September 2010 Archives

AIM minutes available.

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For everybody (including myself) who complained about the lack of prompt communication of the outcomes of the AIM held in Berlin in August: You can now dive into the minutes, published last week. The 21-page document covers everything from personnel, budget, motions and elections. It's a tough read, if you've never been to an AIM, but points to some interesting developments...that will for sure be covered here at FTB in the near future.

Download the AIM minutes on Resources

Different race and different land...

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cover_2003-12.jpgMany years ago, I stumbled over an issue of the Scientific American with the cover you can see to the right. Curiously, I read through the article (fulltext to subscribers only)  that easily convinced me, that the common concept of race is - excuse me - bullshit:

The color of your skin and all other features of you physiognomy are only slightly related to the rest of your genetic pool. In other words: Because your skin is black doesn't mean, you have all the other genes to become a great basketball player. Also, the variety within one "race" is way bigger than between different "races":

Just a few days ago, I found another article covering the same theme in Intelligent Life, from I which I took the following excerpt, that explains the issue further:

Cavalli-Sforza's "The History and Geography of Human Genes", written with Paolo Menozzi and Alberto Piazza (Princeton University Press, 1994), is still considered the best overview of genetic diversity in humans. Cavalli-Sforza demolished the idea of there being different species of human being. No more Homo afer, asiaticus, europaeus, americanus and monstrous. Race, says Cavalli-Sforza, has hardly any useful biological meaning at all. It is about adaptation. Grain-eaters between the Baltic and Black Sea got pale skin, pale eyes and pale hair because they were under selective pressure to process more Vitamin D from limited sunlight. Lewontin, Wells's other mentor, posited that if a nuclear war struck and only the Kenyan Kikuyu survived, they would still have 85% of the genetic variation of mankind; with a similar history and conditions, they too would turn blond and blue-eyed under the northern sun.

Compared to other kinds of animals - that have vast genetic differences within one species - the human species is mostly the same, because our ancestors spread the world just relatively recently ago. What seems as huge differences in skin color, shape of the skull, nose or eyes, are really - evolutionary speaking - recent variations.

Cavalli-Sforza's book is from 1994, and still any time you fill in a form in the USA, they ask you, whether you are "Hispanic", "Asian", "African-American" or "Caucasian"... (Caucasian - what's that supposed to be anyway?) Now, which box would Barack Obama tick, who was born to a Kenyan father and a british-irish-geman-American mother? I was glad I'm not the only one finding these questions ridiculous, when reading Richard Dawkin's fantastic book on evolution called "The Ancestors Tale", who laments about "Caucasianism" in one of the chapters.

But even researchers are still serious about making some use of human races: Just recently I stumbled over a medical trial discovering that black men are more likely to suffer from a heart attack when entering the emergency room with chest pain. Am I going to look at every patient and try to figure out whether his skin colour is "black", "white" or somewhere in between? Life as a doctor would just be too easy if outer appearance could guide my decision making process that easy... It's most probably a mix of slight genetic differences and social background that explains these results. 

When talking about "differences" among people in the same place, I've always preferred the term "ethnicity", which is described by Wikipedia as:

An ethnic group (or ethnicity) is a group of people whose members identify with each other, through a common heritage, consisting of a common language, a common culture (often including a shared religion) and a tradition of common ancestry (corresponding to a history of endogamy).

With common ancestry comes a common gene pool, so in a way "ethnicity" includes what people understand as "races", but includes culture as well, which makes just so much more sense.

In CISV, I think we should try and get rid of the term "race" altogether, because - I'll be blunt here - simply accepting the concept of "race" is racism: Thinking that there's something to learn about a person's inside values (intelligence, character, culture) from the way he or she looks is nothing but prejudice. And it's not a question of morale, but real science. This fact is something the participants of our programmes should learn, because it seems like it's not common knowledge yet.

There's just the problem that "ethnicity" doesn't fit the metrics in the CISV song. Otherwise, I'd vote to replace the stupid word "race" once and for all.

Royalty Free Music?

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Today I got an e-mail from JB Lebanon with an interesting link to a YouTube video. Unfortunately the video was blocked because of copyright infringement in Germany. It's not the first time this has happened, so I was wondering: Maybe somebody can recommend a website with royalty free music for CISVers to use - so that those (surely great) videos can be viewed globally?

Regional Training Forums

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A true success story, hardly ever told.

Around 2005 CISV international merged the IPC (International Promotion Committee) and the NADT (National Association Development Taskforce) into a new committee, called ODC. (Organizational Development Committee). Besides flipping around acronyms, the idea was, that CISV needs a general strategy to support promotional associations (PAs) as well as existing national associations (NAs) likewise.

