Mamatoga Loves: thinkpeace workshop for girls

I recently had the chance to chat with Kelly Himsl Arthur, the co-director at thinkpeace workshop for girls, which offers day and weekend workshops, summer camps and outreach programs for girls who want to be part of the global girl community. They believe in teaching peacebuilding skills to girls who have a passion to be active participants in the global girl community. Read more from Kelly about this fantastic organization and what they are all about. I was just reading the article circulating the internet Friday about the “ambition gap” for girls in which Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg claims that teaching girls to be communal (while rewarding boys for being competitive risk takers) is a bad thing.  I want my daughters to be risk takers AND I see nothing wrong with also encouraging them (and my son) to be communal.  Reaching out, asking for help and/or collaboration is one of the key lessons we teach at thinkpeace workshops.  We believe that we are all in this together, across the universe, and that the only hope of lasting peace on earth is through compassion, tolerance, acceptance, and understanding.

My friend, Liz Curry, and I hatched the idea of thinkpeace workshop several summers ago when we were standing in the backyard of the house I had recently moved into.  My family and I had just moved here from the San Francisco Bay Area, where houses are pretty much built on top of each other and having some land around you is just unimaginable.  Liz and I lived a block apart in California.  Our children were the same ages and we shared similar values as parents, as women, and as members of a global community.  I had been the Brownie leader for our daughters’ troop and she was my right hand woman!  I kept trying to infuse our Brownie meetings with something beyond the Girl Scout curriculum.  I wanted the girls to do more than earn badges.  Liz helped me do this through art, music, and self-expression. We wanted them connected with their world.  We wanted to do something that would make a difference in what we were seeing already in our own young girls’ lives:  the “mean girl” epidemic.    When Liz visited us that first summer, we stood in the backyard, both amazed by the size of the lot, and we had the same thought at the same time (!):  Wow, we could have a CAMP here!  A camp where we could teach girls all the things we know will stir their passions and give them a vision of their place in the world.  A camp where they could discover things about themselves, each other and girls worldwide.  We’d have space for them to spread out and run wild.  Space for big art projects and camping under the stars, with the comforts of home nearby.  From that moment we started planning thinkpeace workshop for girls.

We started in 2009 with 10 girls, half from Saratoga and half from California.  We’ve since held workshops on Long Island, in Northern California, and Colorado.  People ask us, “What is it exactly that you do?”  We plant seeds.  We work with the girls to discover the issues that spark their curiosity, and teach them how to carry that out into the world.  They learn how to support each other, embrace causes, and be the change!  We believe that Peace Begins with a GIRL!  Imagine!

We focus on the positive-- what CAN a girl do?  How can she use her voice to be the change she wants to see in her world, locally and beyond?  So often kids think that they can only make a difference through fundraising.  While that is important, we want them to understand that who they are is enough, that by using their minds, voice, and hands they really can make a difference.  Our girls have seen the power of this manifest in unique ways.  For example, one year the girls performed the play, Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes as a benefit for our Drop off Your Drawers Campaign (we’re collecting 5000 undergarments for girls in Haiti who were left with nothing after the earthquake).  As a backdrop for the play, they created over 1000 origami cranes.  Months later the tsunami and earthquake hit Japan.  A foundation offered $2 for every crane sent to rebuild in Japan.  thinkpeace girls created more than 2000, garnering a $4000 donation!  One of our girls is passionate about girls and women’s rights in Afghanistan.  She found a mentor in Shannon Galpin, founder of Mountain2Mountain, and has led a community bike ride for kids here for the past two years called the Panjshir Tour.  Community rides take place across the country every October in celebration of Shannon’s ride in the Panjshir Valley in Afghanistan three years ago-- the first time a woman has ridden a bicycle in that country.  This thinkpeace girl believes that all girls should have this basic freedom and wanted to raise awareness among her friends of the issues facing girls in other countries.  We had many boys in the ride this year and when asked why they were participating they all said, “We believe all girls should have the same rights we do!”  Kids brought quarters and pennies and wadded up dollar bills to contribute to Mountain2Mountain’s educational programs in Afghanistan.  Currently our thinkpeace girls are making bones to add to an art installation on the Washington Mall.  The bone project ( raises awareness about the ongoing genocide and displacement in Sudan, Burma and the Congo.  It’s a heavy subject matter, and we talk about it carefully and responsibly.

We also try to connect the girls with the Saratoga community by shopping for local foods at the Farmer’s Market, meeting with International students at Skidmore College, and working with local teachers and artists.

A lot of our camp time is spent enjoying each other as GIRLS!  We think girls need a safe and healthy environment to explore themselves and relationships with other girls.  We get really creative with art projects and games (there’s swimming and tennis), improv and even yoga.  We laugh hard, get dirty in our sustainable garden, create amazing international meals, and wish upon stars.  This year’s camp is focused on The Colors of the World.  The girls will be writing a story together (with the help of an amazing, visiting author) and turning that into a play.  It’ll be whimsical and deep, personal and global-- a true reflection of girls across the universe.

We’re the kind of camp that you come to with an open mind and a big heart.  We want girls to simply realize all that they are and that together they can make a lasting difference.

Our summer workshop is open to girls grades 6-10.  We like to keep it small-- so it’s limited to 14 girls.  Registration is open now until March 15.  The form can be downloaded here.  The cost is $595 for the week, July 28 to August 4th.