The World of C.I.S.V

Posted by in Multicultural

CISV logoBefore I write anything in this rant of mine, I should point out that I am by no means not bias when I talk about CISV; I’ve been a member in it since one of my friends at Uni dragged me to something called a Junior Branch meeting, and I’ve been hooked ever since. Thus there is an interior motive for me to write about CISV, which might just be promoting it!

As outrageous as that might sound, please put in mind, that even though I might be a tad bias, because of my experiences with CISV, it does not mean I will exaggerate things here, on the contrary, even though I like CISV and what it stands for, for the same reason, I am critical of it when I see things that are wrong or need improving.

The difference, as I see it, is that I am giving a participants point of view, one who feels and hope that he gets the spirit of it all, and not a bystander’s point of view devoid of all emotion and the like.

What is it all about?

My friends often ask me, in the nice days of summer, if I have any clothes without this CISV stuff on it, I often laugh and say nope, not really! Though, nowadays, I have to confess, it is getting harder, lots of my CISV stuff are going the way of the Dodo! This could be partially due to the fact that might beloved wife is secretly sabotaging them every time they go into the wash or them just getting old. Personally, I am sticking with the earlier rather than latter explanation.

Anyway, a considerable amount of my wardrobe consists of T-shirts and sweatshirts with CISV all over them, often people will tell me they agree with what ideas are written on them, even though some of those ideas are impossible to achieve, nevertheless they are appreciated for what they resemble; hope and optimism and the hope for a better future is where the idea for what we know now as CISV began….

To start with, C.I.S.V stands for:
Children International Summer Villages

CISV is a unique independent, non- profit, non-political volunteer organisation that offers children and adults alike, the opportunity to make new friendships worldwide, in addition to understand and appreciate different cultures. Yet having said that, it does offer children more things than adults; since the whole concept behind CISV, as I understand it, is to try to make children aware of the world around them and appreciate the differences before they formulate hard opinions, preconceptions and even maybe prejudices that usually happen due to the environments they live in.

While CISV offers many different programs, the philosophy behind it can be summarised as a commitment to know different countries and cultures through close friends rather than as abstract places on a map, and to accept others without prejudice or stereotypes.

Who came up with it all?

Well, now you can say that we’re finished with the definitions and the concept. But no one can write about CISV without mentioning a bit of history behind it and the person who came up with the whole idea.
CISV became a reality because of the vision of one person, Dr. Doris T Allen, a University of Cincinnati psychologist in the years following World War II, had seen the devastation that results when nations engage in war to settle disputes. She envisioned a new approach to working toward the goal of achieving peaceful solutions to worldwide problems.

Dr. Allen believed that people must learn to feel and think in new ways, and that the education for change should start before adolescence and continue into adulthood. According to Dr. Allen, “Peace is possible only as individuals and groups learn to live amicably with one another as friends.”

Because of Doris Allen’s vision and inexhaustible efforts, she has seen CISV grow from the first international “Village” camp in 1951 to a worldwide organisation that has reached over 112,000 participants, helping them learn to live and work together in peace and friendship.

Sad to say though, Dr Allen past away in March 2002, I have never met her personally, but I can say wholeheartedly that through CISV she made a huge impact on my life and for that I thank her. May she rest in peace.

some more detail?

I don’t know who came up with the CISV song (yes, there is a song too) but reading it, pretty much summarises what we all wish could be the case and what we aim for.

It goes like this:

“Here in this village you may see
Children living happily
Different race and different land
Here we come to understand
One another’s point of view
Learning through the things we do
How alike am I to you

Here we live and eat and sleep
Talk and laugh and sometimes weep
Here we share our hopes and fears
Build a bridge across the years
Sow a seed and plant a tree
Beneath whose branches there may be
All the nations gathered free
That our children so may grow
In a world we did not know
Sharing all they have to give
Learning how to love and live
In our hands the future lies
Seize the moment there it flies
Stamp the present with an act
Dare to make our dream a fact”

Making the world a better place for everyone is a long lasting dream, not yet achieved but we should never give up.

There are many programs in CISV; villages, Interchanges, summer camps and seminar camps to say the least, not to mention all the local activities that are done on top of all these programs.
Each one of these programs cater to a different age group or different ideas. I personally did not participate in any but villages, which I felt are the most I can try to benefit my self and others from, but also because I got to know CISV at a later stage in my life, thus missing out on participating in them as a child 🙁
So I started as a leader in a village and stuck with them, being either a leader or staff in villages.
I felt that because villages are for children at the age of 11, at such an age they are old enough to understand concepts yet young enough to not have already formulated hard opinions and preconceptions about issues. Thus they are at the perfect age to expose them to the world in a somewhat controlled environment so that they can see for themselves that they don’t live alone in this vast place we call earth.
Not to mention it exposes them to different experiences; relying on people other than family, striking friendships, sometimes long lasting ones, experiencing other cultures and finding ways to communicate with each other via other means than language.
You would be amazed of the level of creativity children exhibit; every camp I go to I get astonished to how children think, deal with different situations and find solutions to problems they encounter.

