WATERVILLE, Maine — Diana Macharia never knew Sri Lanka was an island shaped like a teardrop when she was growing up in Kenya. Now, after meeting fellow victims of terror from the tiny Asian country, its shape makes so much sense to her.
Macharia is among a group of dozens of international teenagers and young adults brought together this summer in Maine by a shared history of suffering due to terrorism, violent extremism and war. The group of more than 70 participants, who range in age from 15 to 21, is in the rural northern reaches of New England to share grief and foster friendship as this year’s class of Project Common Bond.
The project seeks to create a new generation of socially conscious adults by bringing together young people impacted by violent trauma. Macharia, 19, lost her father when she was a baby to the 1998 United States embassy bombings in her hometown of Nairobi.
“This is a better way of helping us come together,” said Macharia, who now wants to open an organization to support victims of terror in her home country. “It helps us open up.”
The group first gathered at Colby College in Waterville on July 22 and will be staying there until Sunday. Participants hail from 16 countries and territories, including Pakistan, Afghanistan, Israel, Palestine, Haiti and Northern Ireland. There also are students from the United States, including children of people who died on 9/11.
Project Common Bond is an initiative started by Tuesday’s Children, a group that formed after Sept. 11 to provide support for children and families affected by terrorism.
The project is in its tenth year and has taken place in several states, most recently in Pennsylvania. It is in Maine for the first time this year. The project is funded by a combination of private, foundation and corporate money as well as funds from Tuesday’s Children.
Tuesday’s Children partners with non-governmental organizations around the world to find young people to participate in the program, said Deirdre Dolan, a program manager for the nonprofit. Its goal is to create a “generation of peacebuilders” who “promote resiliency and long-term healing for victims of terrorism,” she said.
Despite their shared backstory of trauma and loss, participants spend much of their time in the program having fun.
Days are long, running from about 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily with activities ranging from playing Frisbee on the campus green to participating in drama therapy, art and music. They begin each day with “dignity sessions,” which resemble group therapy meetings.
Nineteen-year-old Sara Tumulty-Ollemar of Asbury, New Jersey, and her sister, 16-year-old Caroline, said the group sessions are integral to the experience. The sisters lost their father, who worked in the South Tower of the World Trade Center, on 9/11.
“We’re here to create a bond. To share our stories,” Sara said. “See how we can take all of the bad things that have happened to everyone and try to use that to make the world a better place.”