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Friendship Force members and clubs around the world are doing spectacular work all the time!

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Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Roots of Friendship Revisited During Roots of Brazil

Editor’s Note: Vicki Vance, member of FF Baton Rouge for 24 years, has been leading Global Journeys for FFI since 1999. In May, she led a Journey with 17 ambassadors from several countries throughout Brazil, experiencing Salvador’s unique Bahian culture and São Paulo’s metropolis. Here, she reflects on some of the most significant aspects of this Journey – the friendships she created and revisited, even many years later.

I recently led a Journey called the “Roots of Brazil” to Salvador and São Paulo. It was a fabulous experience with ambassadors from several US states, New Zealand, Canada and even Brazil, who all learned a great deal about the history, culture, music, dance, food and religion of this country. We enjoyed sharing our meals, beach trips, market shopping, cooking classes and a concert with our wonderful hosts.

Doug, Adriana, and Vicki at a Farewell Party in 2000

What made this Journey especially memorable for me was not only did I establish several new friendships, but I also had the chance to reconnect with many of my Brazilian friends from past Journeys.

Thanks to Ione and Marcos (whom I only knew via Facebook), I arrived a few days early and stayed with them in Jundiai before the three of us went to Salvador.

My main purpose in coming to Jundiai was to see my “little sister,” Adriana, again after eighteen years. My husband, Doug, and I hosted Adriana on a Journey to Baton Rouge with FF São Paulo in 2000 and we have stayed in touch via email and Whatsapp, but had not seen each other since then.

We have shared the difficult times in our lives with the sudden loss of Adriana’s young husband, my brother’s unexpected passing, September 11th, hurricanes, and a major flood in Baton Rouge that uprooted our lives and our home.

Vicki with Adriana and her parents

We’ve celebrated the happiness of new additions to our families, the excitement of different career paths, and have encouraged each other in new endeavors. There were tears of joy when we saw each other again and we spent hours reminiscing about our time together. Her parents invited me over one evening for dinner and it was lovely to finally meet them.

Although we didn’t speak the same language, our common bond drew us together and many laughs were shared that evening.  

In addition to seeing Adriana, I also was able to spend a few hours in Salvador catching up with Teobaldo who had joined me on Discover the Amazon Journey in 2012.

Vicki with Teobaldo

FF São Paulo member, Arany, and I also reconnected from the 2000 Baton Rouge Journey and it was wonderful to see her again. FF São Paulo member, Genie, hosted for the “Roots” Journey, and we talked about the adventures we shared on a 2010 journey to Chile and Argentina.

Jandira, a member of FF Curitiba, came on a 2014 Spanish Language Learners Journey to Colombia with me and flew to São Paulo to join us for a few days. She was thrilled to meet with Linda from Atlanta, Georgia who also was part of the Spanish Language Learners Journey in Bogotá several years ago. We had a great time catching each other up on all the changes in our lives in the past four years.

Everywhere I went I was seeing people I knew from the past, and it was unforgettable. The amazing friendships I have made in Brazil have enriched my life. As one of the FF members told me, “Vicki, you are now Brazilian!”

Linda, Jandira, and Vicki

Obrigada, meus queridos amigos – thank you, my dear friends! Until we meet again!

– Vicki Vance, Ambassador Coordinator, “Roots of Brazil” Global Journey, May 2018

 

 

 

 

 

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Presenting the 2017 Annual Report

A comprehensive report on the state of Friendship Force International in 2017.

READ HERE!

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Changes to the 2020 Journey Matching Process

The 2020 Journey matching season will soon be upon us! There are some important changes to the process this year that each club leader should review before submitting Journey hosting and travel requests. To help ensure a smooth and efficient Journey matching season, we ask that club leaders submit forms before the deadlines highlighted below.

