Young people set to work yesterday with fabric markers, decorating pillowcases for a summer camp for children who have HIV or AIDS. They also learned step, African and Israeli dances, their cornrows and head scarves bobbing up and down, side by side. Sprawled amid piles of fabric scraps, they made squares for the Children's Cloth of Many Colors, a peace quilt that is more than one-third of a mile long, according to its creator, Gerry Eitner. And outside the building, another group cleaned up litter.
Those were some of the activities in the District during the first of three community-service days designed to bring together young people of various faiths through the new Summer InterFace program. A visiting dance troupe of Israeli and Palestinian teenagers performed at the program's kickoff Wednesday and joined in yesterday's service day, which drew about 75 participants.
After the morning's bombings in London, the mission of the program took on special significance for the Rev. Mark Farr, a Londoner and senior director at the Points of Light Foundation, the principal organization running the event. "That is the exact reason we're doing this: that violence is not the answer, seeing someone as so irrelevant you can bomb them," he said. Farr spoke about the bombing during the time set aside for interfaith reflection, and participants observed a moment of silence for the victims.
In one room of the Dance Place complex on Eighth Street NE, where the service day was held, Asha Glover, 13, of Lanham, who is a Baptist, said she met other youths with whom she otherwise would not have had much contact. She said that adults sometimes discourage children from interacting with others of different backgrounds and that youths are not as likely to judge others by religion. "When I looked at people, I wouldn't think, 'Oh, that's Muslim; oh, that's Jewish.' I'd think, 'Oh, that's another kid,' " she said. She cited something she said she had learned from reading the Koran: "God makes people different for a good reason, not a bad one."
Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Buddhist and Hindu young people from more than 10 faith, service and youth groups are involved in Summer InterFace. Most are from Northeast neighborhoods near Capitol Hill, though some groups came from other states. The participants hope to help about 1,000 youths through such projects as making the pillowcases and collecting school supplies. Two more service days are planned for July 16 and 24.
Participants emphasized the role of young people in easing religious conflict and intolerance. "We're not dealing with all the political baggage. We're just working as humans," said Ala'a Wafa, 21, of the Muslim Student Network as she cut figures of hands out of felt, making a quilt patch with a multicolored peace sign.
"Young people are more open-minded and more open to accept difference," said Anas Jaber, 18, a Muslim from Jerusalem, through an interpreter. He and fellow dancer Lara Gusachenko, 17, a Christian from Jerusalem, said their parents were not enthralled by their joining a multicultural and interfaith dance group, but both sets of parents acquiesced. Now the dance group is in the United States until July 17 on an exchange with Washington AIDS International Teens, an abstinence-based, AIDS-education performance group.
The message of the dance troupe, and yesterday's event, could be expressed in one word. "Shalom," Lara said. Peace.