August 1, 2022

Marcia's Eye-Opening CIF Journey

Marcia and the ParthenonWe've all done it: read a news story with a searing picture painted from a rare moment in time and allowed it to linger in our minds.  A person, a group of people, even a whole country can be summed up in a single, unflattering headline, and in many cases that picture remains unchanged until the next big headline comes out.  

But for Marcia Mauter, her recent trip to Greece with the Council of International Fellowship (CIF) on an international professional exchange program was the ultimate antidote to the "doom scrolling" way many of us consume current events.  CIF is CIP's alumni organization, with over 30 branches worldwide, devoted to carrying on our mission globally.  In Marcia's words:  "Admittedly, my prior understanding of Greece and its social issues was limited to social media excerpts in recent years: non seaworthy boats carrying asylum seekers to far flung islands….the Greek response to the worldwide financial crisis and its country’s impact…lack of social safety nets with rampant poverty and social exclusion....and who was that Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis, anyway?!?
"Thankfully, CIF Hellas offered a much deeper dive to better understand yesterday’s recent history and today’s pressing social issues.  We were starting to connect the dots that, while Greece at long last was emerging from a long period of financial stress and hardship, it was showing positive signs of returning to social and economic normality.  Then, like all other countries around the globe, the pandemic again changed the country’s momentum, resulting in a whole new set of significant impacts on health, social cohesion and the economy as a whole."

Marcia boasts a long history with CIP stretching back to 1986, when she and her late husband, Lester, began hosting international visitors for us in their Cleveland Heights home.  Marcia also hosted CIP's many groups of participants for team building exercises during their programs in Cleveland through her role as Director of the Institute for Creative Leadership (ICL).  Two CIP participants worked as interns for Marcia at ICL, and Lester hosted a CIP intern during his career with the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District.

Marcia and Cem in TurkeyNow serving on the Board of Directors of CIF-USA, her participation in the CIF Hellas IPEP was her second exchange following her first one with CIF Nepal in 2017.  As a Board Member, she has developed and conducted an extensive survey on past participants and the degree to which they have changed as a result of their experience.  From Marcia's own testimonial, it is clear that her participation in both programs not only changed her understanding of those countries, but also expanded her network of friends and relations, and in turn, the places that she calls home.

Before heading to Greece for her program this time, she spent a week in Turkey with the family of Cem Cakiroglu, a visit she makes every few years. "Cem was hosted by my  Cleveland Heights family in the 1990’s through CIP and ever since we have been through the swirl of life together: family travel here and there, marriages, births, deaths, children having children, graduations, relocations, jobs, celebrations and observances of all sorts. We are certainly a family in every sense of the word."

After Turkey, Marcia began her IPEP in Greece.  "On a daily basis, the principles, structures, and methods of social work came alive through lectures and workshops and agency visits. We were exposed to social work policy and education, and to the realities of what agencies face in addressing their challenging social problems. We met and discoursed with agency directors and leadership teams, including The National Center for Social Solidarity, Aeginitio Psychiatric Hospital, Friends Association of Children with Cancer, Human Rights 360, Center for Combating Violence and Multiple Discrimination, Home Project, DIAPLUS Social Cooperation, et. al.  We learned of the complications and roadblocks in navigating and addressing social issues…the challenges of resource allocation….the degree to which time is the most valued currency. Nothing was sugar coated, and any question we had was on the table and open for discussion. If anything, we left with hope rising knowing that professional staff were rolling up their sleeves to be in service to the people and causes they were there to serve."

Arrival dinner in GreeceCIF and CIP programs wouldn't be complete without the host family living aspect.  "Every cohort’s experience was enhanced by the experience of living with their host family.  My host mother, Despina Oikonomou, CIF HELLAS President, was every bit as gracious as she was engaging, smart, and just plain fun.   Outside of the CIF Hellas involvement, we enjoyed a beautiful concert sitting in an open air ancient theater at the base of the Acropolis under a full moon night….attended a Gay Pride parade (where I witnessed a young woman getting arrested and whisked away by police when she took down a GREECE FLAG from a lamp post in front of the Parliament Building to drape around her shoulders)….enjoyed delicious meals both in the home and out on the town with intimate and challenging conversations to go with….purchased beautifully illustrated books for my two grandbabies that Despina translated into English for me…shopped at her niece's specialty jewelry store and bought matching bracelets to think of each other til we meet again…..and so much more.  Our morning coffee and evening meal on the second story open air porch provided a beautiful view of Athens, all the while gentle breezes fanned our conversation and beginnings as friends." 

Our programs do more than just inform participants about their host countries - the exchange goes both ways, as Marcia expressed: "there  was much interest and inquiry into current and equally ‘hot’ USA issues:  pandemic, political maelstrom, social unrest, historical wildfires, mass shootings, temperatures and climate change rising to name a few. These were all very sobering conversations and I was surprised by the degree to which the CIF Hellas leadership and organizers were very informed about these issues and spoke to how their country was influenced by whatever happens on American soil. I did share my belief that,  in this day when people are unsure of how to influence change for the better, one thing I can do is to bring my best self forward and be a good world ambassador. And being a CIF IPEP participant allows that to happen in spades."Hetty

After her IPEP in Greece, Marcia continued the tour de CIF: "I traveled to Scotland to connect with my dear friend Hetty, who was part of my CIF Nepal cohort in 2017. Hetty was climbing the last of her 282 Munros (number of peaks over 3,000 ft), and I was joining other family and friends in her ascent and one week remote mountain cabin in celebration of her lifetime accomplishment."

Marcia and DespinaMarcia's network of friends and those she considers family grows and becomes deeper with each exchange.  She sees the opportunity to carry on further exchanges thanks to CIF's extraordinary commitment to their mission.  "When I knit my experiences of all three countries together, I am reminded that while you can’t plan for everything, you can prepare for anything!  By carrying each other for years in our minds and hearts and jet stream visits to each other’s homes and lives, we were all living the dream and fulfilling the founding mission of CIF: to create and atmosphere for international understanding, to provide a forum for the exchange of experiences and learning, and to foster world-wide friendships."
Posted by Melissa Zwick on August 1, 2022 at 1:50 PM in Participant Permalink
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