Teens Affected By Terrorism, War Converge On Colby College
This week, more than 70 teens and young adults from 16 countries around the globe are at Colby College in Waterville. Though they come from different cultures, they all have something in common: the loss of a family member from terrorism or war.
An organization called Tuesday’s Children brings together young adults affected by trauma every year to empower them to use their experience to create positive change. The weeklong program is called Project Common Bond, and the bonds tend to form quickly, fostered by lots of activities, from pickup football games and art and drama classes to music.
The 73 teens and young adults share something unusual — they’ve all lost a family member to terrorism or war.
“Where we live now, there are no other children who were affected by 9/11, so we’re almost like outsiders,” says Caroline Tumulty-Ollemar, 16, of New Jersey.
Caroline lost her father in the Twin Towers terrorist attack on 9/11. At Project Common Bond, she doesn’t feel like an outsider. Here, she says, everyone understands what she has experienced, especially her roommate.
“I found out that the attack that was carried out by al-Qaida here, al-Qaida also carried out an attack that killed one of her family members. So we’ve been kind of bonding over that. I don’t know, it’s just crazy how she lives so far away, but we can have so much in common,” she says.
This is the second time Caroline has come to Project Common Bond, along with her 19-year-old sister Sara.
“Being 3 years old when it happened, I didn’t really realize the complexity of the situation until I was a lot older. And when I did start to understand, I became very isolated about it, and almost angry,” Sara says.
Coming to Project Common Bond, she says, has helped her turn her trauma into something positive. Deirdre Dolan, program manager for Tuesday’s Children, says that was the main reason the project was created.
“And building resilience. Promoting positive post-traumatic growth, and just really focusing on the connections that can be made and the importance of building relationships with peers that can empathize with them,” she says.
Tuesday’s Children formed in the aftermath of 9/11 to support families affected by the terrorist attacks. Project Common Bond was an outgrowth of that. Every year, the project brings together young adults from around the world who lost a family member to terrorism or war. This is the first time the group has come to Maine.
Over the course of a week, the days are balanced between art and sports activities, and daily “dignity” sessions guided by therapists. Monica Meehan McNamara, director of curriculum for Project Common Bond, says participants get the chance to share and process their experiences.
“Around dignity, we talk about inclusion, acknowledgment, benefit of the doubt, accountability. These various elements: fairness, safety, et cetera, if you really take them to heart, it affects the way you live and the way you interact with others,” she says.
Participants also go to peace-building sessions, to learn ways to address and prevent conflict at home. By the end of the week, the teens and young adults here have a global community they can turn to for support.
Eighteen-year-old Astrid Kloven of Norway first came to Project Common Bond last year because she lost her older sister at the Utoya summer camp attack in 2011. She says sometimes she needs advice on how to confront intolerant behavior.
“I can complain to them and ask them what I should do, because I don’t feel like attacking people when they say stuff that is not OK to say,” she says.
For some, even just knowing they’re not alone helps. Nineteen-year-old Dawn Mulu of Nairobi, Kenya, lost her father in the U.S. Embassy bombing in 1998. She says hearing others’ stories shifted the way she thinks about her loss.
“And be grateful that you’re still alive and you can do better, even though something bad has happened to you,” she says.
As one organizer put it, the young adults in Project Common Bond are like building blocks of peace. When they leave, they carry with them what they’ve learned and put it to use no matter where they call home.
This story was originally published July 28, 2017 at 6:10 p.m. ET.