The Penobscot Times
The Leonard Middle School in Old Town is playing host to 40 11-year-old delegates from 10 countries this summer as the Children’s International Summer Village kicks off. This year marks the seventh multi-national village in Maine and the third in Old Town since 1987.
Delegates from Brazil, Canada, El Salvador, Finland, France, Germany, Guatemala, Norway, Sweden and the United States are participating this year. The program is designed to encourage cultural exchange and global understanding among youth. Valerie Maurais, the village director, is in her fifth year of participating in the program. She said one of the biggest things youngsters take away from being at the village is an understanding of how each other’s cultures are the same.
“They have an opportunity to realize there’s so many different kids from different countries that are so much like them,” she said. “There are more similarities then there are differences.”
Junior counselors are also on site from Finland, Israel, Sweden, Mississippi and Ohio. These teenagers help adult leaders plan and facilitate daily activities and games like sports, arts and crafts, drama, music and other peace-oriented activities.
Itamar Shafran, 16, a junior counselor from Israel, said he is enjoying his first experience with CISV. Besides learning how to order a large beer in another language, something he said he hopes will come in handy some day, Shafran said he’s learning the importance of peace and a balance between working hard and having fun.
Other activities the delegates participate in is a National Night, where delegations take turns performing skits, songs and dances from their native countries and serve snacks of native cuisine.
Vera Rodsjo, a 26-year-old leader from Norway, said the best part for the children in her delegation has been a chance to make friends from other countries, despite the language barriers. She also thought that the 11-year-old age of the participants is appropriate because of the youthful naivete that goes along with that age, regarding changes and acceptance.
“They’re young, but still old enough to understand peace,” she said.
Garry Banning, a village leader from Atlanta, said the villages promote maturity among the youth involved with a better appreciation of what they have.
“They’re learning cultural understanding which just naturally translates into a more mature understanding of the world,” he said.
He also agreed that 11 was a good age to expose the participants to their international peers because prejudices and biases haven’t developed among the youth.
“They’re at an age where they’re just forming those opinions,” Banning said. “[CISV] gives them a chance to find out about people before they make judgements based on hear-say.”