"Break your walls" Peace Camp at Art of Living’s European Center fosters a peaceful coexistence and mutual acceptance
Oppenau, 20th April 2012 – It was a promising premier. On Monday, the seven-day peace camp concluded, seeing happy and cheerful participants leaving as closely connected friends back to their home country.
20 young people, including eight Jews and eight Muslims as well as participants from Germany, Saudi Arabia and Croatia joined the first "Break Your Walls" peace camp in Germany, a project that aims to promote peaceful coexistence, acceptance of differences and harmony between peoples of different religions and cultures.
What began with a group of young people being strangers to each other, distanced, characterized by the political situation of their home country and tensed and stressed, quickly turned into a welcomed and long overdue platform of exchange, exploration of similarities and warm personal discussion.
And it turned in the basic conclusion that in our core we are not so different from each other and yet all that one really wants in life is the same: to be happy and to live in peace.
Peace camp initiator Dr. Dafna Paz says ‘Actually, everyone wants to live peacefully in Israel, but no one knows exactly how to achieve that. The emotional barriers between each other are very strong. There is a mental wall between Jews and Arabs, between Israeli and Palestinians. The situation is very much charged emotionally. People can get easily angry and upset if you start talking about it. Daily life is often characterized by tension and stress.’
Thus, a core component of the program were the stress management and breathing techniques from The Art of Living that resolve tension and fears, and thus help participants to re-discover their inner peace and tranquility. ‘Stress and tension are the root cause of violence’, says Dr. Dafna Paz, the initiator of this peace camp. ‘When stress is released from the system, peace results in the mind, and human values such as cooperation, responsibility, friendliness and a sense of belongingness naturally develop. The group activities of the program also foster social skills and a willingness to take on personal and social responsibility."
During the weeklong program, the young adults could explore interactive group processes, relaxation exercises and cultural activities to bridge differences. They learned new ways to cope better with stress, conflict, negative emotions and how to deal with pressure. The camp's program was especially designed to strengthen human values and develop inner peace within each individual, thus spreading the harmony in the diversity and creating excellence in life. The program further included creative components from different disciplines such as art, music, dance, and drama through which the group can express their personal experiences they undergo during the program.
"We feel like in a fairy tale here," says one participant, who was impressed by the lightness of the camp and the unspoilt peaceful nature of the Black Forest.
Another participant said: "In my everyday life I am constantly under stress, during the yoga exercises here I could finally let go and look at the situation from a completely different perspective, namely from a perspective of inner peace and with the scope to not only look at me, but to also to look at the person next to me, no matter where he or she comes from."
Highlight: Encounters – an intercultural evening and reception by the mayor of Oppenau
As a highlight, the international group was welcomed by Oppenau’s mayor Mr. Thomas Grieser at the city’s Josefshaus. In his address, Mr Grieser emphasized the importance to the group of bringing back the concept of the peace camp to their home country, to act as peace ambassador and to continue on the path they have started to walk. He said ‘it is a starting point on which I congratulate you on.’
The intercultural evening highlighted a song called ‘One day it will be peace for us’ performed by the peace camp participants in both Hebrew and Arabic.
Initiator Paz is excited after the camp and hopes to see the first of many peace camps. She points out that 'the group has been received very warmly in Oppenau, and the hospitality of the population support the success of the camp.'
Origin of the project
"Break Your Walls" is a part of the "Wall" project, initiated by Dr. Dafna Paz of the Art of Living branch in Israel.
Dr. Dafna Paz has designed the volunteer-based humanitarian project in 2004 to help the Israeli population who live on the conflict-affected border with Gaza. Adults, youth and kids were experiencing a lot of stress and Art of Living Israel was helping with offering their trauma relief workshops to the people. Paz, President of the Art of Living branch in Israel adds ‘I called it the "wall project", since at that time it was when a physical wall was being created between Israel and the Palestinians in the West Bank. There is also a mental wall between Jews and Arabs, between Israeli and Palestinians. The situation is very much charged emotionally. People can easily get angry and upset if you start talking about it.
The aim of the 'Break your Walls' project is to break our individual and the group’s mental walls and hopefully one day this will help in breaking the physical wall.’
Recreation and encounters in the quiet, peaceful environment of the Ortenau region
Questioned on the choice of location for the Peace Camp, program coordinator Paz says Art of Living’s academy in the Black Forest was chosen as the venue of the first peace camp because "The environment itself gives a relaxing break to the participants. The pristine, soothing nature of the Black Forest offers them the best conditions to forget about their everyday life in their home country which is often affected by conflicts and violence and to come together on a very neutral ground to reflect on topics like understanding, harmony in diversity as well as peace and thus get closer and more connected to each other.’
Bad Antogast – a historic oasis in the Black Forest area
In the midst of the Ortenau region, located near Oppenau in the Maisach valley, is the historic Bad Antogast spa, one of the so-called Kniebisbäder. Known for its healing springs, Bad Antogast used to be a popular health resort for the wealthy and influential elite of Europe. As part of his health retreat in Bad Peterstal in 1871, even Russian Tsar Alexander II visited the spring with his entourage.
In recent years, the history-charged building has been redeveloped and completely refurbished by the International Art of Living Foundation, which purchased the dilapidated building in 1995. Whether for stress management training, relaxation weekends, beauty treatments, yoga and meditation, or ayurvedic treatments by highly qualified professionals - the Art of Living Foundation’s academy is regularly a hive of activity.
Over the years, Bad Antogast has become a well-established international center for cultural exchange and education that every year welcomes thousands of visitors from all over the world. During major international events, up to 500 participants attend courses, staying mostly in Bad Antogast, but also with some residing in nearby hotels and guesthouses.
Art of Living's activities in Israel
Already in 2009 Art of Living founder Sri Sri Ravi Shankar promoted at the second annual Israeli Presidential Conference with Israeli President Shimon Peres that peace work needs to address youth: “The youth need a vision and a mission to resolve the conflict in the region, and I am optimistic that patience and perseverance will bring peace,” he said during his address.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s last visited Israel in 2003, bringing his message of peace and non-violence and meeting with religious leaders from the Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Druze communities. His Art of Living Foundation has been working in the troubled region since 2003, conducting trauma relief programmes for men, women and children in various regions, including the Gaza Strip, the West Bank area, Jerusalem, Tulkarem, Haifa and Sderot.
About the Art of Living Foundation
The Art of Living Foundation (AOLF) was founded in 1981 by HH Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and operates in over 150 countries. It is one of the largest independent, humanitarian non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the world. The AOLF holds a special consultative status with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the United Nations (UN), and is active in numerous other international bodies and committees in the areas of health, education and sustainable development. The priorities include aid projects in developing countries, trauma and stress management in crisis areas and rehabilitation programs for victims of violence and prison inmates. In addition, yoga and meditation classes are offered. A key component is the Sudarshan Kriya ™, a health-promoting breathing technique.
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