Courtesy of Mark Messer, George Stevens Academy Communications Director
BLUE HILL — Duncan Howell, a George Stevens Academy junior from Blue Hill, learned more than he had expected to this summer as a junior counselor at an international peace camp in Medellín, Colombia.
Howell was a counselor at CISV International, formerly known as Children’s International Summer Villages.
Howell’s summer camp was made up of 12 delegations of 11-year-old “villagers” from Guatemala, Brazil, Colombia, the United States, Canada, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Germany, Italy, Indonesia and Portugal.
The purpose of the camp, said Howell, was to help kids from different countries learn about each other and think not just about their own countries, but about the peoples of the world.
To accomplish this, delegation leaders guided campers through educational activities at a local school where the camp was held. In an activity designed to develop empathy, Howell said leaders put on the back of each villager a label that said something like “smells bad” or “rich.” Participants walked around and reacted to each other based on those labels without revealing what the labels said. The most important part of each activity, said Howell, was when participants reflected on the experience, generalized from it, and talked about how to use what they learned outside of the group and camp.
As one of six junior counselors for the entire camp, Howell helped the delegation leaders. Though the activities were aimed at teaching the campers, Howell learned some important lessons about how people differ and how they are alike.
Cultural differences among the villagers were evident in the music, movies and other objects they brought with them.
“People have things that make us unique,” Howell said, “but equally important are the things that make us the same, and there are so many more of these.”
“As humans, we each have personalities,” he said, and though music may differ greatly from country to country, personality types don’t vary as much as he thought they would. He met a number of people who had “the same feel” as people he knows at home despite their dramatically different circumstances and upbringings.
In the near future, Howell plans to apply for another program for next summer, which will be his fourth. CISV also has a “junior branch” in Orono, where he and five or six others create small group educational activities and recruit students for local minicamps. Anyone interested in finding out more about these local opportunities should visit maine.cisvusa.org.
CISV describes itself as a global organization dedicated to educating and inspiring for peace through building inter-cultural friendship, cooperation and understanding. Founded in 1950, CISV is a federation of 69 member associations with over 200 chapters or local groups. In over 60 years the organization has given countless children and young people the experience of their lives and the opportunity to build lasting friendships through international educational programs.