching creatively about peace drew Celmali Jaime to work in the Summer Service program of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). She directed the Summer Education day camp program that is run by the Oxford Circle Christian Community Development Association, a ministry of Oxford Circle Mennonite Church.
The Summer Service program provides opportunities for young people of color to develop service and leadership skills through assignments in their congregations or communities. The sponsors and participants create their own proposals for work according to the needs they perceive in their communities. Jaime and her sponsor noted the need for conflict resolution skills in the community and addressed it by creating a peace camp.
Jaime attends Eastern University where she is working on a master's degree in urban studies with an arts concentration. The Summer Service work allowed her to learn about being a leader and apply her education in a practical way. Anita Lyndaker Studer, Jaime's sponsor, says, "Celmali has added both structure and consistency in her work with the program. She works hard to ensure that each day’s activities are planned out."
"Peace is an important issue in Philadelphia," Jaime said. She said that many of the children who come don't see peace in their lives or neighborhood, so it is important to demonstrate peace at camp. "We have children in the program whose parents have restraining orders against each other."
Jaime taught the children some basic elements of dance, so she asked the older ones to represent peace through motion. One boy did not move at all. "He was very still," Jaime said. "It was new way of expressing, a new language." Jaime was encouraged to see the children interpret peace in so many different ways.
With the smaller children, she worked on the basic elements of creative writing, especially poetry. They did acrostic poems and list poems. They listed three negative things in their neighborhood and three beautiful things they see in nature, and found ways to link these things together.
A high point for Jaime was seeing the children get excited about positive things and teaching them to concentrate on these high points in their lives. One game that brought out the positive is "High, Low." The children sat in a circle and rolled a ball to someone else, who then talked about their high and low experience for the day. This continued until everyone had a chance to speak.
One child shared that her low point was being accused of something she didn't do. Another shared that playing Twister, a game where everyone gets tangled up, was her high. For many of the children playing baseball at camp that week was their high.
Studer says that Jaime is positive in her interactions with parents and children and that she can see that the children are beginning to implement the conflict resolution skills that Jaime taught.
Jaime said that she grew up in a church and in a different setting, so sometimes people think she doesn't know what they are going through. This was a difficulty, but "I may not have had the same experiences, but we all share the same emotions."
As Jaime walked through the neighborhood, she waved at two women, talked with an older person sitting on a step, and hugged a child who ran across the street calling out her name. Jaime said that she used to think that houses meant community, but in this neighborhood of row houses, so different from where she has lived before, she's learning that community means sharing and caring between people.
Cathryn Clinton is a writer for Mennonite Central Committee.