My Philly CISV USA parent experience
Our daughters have traveled places like Quito, Vancouver, Voss, Paris, and São Paulo. They’ve developed friendships with youth their age from all over the world. Jessica is advocating for a family vacation in Hungary. Kate introduced us to her friend’s family in Copenhagen while we were there for a layover.
It’s because of CISV (Childrens International Summer Village)
Our family is active in the Philadelphia Chapter of an international non-profit called CISV. It’s a program where youth and their families come together from countries around the world to develop friendships, learn about each other’s cultures, and discuss and solve problems.
But what’s it like being a CISV parent?
I recently volunteered at an Interchange Minicamp in Northeastern Pennsylvania along the head waters of the Lehigh River. I was there with Bill and Ellen Reaume, two other CISV parents. Bill taught me about bird watching. Ellen came up with a brilliant idea for a parent T-shirt that would combine words that describe the CISV experience into a graphic.
As the kids did their thing at minicamp, we adult chaperones listened to Bill’s old eclectic band, the Twitchen Vibes. Later, Ellen pulled out her ukulele and let one of the girls from Brazil play. What I’m trying to say is – CISV parents all have their strengths and histories.
Village was my family’s first experience with CISV
Our kids got involved in CISV as 10 year olds. Jessica took her first trip to Quito, Ecuador as part of the Village program when she was eleven. Then Kate went to Vancouver for Village. A Village program consists of youth/leader delegations from about 10-12 countries. Village is staffed with counselors and junior counselors who have participated in CISV in the past.
A village program is self-contained and often hosted at a school in the host country. The focus is developing friendships with other 11 year olds and learning about their cultures. There are two weekends where the kids stay with host families, and this provides some access to the local culture and place.
While kids are at village, the leaders, and maybe the host families, will periodically send photos. CISV’s policy for youth to not bring mobile electronic devices creates a phone-free environment for a month that they don’t have here at home.
Year round activities
Philadelphia Junior Branch (JB) activities are led by youth with guidance from an adult leader. JB activities include coordinating programs, promoting CISV in schools, fundraisers, sleepovers, community service events, dinners, and more. The monthly meetings take place at churches, community meeting rooms, and homes.
While youth organize the JB activities, parents focus on things like safety, forms, applications, program locations. CISV requires accountability from each volunteer chapter. And the chapter expects a lot from its participants to make things work.
Participants come from a region that includes an area spanning from King of Prussia to Princeton, Doylestown to South Philadelphia. Many families in Jenkintown are involved. Families come from diverse home environments even within the region.
An amazing investment
For about the cost of a month of a sleep-away camp, our kids gained a global perspective. Our daughter Jessica also goes to Camp Tockwogh, a YMCA camp in Maryland. Jessica loves sailing at Tockwogh, but the experiences are completely different.
The cost for Village includes airfare. The trip to village is a big deal for the kids. Going shopping where everything’s in a different language or standing on the Equator is really cool for the kids. And eleven years old is the perfect age to go away and meet kids from different international cultures. It’s an environment of inclusiveness and diversity (though not so much economic diversity) where kids want to meet each other.
You are only eleven years old once!
International friendships create purpose for our kids
Locally, kids put a lot of time into making CISV work. Jessica, for example, is taking charge of social media for the Chapter’s Junior Branch program. There tends to be some correlation between the time that parents put in and the amount that their kids participate (both within the chapter and internationally).
Global experiences add perspective to local non-CISV activities. Jessica and Kate participate in the Philadelphia Region World Affairs program through Jenkintown Schools. And Jessica has taken an interest in social issues closer to home through her participation in National History Day. As a parent, I want to support our daughters as they look problems local and global problems.
Parent involvement creates opportunities
CISV causes parents to give their best. Everyone has busy work schedules, and sometimes it can seem like there’s a lot to do. But CISV parents try to document their activities so that responsibilities can be shared.
Interchange, for 12 and 13 year-olds and their families
This is an amazing exchange program. Jessica partnered with a girl from France. Kate partnered with a girl from Brazil. The kids do a lot of planning. They are lead by leaders who receive training from CISV National. They create T-shirts, photo calendars, plan a dinner, etc.
While kids are here from other countries, at least one parent needs some flexibility away from work. We get to know the other families involved as we spend time together.
Parents plan and prepare for a welcome party, beach day, minicamp, farewell party, family weekend, community service event, Philadelphia day, spending money and gifts for kids and leaders. A program coordinator selects the leader and makes sure the parents are on track.
Parents from both countries get on facebook groups together, share photos of the activities and learn about each other.
Step Up Program
Step Up is for 14 year olds. It is a bit like Village, but the participants take more responsibility for programming. At this point, the kids (a.k.a. delegates) have generally done one or two programs, know each other from local CISV activities, and have a bond.
Parents have time to hang out together at airports. We all know each other pretty well through our involvement in the chapter. It’s fun. Even the leader’s family showed up when the delegation came back from Norway.
Hosting youth from other countries
Even as we hosted Manuela from São Paulo, we hosted Joyce and Bella from Guangdong, China. This was a great weekend for all of us. We did Philly things, like running the Art Museum Steps, going to Reading Terminal, and taking the girls shopping at Target.
Coming full circle
As I write this in late July, Philadelphia programs are wrapping up for the summer. Parents anticipate the return of their kids to return from Asia or Europe or South America. How will their kids have grown through this experience?
Sandi has helped with medical forms. I’ve made many trips to airports. And when I get photos, I’ll start work on the philly.cisvusa.org website for the 2018-2019 year. My neighbor, Sabine, will serve as the Chapter President. Others will focus on very important roles that include hosting a global Village of 40-50 eleven year olds. Everyone will pitch in somehow.
It’s all worth it. I’ve developed friendships with other parents. I’ve enjoyed learning about kids. CISV has been a great experience for our entire family.
I’ve tried to share some of my perspectives. If you are interested in getting involved in the philly.cisvusa.org chapter yourself, let me know.