Hundreds of teenage students gather each summer to share living spaces, experiences and meals with educators at Seeds of Peace summer camp program in Otisfield, Maine. The program which began 16 years ago is designed to allow teens to talk about topics that are normally too painful or divisive to speak about in normal everyday life.
This summer Ekhlas Ahmed, an English teacher at Casco Bay High School in Portland, Maine, lent her experiences to the discussions that took place each day at the camp. “We talk about religion, we talk about immigration. We talk about all of those things, identities, that they hold so close but have nowhere else to talk about except here in dialogue,” she said.
Ahmed can relate well to the conflicts her campers are facing. In 2003 her family escaped Egypt after civil war erupted in Sudan. She was in eighth grade when her family settled in Maine and her high school years were spent working hard to navigate the English language and culture. During this time, she also co-founded Darfur Youth of Tomorrow to raise awareness of genocide. The organization is a safe place for survivors to gather and find support. Most recently, Ahmed spoke about genocide at the UN Refugee Agency.
Students at Casco Bay High School find peace in her Ahmed’s presence. Farhiyo Hassan, a junior, said that having Ahmed at the school is inspiring because he knows she can relate to the same struggles he has faced. He said if she can do it, so can he.
Ahmed’s ability to remain calm and approachable allowed her to lead the 110 minute discussions that took place each day at the camp which gathers teens from all over Maine to teach leadership skills while fostering lasting relationships.