2020 Journey Matching Process Timeline

DATE ACTION
Mid-July 2018 2020 Inbound Hosting Availability Form sent to club presidents
August 15, 2018 Deadline to submit the Inbound Hosting Availability Form to FFI
September 1, 2018 2020 Outbound Destination Request Form sent to club presidents
November 1, 2018 Deadline to submit the Outbound Destination Request Form to FFI
Mid-February 2019 Journey Assignment emails sent to club presidents

Inbound Hosting Availability Form

This will be the first of two forms that will need to be completed as part of the 2020 Journey matching process.  This form will allow you to specify how many and what types of inbound Journeys your club will commit to hosting in 2020.

Outbound Destination Request Form

This will be the second of two forms that will need to be completed for the 2020 Journey matching process.  This form allows you to request up to four outbound destinations that your club would like to visit in 2020.  

Mutual Journeys

In the interest of fairness, there will no longer be a question on the Outbound Destination Request Form about mutually-arranged Journeys. We have seen over the past few years that recognizing mutual Journeys provides an advantage to some clubs over others. We do not wish for any clubs to be disadvantaged in the Journey matching process, so we will therefore no longer include mutual Journeys in the matching process.

If you have already advised FFI of a mutual Journey that will take place in 2020, don’t worry! That Journey can still go ahead. Mutual Journeys will simply no longer be a part of the Journey matching process after this year.

Please note, reciprocal Journeys are still encouraged and will be taken into consideration as part of the Journey matching process. We love to make a match for clubs to visit a club they once hosted!

Domestic & Inter-European Journeys

Domestic and Inter-European Journeys will once again be included in the surveys. The Inbound Hosting Availability Form will include a question about whether your club is willing to host a domestic or Inter-European Journey. If your club wishes to travel on a domestic (or Inter-European) Journey please indicate this by selecting your own country (or European country for Inter-European Journeys) as a preference in the Outbound Destination Request Form.

Other programs

In order to be more inclusive, we are introducing some new programs. You will see a new question about Short Stay Programs and Easy Activity Level Programs in the Inbound Hosting Availability Form. Short Stay Programs are Journeys of 3-4 nights’ length and they are not intended to replace regular week-long hosting. Clubs that agree to host a Short Stay Program will do so in addition to regular hosting. Easy Activity Level Programs are for members with limited mobility. If your club would like to host one of these programs please indicate this on the form and fill in the comment box with details of what your club can offer.

Themed Global Journeys

You will find a question on Themed Global Journeys in the Inbound Hosting Availability Form. This is your opportunity to be creative and to showcase the best of what your region has to offer. Themed Global Journeys are designed to allow clubs to invite ambassadors from around the world to visit their region with a focus on a specific theme. Please indicate whether your club is willing to host a Themed Global Journey in addition to your regular Club-to-Club Journey and then provide details of your idea in the comment box.

We hope that the changes indicated above will result in better and fairer journey matching for 2020. As always, please do not hesitate to contact us at this email address if there is anything we can do to assist you during the Journey matching process.

Don’t forget to use the “Additional Comments Box” on the form to let us know of any special considerations such as recent or planned recruitment drives, cancelled, or postponed Journeys, past requests, etc.

If you have any questions please feel free to contact us at planning@friendshipforce.org. Thank you for all that you do for your club and Friendship Force as a whole! We appreciate your dedication and service!

In friendship,

The FFI Planning Team

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Festivities and Friends Abound Crossing the Atlantic

Photo courtesy of Glenn Wainman

With many participants meeting for the first time in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, it was uncertain how many strangers would become friends or new memories would be made on this Journey east. For the second year in a row, Friendship Force International was pleased to present a cruise option for our members. And for a second year in a row, members were able to connect with new friends and old, make new memories, and experience the excitement of our mission in action.

For this year’s Festival at Sea, 89 participants from five countries came together for eighteen days crossing the Atlantic. Friendship Force CEO, Jeremi Snook, Director of Digital Strategy and Innovation, Laura Romero, and Board of Directors Chair, Jo Custead, lead the group in both structured and unstructured activities to help build connections with one another while also learning more about the direction of Friendship Force International.

