My CISV Experience

 

Before I could say “hello” or ask what was wrong, the girls teared up and said they had a confession. They had picked the lock to the female leaders’ room — which was off limits – stolen a full jar of Nutella, and had eaten the entire thing. They wanted me to hear the confession directly from them. These girls were learning to be responsible adults as they learned the true meaning of respect, honesty and integrity.

From late December 1999 to January 2000, I traveled to Salvadore, Brazil with six 14-year-olds representing the US to converge with groups from five other countries – Brazil, Argentina, Germany, Chile, and Costa Rica. That month, and the year I spent preparing “my kids” for the trip, will remain one of the most memorable times of my life.

Children’s International Summer Villages, or CISV, is an international organization with programs in over 65 countries serving more than 250,000 people. It promotes “building global friendship” and achieves this end by engaging children as young as 11. The most popular component of

Children’s International Summer Villages

is the “Summer Villages”. The camps take place throughout the year and around the globe. The children are immersed in developing leadership skills, learning about different cultures and developing meaningful, lasting relationships. The premise is to build true lasting friendships among young children from a vast array of cultures. As these children mature and have the opportunity to vote, gain an interest in lobbying, and/or move into positions of political influence, they will remember their friends in other countries from their CISV experience. So, before they make concrete decisions, they will stop and consider the impact their actions will have on the individuals that have come to mean so much to them.

My girls chose their own consequences – they paid for the consumed contraband and made the German leader a special meal as a sign of remorse. I had the pleasure of watching one of my girls develop her first “romantic” relationship with one of the boys from Costa Rica. Initially nervous about his advances because she wasn’t familiar which his culture, she struggled to understand him, gradually warming up to him. She learned Spanish. She listened to Costa Rican pop music on her CD player and, by the time our trip was over, she danced as well as the Costa Rican kids. To see her confidence grow, and to continue hearing about her pen pal relationship months after our return to the United States was a testament to the entire program.

I got started after hearing the story behind how and why CISV began. The organization was founded by a remarkable child psychologist, Doris Allen. Legend has it that the idea came to her shortly after the end of World War II as she was sitting on a park bench talking to her young son. Her son innocently asked her, “Mommy, will I ever have fight in a war?” Not wanting to answer yes to this question, she became inspired to find a solution so that she could always answer “no” to that daunting question. From there, CISV was born in 1951.

Over sixty years later CISV is still going strong. As our time came to an end I consoled and hugged my girls as I said goodbye to them. For me, CISV was a special gift. As I watched my girls walk away from me I realized the gift they gave me. They had reminded me how important it was to allow myself to be vulnerable. I am reminded of that today whenever I’m faced with leading a group of vastly different individuals. I picture my girls, take a deep breath and open up. Somehow, that invites others around me to do the same, igniting a proclivity toward understanding and respecting the diverse views on the team. I had expected to teach those girls on my CISV expedition, but I think I benefited more from them.

To learn more about CISV

Edwina Brandon was born Texas and has been moving around the world ever since, finally settling in the greater Los Angeles area in 2009. Raised an army brat, Ms. Brandon was afforded the luxury of visiting many unique domestic and European destinations as a youth and the vagabond spirit has remained an integral part of her, as has a love for the cultures and cuisines of the world. She has lived in 17 locations around the world and vacationed in over 40 states and more than 20 countries. Ms. Brandon is self-proclaimed “foodie” and has a passion for cooking – experimenting in the kitchen is a daily commitment and exploring restaurants of all kinds is a regular hobby. An idealist, Ms. Brandon is committed to creating peace in this world by increasing the understanding of and appreciation for the diverse cultures around the universe. In The Know Traveler provides a perfect platform for achieving this goal. She is excited about contributing to ITKT’s efforts and making a difference one day at a time.