CISV: A Trip to Halifax from Around the World
Updated: Aug 16
In February, a friend posted a need for help on social media. She asked for students as well as adult volunteers to travel to Italy, Denmark, Norway, or Nova Scotia with CISV. I replied that I would be interested. Then I asked, "What am I signing up for?" with laughter emojis. She sent a link to a website. The information I was presented with piqued my interest in international relations as well as my experience as a public school educator.
From February until August, I trained alongside other leaders and staff as a part of the global non-profit Children's International Summer Village, (CISV), which is
a worldwide movement working toward peace and intercultural cooperation and understanding.
Weekly trainings and meetings were attended and I officially signed up as the leader from our local Smoky Mountain Chapter to take a group of 12-13 year olds to a Youth Meeting in Nova Scotia.
During the training, leaders and staff learned the history, mission, and aspirations of CISV. Since the 1940s, the program has been promoting impactful change around the globe. Beginning in a post World War II climate, a child psychologist in Cincinatti, Ohio, Dr. Doris Twitchell Allen sparked the movement. Dr. Allen understood that children around the age of eleven are developmentally ready to tackle hard problems, formulate key concepts, and that the future of peace lay with children. From her research and innovation, this Nobel Peace Prize nominee created the global movement of CISV. (It is worth noting that the recipient of the Nobel Prize the same year Dr. Allen was nominated was Mother Teresa.)
From inception until now, CISV has grown to serve 69 countries in over 200 cities. Volunteers enthusiastically give their time to ensure that thousands of children, referred to as delegates within the program, experience meaningful connections to others around the globe.
The CISV summer programs are sectioned into camps occurring during the summer months. These camps target differing age groups: the Village, Interchange, Youth Meeting, Step Up, Seminar Camp and the International People's Project. The camps have specific missions, parameters, and lengths, and each focus on an area which reflects the core content areas of CISV: Diversity, Human Rights, Conflict and Resolution, and Sustainable Development.
Many educators participate in CISV. As a former educator, I found the program inspiring, and was (geek-ily) delighted to see that data was collected from the program, as well as measurable goals and objectives for the program. CISV monitors outcomes to ensure that the work being done is continually evaluated and improved. Some of this is through a document called the The Programme Director’s Planning and Evaluation Form (PDPEF). This becomes a giant fillable form on a wall in the leader/staff lounge, where the adult volunteers assess each participant and show growth of key concepts while at the camp.
The camp I attended as a leader was in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, hosted at the Landmark East School. We arrived in a flurry of groups from the USA, Austria, Brazil, Mexico, Portugal, Denmark, Sweden and Montreal, Canada. There were three staff from Canada, who led and initiated the organization of the programs. In total there were 42 participants, with each delegation bringing four students.
This year was unique for CISV, as it was the first year back in-person in a post-pandemic environment. The organization faced hiccups, as one might imagine, during the pandemic. Primarily, this was due to the fact that delegates simply could not travel globally to have camps. At our camp, the Youth Meeting, we had a numerous leaders, staff, and delegates who were experiencing CISV for the first time. Gratefully, we had several adults and delegates who were seasoned in CISV step in to assist where some of us were lacking.
The theme for our camp was "Different Race and Different Land" which comes from the CISV song sung daily after delegates wake up and then again bedtime. Within the programming at camp, CISV cleverly disguises learning objectives within the games presented over the course of the week. The delegates are introduced to games casually, such as name games to get to know everyone and inspired by participatory sing-a-long sessions known as 'energizers.' The energizers work and the delegates quickly initiate these in their free-time. After the delegates learn names, and begin to become comfortable with each other and the schedule, the games start to introduce challenging topics.
It was inspiring to witness this progression, from group led activities by the directors and staff to leaders presenting, to the delegates presenting activities. Each nation in attendance creates a National Night, where parts of the country's culture is taught, songs are sung, and candy/sweets are shared.
As a new camp leader, there was a lot I did not fully understand until participating at the camp. For example, there is a large amount of trading that happens between delegations. I was told this happens during my training, but had no idea the importance. Unique food and candy as well as CISV t-shirts/sweatshirts were brought and traded across cultures. This happened organically and during down time, initiated by the delegates. Within two days, students from Brazil were wearing shirts from Sweden, and everyone was eating spicy, sour candy from Mexico. It remained one of the most talked about parts of camp, and the delegates were delighted to share and trade. It was also fun to witness the exchange, as so many subtle parts of cultures were shared during these times.
As an educator, I was inspired by the camp, encouraged by friendships that arose easily across the globe, and hopeful for the practices that were taught. Mentioned previously, the games started out casually, but by the end of the week, delegates were participating in harder discussions, such as one on climate change. It was during this discussion that a delegate from Brazil casually mentioned that his dad had participated in one of the largest global initiatives for promoting change. This talk sparked conversations that as an adult, I was challenged by - such as the alarming increase of fires worldwide.
As I headed home, I rode to the airport with a volunteer who works with CISV Canada, and met his now wife at a camp. He was enthusiastic about CISV and asked numerous questions of the camp. He told me about how CISV almost did not survive the pandemic and that there remains a need for more volunteers within the CISV organization, to keep the dream alive. The CISV website is filled with volunteer roles for adults, program information, and a myriad of resources. One of the areas where there is need is as a leader. Some of the requirements to become a leader are simple:
Be at least 21 years of age
Undergo a criminal background check
Have a positive and open-minded attitude
Have an interest in education and other cultures
Be open to new experiences, new foods, and new people
CISV showed me the beauty of what can be done to inspire global change. Just like their mission, I agree that change begins with children. If you or someone you know is interested in learning more about CISV, I highly recommend that you reach out. The CISV website has detailed information about becoming a leader and an online inquiry form to get started.