Photo courtesy of Glenn Wainman

This was the first cruise for Debbie and Wilson Lattey of Kapiti Coast, New Zealand. “We signed up because we liked the idea of spending time with a large group of FF members from many different places, while also visiting countries and ports we hadn’t been to before,” said Debbie. “We also liked the idea that our CEO Jeremi would be present and would be running workshops covering a number of topics to do with FFI. We weren’t disappointed – both the workshops and the social gatherings were great and we got to know most of the 90+ Friendship Force members on board.”

Photo courtesy of Sharon Jackson

Debbie also commented, “Jeremi and Laura did a wonderful job of keeping us entertained and informed, and it was also great to meet the Chair of the FFI Board, Jo Custead, on the cruise. We also collectively passed on our mission to many of the other passengers on board the ship, as our lanyards made us stand out and we were frequently asked about Friendship Force and what it’s all about.”

Glenn and Gail Wainman of Friendship Force of Victoria and Vancouver Island, Canada, particularly enjoyed meeting members from other clubs on the cruise. They even reconnected with members from FF Adelaide, Australia who hosted them on stopover trip last November.

“We are a very new club in Victoria and are looking for ways to expand and improve. We liked learning how other clubs approach the many facets of what needs to be accomplished within our clubs and organization,” explained Gail.

All in all, it was an amazing experience.

Cruises offer both current and prospective members a unique opportunity to learn more about Friendship Force. For some of our more seasoned members, it allows them to remain connected to the organization they love outside of a more traditional Friendship Force experience of hosting or traveling on a inbound or outbound Journey.

Sharon Jackson of FF Fort Worth & friends

‘Of course, I think the best part of the cruise was the food. And along with that was my second favorite part of the cruise – sitting across the table with strangers telling them about Friendship Force,’ said Sharon Jackson of FF Fort Worth, Texas. ‘My roommate and I chose open seating every evening dining room. That way, we always had new people to talk to and spread the Friendship Force message.’

During this year’s Festival at Sea, participants received in-depth information about the 2019 World Conference and how it symbolizes an important shift in the organization. They also heard about the important role technology will be playing as the organization continues to evolve and how this will shape the future. Members might remember most, though, the special activities planned at each of the sessions to bring the group together.

“I also loved getting to know my fellow Friendship Force ambassadors and leaders on this voyage,” said Sharon Jackson. “I found the ‘soul mate’ activity [in which participants had to locate their “perfect match” during the voyage and have dinner with them] and ‘small group’ ideas intriguing. Bring on more of that for the 2019 Festival at Sea!”

Photo courtesy of Glenn Wainman

Although cruises will not be a core program of FFI, they remain an important offering enjoyed by members of all ages from all over the world. Next year, we will be offering a 15-day cruise throughout South America, and with over 20 from this year’s cruise already signed up, it is shaping up to be another memorable Journey!

See more photos from the cruise on the FFI Facebook page: here, here, and here! More information on our 2019 Festival at Sea to South America will be available on our Journeys page very soon. Be sure you are subscribed to our mailing list so you are the first to hear about that and other traveling and hosting opportunities with Friendship Force!

Photo courtesy of Jeremi Snook
Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Featured Clubs of the Quarter: 2018 Open World Hosts

For the second quarter of 2018, Friendship Force recognizes all of the clubs that have hosted Open World Leadership Center delegations so far this year. While Open World Programs and FFI Journeys have some similarities, one significant difference is that Open World Programs are assigned late in the year for the coming year usually in December– for example, we received most of our 2018 Programs in December 2017, and some of these Programs started as early as February!

In December 2017, a number of U.S. Friendship Force clubs agreed to host Open World delegations this year. We would like to recognize those that have already hosted OW delegations in 2018: FF Memphis, FF Western North Carolina, FF Utah, FF Des Moines, FF Greater Atlanta, FF Reno-Tahoe, FF Lincoln, FF Cheyenne, and FF Denver.

We are very grateful to the all of these clubs and those who will continue to take on this rewarding challenge throughout the year. All of them prepared and executed meaningful agendas packed with professional and cultural activities.

