Sunday, May 27, 2018
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'Villagers' make friends across international boundaries


Lukas Westphal, 11, of Germany, sporting an 'I Love NY' T-shirt, and Haley Donley, 11, of Troy, Ohio, interact with others at the Children's International Summer Village in Findlay, which is bringing together children from 11 countries.

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FINDLAY - The silver peace sign hanging from 11-year-old Haley Donley's necklace was engraved with the word "best."

Around Antonia Garrn's neck was the same necklace engraved with the word "friend."

The girls - Haley from Troy, Ohio, Antonia from Hamburg, Germany - met at Findlay's Donnell Middle School, where they and 42 other 11-year-olds from 11 countries are spending four weeks creating a Children's International Summer Village and learning that friendship doesn't stop at the border.

"I haven't gotten homesick once because I love it here," Haley said. "The other girl in my delegation got really homesick, but then she got a lot of letters from home and she felt better."

In addition to the United States and Germany, the students come from Brazil, Canada, Colombia, El Salvador, Finland, India, Indonesia, Norway, and Slovakia. They speak a half-dozen languages but learn quickly to communicate through hand motions and broken English.

Curly-haired Lukas Westphal of Hamburg, Germany, was enjoying his first look at the United States. He speaks excellent English - learned, he said, from his mother, who is an English teacher.

"It was my greatest dream to come here," he said, pointing out friends he's made from America and India. "I like it here."

The village - one of four in the United States and more than 50 worldwide this summer - is intended to teach the youngsters that even though their cultures and languages differ, they are very much the same. It is based on the premise that peace is possible when individuals and groups live together as friends.

While the kids got to spend a day at the mall and at the Cedar Point amusement park, Director Bill Burton said CISV is not billed as a travel or tourism camp. The majority of the four weeks is spent at the makeshift village without televisions or telephones or Gameboys. Classrooms have been turned into dormitories with mattresses lined up on the floors.

The children take part in activities intended to help them appreciate their differences and break down stereotypes. They don't delve into politics and current events, but explore topics as they come up.

"It's a beginning," Mr. Burton said. "I think changing attitudes is probably the first step."

Shelly Maroney, vice-president of the Ada-Findlay-Lima chapter that is sponsoring the village, said that shortly after her daughter returned from a CISV camp, there was an earthquake in Turkey. Normally, she might not have noticed, but she

had made friends from Turkey at the camp and was soon scrambling for a map to see whether the earthquake had occurred near their homes.

"It definitely opens their eyes. It makes the world a lot smaller to them," Mrs. Maroney said.

Her mother-in-law, Joyce Maroney, who has been involved with CISV since 1970, said 11-year-olds are at a perfect age to appreciate the peace education program.

They haven't developed prejudices. They're unbiased, able to leave home, open to sharing their cultures and making friends, "and hopefully as they grow older, our world will become friends all over," she said.

This is the 14th village the Ada-Findlay-Lima chapter has sponsored since 1975, although it sends at least one delegation to a CISV camp every year.

The chapter raised about $23,000 in cash and in-kind donations to sponsor the camp.

Yesterday, the boys and girls looked like they could have been in the same sixth-grade class.

Mr. Burton said each country's delegation is more distinct when they arrive, but before long the kids are trading clothes and it's hard to tell one from the next.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at:

or 419-353-5972.

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