One of the ODCs big projects was to consolidate different training workshops held around the world into "Regional Training Forums" - the "RTFs". Besides the "Train-the-trainer" workshops, that focus on leadership trainers, also training for executives, village programme co-ordinators, etc. are held in those "multi-workshops".

Last year, I visited the RTF held in Hamburg, and was quite impressed by a couple of things: First of all, the RTF was huge - I guess there were more than 80 people attending. Then there was a concentrated, productive, yet relaxed atomosphere, and furthermore, I felt, that most of the people were attending the meeting for a very specific purpose, i.e. to become trained in their personal specific area of work inside CISV. Finally I could sense a bit of the "synergistic karma" (well known to anybody who ever attended an AIM) that appears, when a lot of people with a lot of CISV experience come together. Speaking of which: We've been evaluating and wanting to restructure AIMs a lot in the past years, and it seems that one of the problems of AIMs - no time for training, no room for observers - may be solved by a new structure outside of AIM: CISVers can now attend a low-cost, not-so-far-away workshop instead of attending an expensive AIM that is everything but curtailed to their needs.

Also interestingly, when I created the CISV & Me Application on Facebook a few months ago, one of the first features people requested, was an RTF category, besides the programmes Villages, Summer Camp and so on. It seems as if this fairly new thing has already become an institution.

I have to say, I'm really impressed by the ambition to bring RTFs to all corners of the world, and cover every possible area of training, such as "training for treasurers" and even a "profile rising workshops".

Just sad that the website that promoted the RTFs in 2008 was never updated since, and you'll have to look into this spreadsheet to find out when the next RTF will come to a chapter near you...

South Africa.

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Maybe a top-down approach could improve our global outreach.

Every once in a while, the topic of the lost continent reemerges in CISV: Whatever happened to Africa? In the 80s people were still optimistic about getting NAs started in Africa but since around 2000 it almost seemed like we're giving up. Egypt and Algeria aside, we hardly record any participants from the world's largest continent:


Quite obviously the chance of running a good CISV chapter is linked to the economic situation of a country (see Argentina) and the political stability. The number one country to get a foot into Africa is quite obviously South Africa - but sadly, it's nowhere to be found on the CISV map.

Usually our promotional efforts to start a new CISV country start off with a grassroots initiative that is then supported by the international organisation. But even though a top-down approach seems less attractive, I wonder whether CISV could specifically invest in getting an NA started in South Africa.

Establishing a strong CISV association in that country has many advantages: Furthermost we add another flavour of culture into our blend, Then, South Africa is a country, that I guess many parents would be more willing to send their children to (as opposed to i.e. Congo). Furthermore, travel costs to South Africa are ok, due to its touristic popularity. Finally, it could serve as a hub for other African countries, when travel costs to Europe, Asia or the Americas are hardly affordable.

FIFA brought the world cup to South Africa, now CISV should bring them the village programme!

Brazil 1999

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Part II in a series of AIM nostalgia.

Before moving another fat IBM folder to the recycled paper basket, I took the chance to review what happened in that year. I couldn't find as many interesting quotes, as I did for IBM 1999 in Denmark, but a few memories came back:

- IBM 1999 was held in a beautiful colonial-style hotel right across the beach about an hour from Sao Paulo. I was a senior NJR and my second IJBC and IBM, which made loads easier to find my way between all the busy committees and meetings, and also more relaxing.
- One of the most exciting things was the appointment of a new Secretary General. Joe Banks, who had filled the position by I would guess almost two decades, was replaced by Gaby, who was the only female and also youngest candidate.
- A lot of time and energy was spent on controversial issue around the Educational Development and Research committee chaired by Delia/CRC.
- Peer-Ole/GER was elected IJR being the third (and last) German in this position within 6 years.
- I believe that the first End-Of-The-World party took place in Brazil, and I would say the only one that ever deserved that name. Unfortunately I had a bad cold, and went to bad before it even started.


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A recent article in the Wall Street Journal explored how languages define the way we think, perceive, communicate and collaborate:

  • Languages shape how we view space and time: for example, if we arrange time from east to west or north to south, or if we view the future as moving forward or moving backward.
  • Languages also shape how we understand causality: our native tongue may affect eyewitness accounts of who was responsible for accidental vs. international events - and even our interpretation of whether Justin Timberlake was responsible for Janet Jackson's 'wardrobe malfunction' - or if the wardrobe broke on its own.
So, to take this one step further: True cultural competence could probably only be achieved by acquiring a particular language. Thus, offering language lessons may yet be another way for CISV to reach its goals. A four-week CISV compact course in Portuguese in San Jose dos Campos, anyone?

(via Sarah/USA)

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