FFI Staff Member and Manager of our Open World Program Elena McCarty said,

Our clubs are absolute heroes for accepting these programs knowing that they will have only one month (and sometimes less than that!) to put together not only hosting, but also a professional program for these delegates.

Photo courtesy of Open World Leadership Center

Open World Leadership Center is a legislative branch agency founded as an arm of the U.S. Congress, which has worked with Friendship Force since 1999. Open World delegates are emerging leaders who are provided with extensive exposure to American democratic institutions and civic life while being hosted by American families. Each delegation has a specific program theme, including topics such as local legislature, media literacy, the role of women in countering violent extremism, nature preservation, medicine judiciary systems, agriculture and more.

FF Greater Des Moines and their delegates from Kosovo

Here are just some of the highlights from Open World programs in 2018:

FF Reno-Tahoe hosted Russian delegates in February with the theme of Natural Parks and Nature Preserves. They visited environmental sites and met with Senator Dean Heller and Representative Mark Amodei.

FF Cheyenne with local legislators from Ukraine

FF Lincoln, FF Cheyenne, and FF Denver hosted local legislators from Ukraine, and all participants learned more about that country. For example, Ukrainians were met with a very warm welcome with 50 people in attendance for the FF Lincoln welcome party! The delegates met with Senator Lydia Brasch whose parents immigrated to Lincoln from Ukraine in 1950, three years before she was born. She was a very gracious host at the Nebraska Capitol and spoke to the delegates in Ukrainian. 

All delegates were impressed by the programs our clubs prepared for them. In Cheyenne, they were especially wowed by the judicial presenters who inspired them to suggest similar changes back home.

While planning their professional agendas, Friendship Force clubs do spectacular job organizing delegates’ meetings with U.S. Congressmen, Senators, and other high-ranking officials. In Denver, the group met with key staff of the City of Littleton, including Mayor Debbie Brinkman, discussing local issues, and how to govern by mayoral leadership versus with a city council or city manager.

FF Memphis, Tennessee, which hosted a program focused on Community Relations with Law Enforcement from Ukraine, arranged meetings for their delegates with Congressman Steve Cohen and his staff, held a joint meeting with the staff of Tennessee senators Alexander and Corker, and met with Molly Lazio, staff for the Congressional foreign relations committee.

FF Western North Carolina hosted a double delegation from the Rumsfeld Foundation, including delegates from Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Armenia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan!

FF Utah hosted judges from Estonia for the Open World Rule of Law Program. FF Utah worked with Chief Judge David Nuffer to organize a professional agenda, which also included an afternoon with the FBI, where the Estonian judges heard about the international cooperation

FF Utah with judges from Estonia

involved in apprehending an Estonian criminal who turned out to be a 20-year-old college student.

As Shelley Bain, President of FF Greater Des Moines and Host Director of their Open World Program, said after hosting the delegates from Kosovo recently:

“An opportunity like this truly brings out the best in people.  I was impressed by the delegates’ dedication to their country, my Friendship Force friends, and my welcoming community.”

Friendship Force sincerely thanks all of those who have hosted Open World delegates both in 2018 and before for their dedication to the FFI mission! If your U.S. club is interested in hosting an Open World program in the future, please contact FFI’s Open World Manager, Elena McCarty, at elena@friendshipforce.org.

 

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

FF Sacramento Celebrates 30 Years in 2018!

Editor’s Note: In March 2018, the Friendship Force of Sacramento celebrated their 30th anniversary with a spectacular celebration, with many members, civic leaders, and FFI CEO Jeremi Snook in attendance. At the event, original charter member of FF Sacramento, Doris Schroeder, shared the following story. You see more photos and details of the celebration here on FF Sacramento’s website!

I stand before you today in place of my husband Helmut Schroeder who passed away in 2016. He established the chapter of the Friendship Force in Sacramento in 1988. He shared the dream of the Friendship Force that one day all people on this beautiful planet would be able to live in peace and harmony with each other.

