Sunday, July 15, 2001

Cultures interweave for children

By Emily Biuso
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        When 70 11-year-olds from 15 nations arrived at the camp-like setting of Cincinnati's Children's International Summer Village last month, everyone clustered with people who looked and talked like them.

        But after living together for several weeks, the Norwegians were mingling with the Guatemalans, the Indonesians were mixing with Canadians.

[photo] Thordis Thordardottir, 12, from Iceland, samples some traditional Norwegian potato bread, called Lefse.
(Brandi Stafford photos)
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        It became a kind of Rubik's Cube of cultures, said Mary Brophy, director of the village: “You don't know anymore who came from where.”

        And that's the point.

        For five decades, the Cincinnati-based volunteer program has brought more than 150,000 children from more than 100 countries together for a month, to promote international understanding. The volunteer organization, which started as a summer camp in Glendale in 1951, expanded into an international peace movement.

        Doris Twitchell Allen, a University of Cincinnati psychologist, founded the village in 1950 on the belief that world peace begins with children, because they are young enough to accept others without prejudice.

        Dozens of Cincinnati children set off this summer to countries such as Germany, Iceland, and France for four weeks of getting to know children from the other side of the globe.

        Cincinnati villagers pay around $1,800 each, which mostly goes toward travel. All other costs are covered by fund-raising.

[photo] Swedish youngsters Tove From, 11, and Kristoffer Olsson, 11, perform a Swedish dance at the Children's International Summer Village.
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        A major component of the village experience is learning to communicate with others who don't speak your language. Villagers communicate non-verbally through hand motions as well as games designed by the village's leaders.

        Children at the Cincinnati village said they're picking up other languages while teaching villagers their own.

        “It's fun to teach them Swedish,” said Linnea Ivarsson, an 11-year-old villager from Umea, Sweden. “It's funny to hear them say it.”

        Her leader, Patrik Hellstroem, also from Umea, remembers struggling to pick up English, in which he is now fluent. After 18 years of involvement, he knows that the wider goal of village is more than language sharing.

        “We're trying to form a community,“ he said. For the four children he has brought 4,000 miles from home, he hopes to gain “a new look of the world to overcome some stereotypes — because we all have them.”

    • What: More than 200 delegates from three Ohio Children's International Summer Villages, including Cincinnati's, will sing and dance for the public.
    • When: Noon to 1 p.m. Tuesday.     • Where: Fountain Square.
    • What: Cincinnati villagers will perform at the Glendale Street Fair.
    • When: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday.
    • Where: Glendale Square, Glendale.
    • Information: (513) 771-7200.
    • How to join: Call Susan Anthony at (513) 561-5537.
        The group, which has programs for children age 11-18, counts U.S. Rep. Rob Portman (R-Terrace Park) among its alumni. Mr. Portman participated in village interchange to Sweden in 1969, when he was a 7th grader. Some organizers and participants say the experience was a life-changing event for them. Many remain involved for years.

        Ms. Brophy, a first- and second-grade teacher at Shawnee Elementary School in the Lakota School District, integrated lessons of cultural appreciation into her daily teaching.

        Susan Anthony, president-elect and chair of the Cincinnati village's planning committee, said it “gets in your blood.”

        The Columbia Township woman's devotion to CISV led her two daughters, Lara, 18, and Liz, 16, to get involved.

        Lara, a sophomore at Duke University, said that her CISV trips to England and Thailand impacted her career choice — she may enter the Peace Corps or work for an international non-profit agency.

        “You have this whole different perspective,” she said. Returning to her daily life after attending villages has been difficult, she said. “Here I am, thrown back into life as usual, and I'm so different.”


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