Summer Villages

One evening each week now my friend and neighbor Nancy and I get together, either at her apartment or mine, to share a glass of wine, as well as our news, thoughts, concerns, and life experiences.

Nancy and I have discovered we’ve got a lot in common: We’re about the same age, both of us have been divorced for many years, we’ve both served in the Peace Corps, both of us have been teachers, and we both love books – and life here in San Miguel.

Nancy Anchors at home in San Miguel de Allende

Yet each week we discover something new about the other, and we learn from each other in turn. This week, for example, I learned from Nancy about an international nonprofit organization I’d never heard of, which she and her sons were involved in when her two boys were young.

At that time, it was known as Children’s International Summer Villages (now named CISV International), a unique program originally designed for eleven-year-olds. Founded in the wake of World War II by American child psychologist Doris Twitchell Allen, its aim was – and still is — to educate and inspire young people from around the globe toward a more just and peaceful world.

The CISV logo

Dr. Allen felt that eleven was the perfect age for such a summer program because a child that age has not yet formed prejudices but is mature enough to attend a month-long camp away from home.

For her work Dr. Allen was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, but that year the prize went to Mother Teresa. Dr. Allen died in 2002 at the age of 101, having lived her motto: “The power of love is stronger than the love of power.”

Today, Dr. Allen’s legacy, CISV, operates international educational programs for young people (eleven years old and up) each year, bringing together participants from about seventy member countries, with over two hundred chapters or local groups. The programs are not about international travel, but rather about children meeting peers from other countries and cultures and everyone learning from each other.

As the CISV website states, “We help our young participants develop to their full potential as future leaders and active citizens, to make a difference in their communities and the world. We also give them the opportunity to build global friendships and networks that will last them a lifetime.”

How is it possible, I asked myself as Nancy spoke about her experience with the program, I’ve never heard of it? Am I the only one? Would others, such as my WOW readers, like to learn more about it too?

Nancy’s involvement with CISV began in 1987, when her elder son Josh was eleven. A teacher at Josh’s school in Old Town, Maine, suggested that he take part. At first Nancy was hesitant. The location for that year’s Summer Village was Denmark. Could Nancy send her son that far away on his own?

Eventually, Nancy was persuaded, and she’s never regretted it. Both of her sons ultimately participated in CISV programs overseas, and Nancy herself became a team leader, taking groups of students to Mexico and Guatemala in the 1990s.

Nancy as a CISV team leader in Mexico in June 1997

When I asked Nancy for an example of the sorts of things the young kids would do, she described one afternoon’s activities:

Breaking into small groups of kids from various countries, each group’s task was to create their ideal country – complete with representative flag, descriptive map, rousing anthem, and traditional dances. Then a spokesperson for that group would “present” their country to the entire gathering of more than fifty kids.

“They were SO proud!” Nancy told me. “They learned that community building takes time and hard work, but it’s worth it.”

We all know by now the African adage, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Now I know, too, how CISV’s Summer Villages can play a role in raising children who are globally aware, children who will more likely grow into adults who will work toward world peace – needed now more than ever. To participate, donate, or learn much more about their worthy programs, go to  .