Speaker Doris Schroeder

The Friendship Force of Sacramento had humble beginnings with many meetings in our living room. The club of San Francisco was very helpful. They sent experienced members to assist with the first steps of establishing our club. My husband contacted the headquarters of the Friendship Force in Atlanta, and the founder, Wayne Smith, came to Sacramento to help in the planning on our club. You all probably know that the Friendship Force was started by Wayne Smith, a former pastor, who together with President Carter founded the peace organization in 1977. On March 1st of that year, the Friendship Force was officially introduced at the White House by President Carter.

Our first incoming exchange took place in 1988 with the club from Arnhem, Holland. Diny Goossens was the exchange director and brought with her a number of brave souls to Sacramento. It happened around Thanksgiving and of course we did our best to impress our guests with an authentic Thanksgiving Dinner. We had rented space at the library on Auburn Boulevard and we hauled many cooked turkeys and all the trimmings there. It was a successful exchange and many others followed.

In the fall of 1988, my husband and I flew to Holland and attended our first International Conference. King Leopold of Holland opened the conference with the Carters in attendance. We were thrilled when President and Mrs. Carter greeted us at the table with a handshake. The idea of inviting strangers, of course with the same peaceful mindset as ours, into our homes and introducing them to our own style of living, fosters friendship, understand and respect for one another.

Jeremi Snook with Doris and the Schroeder family

In 1989, the Sacramento club participated in an exchange to Colombia. We stayed with a young family in Bogotá, then in Cali, and then from there onto Leticia. From there, the exchange director organized a most adventurous trip by boat on the Amazon river to a remote village. I will never forget this trip, where we fished for piranhas, shared a bottle of rum in the boat, and hiked through the jungle to our designated village, where we were greeted by the indigenous, friendly people with fruit juices and unusual food. I remember it was very tasty and we all devoured our meals.

The Sacramento Club hosted many exchanges over the years from all over the world. Thanks to all of our members, our club has established a very good reputation. My husband and I hosted guests from Great Britain, New Zealand, Japan, Holland, Germany, Russia, Colombia, Taiwan and Indonesia. We hosted two high school principals from Jakarta, Indonesia. One of the excursions took us to Plymouth and Calaveras Big Trees, where these two delightful gentlemen experienced their first snow in their lives. It was so funny to see them throw snowballs to each other and shriek with delight. We hosted a couple from Taiwan that did not speak English but we communicated with our gestures, facial expressions, and pictures. We parted as friends.

I am sure many of you have similar experiences with your guests. I know my husband would be very proud to see how well the Sacramento Club is flourishing under excellent leadership. So let us continue to be messengers of peace in the world. I would like to close with a motto of the Friendship Force: A world of friends is a world of peace. Thank you.

– Story written by Doris Schroeder, original charter member of FF Sacramento

FF Sacramento Charter Members

New Dates and Location for 2019 World Conference!

Highlights from the 2018 March Board of Directors Meeting

Editor’s Note: Board of Directors Chair, Jo Custead, of FF Saskatoon, Canada, shares a summary of highlights below from the March 2018 Board Meeting.

Amidst the Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina, USA, the FFI Board of Directors met from March 19-22, 2018 for a productive and insightful yearly meeting. Discussing topics ranging from strategy to organizational development, 11 Board Members, including two new Board Members Krisztina Balogh and James Permana, covered significant ground on a variety of ideas and issues. Board Members in attendance were Bobbie Mulholland, Lyn Hargreave, Ramona McGee, Krisztina Balogh, Simone Lanzoni, Stuart May, Hiroshi Onishi, James Permana, Therese Vilovar, and Birgit Wagner (Board Member Bob Duncan was unable to attend). I wanted to share with you all some of the highlights from the meeting:

  • The Board approved the development and deployment of a global satisfaction survey that will gauge the strengths and weaknesses of the organization from year to year. The survey will give all members the ability to provide feedback on  aspects of the organization. This new tool will be deployed in multiple languages annually.
  • Upon reviewing the proposed redevelopment of the International Advisory Council (IAC), the Board approved the first slate of advisors – a group of prospective candidates that will be approached to join the IAC this year. The overall goal is for the IAC to be comprised of well-known public influencers that represent the diversity that exists within the Friendship Force membership and publicly promote the mission and vision of the organization.
  • After reviewing a report on the financial status of Friendship Force International, the Board of Directors was pleased that for 2017, and for the first time in several years, the organization finished the year strong and ahead of budget. The Board is optimistic this is a reflection of renewed strength and vitality in programs.

