HOLDEN, Maine — The 11-year-olds who recently arrived in Maine for the Children’s International Summer Village are from across the globe and are all different, but the same.
“It doesn’t matter where they’re from — they’re just like us,” said Valerie Maurais of Old Town, director of the summer village, a program started in 1951 by Old Town native Doris Twitchell Allen.
A monthlong international children’s village, designed to teach young people from around the world that peace is a better alternative to war, is sponsored every four years by the Maine Chapter of Children’s International Summer Village. This year’s village is dubbed, “Artists of the World: Creating a MasterPeace.”
“The kids learn to live together and they experience each other’s cultural diversity,” Maurais said. “By the end, they become a family. They have made some lifelong friends. And they take what they learned and apply what they’ve learned” when they go home.
More than 60 similar villages are held throughout the world each year. The village program features educational, cultural and sports activities that emphasize cooperation, social justice, nonviolent conflict resolution and sustainable development. The Maine group will go to Acadia National Park and a Portland Sea Dog’s baseball game during their time in Vacationland.
“They really get to see Maine,” Penny Lamhut, co-village planner, said Sunday.
The youngsters are encouraged to become active global citizens and agents of change who work toward a more just and peaceful world, she said.
“It’s a life-changing experience,” said Lamhut, who also is a parent of two former participants. “Their eyes just open up. It’s so wonderful to see their growth when they come back.”
Maurais’ son, who is now 32, went to a village in Ohio two decades ago and did a seminar in Brazil and returned a better person.
The change “was significant,” she said, adding he still recalls the experience with fondness and even has pictures of his adventures on the walls of his home.
More than 1,000 Maine students have gone through the program.
Children’s International Summer Village is an independent, nonprofit, nonpolitical, volunteer organization that offers children, youths and adults the opportunity to make new friends worldwide and learn about different cultures.
The program started after World War II when Allen was a University of Cincinnati psychologist and decided to found an international organization to bring children together in fellowship. The first Peace Village was held in 1951 in Cincinnati. The program has grown significantly since and includes a number of local events, including minicamps, a Passport to the World program, Spanish immersion camps and a community-service project called Plant to Plate.
“There is a community garden in Orono and once a month we get together and cook food with the vegetables and donate it to the homeless shelter,” Lamhut said.
A camp in Holden will host the 48 young visitors who come from 11 other countries. This is the ninth multinational village hosted by the Maine chapter since 1987 and this year’s delegates are from Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Guatemala, Italy, Norway, Sweden and other parts the U.S. There also are six Children’s International Summer Village junior counselors, all 16- or 17-year-olds, from Brazil, France, Germany, Norway and the U.S.
The public is invited to visit the village on July 13, where delegates will dress in their native costumes and give a short performance. The program starts at 2 p.m. and those interested in attending should call Penny Lamhut at 951-0538.
“I think this is just a great program to expose kids to other cultures,” Lamhut said. “It’s a great cultural exchange.”