U. S. Servas

promoting world peace one conversation at a time…


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International Peace Day in Valley of the Sun!

September 22, THE DAY AFTER: It was with shock and sorrow that we awoke the day after our beautiful peace event, to read that the U.S. had launched airstrikes against Sunni militants in Syria and along the Iraq border conducted with support from five partner Arab nations.

Quoting Albert Einstein: “Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding.”   War and violence result in killing of civilians; destruction of physical, cultural and historical environment; profits for warmakers; and severance of diplomatic and peaceful negotiations. Alternatives to violence which build peace and understanding include working with the United Nations to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, educate children, improve maternal health, and develop partnerships for development. This is how we counteract terrorism.

September 21, INTERNATIONAL PEACE DAY: In Tempe, Arizona, the temperature finally cooled off a bit close to dusk, and Servas – Valley of the Sun celebrated International Peace Day at a community park on the evening of Sept 21 with peace builders around the world. (As we met, hundreds of thousands of people marched in New York and other cities for climate justice and there was a huge march against the war on Ukraine in Moscow.) We talked about the UN proclamation and the hope for universal peace at a time of turmoil across the world. We acclaimed our hope for peace while enjoying the songs and guitar music of a newcomer. We introduced ourselves – from Hungary, Germany, India, Japan and the U.S. – and Servas members shared how this peace movement builds a real spirit of peace beginning with the traveler entering a host’s house, and sharing personal experiences, histories and cultures in trust, understanding and respect.

As a train roared by, we moved to a nearby low-lit grassy area and lit our candles. Each participant shared a few words of what peace means to him/her- individually, collectively and for the earth. There was a moment of silence and reflection. Together we raised our candles to the sky to collectively shout out PEACE TO THE WORLD in every language we know!

As we left for our homes each of us felt the comfort of Hope and the positive camaraderie from a quote from Richard – “  Every journey starts with 11! “. Though a small group, we have enough enthusiasm for building the SERVAS peace movement across the Valley of the Sun.

peace day

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Amy’s SYLE in France!

I was greeted in Toulouse by Anne, my first host, at the airport. As soon as I saw her friendly smile and the sign that read “Amy” I realized Servas was my new favorite way to travel. We drove the 40 minutes to her house in the country side. We talked, joked and laughed the whole way.

The first week I spent in the country living in an old barn that was turned into their lovely home. My host family did a wonderful job introducing me to France. Anne and Xavier Moulas have three children, Collette, Joseph and Pierre. Each played an instrument and spoke some English. Truly feeling like part of the family, I helped prepare the meals and teach the kids English as they helped me with my French. They live about 10 minutes from a small village where we shopped at the farmers market and visited friends. We spent a lot of time playing with the dogs and parrot, sitting in front of the fire and getting to know each other over tea. We ate delicious home cooked meals and shared recipes. Sharing meals with family friends and neighbors made me feel so much like part of the family and was the most valuable aspect of my first week. By the time I was supposed to leave, I didn’t want to. We connected in a way that made me feel like I was leaving home again. It was sad to say goodbye to this wonderful family.

amy and kids

The following week I set out to a tiny village in the Pyrenees called Mayrègne. My hosts, Yannick and Josette, have a beautiful old home that has been in their family for centuries. They live in a village with 29 permanent residences. When I arrived the mountains were still covered with snow and the sun would shine on them beautifully. My hosts’ grandchildren were visiting and we made snow men and went snow shoeing up the mountain. I taught them an American card game which they insisted on playing again and again. We went for beautiful drives through the snowy mountains and looked out at breathtaking views, stopping along the way to explore several tiny, old churches. We made and ate all our meals together in their old family home and visited over strong coffee. Yannick taught me how to drink Armagnac, a strong French brandy that I’m pretty sure put some hair on my chest and told me about the vineyard that used to belong to his family. While walking though the nearby villages, we sang songs and photographed the valley below. The nearby city of Luchon is a spa town about 7 miles from Yannick and Josette’s home. We went into the town several times to enjoy a talented jazz trio and the famous, naturally heated sauna in the caves. My time spent in the Pyrenees was quite rejuvenating and I feel very fortunate to have had to opportunity to enjoy a tiny village (and lovely family!) I may never have come across without Servas.

snow shoe

By the end of my second week in France and after the positive experiences I had had so far, I was feeling very comfortable. At this point my French was improving and I could follow along with conversations around me in a way that I wasn’t able to in the beginning. As I headed on the train to my third host I thought about how grateful I was to have been brought into these families’ homes and been treated so kindly. I was already feeling a profound connection with France.

