Where the Future Lies

The History of CISV International

A little boy asked his mother. “Will there be another war?”. It was 1945, World War II has just ended. The little boy was Rusty Allen and the mother was Dr. Doris Twitchell Allen, an American child psychologist.
The Burning question triggered in Doris a Eureka! moment. Much of the world, now wasted by war, was in search of lasting peace, and the idea of people living in harmony was reinforced when Doris stumbled upon a proposal for the creation of a UNESCO peace education institute for postgraduates. Doris readily embraced the proposal, though with a major modification. Being a specialist in children’s growth and development, she was skeptical about putting focus for peace education in the field of adult learning. Quite the opposite, she believed that “the ultimate source for peace, long range, lay with the children”. In 1946, she conceived Children’s International Summer Villages (CISV). And the rest as the saying goes, is history.
From Doris’ conviction sprung her vision of bringing together children from all over the globe to learn to accept each other, to share the values they have in common while respecting those that differ from their own. This vision was realised in 1951, when delegates from eight countries gathered in Cincinnati, Ohio, for the first CISV Village. Since then the organisation has grown enormously. Today, CISV counts more than 60 member countries and more than 190,000 participants in more than 5,000 international activities. CISV currently holds participatory status with the INGO (International Nongovernment Organisations) Conference of the Council of Europe and has once again been approved as a sub-organisation under UNESCO.
Doris died in 2002. Although she failed to win the Nobel Peace Prize (she was nominated by UNESCO in 1979 but lost out to a worthy opponent, Mother Teresa), her lifetime’s work to achieve world peace through cross-cultural understanding continues to gain legions of followers around the world.
CISV is made up of national Associations, which in many countries are in turn made up of Chapters. There are also Junior Branches in every CISV National Association, thus this membership tier forms an international network. Junior Branches are self-governing groups that organise educational activities and support Peace Education campaigns and events throughout the year.
CISV’s centrepiece program is the camp-based Village. A Village is made up of 10 to 12 delegations from various countries; a delegation consists of four 11-year-old children (two boys and two girls) and their Adult Leader. A director and her assistants, including junior counselors, complete the Village population. The Villagers live together for nearly a month.
Why 11-year-olds? Eleven based on Doris’ study, is the ideal age for the programme. At 11, children have not shed their sense of wonder but are old enough to absorb new ideas. If at this age they are exposed to the fact that the differences that set people apart are less important than the likenesses that bind them, there is a good chance that they would carry this notion to adulthood. In a CISV Village the abstract lessons of peace and understanding are gently taught- through play, song, dance, arts and crafts, excursions, and other activities that excite the child’s imagination. It is amazing to see children who do not speak a common language talking to each other and forming friendships that last years and years.
Other CISV programmes include Seminar Camp, Family-based Interchange, Youth Meeting, Step Up Camp, International People’s Project, and Community-based Mosaic. Seminar Camp first held in 1959, is for 17-18-year-olds of different nationalities and lasts 21 days. It is forum for exchanging ideas, a powerful tool for global learning. The activity os coordinated by the participants themselves. Based on their respective backgrounds and interests, they develop the agenda and global issues to be discussed and determine the activities best suited for exploring these. The campers live together, an arrangement that deepens their spirit of collaboration and creates a congenial atmosphere for problem-solving.
Family-based Interchange is for 12-15-year-olds with a program period of 14 to 28 days. Introduced in 1962, it believes that our awareness of culture begins at home. This program promotes the aspects of Peace Education by placing participants with families of the hosting CISV chapter. It involves two countries and has two phases, thus allowing each country to be both visitor and host. Besides being a profound experience for teen participants, it also engages the entire family and often the broader community in the learning experience.
Youth Meeting began in 1969 with pre-teens (12-year-olds) and young adults (up to 19 years old) getting together for 8 or 15 days. Then as now, it is held within a region and therefore, unlike other CISV programmes, involves lesser number of participants explore the aspects of Peace Education related to a specific theme and share their perspectives. They are encouraged to later apply what they learned within their respective communities.
Step Up Camp, first held in 1985, is where teens aged 14 or 15 are encouraged to take a leading role in planning and organising activities revolving around identity, democracy, protection of environment and other tenets of CISV Peace Education. For 21 days, participants, along with leaders tackle these issues with an eye on how they are regarded in different countries and cultures. As importantly, they make friends and gain a wider appreciation of global diversity.
Started in 1997, Internation People’s Project caters to young people from 19 and above. The programme’s rallying cry – “Go out, find out, help out” – is focused on identifying needs within a community. In partnership with a local organisation, usually an NGO, related to specific theme, say environmental degradation or immigration, contributing in the process their knowledge of the task at hand and cultural context within which the task may be done.
Community-based Mosaic, began in 2006m is open to all ages and varying in lengths of the program period. Adhering to the idea that local communities are reflections of the wider world, Mosaic offers CISV Chapters a model for community-based Peace Education. Each project responds to a local need and interests in meaningful ways. Most projects are planned and delivered in cooperation with partner organisations and come in many shapes and sizes. The programme’s projects create real life learning experience for local participants of all ages and deliver a benefit to the wider community.

(This article was first published in the 50th Anniversary Book of CISV Philippines)