And, I hear you ask, what is that?
The short answer is that it is special day, created by Friendship Force International five years ago, to celebrate global friendships and understanding. Which, of course, leads to the next question: what is Friendship Force International?
The first ever Friendship Force exchange took place in July 1977 when a Boeing 747 loaded with 381 British "Ambassadors" flew from Newcastle upon Tyne to Atlanta, Georgia, where the ambassadors would stay in the homes of American hosts in and around Atlanta for the next two weeks. The next day the plane returned with a similar number of American ambassadors, who spent the following two weeks staying in the homes of British hosts in and around Newcastle. Many of the friendships that were made during that initial exchange still continue to this day.
Since then more than 600,000 people in 70 countries have stayed in the homes of new friends in other countries and learned that sharing a home for a few days is an ideal way to make new friendships, to learn about life, culture, beliefs, and even misunderstandings, in other countries – both well-known and less well-known. The Friendship Force consists of clubs representing a particular geographical area, and today exchanges typically involve 15-20 ambassadors from one club visiting another club for a week-long stay, during which the ambassadors will get to know their hosts, as well as other members of the host club, and will spend the week in a mixture of organised visits to places of interest in the locality and private excursions with their own individual hosts.
I am a member of the Friendship Force of Derbyshire, one of 19 UK clubs, which was founded in 1982. In that year our first exchange involved some 80 ambassadors from Oklahoma visiting Derbyshire and staying in the homes of local people, followed by a similar number visiting Oklahoma later the same year. Since then our club has made a total of 45 visits to clubs in 13 countries, plus six to other UK clubs, while we have welcomed visitors from 16 countries during the course of 50 exchanges, as well as six visits by members of other UK clubs.
|Hosts and Ambassadors at the Catholic University of Leuven in 2010|
In 2011 we shall be visiting Cottbus in Eastern Germany and welcoming guests from San Diego, in California, while next year we expect to visit both Turkey and the United States and to receive guests from Hungary. In addition some of our members will be travelling as far afield as Indonesia and South America with other UK clubs. We shall make new friends and, possibly, meet old ones again. And we shall continue to demonstrate that a World of Friends is a World of Peace.
As I said at the beginning, today is World Friendship Day. And in today's uncertain climate we really do need world friendship.