My third host, Alain, has been a math teacher for 12 years. I was his fist Servas guest and he made me feel very welcome. He has a great apartment in middle of Toulouse. The city is about 500,000 people and just as many bricks. It is known as “The Pink City” because of all the redbrick architecture. On our first walk to the Capitole I felt very comfortable in the city. It felt familiar to me and I could imagine myself spending a lot of time there. The Canal du Midi and Canal de Garonne that run through the city make it feel tranquil. Alain hasn’t spoken English in many years so I was challenged to communicate only in French. We explored the city and went Salsa dancing. It was exciting to navigate the city’s public transportation on my own and make friends around the city. I was invited to a feminist party and ate amazingly rich desserts.

alan

My forth and final hosts were David and Agnès Northey of Annecy. They were incredibly hospitable and thrilled to host me. I felt so at home and welcomed into their family for the week, I didn’t want to leave. With many shared interests we connected in a genuine and special way. We talked about photography, politics, travel, family and everything in between. We went on several walks around the gorgeous nearby Lake Annecy and to the old town only a short distance from their home. They invited me to sing in their choir, attend an incredibly intimate concert in their local library and join them in a birthday celebration for their son at Agnès’ sister’s home in the surrounding mountains. We went on adventures in the snow and made jam from fruit we bought at their Farmers Market. The entire week was filled with experiences I will never forget.

david agnes

Had it not been for the generosity of Servas and receiving the Mogerman Scholarship, I wouldn’t have been able to have this wonderful SYLE experience. Since my return I’ve been reflecting on what an incredible network of people make up the Servas family and trying to figure out how I can go on another SYLE. I feel incredibly grateful for the experience and kindness of everyone that played a part in my trip.

amy snow

Bon voyage, Servas Peace Builders!


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Phoenix Celebrates Their First Servas Gathering!

Phoenix-area Servas Celebrates a First Gathering

7/27/14

Submitted by Jeanne Devine

The first get-together of Phoenix-area Servas members was a great success! Ten enthusiastic Servas members attended, shared their Servas stories including personal memories of Servas founder, Bob Luitweiler. In attendance were Cheryl Cordes, Jeanne Devine, Susan Elliot (soon to be a Servas member), Martha and Phil Koffman, Aleyne Larner, Deb and Rachel Misra, and Andrea and Richard Newhauser. Jeanne shared news from several members who were unable to attend but want to be included in future events.

After watching a short video, discussion moved to the importance of Servas as an NGO at the United Nations. We decided to celebrate International Day of Peace on September 21 at the Japanese Friendship Garden in Phoenix. Details will be decided at a future meeting in August.

The group discussed various ideas about increasing the host membership as well as making Phoenix area attractive to Servas travelers. The group accepted the offer of one member to be the “College Outreach Contact”. We want to increase awareness of the SYLE program and promote greater participation of youth especially as travelers.

The lack of a local Area Representative or Interviewer in the Phoenix area was seen as a challenge to growing the membership. Three persons took applications to become interviewers and will start the process with the U.S. Servas office. We believe that having local interviewers and celebrating an International Peace Day will create more awareness of Servas in the Phoenix area and lead to increased Servas membership.

Everyone expressed joy in having the opportunity to meet others living in this area and in forming a cohesive local group.   The camaraderie was great – what a congenial group of people with similar but unique experiences! Phoenix-area Servas will grow from a small committed core and continue to meet on a bi-monthly basis.  We all love Servas!

 

phoenix


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Betty Brown in the Servas World!

