Student Exchange: Value Beyond Words – Priceless!

Haven Core Faculty member Cathy Wilder writes: I have been moved to write this piece after conversations with Rachel Davey and Denise Goldbeck where I have learned much more about Kitezh, the intentional community for orphaned children and the youth exchanges planned between The Haven and this community in Russia; and the challenge to raise funds. My intention, beyond already donating, is to offer my youth exchange experience highlighting the ongoing positive impact, as well as my deep and lasting learnings from being in the privileged position of assisting Denise Goldbeck for many summers in her programs at The Haven. I hope to stimulate YOU, the reader, to donate or to pass this along to someone you know might do so!

Ed: To make a donation designated to the Kitezh Youth Exchange, contact Rachel Davey (rachel@haven.ca 1 800 222 9211 x235) or donate securely online on The Haven web site.

In the summer of 1975 when I was 16, I headed off on what I thought was a year long adventure. I was participating in the international student exchange program with the Rotary Club and I was going to Argentina and Uruguay.

As it turns out, this experience was not limited to a year. It stimulated a process that continues to be rich in ongoing connections, relationships, reciprocal life-long learning opportunities and diverse social, educational and cultural projects; not only for me and my original friends but for new and current friends. Priceless!

My parents supported me with what was a significant offering for them, $1000 for my airfare. The ripple effect and notable return on this investment continues 38 years later.

What I saw and experienced has stayed with me since my original participation in the exchange program. The map of South America morphed from the flatness of colours and shapes that represented countries to a multitude of textures, smells, quality experiences and sounds representing friends, families and other social and cultural situations for which I had no prior reference point.

I’ve made life long friends and benefited deeply from the fullness of my connections. In my subsequent visits I’ve shared The Haven’s ideas. One friend, Pichu, continuously uses them in her English for Political Science courses. She also applies what she has learned to her personal life, helping her navigate through extremely challenging times. She, her sisters and cousins have a monthly ‘check-in’ group, of which I am an honorary member! There is no question of how much this original experience has expanded my world view; my awareness and my capacity for empathy for others at a distance.

One of the surprising off-shoots from my time there happened just a few years ago, when Nancy Bradshaw, a friend from The Haven, took an interest in the very small rural town of Nare, Argentina, with which I have a connection. She particularly wanted to offer something to the children of this area, which ideally would have lasting effects and be able to be sustained by the community.

Nancy attributes much of the success of the program to the quality of relationship and communication I have with her as well as with Pichu and her family; also to Pichu’s similar connection with people in the community of Nare. I attribute much of this to what I have learned about communication and relationship at The Haven. As Nancy very wisely knows, grassroots success depends on the quality of relationship for all the communication required to creatively bring the best of ideas together in an understanding of the context.



Over several years Nancy’s efforts stimulated the creation of a library, community gardens,more family food gardens, a community kitchen and summer camps. Friends and interested parties here in Vancouver did all sorts of creative fundraising … and in the process learned a lot about a new community. There are some new lasting relationships from this venture.

Of particular interest was the dream Nancy had for the summer camp. She recognized the huge value of having kids of multiple ages engaging together in the way that Denise Goldbeck designs her programs offered at The Haven. Nancy worked with local kindergarten teacher, who volunteered to champion the summer camps, to create program offerings where children and youth of different ages played, learned, shared and created together. Although the camps were completely different from programs offered by Denise at The Haven, the impact of building on her idea of engaging children of all ages to support the structure of the camp was highly effective and rewarding.

For several young people it afforded them the opportunities to lead, mentor, grow in their confidence and self-worth, as well as to assume responsibilities that would not have otherwise been available. As a result, several individuals were stimulated to continue school studies. Some went on to study education and became teachers, with a desire to return to their community. For this town, this level of interest and engagement was a new and welcome change. The summer camp experience was identified as being a very important contribution to these choices.

Another of the great experiences of my life, having a long lasting and far reaching ripple effect is the many summers I spent supporting Denise in her work with children and youth at The Haven. A significant part of my Ph.D. was dedicated to the learning I experienced with her as she connected, created and engaged with the kids.

I mention the Nare project and Denise because she and her husband Henry Goldbeck are leading The Haven’s youth exchange with Kitezh. Denise and Henry know how to establish the quality of communication, connection and relationship for this type of grassroots exchange. I have experienced and witnessed them in action individually and together.

Denise is one of the few individuals I know who in a short space of time can establish the required interrelatedness for grassroots connections, communication and structures to facilitate deeply meaningful outcomes for such a wide range of participating family and community members.

With Denise and Henry as part of the team, I know the depths of connection, creativity and spontaneous healing opportunities will be endless. Together they are able to establish, support and ground an enormous container, which translates into space, safety, dignity, fun, currently unknown opportunities and creative, connecting experiences and outcomes for many!

I believe one of the possible outcomes of this person-to-person experience is greater ‘dynamic empathy’ in action. In a world of increasing ‘virtual dependency’, I think it is vital to cultivate more person-to-person, heart-to-heart experiences. Then out of this fertile ground I believe it is possible to develop more respect, dignity, caring, compassion and capacity for complex decision making which encompasses an expanded awareness. I believe choices made from more of a heart-connected, heart-centred foundation have the potential for better outcomes locally and afar.

This may not be what individual youth participants are currently thinking about, yet I believe it is an integral part of the seeds being planted. I think it comes with deep, respectful, curious connection and communication.

Dovetailing with this notion, Elfi Dillon-Shaw recently brought a book to my attention, entitled, In the Body of the World. It is a deeply moving personal example which illustrates to me how vital it is that we each continue to do our part to remain connected to our own bodies, and hearts, as well as, those of our families, friends and our world neighbours.

The Haven is a unique community, cultivating depth and strength of connection and empathy. It is a wonderful learning ground which offers youth a different context for engaging and connecting in today’s world.

In the organic nature of The Haven’s life, I believe this exchange opportunity with Kitezh that Rachel discovered at last year’s Centres Gathering in Findhorn, is a very natural and important expansion of the expression of values embodied by The Haven.

My wish is that you find a way to offer financial support and /or spread the word into your networks and communities to generate contributions … which are tax deductable!

To make a donation designated to the Kitezh Youth Exchange, contact Rachel Davey (rachel@haven.ca 1 800 222 9211 x235) or donate securely online on The Haven web site.

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