Youth offered the chance of a lifetime through international program

 TRAVELING ABROAD. Ottawa west teen Johan Westeinde recently went to Forli, Italy as part of the Children’s International Summer Villages program. Kristy Wallace/ Ottawa This Week

For 14 year-old Johan Westeinde, the best part of going to Italy was the food – as well as going to the beach often and eating gelato everyday.

The west-end teen had a chance to live on a lavender farm in Flori, Italy this past summer as part of the Children’s International Summer Villages program.

“It’s a really great experience,” said Johan. “If you can try it out, you probably will like it.”


The Children’s International Summer Villages, or CISV, gives children the opportunity to visit a different country and take part in a wide range of unique and educational group activities. These activities help develop a cross-cultural understanding in children, youth and adults all around the world.

The program offers a variety of ways for youth to get involved, including the Interchanges program for 12 to 15 year-olds, the Summer Camps for 13 to 15 year-olds, Seminar Camps for 17 to 18 year-olds and Mosaic programs for all ages.

Johan was involved in the Interchanges program where a teen his age from Italy stayed at his house in Ottawa while Johan took his place on the farm in Italy for a month.

The idea for the program started in 1946 when clinical psychologist Dr. Doris Twitchell Allen’s young son asked his mother if he would have to be a soldier when he grew up. A specialist in development and psychodrama, she thought up the idea of children from different countries living together in camp-like villages for a month. The first village was set up for 11 year-olds in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1951.

Allen believed that the pre-adolescent stage in a person’s life had a huge impact on what kind of people they would become. The theory is if children from all parts of the world have the chance to live together, they would develop cross-cultural friendships and would become more aware that everyone belongs to the same human family – helping create peace in the world.

While Johan admits that he missed his dog, he said the experience was a memorable one and it has taught him how similar cultural groups can be.

“He was having way too much fun to miss us,” laughed his mom, Colleen.

Chris McKillop from the organization, said CISV has been going strong for the past 50 years.

He adds that safety isn’t a concern since there are group leaders, teachers and young adults who work with the teens and run the events and activities.

Interviews are also conducted with all the youth who apply.

“What seems to work best are kids who are reasonably bright, kids who are open to a new adventure, but there’s no standard kid,” he said. “We’re also looking for ones who are interested in something new and something different.”

While parents pay for their child’s flight, he said the organization tries to keep costs low through fundraising.

CISV Ottawa will be holding an information night on Friday, Dec. 3 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Sandy Hill Community Centre. Parents and youth will be able to find out more about the CISV and its programs for 2011.

“They come out of it with such an experience of what the world out there,” said McKillop. “People talk about how it’s a small world and people need to be part of a global village. This is that first step of being part of a global village.”