Children of terrorist victims bond at camp

Project unites youths from around the world to help cope and have fun

Associated Press
Mijal Tenenbaum of Argentina mingles with friends who also have lost loved ones to terrorism. Mijal, 17, originally thought attending the summer camp would be awkward, but said "it felt amazing" when she arrived.Associated Press Mijal Tenenbaum of Argentina mingles with friends who also have lost loved ones to terrorism. Mijal, 17, originally thought attending the summer camp would be awkward, but said “it felt amazing” when she arrived.
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MIDDLEBURG, Va. — Jason Vadhan didn’t know anyone when he arrived at a summer camp for young people who, like him, have lost a loved one in a terrorist attack. It didn’t take long for him to form profound relationships.

Mr. Vadhan, whose grandmother was on United Flight 93, is one of the 77 participants in Project Common Bond, a summer camp that brings together relatives of the victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks as well as youths from around the world who have been scarred by terrorism.

When the 18-year-old Mr. Vadhan, of Atlantic Beach, N.Y., finished a roundtable and interviews with reporters last week, other campers gathered in an adjoining room and burst into applause when he walked in.

“I came here not knowing one person,” Mr. Vadhan said, “and when that door opened and there were people cheering for us, I walked right up to a kid I met three days ago, and I gave him a hug and I cried.”

Project Common Bond is organized by Tuesday’s Children, a nonprofit dedicated to serving the families of Sept. 11 victims. Over the years, however, the camp has taken on a more international focus. This year’s eight-day camp - held on the campus of a girls’ private school about 40 miles west of the District - included participants from eight countries including, for the first time, Russia and Sri Lanka.

Many of the campers, who range in age from 15 to 20, return each year for the friendships, the sense of community and the shared experiences. Their lives are shaped by extraordinary events, but at Project Common Bond, they feel normal.

“It’s so simple here,” said Julie Griffin, 19, whose father was killed on Sept. 11. “Everybody just gets it.”

Losing a relative to terrorism is different because the tragedy plays out in public, said Fran Furman, director of counseling at Tuesday’s Children.

“You’re unique in a way that you didn’t choose to be unique,” Ms. Furman said. “It’s very, very difficult to feel like you can connect and bond with other teens.”

Yet at the camps, close relationships form instantaneously.

“There’s that deep connection,” said Caitlin Leavey, 20, whose father, a firefighter, died while responding to the World Trade Center attack. “One of my friends doesn’t speak English, and I’m still able to communicate with her and make a lasting friendship. I think that’s amazing.”

In the mornings, campers attend classes and group discussions on peacemaking and conflict resolution. This year’s theme was dignity: how terrorists took it away, how they can reclaim it and how they can encourage it in others.

Some have even chosen conflict resolution as a college major or career path based on their camp experiences.

“I wanted to turn my tragedy into something positive,” said Ms. Leavey, who is majoring in peace and conflict studies at New York University and wears a necklace with the name of her father’s fire company, Ladder 15.

Afternoons at the camp are all about fun, with sports, drama, music, art and dance.

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