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May the ‘friend’ force be with you

In a rural farmhouse in the heart of Wairarapa, a force gathers.

Over cups of tea and plates of slice, 20 or so members of the Wairarapa branch of Friendship Force meet to debrief their latest foreign exchange.

The feedback is unanimous – the exchange, or “journey”, of 16 visitors from the Greater Taipei branch of Friendship Force in Taiwan was a success.

“They were so enthusiastic, full of fun, helpful, genuine. There are so many words you can use to describe them. Beautiful people. So much laughter,” June Roseingrave, president of the Wairarapa branch, said of their guests.

Friendship Force, a global non-profit organisation, aims to foster peace and understanding through its programme of home-hosted travel experiences. The Wairarapa chapter has pursued the organisation’s mission to build international friendships and cross-cultural connections since 1984 – less than a decade after Friendship Force was first founded in the US.

Today, Friendship Force has 15,000 active members globally, hosting 300 “journeys” [international exchanges between members] across 60 countries annually.

The Wairarapa club is one of 10 in New Zealand, with a total national membership of about 380 people.

The Greater Taipei exchange was a sign Friendship Force Wairarapa is returning to “business as usual” after covid, Roseingrave said.

“It’s been three years in the making. They were coming, then it was cancelled, they were coming, then it was cancelled. So we finally got them here, and it was just brilliant.”

As the Wairarapa club approaches its 40th birthday, members are renewing their commitment to the Friendship Force mission and are looking to grow the chapter.

“We want to get our name out there and let people know we are a wonderful group doing fabulous things,” Roseingrave said.

“We’re non-political. We’re non-religious. We’re just a group of people who like to understand and meet people from different cultures and develop friendships.”

Lynn and Ivan Pillar joined the Wairarapa club in 1984 after hearing an advert on the radio looking for hosts for international travellers.

Their first guests were a banker and his wife from Nebraska – with whom they are still friends today.

The Pillars’ commitment to Friendship Force is plain to see: Both sporting a lanyard lined with the decorative pins hosts and guests swap at the end of each journey.

Janet Campbell has been a member of Friendship Force for over 30 years. She, too, has made lifelong friends through the club, as well as visiting nearly every state in America.

Campbell said home-hosted travel means you are not just visiting tourist attractions. “You see how people live. You get back to basics.”

The journeys, which include exchanges between chapters in New Zealand, are organised by the club –with a journey director responsible for logistics and events planning.

Guests stay with local hosts for a maximum of seven nights, and a small nightly fee is paid to the host club to cover the cost of activities.

Members do not have to host but can get involved in planning, catering, and helping organise travel around the region, Roseingrave said.

“Our mission for [the most recent] journey was to find different things to do so that our local members also had a new experience. We’re finding new stuff to do in Wairarapa all the time.”

Friendship Force Wairarapa has a busy calendar over the next year, with two clubs visiting from America, and trips to Australia and the Isle of Wight in the pipeline.

More information about Friendship Force in Wairarapa can be found online at http://www.friendshipforce.org.nz/Wairarapa

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