  • The Board received a report on the ongoing re-development of the website and database, specifically focusing on the next steps to deploy more tools for members and clubs. Additionally, the Board approved the development of a member portal, which is the next step in creating a more secure and personal online experience for members. The member portal will be password protected and each member will receive a unique login. Once logged in, members will be able to build their secure online profile, make Journey payments, track and log experiences with Friendship Force, and connect with the Friendship Force global community. In time, the member portal will be able to provide access in a number of foreign languages.
  • Members of the Board examined how remote members may be recruited, connected with our mission, and inspired to start a club in their community. The support structure for global membership is still in development and a work team has been formed to continue its development.
  • The Board devoted some time to looking at Friendship Force’s ongoing club development initiatives, specifically efforts to strengthen current clubs and enhance recruitment efforts and to establish new clubs. The Board was pleased with the considerable progress made in marketing, public relations, and the utilization of technology towards these efforts, but recognizes there is still much more to be done.

  • The Board received a comprehensive report and engaged in lengthy discussions around revisions to the financial fee structure for Journeys. Challenges with the current fee structure are that it is not equitable for shorter Journeys, it does not take into consideration currency fluctuations, and there are questions about domestic vs. club vs. inter-European exchanges as well as the rate justifications. The Finance Committee will take the research and discussion from the Board and create a proposal to be presented later this year.
  • The Board approved the increase of the member affiliation fee to $20.00 USD per member starting in 2020, noting that it has been nearly seven years since the last adjustment and the costs of doing business naturally rise.

  • Jeremi Snook spent some time outlining the ongoing development of the next organizational strategic plan that will carry the organization from 2019 to 2021. The plan, currently in draft form, will continue to undergo modifications as feedback from leaders throughout the organization is incorporated in the final product. An official announcement and educational campaign around the new plan is projected for fourth quarter of this year.
  • On a joint meeting day, FFI Staff and the Board of Directors met to rework the awards and volunteer recognition process for FFI. Awards were postponed in 2017 due to lack of participation by clubs in previous years. The Board and staff came up with a number of ways in which members and clubs can be honored for their contributions to our mission. FFI staff is working to finalize the awards and recognition process that will be announced in the coming months.

All of us on the Board are pleased with the progress over the past several months and the encouraging reports received and discussions that took place during this meeting in picturesque Asheville. We look forward to keeping you all informed with updates as the year continues!

In friendship,

Jo Custead, Board Chair, FF Saskatoon, Canada

 

 

 

Friday, April 27, 2018

Press Release: Friendship Force, pioneer in global homestay experience, seeking dedicated leaders to join its Board of Directors

ATLANTA, April 26, 2018 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Friendship Force International, the global pioneer in promoting personal homestay travel experiences, is seeking dedicated leaders to join its board of directors to help chart the non-profit’s future course.

Qualifying candidates will be expected to have leadership skills, the ability to think strategically and globally, and a commitment to the FFI mission, vision and goals.

FFI is specifically seeking Board member nominees who have a strong network of connections that could assist FFI and/or with expertise in one or more of the following fields: fundraising, accounting, non-profit management, marketing/communications, and technology.

The nomination/application form can be found here: https://bit.ly/2Hc5WQW and the deadline for submissions is May 20, 2018.

Click here for details of the duties of a member of the Board of Directors.

“The mission of our organization transcends politics and religion and provides a time-honored process for average people to travel the world to experience different views and discover common ground,” said Jeremi Snook, FFI president and CEO. “I look forward to working with the current board and new board members as we develop new and exciting travel experiences designed to offer people of all ages and backgrounds opportunities to explore the world and make new friends while building bridges of understanding.”

