Educated and inspired by CISV, our alumni have gone to educate and inspire others in their professional and volunteer lives. We will highlight some of them here. If you, or someone you know, have gone on to make a positive difference, please let us know and we will feature them.
David Wertheimer is the Director of Community & Civic Engagement at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. He lives in Seattle with his husband of 25 years, and sends greetings to anyone who may read this posting who was at the Rosersberg Camp in 1967.
Recollections and Impacts of a CISV Summer
By David Wertheimer
It’s been 51 years, but I can still sing all three verses of the CISV song that accompanied the raising of the camp flag every morning. I can still tease my peers in Polish, and I can still dance the Tinikling.
It was 1967, and I had the great fortune to be selected as one of the four U.S.A. representatives to the CISV camp in Rosersberg, outside of Stockholm, Sweden. (I still have the letter that told me the good news, signed by the Chair of the New York City Selection Committee, an up-and-coming young attorney named Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who is now one of the anchor members of the United States Supreme Court).
It was a spectacular summer. As delegates of 11-year-olds from 11 different countries, we spent a month together playing, singing, swimming, sharing stories and learning about the lives we all led on five different continents. As I recall, the hope was that through building friendships across the planet, the risks that came with the Cold War era would be greatly reduced as more open-minded kids grew into adults with an appreciation of different nations and cultures. I am still in touch with several of my friends from camp, and we still share stories from our time together.
In retrospect, my CISV experience was part of the critical foundation upon which I built my subsequent life. I came away from my CISV summer with a deep appreciation of both how different – and how alike – my new friends were, and the fundamental interconnectedness we share as a species. My CISV experience helped to shape who I became as a man, and what I believed about the infinite worth of others, regardless of their nationality, culture, or station in life.
Perhaps it is no accident that I ended up working at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. As an organization, we are founded on two very basic principles: That all lives have equal value, and that everyone – regardless of the circumstances of their birth – should have the opportunity to lead a healthy and productive life. Those concepts could, very easily, also describe what CISV inspired to convey to me as a kid spending the summer with other kids with whom I may not have shared a language, but with whom I shared the joys of being a child old enough to be encouraged to learn more about our commonalities, building friendships that span the globe.
So, I guess it’s not surprising that I think often of my CISV days. And it’s also not surprising that the world has – despite occasional fits and starts – become a far better place than it was in 1967. There are fewer nations at war, more children immunized against the most deadly diseases, and half the number of people living in extreme poverty on less than $2 a day.
Perhaps CISV has been a small part of the progress being made to forge a world that is a better place for children – and the adults we become – everywhere. That’s hard work, and it embodies everything CISV seeks to inspire in all of us.
Sachi Feris first participated in CISV as a member of the New York Chapter of CISV USA and was elected as the Executive Youth Trustee of CISV USA. Her work since leaving CISV has inspired direct action for a more just and peaceful world. With her efforts on social justice education for young children, Sachi’s educational focus has much in common with CISV’s founding principles. In Sachi’s words:
I wrote my college application essay about CISV. I wrote about how CISV made me see the world differently, akin to the first time I put on glasses. Having been nearsighted for a couple of years, I suddenly realized that I could see each individual leaf on a tree, not just a blur of leaves.
Among other things, CISV made me realize that there was never a need for me to travel across an ocean to meet children who were ‘different’ from me. I grew up in New York City, one of the most diverse, and most segregated, cities in the United States. This realization inspired me to pilot a project called Border Crossers which later became a nonprofit, to bring young people together across segregated neighborhoods in New York City. This program empowered students to talk openly about themes of race and discrimination, and take collective action towards racial justice. As an educator, I have spent my career developing social justice curriculums for our youngest children–and designing professional development to support teachers who teach such curriculum.
After becoming a parent, my own ‘experiential education’ produced another revelation. As a parent, I didn’t have a curriculum to spark questions around race and racial justice, but rather a daily choice to continue the legacy of ‘colorblind’ which is how I was raised (and is typical of how many White children are still raised in the United States) – or make a different choice. As a White person who is committed to fighting for racial justice, I decided to be ‘race conscious’ with my children. Supported by research that widely shows explicit conversation about race to improve children’s about people of different racial backgrounds from their own, I ‘notice’ race proactively with my children. “This little girl has pale skin that we call White, like us. This little boy has brown skin and he might identify as Black.”
These race conscious parenting conversations led me to start a blog called Raising Race Conscious Children, The blog later became a business partnership that offers workshops to parents and teachers about how to talk about race with young children.