This has certainly been a hot summer in Geneva, with 42+ as a record temperature so far. And elsewhere in the world it has been a busy summer for me with many travels. You may have read about my involuntarily, unwished and non planned visit to Happy Valley Goose Bay in Newfoundland, Canada. I was at that time, early June, on a long travel taking me to Senegal, Africa via the AGM of the Swiss YMCA and to the World Urban Network meeting in Saint Luis, USA. The children below are from one of the local branches in Saint Luis YMCA.
It was a very successful and inspiring meeting, as all of these WUN meetings are, and a wonderful friendship and fellowship experience under the leadership of the WUN President and host Gary Schlansker and CEO Bill Stewart (absent this time due to back problems.).
We always include visits to local YMCAs during those meetings, and my favorites are often the kids enjoying their special kind of YMCA experience. (Let these wonderful guys represent my wish to find a good way to formulate what a typical “YMCA EXPERIENCE” would be. I am not looking for a unification of the ways we do things, but the way people experience us. It will be something along the lines of the YMCA Change Model: Space – Transformation – Impact. Any help from my readers would be wonderful – with some few exceptions you are a silent group of readers :-))
This is a modern version of the message given to the old Vikings, and the reason why they built annexes to the first churches, which we called “weapon houses”, where the Vikings could store their weapons while they went to worship!
This is not a Viking ship, even if some of the descendants of the Vikings may be on board this little Norwegian boat called SNEKKE in the local language. My travels have brought me to Arenal in Norway, my dear homeland, where the Y’sMen International organized their European Convention as well as the Norwegian AGM. I was cordially invited to give a Key Note Speech to both of those meetings, and enjoyed very much to pay a visit to Norway. It belongs to the refrigerated, air conditioned part of Europe during hot summers. Cool and comfortable! And all the summer light – the sun just makes a dip in the ocean before it comes up again.
The Y’sMen know how to make a good event, and always start with the flag ceremony.
Ed represented Europe and I was the photographer. (Ed and I have a shared and secret experience every summer. Both our wives are passionate Quilters (Google it if you do not know what it means) and that takes Ed and myself as companions to huge events bringing together Quilters from all around the world. 99% of them are women, and Ed and I therefore constitute a tiny little minority. Since we both enjoy the art of Quilts very much, that is not a problem for any of us.)
After a successful Y’sMen event in Arenal, my travels take me further across the ocean to Coventry in England. The early Vikings did go there and left many words and language twists to the English language and I enjoy very much to recognize them. I was invited together with Peter Posner to speak to the National Conference of the English YMCA, and as always I enjoyed the discussions and friendly sharing with my English colleagues very much. It was in fact inspiring and brilliantly done by Peter Jeffrey, Chair of the English YMCA, seen above as he welcomes the delegates, and by……
CEO Denise Hatton, who gave an inspirational speech to an enthusiastic crowd. See the courageous new branding of the English YMCA! I cannot go into all the exciting details of this meeting, we heard excellent speeches on Homelessness as well as about advocacy for Children and Youth, and another very impressive discussion was the one presented in the photo below:
This was one of the most inspiring and openminded sharing I ever have been part of in the YMCA, and it was mind opening and horizon widening and most inspirational.
Onwards to Russia! Especially the Swedish Vikings went up the Russian rivers and came all the way to the Caspian Sea. All along the way they spread the blessings of the Vikings and we can still see left overs and traces after them in central Russia. Here I have arrived at the new Training Centre at the Volga river, not far away from Jaroslav. It is called the Datsja, which means a historical Russian summer house. This is the theme for this beautiful centre. We have all worked together for years to realize this centre, and now was the time for the official opening of it. Many warm emotions went through my soul during those days in Russia. I came for the first time to Russia back in 1994 and since then I have been traveling between 40 and 50 times to this great country and have seen huge parts of it, from Siberia to the Altaj Mountains, from the Kola Peninsula to Bryansk and down to St. Petersburg. This country has a special place in my heart. Around the celebration table you see at my side Peter, Aleksej (General Secretary), Misha, long time staff of the international YMCA, now staff of the World YMCA, Jurij, the new Caretaker of the centre, Nikolaj, the former General Secretary and now the manager of the centre, Gill, Peter’s wife, and Olga from Belarus, part time working for YMCA Europe.
Proud companions and friends. Nikolaj is really the man behind this centre and I was one of those lucky enough to be invited to help him with it. This is an elegant centre with beds for 25 people, most of the rooms with en suite bath rooms. This is a fine meeting venue for your next board meeting or that very special committee, which really has deserved an exotic and very special YMCA experience! Send me a mail, and I will personally help you to get the finest travel arrangement possible from our competent Russian friends. (My room had a disco shower with disco light, rock music and water coming pretty much from all possible directions, and when I used it, people did wake up immediately!)
Gill and Peter in the inviting and huge living room in the Datsja.
And here the energy and mastermind behind the whole project, Nikolaj Kurochkin from Jaroslav, former General Secretary over many years and co-founder of the modern Russian YMCA.
Nikolaj, Olga, Gill. Juan, Peter and myself at the river of Volga, on the property of the beautiful monastery being renovated in walking distance from the YMCA centre.
Nikolaj had wished for an old Russian icon for the centre, and I am fascinated by all the beautiful, old icons in Russia, icons I am not allowed to bring out of Russia. So therefore a great satisfaction to be able to buy one of those completely legal and give it as the official gift from the World YMCA to the Datsja Centre.
Late evening we had a concert by three well known musicians with Russians romances and folk music. At the end of the concert we came together in a corner of the huge living room to show you the little crowd being present.
This photo has nothing to do with Russia, even if it is the Field Group leader for YMCA Belarus, Martin Weder from Zurich. Ingunn and I were invited to celebrate Martin’s 60th birthday in Kappelen outside Zurich. we went there with great joy. Martin and Helen are old friends of us from our time in YMCA Europe and we are enjoying our friendship together in Switzerland these days very much.
And here some of the happy guests in a very warm Swiss summer evening. Helen, Martin’s wife together with Michal Szymanczak. It was a great evening in celebration of life and friendship! And as I am informed, no Vikings ever made it to Switzerland in the old days, so together with Ole Aleksander to the right of Ingunn, the Viking son-in-law of Martin and Helen, we celebrated this “first” official Viking invasion on the countryside outside Zurich. We behaved non-violently all night.
Now I will enjoy some vacation and rest before the hot summer continues and takes me to Japan for the training of 150 Change Agents onboard the Peace Boat sailing from Yokohama to the Philippines and to Singapore. From there I will fly to Korea to participate in the 100 years anniversary of Daegu YMCA, onwards to a Peace Conference in Cheorwon on the boarder to North Korea, and from there to Daejeon for the Youth Conference of APAY and followed by the APAY General Assembly. Mid September I plan to fly from Korea to Beijing to make my first visit to China. YMCA in Tianjin has their great anniversary and I will visit other local YMCAs and have meetings in Beijing. I have tried to apply for visa two times before, but not succeeded. This is because of some political unrest related to the Nobel Peace Prize some years ago. I still hope to receive the visa this time.
So given good enough internet connection wherever I go, I will try to feed you updates on my travels through Asia. I will be back in Geneva end of September. Happy summer all of you!