CISV Atlanta Newsletter – Spring 2005
Way back in the 1980’s my sister was an interchange participant with CISV to Sweden. She and my family enjoyed the experience so much, that when my daughter came of CISV age I actively sought out our local chapter for her. Laura, my daughter, was chosen for a village to Denmark in the summer of 2001.
Our experience with CISV began with Fun Days (the name for the selection process in Knoxville, Tennessee). During our parent interview two things were made very clear. First, if our daughter was chosen to participate, the family would be expected to participate in the chapter during her Village year and the following year. Second, and most important, that CISV was NOT a travel program. Of course my husband and I said “yes, we understand,” but only after Laura’s return and working with the chapter did we realize how little we really understood.
To be honest, we, like most parents, jumped on the CISV bandwagon thinking our child would get to “see the world.” However, that was not what happened. Instead, our child got the opportunity to experience the world. She worked, laughed, cried, ate, and slept with people from eleven other countries. She ate their food, listened to their music, learned about their hopes, dreams, and fears, and shared herself with them. She learned what other countries think of America, and what prejudices she held toward others. She learned to look longer and harder at people before judging them, and she learned that her friends from around the world were very much like her. They all dealt with the pressures of growing up, and growing into the person they want to become.
The first few weeks home after Village were quite rough. Understand we only received one letter from her the entire four weeks she was gone –she obviously was having too much fun to think about us, but thankfully the other delegates wrote to their parents more frequently and they kept us up to date with her. Therefore, we were looking forward to some family bonding time. Instead, we were faced with her roller coaster emotions ranging from sobbing over lost friends, lullabies, and the Village ways, to giddy elation over seemingly endless stories of her experiences. We thought she was just being dramatic until the phone rang a few days after she returned and a young Swedish girl, Sussi, was on the other line. As Laura and Sussi chatted for almost an hour, it became apparent to us that CISV was truly more than a travel program. Laura had made friends with people from around the world and now the world was a much smaller place. Needless to say, we spent a fortune on calling cards for the next two years. Thank heavens they all instant message now.
Laura was hooked – and we were impressed. We spent the next year working with our local chapter and coming to know more about CISV’s mission and programs. Sussi came to visit us in the summer. Then we moved to Fayetteville only to discover Atlanta had no CISV chapter. I contacted the only other CISV person I knew in the Atlanta area and gave her our information in case a chapter ever started. For a while, we drove Laura to Knoxville for Junior Branch activities, but eventually we stopped. Laura, thinking her CISV days were over, traveled to Sweden to spend a summer with Sussi. Then one day I received an email from Tait about beginning an Atlanta chapter. We were thrilled! Little did we know that the hard work was just beginning.
Now it is our responsibility to develop the programs and financial support a chapter requires. Before, it was already done – we just walked in and did our little part. Now we are paving the way for those who will follow us. It is hard work, but after spending time with the Junior Branch during selection and sleepovers I can tell you it is worth every moment you put in to it. When you watch young people begin to think about what makes people different or similar and how that affects the way we treat each other, you know you are doing the right thing.