IN THE SERVAS WORLD
With the exception of a phone number, address and an invitation to stay two nights with a Servas family, I was on a plane to Australia to stay three months with no reservations, no plans and no commitments. Thus began my great year-long adventure of traveling around the world as a 68 year-old single traveler.I have been a member of Servas for the last fifteen years. Initially I made two trips with my sons and ex-husband to Europe.  During the last ten years I experimented with a few “solo” home-stays at the end of some group trips. But, I never fully  appreciated Servas until the trip of 2011.
In his book, The Seeds of Servas, our founder, Bob Luitweiler states, “the shift from a tourist absorbing scenic vistas to a traveler actively searching the central ideas of cultures happens gradually.” The goal for my journey was to be a traveler in search of  cultures which could be obtained from an intimate proximity to local people. In many cases Servas was my connector to people and cultures.
During a three month stay in Australia I floated around the country staying with wonderful Servas families choosing the next destination and activities based upon the recommendations of Servas hosts and other locals.  I stayed with families in Melborne, Adelaide, Brisbane, Cairns, Alice Springs, Sydney, Canberra and Tasmania. There were 12 families in all. Like all of us who have traveled with Servas, the variety of hosts and and their interests were expansive. Wood carvers, Aikido instructors, a government lawyer, retired oil rig engineer, church minister and a Funeral Celebrant to name a few.In Australia many spiritually minded people seek an alternative to religious services for weddings and funerals. My Funeral Celebrant host was kind enough to let me attend one of her services. Not only did I learn about funeral practices in another country but also a new profession which is growing in our country.  In Tasmania I attended a wood carving exhibition where my host took a major prize for his skillful contribution. In a Sydney household I encountered an author of 24 religious books who held 6 degrees. In Cairns I stayed with a lady who had her own Golden Orb spider.  I watched each morning as this Red Hat member dug into her compost planter to withdraw a large cockroach which she threw into her fat, (7″) pet’s web.During two months in Ireland I stayed in a cottage with a host whose garden was listed as “one of the lovely gardens of County Donegal”. Staying in her cozy home in the quiet countryside felt like being in a little hobbit fantasy world.  In Northwest Ireland I also stayed with a writer who had written a book on the sacred sites in Ireland and whose job was conducting nature outings for the local schools. Being in these English-speaking countries, even though different, was still very comfortable because of my ancestry.  Therefore,themost unique and surprising Servas experience happened a few continents away in Madagascar.There is one Servas host in the entire country in the capital city of Antananarivo.  Receiving a confirmation thattheRabe family of five would receive me helped to allay concerns that perhaps I was stepping into an abyss. I knew nothing about the country except it had Lemurs and wonderful Baobab trees.  Before 84 hours of travel to get to the Southeast corner of Africa, I had diligently studied my French language book during a 3 month stay in Nepal. Foolishly I thought myself ready for a remote developing country. It was soon discovered I was not, but fortunatelytheRabe family was ready for me. Not only did they host me for the entire month in the country but they planned my excursions around the country, got me included on one trip with close friends, and took me to a cousin’s anniversary as well as close family dinners.  I made one trip to the Northeastern part of the country with Mrs.Rabe as she was managing a business in the area and stayed with her in their manager’s home. If that were not amazing enough, one can imagine my shock when it was discovered that a Visa credit card was the only card accepted in the country and I found myself with no access to funds.  This Servas family ended up bankrolling my expenses for the entire month.  Occasionally I wouldtellMamyRabe that he was doing too much and his only reply was “it’s my job”.  Never has such generosity and graciousness been given to me by strangers and it was made possible only through the “Servas experience” for which I am truly grateful.In December of 2011, this Servas traveler returned from a 10-country pilgrimage delighted to be a citizen of the world with an expanded appreciationof it’s people, cultures and challenges._______________
In 2011, Betty Brown traveled for a year by herself around-the-world.  In 2012 she wrote her stories of lessons  and experiences in the book There and Back: An Elder’s Solo Global Pilgrimage which is available on Amazon in both hard and electronic formats.
Note:  Betty Brown will be the keynote speaker at the next US Servas national conference, June 13-15, 2014, at the Common Ground Conference Center in Starksboro, Vermont.  Check out usservas.org for more information and registration materials.


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Rob & Bette Allekotte Cruise with Servas

Cruising with Servas

We had never even thought about cruising, thinking it was for older, richer folks using it as a last adventure before heading to hospice care, or for families who tire of the long lines at Disney. But Servas encounters have a way of making one see things in a new light. So when a couple of youngish, not-so-rich Canadians visited with us in Florida on their way to a cruise, we discussed how their cruise was taking them to places which might otherwise be inaccessible. Curious, we looked into and booked a four month Holland America world cruise. The challenge was working Servas visits into our busy, see-a-country-for-a-day-or-two schedule. We succeeded.

Our first meeting was with two hosts in Montevideo. They met us at the port, ran us ragged (in a good way) enjoying the main sites of the city, and brought us to a yacht club for lunch. Along the way, we discussed the political, economic, and social issues of their country. Even though we spent only nine hours in Uruguay, we got to know a few people well.

In Sydney, our day host took us to a Greek Festival. In addition to tasting delicacies, we learned of the huge impact Greeks have on Australia. We still had time for the Opera House and Bondi Beach. Our hostess, a children’s author, made the city far more memorable than any tour Holland America could have provided. We also stopped at a hole-in-the-wall bookstore in Towanda (near Cairns) where our Servas host admitted that the shop was really a front for meaningful conversation. We were glad to oblige him.

