Global unity starts in small villages

“We must start with the children.”~ Doris Twitchell Allen

After the end of the Second World War, this was the sentiment in the mind of Dr. Doris Allen. Allen was a professor of psychology at the University of Cincinnati who had done post-graduate studies in Germany in the 1930s.

In the early 1940s, when her own young son inquired about his vulnerability to the draft, she knew she needed to find a way to inspire peace and unity among children worldwide. After five years of research, planning, and development, the Children’s International Summer Villages (CISV) program was born.

A summer camp-style getaway for children from around the world, the first CISV gathered kids from Norway, Sweden, Denmark, England, France, Mexico, Germany, and Austria. It took place right here in Glendale in June of 1951.

The 48 attendees swam, made crafts, and played games like capture the flag. They participated in a mock parliament to determine solutions to camp issues. Living and working side by side, they overcame language barriers through play and daily interaction, many of them forging lifelong friendships in the process.

Now a sub-organization of UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), CISV has grown to host programs in more than 60 countries. Since 1951, nearly 200,000 participants have taken part in over 5,000 international activities.

Allen’s belief that the road to peace starts early in life has been embraced by advocates of peace worldwide, and has imbued new generations across the globe with a lifelong propensity toward amity among all nations.

Maria Hoeffer traveled to Sweden with the group when she was 11 years old, and has been participating in CISV programs ever since. She has served as an adult leader and staff member, and currently is involved as a local leadership trainer and a junior branch advisor.

She says that her initial experience was life changing.

“It opened me up to this whole big world, and so when I heard things on the news I was immediately thinking about my friend from Israel or my friend from Guatemala — kids that I had met when I was 11,” says Hoeffer. “It really changed my view on the global community because it was now my friends there, not just some abstract country that might be in a book.”

Hoeffer’s 11-year-old son Makaio traveled to El Salvador with CISV for his first “Village” experience last summer. Being so involved with CISV herself, and having been through the experience as a child, Hoeffer knew that her son would be at ease and comfortable in his faraway surroundings.

“He had not been to sleep-away camp or anything like that before,” she says. “But the delegation that travels together get together several times before they go. They’re kind of like a little family unit. He felt comfortable with his leader and with the other kids in his delegation. And so, in the end, he thankfully told me when he came home, ‘Mom, I really didn’t think about home at all when I was away,’ which is a great thing for me to hear.”

Milynn Graves learned about CISV from the mother of one of her daughter Madison’s soccer teammates. After researching the programs and receiving a nudge from yet another mom, she knew a CISV summer village would be an enlightening experience.

Madison traveled to Indonesia last year with CISV, and Graves says she noticed wonderful developments in her daughter upon her return.

“She had not just independence with what she was doing, but independent thinking. Her view of people, just from the people that she met and formed a fellowship with while she was there — this did really open her up to these global friendships,” says Graves. “Now she is even more encouraged to travel because she wants to go and see her friends in different countries. It has opened up the world for her.”

Dr. Allen initially created CISV with the mindset that 11 years was the ideal age to involve children in bridging cultural gaps and gaining a broader worldview, but today’s CISV programs have expanded to include offerings for all age groups. The organization is staffed almost completely by volunteers and provides opportunities for financial aid to children who wish to take part but may not have the means to do so.

To learn more about the experiences available, registration process, volunteering opportunities, or to make a donation to CISV’s website.

Read more articles by Eliza Bobonick.

Eliza Bobonick is a Cincinnati-based writer and a mother of three. Her work has been featured in such local and regional publications as Cincinnati CityBeat and Kentucky Homes and Gardens Magazine. She is a former musician whose interests include photography and interior design.

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