JCC kids turn arts and crafts into banners of peace

On the floor of a Marin Jewish Community Center classroom, kids were crawling over four cloth banners, painting symbols of Judaism and splotches of whatever else was fun.

It looked like a regular arts and crafts hour for the children, yet the banners they were making would soon be sent over 4,000 miles away to El Salvador.

There, the banners were to be carried by thousands of citizens marching for freedom yesterday and today in a country whose hold on peace is tenuous.

"I think it's great that we're doing stuff for people in a different country. It helps to bring together the whole world," said Anastasia Schwab, 13, who was working on the banners along with about 30 other kids at the JCC's summer camp.

The four banners were decorated colorfully with handprints, Jewish stars and peace symbols. The word "peace" was written in German, Yiddish, Hebrew, Spanish, French and Russian.

One of the young artists, 11-year-old Alex Fortenko, has been attending the summer camp for five years. He said that while he enjoyed the typical camp activities, painting banners to be sent abroad was something he never expected to do in a summer camp.

"It's fun and it teaches teamwork," Fortenko said. "They had a war for 12 years and still have lots of guns there. We hope to tell them that people care about what happens there."

The activity was led by Sarah Pritchard, the only representative of the American Jewish World Service in the Bay Area. Founded in 1985 and centered in New York, the AJWS provides nonsectarian, humanitarian aid to people in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East as well as Russia and the Ukraine. People often call the organization the "Jewish Peace Corps."

Pritchard participated in the United States Peace Corps and served in Liberia and Guatemala.

Upon moving to Marin last year, she discovered the AJWS, finding it the right match for the grassroots humanitarian efforts she hoped to continue.

That the organization provided aid under the auspices of Jewish ideals gave the program special meaning to Pritchard. She said the AJWS was a way for her "to give back to the world in a Jewish context. It's tzedakah. The AJWS allows Jews as world citizens to support people in need."

Pritchard came to the Marin JCC summer camp to enlist the kids in a project which would show support for the El Salvador peace process. She spoke to the children about the situation in El Salvador.

Still scarred by 12 years of civil war, El Salvador demarcated a zone of peace, a section of land specially designated as a nonviolent, democratic territory.

The AJWS is working with local organizations in El Salvador to help establish a self-sustaining economy and a safe community in that zone.

"You can't just say a war is over and leave it at that and go help another country that is at war. El Salvador needs to rebuild its community. It's a long process," Pritchard said.

The banners were sent by mail to be used in a peace march which inaugurated the zone.

Yulia Trofimenko, 11, was coloring the word "freiheit," which means "freedom" in German.

"Peace is important so that everybody can be friends and have respect," she said. "I'm glad to help."