We were scheduled for a single night in Hong Kong. Knowing that guest rooms are very rare, I had written to the National Secretary of Servas seeking ideas. We settled on inviting the local hosts onto the ship. Three hosts and a traveler, all who had never met, came aboard for a meal, a tour, and laser show.

Singapore was also a one-night stand. I explained our predicament to a local host, who agreed to break the two-night minimum rule and allow us to stay. The American ex-pat introduced us to her life abroad, her Singaporean family, and the national museum featuring a military archeologist who was digging up a local neighborhood which also served as a WWII battlefield and a POW camp.

In Durban, our first of two South African hosts met us near the controversial, tax-payer supported stadium recently built for the World Cup. (That scenario rings familiar.) They lived by Bollito Beach, a resort town thirty miles north of the city. Nearby was farmland turned into a wildlife reserve. That’s what a farmer turns lemons into lemonade when he realizes that he can’t separate the wildlife from his cash crops. We stayed two nights and flew to Capetown where our hosts lived across from a beach providing a view of Table Mountain. We toured the obligatory winery and South Africa’s largest Afrikaans university. Both South African hosts were “mixed marriages”, one Boer and one Brit. All spoke freely of their country’s past struggles, problems, and hope for improvement. We rejoined our cruise in Capetown, happy that our four day break offered an opportunity to interact with locals and avoid the Cape of Good Hope’s rough seas.

Knowing that the French isle of Reunion has more Servas hosts per square mile than anywhere else, we arranged to meet one. She met us at the port and took us to view one of the island’s foggy volcanos and dine at a typical beachfront Creole barbecue. Beaches and cruising tend to go well together. Our one-day visit was far too short. This is not surprising as we feel that way whenever we utilize Servas to enhance a trip. We intend to keep our promises to return.

 

allekotte 1

Allekotte 2

Rob Allekotte served on the U.S. Servas board of directors for seven years and has been a frequent contributor to our newsletter. He has recently written a memoir, The Most Important Person in the World, which is available at thebookpatch.com.


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Guess who’s coming for dinner tonight?

Guess who’s coming for dinner tonight?

A Servas experience by Nadine & Georg Lego

We discovered Servas through a friend just before my husband and I decided to take a year off and travel around the world.

In 1 year we visited 19 countries. Servas gave us the chance to share many members’ lives and to discover the inside stories of so many places.

In Buenos Aires for instance we stayed with 4 hosts. All living in different neighborhoods which gave us a real feel for the city. One host, Gaby, invited me to a dance class and a meditation class. With Anna and her boyfriend, we went bicycling in the city. Another host we visited, Daniel, lives in a very special place Tigre. Tigre is located in the north of greater Buenos Aires and lies on the Parana Delta. The landscape is shaped by the many streams from the delta. Daniel had invited us and we did not realize what a treat it was! We met him in BA and from there drove to Tigre to discover that his house is sitting in the middle of the delta – that his neighborhood is not made of streets but small streams and canals. We hopped in his boat and speed to his house. Sharing experience like this is only possible with an international network of friends.

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On our way to Africa, we started feeling a bit antsy and looked for possibilities to volunteer on projects. I had noticed in the Servas International Newsletter that the Malawi chapter was very active. So I contacted Demelza, the “firecracker” national secretary who developed partnerships with local non-profit organizations and offers volunteering to Servas visitors. We spent a month in Blantyre, Malawi and worked on 2 projects with the community while staying with 6 local families members of Servas. One project involved the beautification of a youth center using peace messages. We motivated the team of volunteers and helped them structure their efforts. The work is theirs! (See photos). It was a valuable experience for all and gave us a sense of accomplishment.

Our working involvement and spending free time with the families was the perfect balance.

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We ended our world tour with Taiwan and Japan. Both countries have very active members. Taiwan was a surprise: as their motto says “the world in one island”. That maybe explains why the Taiwanese are so welcoming and open to foreigners. We stayed with multiple hosts in Taipei and around the island. We discovered a culture closely related to Japan (creative design, architecture) due to their shared history.

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So Japan as our next and last stop on our trip was a natural destination. Japan being known as a foreign culture to most westerners and closed to the outside (due to a history of isolation) is best visited while staying with hosts. Our exchanges with host families were instrumental to understand some aspects of the Japanese traditions and culture so we felt at ease. Our experiences with Servas hosts around the world was a positive and an enriching human experience. Relying on an international network of friends brought the unfamiliar more familiar and helped us build understanding, tolerance and world peace.

If you’d like to know more and see additional photos about our adventure, visit us at www.awonderfulmind.com

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