This Summer Camp Teaches Stop, Breathe & Think
And it changes the world, one interaction at a time.
Siron speaking at a Tools for Peace fundraiser
Siron starts her talk by explaining how attending the Tools for Peace summer camp in the Tehachapi Mountains outside Los Angeles transformed her:
“It’s like a parasite that gets into you and turns every cell that has been darkened by hate, frustration, or discrimination, or what you are holding on to—it turns them pink, and makes them smell like roses.”
Once a refugee from Sierra Leone and Yemen, Siron speaks of transformation from hard experience:
“I’m 18, but 15 of those years were the hardest years of my life. . . . My first memory is of my mother running down the street while the local boys threw stones at her, yelling ‘Kafir’ in Arabic, which means infidel. My older brothers came home from school with bruises on their cheeks. My education was nonexistent since I was female. When we finally arrived to the USA, culture shock hit my family: The bare legs, beauty, and confidence . . . The kids in schools had pencils, and shoelaces in their shoes . . . And chocolate. We were in a whole new world. But we were still in a place that seemed to resent our family.
“So I grew with intense hatred and disgust. I struggled with what I was . . . And who were these people who surrounded me that seemed to have everything and were so lucky, healthy, and happy? They had no hate in their heart; they didn’t come from a place that was always targeting them. I felt neglected, unwanted, and lonely. Utter confusion consumed my mind. Unhappiness swallowed me whole.
“In middle school, I was blessed by all of the gods I had prayed to, when I met a friend, Rosalind. She introduced me to a different way of life when she introduced me to Tools for Peace.
“I entered [the summer camp] as a confused girl, but I left confident and awakened. I left carrying duffel bags filled with love and compassion, available to anyone who needed it, because I knew what it felt like to not have any. It taught me how to think and deal with everything I was feeling. Just by showing me simplicity and compassion. . . . I had never had that, and I wanted to give it to other people because it was so powerful. . . . I was so surprised by this new world of love. . . .
“The change I felt in me was irreversible. It was amazing. I took everything I learned with me—to my struggling family, my struggling friends . . . and I implemented it where I worked at a volunteer shelter, and I ended up saving a life. Me—this 18-year-old—saved a life. But you have to understand, it’s because of Tools for Peace.”
The Camp that Inspired an App
The Stop, Breathe & Think curriculum created by Tools for Peace inspired a commercial app of meditations and practices that is often included in its programming and facilitation. It’s great for people to play when not physically present with the programs, and Tools for Peace receives 10 percent of the net revenue. Stop, Breathe & Think also has an online course that provides an opportunity for adults to strengthen the fundamentals of mindfulness and meditation, and focuses on the development of kindness and compassion in everyday life. Eight sections (from May 2 to June 27) take you through reading, guided mindfulness and meditation audio recordings, personal reflection through Q&A, journaling, and simple activities. Stopbreathethink.com
Tools for Peace is a not-for-profit founded in 2000 by another former child refugee who is now the Venerable Lama Chödak Gyatso Nubpa. Lama Gyatso had to transform his own anger and hatred from being forced out of Tibet, and decided to use the mindfulness tools that worked for him to address the gang violence and urban unrest in Los Angeles. He teamed up with a social worker, a teacher, and a lawyer to develop a workbook and a variety program that continues to evolve. The summer camp is open to all their students, and about 50 attend each year for horseback riding, swimming, yoga, and sports classes—all as part of a total immersion in a mindfulness program called Stop, Breathe & Think.
“This practice is different than mindfulness for personal development,” explains Casey Bridges, executive director of Tools for Peace. “Instead, it’s for the specific application of putting mindfulness into action where people are interacting. That’s why we like working with the Boys and Girls Club, and after-school clubs and universities where people come into close contact and interact with each other—places where we can develop the capacity for compassion. This then leads to inner peace, which then impacts the outer peace.”
So far, Tools for Peace has reached over 1,000 at-risk youth through its in-school, after-school. and summer camp mindfulness programs. It also provided workshops throughout the year for over 200 teachers, staff members, and administrators from local schools and nonprofits.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
If you have 5 minutes:
Check out the app at app.stopbreathethink.org and share it with five friends.
If you have $25:
Make a donation at Toolsforpeace.org to help fund a classroom exercise.
If you have a month:
Contact [email protected] and inquire about volunteer opportunities.
If you have $100:
Invite 4 friends to match your funds to cover the cost of a $500 scholarship for a summer camper.