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Children's International Summer Villages - CISV

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Children's International Summer Villages, CISV, is a non-profit organization, approved by the United Nations, that works with children all over the world, aiming for peace. It works on the premise that if all the children in the world have friends the world over, they will not want to wage war on them, since people don't generally fight wars against their friends.

CISV was started after World War II, by a woman called Doris Allen (1901-2002). The story goes that Mrs Allen's son asked her if he, when he grew up, would have to go to war. Mrs Allen thought not, and decided to do something to make sure.

In 1951, the first Village was held, in Glendale, Ohio, USA. There were eight delegations, with 32 children, teachers, aides and others assembled there, for a month in summer. The delegations came from Norway, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, the USA and other countries, mostly ones that had been badly affected by the war. That first village was a success: the children made friends easily, and some of those friendships have lasted to this day. They reunite regularly and have great fun being involved with CISV.

The way CISV works has been modified over the years, but the CISV spirit remains the same - love, peace and friendship.

The Organisation

Today, CISV is very international, with local Chapters, Junior Branches, and three to four different villages and projects. In every Village, there are 12 delegations of five, and usually five staff members. The delegations come from all over the world and are usually made up of four 11-year-old children and an adult leader, with one delegation coming from the host country. They all live, work and play and eat together for a month, making friends and memories that will never be forgotten.

A Chapter is the local CISV for each area - countries are usually divided into chapters. Larger countries can thus have many chapters and smaller ones can be one chapter for the whole country. This is rarer, though.

Junior Branches are for everybody under age 25 to participate in and thus keep active in CISV.

There are many Villages and projects - Villages are the most common, and are also the largest.

Other projects are Youth Meets, Seminar Camps and Youth Exchanges.

You do not have to be 11 to be able to participate in CISV, but you must not be any younger.

Costs and Restraints

Children who are suited for CISV are often independent, kind, and willing to try new things. Unfortunately, due to budget restraints, there is usually no lee-way for children with physical disabilities or behavioural problems, unless the leader in charge of that child feels up to it1.

The cost of participating in CISV is:

  • Flight for the child
  • Pocket money
  • One fourth of the Leader's fare

For Leaders the cost is personal expenses; for other volunteers it can be flight and personal expenses, although local chapters try and pay for your time.

Volunteer opportunities for adults in CISV are, for instance: Delegation Leader, Junior Counselor in Village (JC), Staff in a Village, Home stay Families2 and many other tasks.

The local chapters each receive invites for delegations to attend a Village, some chapters send one delegation, others send a dozen. In return, that local chapter hosts a Village, usually one every three years. Children apply to become delegates, and volunteer leaders are found. CISV has strict rules about participating volunteers to ensure the safety of the children involved. A delegation is then formed, months in advance for the Village, so the children and their Leader will get to know one another and do all the planning and preparing that is necessary for CISV.

Life at CISV Camp

In most summer camps, children are free to play whenever they want to, have no chores and are not required to mingle with everyone. CISV is different from that: everybody has chores3, everybody has to respect everybody else and their cultures and the agenda is to learn as much from the experience as you can while having the most fun possible.

Villages are run according to tight schedules so everything will get done. A daily schedule will include some ten Activities, which span the day. They will be, for instance: Delegation of the Day, Mealtimes, Flag Times, Delegation Time, Free Time, Activities 1, 2, and 3, Lullabies, National Night and many more.

  • Delegation of the Day is in charge of waking everyone up in the morning, setting tables for meals, and helping to clean up after them.

  • At mealtimes the children will never sit together with their delegation and there will be an adult at every table, unless there is something special going on.

  • Flag Times are twice a day. Everybody gathers together (outside if possible) where the representing flags have been put up in a circle or an arch, holds hands, says good morning/night in all the languages, and then sings the CISV song.

  • Delegation time is once a day. Then the children and their leader will get together, plan for their National Night and discuss the day's events. Anything that needs to be dealt with gets dealt with, and letters from home are delivered.

  • Activities involve games, arts and crafts, and learning about people. Most games have an ulterior motive, such as getting to know people, teamwork, energising sleepy people4, and most of them try to promote the idea that peace can be brought to this world.

  • After a long and active day, everybody gathers together for Lullabies, sits down, sings and relaxes. It is common for some children to fall asleep, and thus need to be carried to their beds. Homesickness is usually not an issue in CISV, since every care is taken to choose a well-rounded delegation and that delegation then spends a lot of time together beforehand, getting to know one another and the leader; if there are any cases of homesickness, Lullabies is usually when it strikes.

  • National Night is a presentation by each delegation, with a little show-and-tell, some native snacks, and some fun and games. All delegations must do this, and they often plan it months in advance. The children are the stars of the night, with the whole of the Village cheering and clapping like crazy.

Since 1951, there have been some 4136 activities all over the world, with 155,881 participants5.

The Experience

In 2001, there was a very special Village held in Cincinnati, Ohio, close to Glendale, the site of the first village. It was the 50th anniversary Village, and also Doris's 100th birthday, which she celebrated in Washington DC. That Village was named Where the Dream Began, and it revisited the start, the CISV spirit and where to head for the future. Present for some of the activities was one of the children from that first village, now all grown up.

In this Researchers experience going to a Village was very exciting, fun, sad6, and enriching to be able to participate in CISV. If you are ever afforded the opportunity to do so, think carefully about it, and then go right ahead.

1Sending your child to a Village is quite expensive, but if you can afford to pay for the extra person required to deal with a disabled child there are no restrictions on special needs kids in CISV.2Home stay families meet delegations when they arrive in the host country and keep them company for a few days before Village begins.3Since everything is paid for by donations, Villages are run on a tight budget, which does not allow for cleaning staff.4Energisers are extremely important. They get rid of excess energy so the children can focus on the task at hand, and they wake the leaders up. It has been this Researcher's experience that you do not get much sleep in a Village.5At the time when this is written, these numbers are accurate.6It is quite sad to make all these wonderful friends, and then have to leave them.

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