A village is usually consistent of 10-12 countries, each of which has two girls and two boys all aged eleven, and a leader aged twenty-one and up. Also around 3-4 Junior Councillors come from different countries, they are usually around 17-18 years old. All those coupled with 3-4 staff members.
The camp is usually a closed place, which means people from outside the camp don’t come and go.
A lot of the activities done with the children often have a theme in them, or lets say a purpose, but at the same time they are fun to do. On many occasions after specific activities leaders sit with all the children and talk about what happened and what we might get out of it so that the children and us too, might get a different perspective from it than the one we had, correcting a misconception we might had or vice versa.

In addition to all that, a village, which is usually around one month, would set aside as many days of the camp as the delegations, and have what we call a national night; were each country’s delegation, on a specific day that they choose, get to incorporate things from their culture all through the day; for example they can offer at breakfast time a traditional breakfast from their homeland, at lunch time make everybody taste a lunch of some kind that they never tried before, maybe play a game or two that are typical of the country and finish the day with some traditional dance that they would do in costume and top it off with nice home made booklets filled with stuff about them and where they come from.
Of course all that in addition to the other activities we might do that day, so try to imagine how jam-pact days usually are!

Ooh and before I forget we usually have something called Children parliament were the children meet and after deliberation with each other they come up with a list of what they might not liked in the village up to that point, or what they want to be able to do before the camp finishes. So the leaders, staff and JCs meet at night after the kids go to sleep (which takes place everyday by the way) and checkout their decree and see what can be done  about them. Some of their decisions or opinions are great, others are totally crazy which we usually tend not to comply with, but there is no harm in them trying their luck, who knows we might have lost our minds at one point and actually go with some of those crazy suggestions 🙂

To be honest, my whole description of a village barely scratches the top of what a village is actually all about; it is hard to describe things, feelings, attitudes, companionships, the things you learn, the things you see and the friendships you make. Thus sad to say, but as usual, you have to be in it to actually experience it all. Making it harder to get others to understand why you talk about something all the time and make them want to strangle you 🙂

With all the great things CISV represent and try to convey, in the practicality of life CISV is not perfect, things are not all peachy; countries that are at war don’t forget all about it in a CISV camp! Many countries will not attend or invite their enemies to CISV villages they are hosting or being hosted by the other side. Tensions sometimes rise if two countries meet in a camp hosted by a third unrelated nation.
I guess these are things that might not be avoidable, after all it is hard to tell someone to forget all about what is happening back home while they are in a camp, I would not ask them to, though we usually try to keep things as good and tensionless as possible.

Yet that is not the only problem in CISV, there is another problem I have noticed and many others did too; due to the fact that CISV is a non-profit organisation, all funding comes from the children parents and fund-raising activities that each CISV chapter would do.

A side effect to CISV being like that is that at the end of the day you will notice that only well to do people can afford to send their children to camps! And even though a child would pretty much only pay for transportation and pocket money ( all accommodation expenses are settled by the chapter that hosts the village, summer camp, etc etc.) therefore people that can’t afford to spare those amounts of money to send their children to such camps miss out!

I have noticed, to the credit of many CISV countries, that there are CISV chapters that put aside money from fund-raising activities to fully fund a specific number of underprivileged children to be able to participate in camps. But such a thing, as far as I know, are not mandatory by CISV international and are not something that all chapters do, therefore the majority of children in camps would be somewhat from a wealthy background, even though the majority of the world are not.

Last words..

As I said nothing is perfect, but I notice that CISV as everything that is good around us, tries through its members to improve and overcome any shortcomings that accrue in hope that one day we all wake up wondering how past generations lived in such chaos!

I hope that I was able to give an acceptable glimpse of what is CISV, to the extent that you might be intrigued enough to do a bit searching on your own, check the official CISV International website, find out if there is a local chapter in your part of the world and see what it is all about in person and who knows we might end up meeting via CISV!
Ask any CISVer around about what is one of the most things they noticed since they have joined, they will most probably tell you that they have noticed that the world we live in is a very small place. So, always be in the look out, for who knows who will you meet tomorrow 🙂

Now I’m living in Sydney, this big vibrant city does not have a fully functioning chapter for CISV, if you are energetic, enthusiastic, got involved with CISV at one point earlier in your life or are interested to try to work on doing something with CISV in Sydney for yourself or your children, please email to the existing local group.