“World Peace…One Conversation at a Time” By Barbara Grist
“World Peace…One Conversation at a Time”. What a great quote to post on the home page of US Servas, a non-profit organization who’s mission is peace and cultural understanding. Thich Naht Hahn is just one author advocating peace by starting with our own world and community and Servas has been doing that since 1948 when it was founded by Bob Luitweiler. He believed it was possible to build stronger foundations for world peace by helping people to meet and learn from each other in their own homes.
In 2012 I joined US Servas before my India trip in order to learn more about the country by meeting locals and being hosted in Indian homes. As a host or traveler you fill out an application, pay a fee and have an interview by a certified Servas interviewer. Once approved, you have access to lists of Servas hosts in America as well as the world. Upon completion of your Letter of Introduction (LOI), which introduces you to prospective hosts, the head office of US Servas in Arcata, CA certifies the letter. Stamped with a seal each year, you submit this to hosts when you make an inquiry to be hosted and present a copy upon arrival to show you have been successfully screened by the organization. As a traveler or host, you agree to spend at least 2 nights (no monies are exchanged), share at least 2 meals and the host can serve as a tour guide in their area or just give advice to the travelers as to what to see and do. The host can extend the stay to additional nights if they choose.
Don’t have the space or desire to host travelers? You may apply to become a “day host” where you meet the travelers and show them around your area and possibly share a meal.
After joining Servas in 2012 I traveled to India where I met 4 Servas families, some I stayed with and some just shared a meal and conversation. By meeting Servas families I saw and experienced things I would have never done as a tourist or with a tour or cruise, such as a Hindu wedding and the spring festival Holi. I recently hosted a couple from Zimbabwe who were interesting and enjoyed being shown the area as well as meeting others in Cortez during social engagements we participated in. I have hosted others from Germany, North Carolina, Australia and New Zealand to name a few. It’s like traveling without leaving your chair. With each visit my eyes open wider and my travel list gets a little longer, considering new places to visit.
Throughout my life our family hosted an exchange student from France, I did a Rotary student exchange to New Zealand and a teacher exchange to Australia. These exchanges have influenced not only my life, but also those around my exchange partners and me. Last May, our French exchange student we hosted in 1962, Philippe and his wife Francoise came to Cortez to visit my Mother and attend my daughter’s wedding. They are family as are those who hosted me in New Zealand. These exchanges fostered life long friendships and helped us all get to know and appreciate each other’s country.
If this sounds appealing to you, check out www.usservas.org, get in contact with me or other Servas members and start your own peace movement through cultural understanding and travel. We can all open our eyes a little more to the world around us to learn from each other and continue breaking down stereotypes amidst these times of negativity and violence.