SERVAS; A FriendMaking NGO



Hello everybody! I am very happy to see that yesterday my blog was read by more people than ever before! Especially in Russia, Ukraina, France and Switzerland. Welcome to you new readers. Some of you have shared my site on a place called “Delicious”, and I think that´s why my blog has reached these great new heights. Thank you very much for sharing my blog around, I really appreciate it!

This post will be about Servas. It is an organization which was started in Denmark soon after the war. Its intention was to help increase world peace. Through the method of helping people find friends in other countries!
To become a Servas member, you must be interviewed by someone who is already a member. After that, you write a letter of information about yourself. Then your name and contact details go into a central archive. When you as a Servas member want to go travelling, you simply ask Servas to send you the list of Servas hosts in the country you want to visit. Then you receive by mail a book full of names and the people´s addresses and phone numbers, email addresses…plus a little info about what the hosts can offer, some say no pets, or max 2 people, or bring a sleepingbag, or they only want to be a dayhost, no overnight visitors.
The rule is that if a host would like overnight visitors, you bring the self presentation letter you wrote, including your photograph.
(Your interests, hobbies, your work and education, whether you have children, why you like to travel…stuff like that. As you choose it to be). You bring the letter, and then you just contact people and ask can I come stay two nights in your place on such and such a date? The rule is two nights only.

It is an incredible idea. My husband has travelled using Servas hosts in Italy, Turkey, Usa, SPain, Greece, U.K. … we tried to contact Servas hosts when we were in Thailand, but we could not get hold of them… But to get to visit a local home in a country you are visiting… you learn so much more about the place. You see cultural ways of private families. When else do you get to stay in people´s private homes like that?! And of course, the host is happy to show you around town or tell you where to go and what to see and how much you should NOT pay the taxi driver… 🙂

We actually have a Servas guest right now. She´s sitting in the kitchen drawing as I type away here in the front room. We have just been for a drive around the island, after she came with me to drop off the kids in the kindergarten this morning.
She comes from Taiwan, she´s in her late twenties, and works as a physio therapist with children. She has spent 6 months learning German in a language course for international people in Germany, and now she will travel around Europe for 6 months before she goes back to Taiwan. Her husband will come meet her for a couple of weeks in Italy in May. He is perfectly okay with her wanting to do this trip. He must be a lovely man.

And this woman is incredible! She arrived yesterday, and immediately she brought out a sketch book where she had made beautiful drawings showing facts from Taiwan´s history, demography and geography.
My tenyearold girl and her classmate were listening intently as she told them in English what the drawings were about. She is a true artist, these amazing drawings! And she has a natural gift for teaching as well. I told her so, and she laughed and said that it´s because she works with children who are sick in hospitals, asking them to to physical things that they don´t want to do. So she always has to find ways to entertain them and get them to co operate with her…
She loves to cook as well. Just like my eldest daughter, she too loves drawing and cooking… tonight she will teach us how to make a meal containing seaweed and mushrooms and glass noodles…. and tomorrow for breakfast the two of them also have a plan together, something involving sticky rice…

I have written to my daughter´s teacher, and told her we have this amazing, very interesting and skilled person visiting us, and if the teacher wants, our guest can come and visit my daughter´s class tomorrow morning before she travels on to a new Danish town… I hope the teacher says yes. Meeting a person like that is a gift for children and adults alike, we can learn so much from meeting people from other places, who are interested in talking about the differences and similarities in languages and cultural traditions.

I feel so inspired by meeting her. So many things I didn´t know about Taiwan! Like the fact that it has only been a separate state from China since 1949, and only since 1986 have they been allowed freedom of expression. So most Taiwanese people are still reluctant to discuss their political opinions openly.
In 1996 Taiwan got two different parties to vote for, until then there was only one party. It is, in other words, a very young democracy.
I´m used to thinking about my own homeland Norway as being a very young state, we reached independence in 1905…
The U.N. does not recognize Taiwan as a country, they see it as a part of China. The Taiwanese want to have a direct people´s vote and change their official name into Taiwan, but the China-friendly-party has changed the law so it´s now illegal to make direct people´s voting like they used to do…!

Taiwan has been occupied by China, Spain, Holland, Japan, China again… it is an island nation same size as Denmark, and it has four different kinds of coasts (rocky, sandy, coral reef and steep hill), and in the middle there´s a mountain 4000 metres high, which gets higher all the time due to earth quakes, the earth “flakes” pushing against eachother…(I don´t remember the correct geographical word for that, I trust you still know what I mean…) Taiwan lies on the middle of the equator, so they have tropical climate. Yet on the top of their mountain, there is snow!