ABOUT FRIENDSHIP FORCE INTERNATIONAL

With more than 15,000 people involved in Friendship Force International in more than 60 countries worldwide, FFI provides opportunities to explore new countries and cultures from the inside by bringing people together at the personal level. Through the signature program of home hospitality pioneered by FFI, local hosts welcome international visitors into their culture, sharing with them meals, conversation, and the best sights and experiences of their region.

Celebrating its 41st anniversary in 2018, Friendship Force has brought together more than 1 million people in homestay and cultural immersion experiences that have helped to promote global understanding across the barriers that separate people.

To learn more about how Friendship Force International can enrich your life, please visit http://www.friendshipforce.org/.

Andrew Bowen
404-822-3309
ab@clearviewcom.com

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Ambassadors and Hosts Share “Homes and Hearts” in Mexico

Editor’s Note: This guest post was written by recent Ambassador Coordinator, Donna Baldwin-Haut, a member of FF Greater Milwaukee, Michigan, USA. She and 14 other ambassadors traveled in January to Mexico and developed incredible friendships with their host clubs of FF Tuxtla Gutierrez and FF Mexico City, while learning about Mexican culture, history, and customs.

Fifteen very enthusiastic ambassadors from throughout the US, Canada and England had the opportunity to enjoy a two-week Journey to wonderful Mexico. After a brief overnight in Mexico City, our first week was spent in the state of Chiapas in the city of Tuxtla Gutierrez. Chiapas is one of the poorest states in Mexico. but amazingly rich in friendly and welcoming Tuxtla Gutierrez Friendship Force club members. The club did an outstanding job in sharing its rich history with us.

We were welcomed by government officials, learned about the local flora and fauna, fell in love with the music of the magnificent marimba, shared a Mexican breakfast in the indigenous community of Zinacantan, were moved by our visit to the San Juan Chamula indigenous community church, witnessed the celebration of the “Combat” fireworks in the Grijalva River at Chiapa de Corzo, and enjoyed the spectacular Festival of the Parachicos with its colorful and fun parade that brought smiles and laughter to all our faces.

Our visit to historic San Cristobal de las Casas was wonderful; conversely, our visit to two local hospitals to bring small medical equipment was emotional and highlighted the extent of local poverty. We finished the week with our outdoor fun-filled farewell party along the river, an event none of us will soon forget.

With lots of tears and long hugs, we said “adios” to our new friends and ventured forth to Mexico City, a huge city of over 21 million people which accounted for the overwhelming nature of traffic witnessed throughout the week. A long ride from the airport to the welcome party found us in the warm inviting arms of our new hosts.

With new found respect for Mexico City and all it had to offer, we had an super week. The hop on-hop hop-off bus gave us a great feel for the city. We enjoyed our time in the heart of the city visiting the Zocalo, the National Palace with the Diego Rivera murals, the Metropolitan Cathedral and the Aztec remains. Our afternoon at Xochimilco on the floating trajinera party boats was great fun as we enjoyed the local food and Mariachi music with the club members. The beautiful church in the town of Tepotzotlán (Unesco World Heritage) was the backdrop for an enchanting performance of the university a capella quartet, Shemesh. Our visit to the Teotihuacan pyramids and the Basilica of Guadalupe gave us a deeper understanding of the history and culture of the Mexican people.

The highlight for many of us was the Museum of Anthropology that we visited with an terrific guide, followed by lunch in beautiful Chapultepec Park. A delightful evening performance of the Ballet Folklorico was enjoyed at the castle of Maximilian. The generosity and kindness of our home hosts was evident each and every day. Club president, Maru, was an knowledgeable historian and she brought this incredible city into greater focus for us all. It was a perfect week with perfect home hosts who shared their homes and hearts with each of us, making it all the more difficult to bid them “hasta luego” at the end of our delightful Mexico Journey!

Story by Donna Baldwin-Hunt, Ambassador Coordinator, FF Greater Milwaukee

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