We discuss anything from political censorship versus freedom of expression, to child raising to how everyday life is structured, we share stories we have heard from people in exile we have met on our way, like an Egyptian doctor she met in Germany, who is very sad about the Egyptian army having thrown his elected president into jail…
And “cross cultural identity” people, such as one woman she met in Germany who has Russian parents but is born in Latvia, she feels Latvian but because her parents speak Russian it is difficult for both them and her to get work…and she feels the Latvians critisize Russians a lot, which is upsetting when your parents are Russian… yet she can´t just move to Russia either, because she is born Latvian and she needs a visa…

We discuss how it seems many people believe that whole nations of people are not worth communicating with. There seems to be a somewhat strained neighbour relationship these days between Macedonia and Greece, but when they meet in exile in Germany they are good friends, they have so many cultural traditions in common… Cyprus, which is one small island, divided into a Greek and a Turkish part that just don´t get along…
Some Arabs will never talk to an Israeli person… which is understandable when one comes from a warzone like that with so much pain suffered for so many years. But still, the ordinary Israeli persons are not to blame for this, they too suffer from the conflict and don´t want it to be the way it is for the Palestinians…
We discuss how having a vacation is not a normal tradition in every country, life is primarily about working. And how it can be difficult to know how to connect with strangers and build friendships, when all your life you have spent all your time with colleagues and family members…
Normal people everywhere all have in common that they want to live in peace and feel happy. The rulers, though. Many of them seem to just want profits. At any cost. They go to war to get oil. Or to sell weapons. It should not be allowed. It should be illegalized!

My children adore her, our new Taiwanese friend. She sits down on the floor with them and tries to learn their Danish words. She´s also shown me the Taiwanese alphabet, both in sounds and in writing. Such a beautiful melody. Very fascinating!

She says it has surprised her that me and my husband are not strict with the kids, we allow toys everywhere and we don´t tell them what to do and what not to do all the time. I told her we are probably not representative of Danish families though. Most people have more rules and regulations than we do. But we do have our theories, we are conscious about why we bring them up the way we do.
I told her about the Danish family therapist Jesper Juul, who has written many books, one on them is called “Your competent child”. There he says that a child is born finished. It is a finished human being. You don´t need to make it into something. All you need to do is nurture it, water it like a plant and give it good fertilizer, nourishing soil to grow in. Treat your child like you treat a friend, with respect, show the child what it feels like to be respected. Show it trust and responsibility. Trust the child. Give it responsibility. And give lots of positive attention, lots of praise and encouragement. Whilst the negative behaviours you give no attention.

Of course I make sure my children are safe and don´t hurt themselves. That they get good food and brush their teeth. That their clothes are warm enough. And that they feel loved, given lots of hugs and kisses
I also focus on how they treat their siblings. That it is not allowed to kick or bite, and one says I´m sorry when one has hurt an other´s feelings. And when someone says no, or stop, it is to be respected, no question asked.
Apart from that, there is very little “no” from my mouth.
I may say “Try this one instead!” … giving them a better choice option…

Anyways. I guess that´s an other blog post issue for some other time.
I have to go to the kindergarten and pick them up now. They are there from 9am to 1pm. Because I stay at home, they can come home early.

People, you should all check out if there is a Servas host nearby, who can recommend you so you can become a member. It is a most brilliant wonderful way of travelling. And also it is such a gift to receive a Servas guest into your home.

Travelling in the physical reality or travelling inside my mind… the meeting with other people, realizing there are other ways than what I`m used to, other ways to think about religion, power, economy, family… it increases my consciousness, my self awareness, it shows me alternative solutions to life´s challenges. I love the feeling of understanding more than before.

“At rejse er at leve.” = “To live is to travel”,
said famous Danish fairytale author Hans Christian Andersen,
about a hundred years ago.

And with that quote, I will wrap up this blog writing and go back to the kitchen, where my Taiwanese Servas guest is now talking with my 3 year old son and taking his photograph.
Because he is wearing a green dinosaur jacket from H&M, which I gave him, and she has given her 3 yearold nephew back home an identical jacket, that she bought for him in Japan!

It is such a small world.
And we are so much alike, us human beings.
We all smile in the same language.



4 thoughts on “SERVAS; A FriendMaking NGO”

  1. What’s Going down i’m new to this, I stumbled upon this
    I have found It positively helpful and it has aided me
    out loads. I hope to contribute & assist different customers like its aided
    me. Good job.

  2. Good to have SERVAS promoted by lovely person, and an organisation without being about “Chasing the bucks” see also review of SERVAS for Huffington Post on servas facebook page
    Alan, Hastings, UK (we might be in the host book for 2015)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *