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

Look here for news, stories and information on upcoming FFI events worldwide.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Featured Journey of the Quarter: Leadership Training Conferences, October 2018

Most Friendship Force Journeys have a few leaders involved as Journey Coordinators, but for these Featured Journeys of the Quarter, all participants were either experienced or aspiring leaders! In October 2018, successful Leadership Training Conferences and Seminars were held in Cottbus, Germany and Lincoln, Nebraska, USA.

European Leadership Seminar
In Germany, 11 participants from 9 different clubs in 5 different countries (Germany, Belgium, U.K., Russia, and France) gathered to develop their leadership skills and understand different forms of club organization and Journeys. They also sought to establish a network of both future and experienced leaders throughout Europe.

Over the two-and-a-half-days of this Global Journey, participants learned from seasoned European club leaders in workshops and presentations covering membership and club development, structure and leadership, and general FFI practices. The small group size allowed for many learning opportunities, including helpful discussions and exchanges on different Friendship Force club experiences. As one participant said, “I am glad to get a new network for exchanging questions and experiences.”

Thank you to the presenters of a most interesting and helpful seminar and to the people from Cottbus for great hospitality – European Leadership Seminar Participant

FF Cottbus generously provided home-hosting over the long weekend, including an excursion to local attraction, Spreewald, a forested area and wetland reserve. Many thanks to members of the organizing committee for their work in organizing this successful seminar, including Kurt Häfeli (Switzerland), Loes Epping, (Netherlands), Dany Vanderbroeck, (Belgium), Eberhard Wauer, (Germany), and Kerstin Hogan, (Regional Support Manager, FFI). The European Action Group is planning another seminar in upcoming years with the same format, and a special effort will be made to include participants from developing or new clubs.

As one participant commented, “I think this meeting was a great success… We are all in close contact because we have had such a relatively small group, but that is the [strength]: we will remind each other and are friends… that is the essence of Friendship Force!”

Lincoln Leadership Training Conference
Around the same time as the seminar in Cottbus was taking place, members of FF Lincoln and FF Omaha also hosted their own Leadership Training Conference in Lincoln, Nebraska. The 8 participants of the training hailed from Tanzania, Russia, the Philippines, Canada, and Texas and Wisconsin in the U.S.. Members from FF Omaha kindly provided home-hosting before the conference, while the training took place in Lincoln. Lincoln club members led most of the training in a conversational style, with assistance from long-time member of FF Greater Milwaukee and Board Alumnus Dave Kalan. Participants and leaders engaged in training each morning through lunchtime, and then enjoyed activities, time for socializing, and shared meals in the evenings.

According to Dale Moore, U.S. Field Representative of the Midwest Region, “The participants were wonderful people who truly appreciated the opportunity to attend the training sessions.” He commended FF Lincoln for involving so many people in the training, while also making it both fun and interesting. He also commented on one leader specifically, saying, “Dave Kalan is amazing, as he seems tireless and always willing to share ideas and give of his time.”

Thank you to Friendship Force of Lincoln and Friendship Force of Omaha, especially the presenters, and all of the leadership training participants for helping to grow and lead the future of Friendship Force!





Friday, December 7, 2018

Featured Club of the Quarter: Friendship Force of Mount Barker, Australia

Question: What successful club event served as both a membership drive and fundraiser, garnering the club Featured Club of the Quarter?
Answer: Friendship Force of Mount Barker’s Quiz Night!
Jan Luck and Quiz Night Volunteers, Eleanor, Christiane, Tony, Alice, Jan and Frank

Our Featured Club of the Quarter is FF Mount Barker, for their innovative efforts to attract new recruits, connect with fellow club members, and raise $1200 AUD (approximately $816 USD) which was contributed to FFI’s Annual Fund! On August 18th, the club hosted almost 100 people – members from both their club and nearby Australian clubs like FF Adelaide, along with non-member friends – for a rousing evening of facts, fun, and friends.

Quiz Master and Publicity Officer, Jan Luck

FF Mount Barker Publicity Officer Jan Luck served as Quiz Master for the night, with setup, break-down, and planning support from President Jan de Weerd, the club’s social committee, and other members and friends. Prizes were donated by local businesses and club members, who also supplied beverages for the evening. “Great effort everyone who was involved, including those members who came along just to enjoy the night and brought friends,” said Jan Luck.

“Everyone had a good social night out and there were many non FF members there who got to hear about Friendship Force. So as well as it being a very successful fundraiser, it was a good PR exercise for the club,” said President Jan de Weerd.

In a thank you letter to the organizers of the event, FFI Board Member and FF Adelaide member Bobbie Mulholland wrote:

I am very impressed that your club took up the challenge to serve FFI in this way – it serves to remind clubs, everywhere that helping our great organisation is as easy as to have a night of fun with fellow members and friends. Imagine the benefit if all clubs tried to do the same.

With the clear success of the evening, FF Mount Barker hopes to make this a recurring event. “A lot of preparation had gone into the evening and prior to it, but the amount of money raised, the obvious enjoyment of people, and the buzz on the night absolutely made it all worthwhile,” said Jan Luck.

The Winners of Quiz Night

We do hope this will be an annual event and one undertaken by other clubs around the world! Congratulations again to FF Mt. Barker and all involved!

Try your hand at answering some of the quiz questions of the night:
Q: The soundtrack of which 1967 film includes the Simon and Garfunkel hit “Mrs. Robinson”?
A: The Graduate
Q: Who last century led an expedition northward from Melbourne to the Gulf of Carpentaria?
A: Robert O’Hara Bourke

Two New Wayne Smith Medal Recipients Honored in 2018

2018 brought Friendship Force two more honored recipients of the Wayne Smith Medal. This award was created in 2011 as a tribute to the memory of Friendship Force founder Wayne Smith, whose boundless energy and optimism and untiring commitment to the cause of world friendship made this organization the global force for good that it is today. Recipients of the medal are those who advance our organization’s values of mutual respect, cultural diversity, and humanitarian service. In 2018, we were lucky enough to honor our 100th recipient of the award!

The two members who joined the distinguished group of exemplary leaders around the world in 2018 are Marj Stanton of Friendship Force Bundaberg, Australia, and Donna Baldwin-Haut of Friendship Force Greater Milwaukee, USA. These women are today’s leaders who make it possible to maintain Wayne Smith’s vision of promoting understanding across the barriers that separate people.

Marj Stanton has been a member of the Bundaberg Friendship Force Club for over 24 years. She has participated in many domestic and international Journeys during her time with Friendship Force, and has attended almost every National Conference in Australia. Widely known and respected in the Australian Friendship Force community, Marj has held the office of Merchandise Officer for many years, while also lending her home for day hosting, dinner hosting, and numerous club functions. “Through her loving caring nature she epitomises the ideals, goals and vision of Friendship Force,” according to club president of FF Bundaberg, Don McKewen.

The 100th Recipient of the Wayne Smith Medal is Donna Baldwin-Haut of Friendship Force of Greater Milwaukee, as nominated by the board of her club for her twelve years of outstanding leadership. Donna has helmed fundraising and strategic planning projects for her club, along with helping to organize their 20th Anniversary Gala Celebration. She has also served as President in 2011 and 2012 and Journey Coordinator on several outbound and inbound Journeys.

Donna has been a strong proponent of building service projects into FF Greater Milwaukee’s inbound Journeys, and has also facilitated extensive leadership training for leaders of new and developing clubs. According to the FF Greater Milwaukee Board, “Donna is eminently qualified to be a recipient of this award with the dedication she has shown in word and deed towards promoting world peace through advancing the organization’s values of mutual respect, cultural diversity, and humanitarian service.”

Donna, herself, said she is “humbled beyond words” to be receiving the award. “To be counted among the outstanding FFI leaders around the world is indeed an honor that touches me deep within my heart. I am most grateful to the Friendship Force of Greater Milwaukee for this honor,” Donna said. She continued:

Friendship Force has given me the amazing opportunity to experience the warmth of friendships throughout the world and the joy of learning about diverse cultures and amazing places along the way. I believe deeply in the mission of Friendship Force and feel that it is my duty to return my service to the organization for all that it has given to me and the people of the world through promoting peace, understanding, and humanitarian service.

Each nomination of the Wayne Smith Medal is accompanied by a donation of US $500 to the Friendship Force Legacy Fund, given by the presenting club(s) in honor of the recipient. The donation and others like it help advance the work of FFI by expanding its global reach. The medal may recognize exceptional leadership from within the club, or it may be presented to those in the broader community whose lives reflect the Friendship Force mission.

If you’re interested in nominating someone for the award, you can complete the nomination form here. View a complete list of all 100 Wayne Smith Medal Recipients here.

Friday, November 2, 2018

FFI Institutes New Awards Process for 2019

In 1981, at the 5th World Conference in Newcastle upon Tyne, England, a special award was introduced as a way to honor two volunteer leaders each year who demonstrated exemplary dedication and loyalty to Friendship Force and its goals. Later, in 1987, at the 11th World Conference in Richmond, Virginia, USA, awards to recognize the support provided by our network of clubs around the world were given for the first time.

Over the years, we added on different award categories which allowed us to recognize more of our members and clubs but they ended up complicating the process. There were also times when we lacked nominees for some of the award categories. Both of these issues are why we decided to get back to the basics and simplify the awards process.

We want to make sure that our members and clubs are recognized for their outstanding service to the mission of Friendship Force on a regular basis. To help do this, we’ve instituted new award categories, which are:

Club of the Year by Region
Volunteer of the Year by Region

Regions are defined as: Asia, Europe/Eurasia, Latin America/Caribbean, Mid-East/Africa, North America-Canada, North America-USA, and South Pacific.

For the 2019 FFI Awards Process, winners will be selected by region using the selection criteria. From those regional winners, overall winners will be chosen. This process begins in November, when all members receive the online Call for Nominations form from FFI Headquarters. The deadline to submit the form to FFI is January 15. By February 15, Regional Winners will be determined by the established selection committees as defined below and they will be recognized in March. The regional winners will then be considered for the Outstanding Club and Volunteer of the Year, which will be recognized at the 2019 World Conference in Boulder, Colorado, in July.

Selection Committees:

  • Regional Selection Committee: A team of FFI staff, Field Representatives, and other regional leaders will create regional selection committees based on regional leadership. These committees will review the nominations and select winners in their regions using the selection criteria. Current Field Representatives, and other key leaders will serve on these initial regional committees.
  • International Selection Committee: A team of FFI staff, Field Representatives, and other key volunteer leaders from around the world will then select the outstanding recipients from among those regional winners.

Selection Criteria:

  • For clubs: Over the past two years, this club will have shown exemplary work across a broad spectrum of activities (such as innovative programming, club revitalization, marketing and public relations, etc.) that resulted in membership growth and diversity, successful Journeys, outreach to home and visiting communities, and visibility of FFI activities.
  • For volunteers: Over the past two years, this member will have shown exemplary work across a broad spectrum of activities (such as innovative programming, club revitalization, marketing and public relations, etc.) that resulted in membership growth and diversity, successful Journeys, outreach to home and visiting communities, and visibility of FFI activities.

In addition to the awards already outlined, the Call for Nominations form also includes an opportunity to nominate a Friendship Force Member for the FFI Lifetime Achievement Award. This nominee should be someone who has supported Friendship Force in a variety of ways over the years, both within and outside their club’s activities. Whether through direct support of Journeys, exceptional club leadership, or embodiment of the Friendship Force mission in their everyday lives.

Moving forward, we encourage all of our regions around the world to recognize those valuable contributions of clubs and members at both the local level and also at regional meetings and national conferences. Our hope is that the changes indicated here will result in an improved, more inclusive volunteer recognition process for 2019 and beyond.

In addition to the online nomination form, if you have other materials to provide as supporting evidence for your nomination(s), please submit them to Feel free to contact us at that same email address with any questions or concerns.

Thank you for all that you do for your club and Friendship Force as a whole! We appreciate your participation in furthering our mission.

Nominate a Club or Person for the 2019 FFI Awards Here!
2019 FFI Awards: FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Monday, October 29, 2018

Staff Changes at FFI Headquarters

I remember reading once that “change is inevitable, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy!” As individuals living in a constantly changing world, we know all too well how true that statement is. Certainly for Friendship Force the difficulty of change is experienced most when staff move on or we add new people to our small international team.

Laura Romero and Matthew Nidek

These past few weeks, FFI has faced staff changes that leave us happy for those moving on and excited about new growth within the organization. In early October, Matthew Nidek, formerly Director of Finance and Operations, took on an exciting new leadership role with a local nonprofit organization in New York City. He had been preparing for just this kind of opportunity, and FFI is indebted to him for his 7 years of service to our mission.

Friendship Force also bid farewell to Elena McCarty as she made a full transition to much-deserved retirement. FFI was lucky to be able to keep Elena part-time this past year as she started the process of retiring, and this month she made it official after 10 years with FFI.

Elena McCarty

Both Matthew and Elena were integral to our staff and making sure FFI headquarters ran smoothly. But like any rising stars, it is unrealistic to assume we could keep such amazing talent forever, even if it is hard to see them go. We congratulate Matthew on his promotion and Elena on her retirement!

With these kinds of changes also come opportunities, and I couldn’t be more pleased to announce the promotions of some fantastic staff at HQ who bring new energy, excitement, and creativity to our leadership team.

Long-time staff members, Allison Lindsey and Debbie Powell have taken on the roles of Directors of Program Operations. Allison, based in Atlanta, USA, is taking the lead with our staff in the western hemisphere while Debbie, based in England, is heading up the eastern hemisphere staff. With our new global team, each Director is overseeing half of the program staff and supporting each other in development projects.

Maryam Jordan is also being recognized for her years of service to FFI and wealth of experience as Senior Regional Support Manager. Tracy Harrell, formerly Controller for FFI, is now our new Director of Finance and she brings a wealth of knowledge and ideas to our evolving global financial infrastructure. We’ve also brought on a new Financial Assistant, Dana Jackson, to help with transaction processing.

These new directors and team members, along with our seasoned global staff, continue to push FFI toward a stronger future and we are incredibly grateful for each of them.

General inquiries to FFI can always be made directly by emailing, or feel free to reach out to any of our leadership team with questions, we are here to help!

In friendship,

Jeremi Snook


Wednesday, October 10, 2018

The Language of Friendship: An Open Letter from Jeremi Snook

Our hosts intentionally shared their culture, customs, homes and families with us and were so warm, welcoming, and involved that in spite of language barriers, we felt attached and grateful to them. 

– FF Minnesota-Twin Cities Ambassador on a Journey to FF West Alajuela, Costa Rica

Dear Friendship Force Members,

Some of the best, most captivating, stories from Friendship Force members around the world are about ambassadors and hosts building friendships and understanding even when they didn’t share a common language.

For example, one ambassador from Virginia, USA on a Journey to Thailand commented, “I loved the family I stayed with [and] although the location was remote, it was wonderful – like Garden of Eden. Hosts were friendly, generous, and although there were language issues, we laughed, played games, and all learned new words and customs.”

I had my own first-hand experience being home-hosted by members who did not speak English during my second visit to Peru. Through hand gestures, broken English, and even more broken Spanish, we found a simple way to communicate. When we finally brought out our tablets and turned on a translation application, we realized even language barriers could not stand in the way of our budding friendship.

In the conversations that followed, we learned about each other through carefully chosen words, facial expressions, and elaborate hand gestures painting images of our stories in the air. In our short time together, we learned so much about each other’s families, experiences, and common zeal for the Friendship Force mission.

Other members have recognized that language differences are only a small inconvenience compared to the rewards of friendships not otherwise made. “Although we do not speak Spanish, language was not a barrier. Our hosts had some English as did their younger family members,” said two members from FF Calgary and Region, Canada. “We were in an area of Mexico that as tourists we would likely not travel if it were not for Friendship Force and our experience far exceeded our expectations.”

In a world riddled with divisions, we cannot let something as simple and basic as language be a reason not to strive for more connection. Through the miracles of new technology and on the shoulders of over 40 years of hosting and travel, there is no reason to shy away from an experience to meet new people who may not speak our language. In fact, we should embrace it!

“The only challenge for me was the language barrier, as most of us did not speak each other’s language,” said an ambassador from FF Minnesota-Twin Cities on a Journey to Costa Rica. “In spite of that, we communicated, used Google Translator, hand gestures, and others who could interpret.”

Some members have come up with incredibly inventive ways to connect, discovering an unexpected commonality. As an ambassador from San Diego, California to Brazil explained, “The highlight of my trip was communicating with a member of their club who did not speak English, I spoke no Portuguese. We communicated in Japanese – the language of our ancestors.”

As you plan your next Journey, take a moment to consider and prepare yourself for what might be a life changing experience that goes beyond words. Take it from an Australian ambassador to Japan:

Being able to stay with and be a part of these families lives was a great experience. Learning a small amount of their language and having conversations with them as they practiced their English was very enjoyable. We had conversations about our own lives and situations and I felt very rewarded from the experience. I feel certain that I will continue to converse and grow the friendship with some of the people I have met on this Journey.

In friendship,


Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Crossing Borders in My Grandparents’ Footsteps

Editor’s Note: Author of this guest post is Natalie Duggan, a public health writer, graphic designer, world traveler, and blogger based in Atlanta, Georgia. Her international travels have been greatly inspired by those of both sets of grandparents before her – who were all Friendship Force members! Read her story below!

Holding my grandparents’
photo album from their 1984
FF trip to the UK and Scotland.

As my Istanbul-bound plane taxied for takeoff, I looked down at the folded piece of paper in my hands. I’d spent the last five months planning a 15-day solo adventure across three continents and four countries. It was May 2018, and I was on my way to visit Turkey, Tunisia, Sicily, and Malta, essentially making a small circle in the Mediterranean Sea. As a former anthropology student, photography enthusiast and all-around extrovert, my main goal was to see how people lived their everyday lives. I wanted to go beyond the typical tourist experiences and get a real sense of local culture.

The handwritten itinerary
for my grandparents’
1985 trip across Europe.

Along the way, I looked forward to taking in the architecture, food, natural beauty, and the surprising amount of history connecting the four nations.

What I couldn’t plan for was the almost perfect synchronization that my travels had with my grandparents’ first solo international journey in May 1985—exactly 33 years ago. The paper in my hands was their handwritten itinerary.

Bob and Margie Highsmith on 1984 Friendship Force Exchange to Newcastle, UK with their hosts,
Beryl and Bernie, and their children.

My mother’s parents, my maternal grandparents, Bob and Margie Highsmith of Atlanta, Georgia, began traveling internationally thanks to Friendship Force International in 1984. At 64 and 67, neither of my grandparents had ever left the United States, but their FF trip changed everything for them. Their itinerary took them through Scotland and the United Kingdom where they met their Newcastle, UK hosts, Beryl and Bernie. The four of them became international pen-pals and lifelong friends. Beryl and Bernie eventually came to Atlanta and were hosted by my grandparents. Their experience with FF gave them the confidence and inspiration to continue traveling throughout their retirement years. One year after returning from their FF adventure, they planned another trip across Europe in 1985 for just the two of them. Their solo journey took place on same trip dates that I’d also unknowingly chosen for my recent adventure!

Bob and Kathleen Duggan visiting the Keukenhof Gardens
on a trip to the Netherlands in the 1980s.

Growing up, I was fortunate enough to have not one set of Friendship Force-participating grandparents, but two! My father’s parents, Bob and Kathleen Duggan of Atlanta, Georgia, participated on the first Friendship Force Exchange to Newcastle, UK in 1975. In total, they participated in four FF exchanges and five hostings, including a trip around the world across Russia & Siberia in July 1997. My grandfather was an avid linguist, speaking approximately 13 languages. Paired up with my grandmother, the two of them sought to bridge cultural divides through conversation, travel, and hosting international guests in their home.

When I think about what largely inspired my last trip, it was easily my two sets of traveling grandparents. Each of them embodied the Friendship Force mission of promoting understanding across the barriers that separate people. Thanks to their influence and their stories over the course of my life, I have understood the world to be a very large place. However, through cultural understanding, travel and diplomacy, they taught me that many corners of this large world are entirely within reach.

Natalie having tea with her
new Australian friend Alex,
whom she met in Valletta, Malta.

On my May 2018 adventure through Turkey, Tunisia, Sicily, and Malta, I wanted to honor the curious spirits of my grandparents. I entered these countries with no existing friendships, but left each one with special memories and lasting contacts. I stayed in Airbnbs, often in people’s houses. In Tunisia, my hosts invited me to Iftar dinner during Ramadan each night. In Sicily, my hosts were concerned about me carrying a suitcase down the five-story staircase. They tied a climbing rope around my bag and hoisted it over the railing, where it landed gently the open courtyard below. Through my travel experiences, I learned that diplomacy is as simple as a cup of tea, a French lesson, or a handshake. These simple gestures meant everything.

Not a day goes by that I don’t think about the people I met – the Ukrainian priest on his way to provide aid to children in Libya, the British ex-pat who rebuilt her life in Malta after a terrible divorce, the Tunisian brothers who operated the beautiful roadside fruit stand, the Australian couple who decided to spend five months exploring the continent of Europe, the Gambian refugee who resettled in Sicily, and the list goes on.

Visiting my Highsmith grandparents
in Atlanta during the early 1990’s.

Next month, in October 2018, I will be re-tracing part of my Highsmith grandparents’ European itinerary from 1985. I hope to re-create some of photos they took on their journey, visit some of the same places as they did, and see many new ones. Before my grandfather Bob Highsmith passed away in 2004, he wrote a journal full of advice for me in my later years, which he knew he might not get to see. One particular passage he wrote has always stood out to me:


Dream what you want to dream, go where you want to go, be what you want to be, because you only have one life and one chance to do what you want to do.

When my plane takes off in October, I will look forward to living out his words and honoring my grandparents’ legacy in an entirely new country.

Born and raised in Frederick, Maryland, Natalie Duggan has called Atlanta, Georgia home for the last seven years. An Emory University alumna with a dual degrees in Anthropology and Journalism, she is a public health writer and graphic designer by day and international trip planner/dreamer by night. On any given day, you can find Natalie spending time with friends in the city, cooking up a storm, or sitting on the porch with her cat, Finney. Her next trip is October 2018. You can follow NatGoesGlobal, her travel Instagram, at and her blog at 

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Koalas and Connectedness

Editor’s Note: Gail Wainman and her husband Glenn joined Friendship Force Victoria and Vancouver Island in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada about four years ago shortly after the club was first formed. Gail nows serves as president of the club. A Global Journey to Myanmar in 2016 was their first experience with FFI and they were hooked. They have also hosted ambassadors from England, Mexico, Australia, Japan, and France. In 2017, their club went to Australia and was home-hosted by three clubs and day-hosted by two more as they journeyed across the country. Gail wrote this story about her memorable experiences.

This is a story about koalas and connectedness.

Nine months ago I found myself standing in a nature reserve just outside of Adelaide, Australia in a gum tree forest. Looking up high into the branches searching for koalas, I reflected on how I had arrived here. This was when I realized that being here was all about “connectedness.”

Fisherman on Inle Lake in Myanmar

Two years earlier we had been on a Friendship Force trip to Myanmar. This trip was really just an add-on to a 16-day land and riverboat cruise we had signed up for so my husband could photograph the sacred temples of Vietnam and Cambodia. My thought was that it was a long way to fly for just 16 days, so I looked on the Friendship Force International website and found a 13-day guided trip around Myanmar. On our arrival in Yangon, we learned that our travelling group comprised of four Canadians, two Americans, three Russians, six Australians, and our Burmese guide. We all bonded over amazing food, cheap beer, a better understanding of Buddhism and, of course, the camaraderie formed over new bathroom experiences.

Olly and his grandma Annette from FF Tamworth on the local circular train in Yangon

We got to know 13-year-old Olly from Adelaide, Australia. Imagine a six-foot-tall, hundred-pound, shy young man traveling with his grandmother and aunt and 13 other adults. He was not a happy camper! The food freaked him out, so he ate mostly plain rice. This was his first time in a developing nation (and mine too). So as a group, we rallied around him, and my husband and I particularly bonded with him. By the end of the trip he had really blossomed (as was his grandmother’s hope) and he even gave a thank you speech at our farewell dinner. Fast forward to nine months ago.

Our local Friendship Force group had planned a four-week Journey to Australia this past fall. My husband and I flew a week before the official Journey began and spent a week in Sydney adjusting to our new surroundings and time zone. Olly’s grandmother Annette took the time to drive into downtown Sydney and spend the day with us showing us how to get around on the Opal bus system and pointing out the highlights of our area. The next day we took the train to Olly’s Aunt Anna’s where Gramma Annette picked us up so we could spent a lovely day with the family.

When our group got to Adelaide, where Olly is from, Olly’s parents insisted on meeting us and entertaining us. The first evening they picked us up and made us dinner in their home. The following morning, they allowed Olly to skip school and they took us out for the day which included wine tasting and oh – koala spotting!

So far that’s three of the 14 people we met on our Myanmar trip. Later, on the Australia trip we met up with fellow Myanmar traveller Jane in the farming community of Murray Bridge. The theme of our week in Murray Bridge was animal husbandry. If there’s anything you’d like to know about sheep farming – just ask me!

Next month we are going to a FFI Western Canadian Regional Conference in Calgary and the other Canadian couple we met on our Myanmar trip live near Calgary and have invited us to stay with them.

Teresa, one of the Americans, was recently in Victoria and she came to our place for dinner and a chinwag. Marie, the other American, recently emailed us and asked us if we would like to join her on a FF trip this coming fall, but, alas we have already signed up for a trip to Kenya.

And while we were being home-hosted in Perth, Australia, we met a couple from Belgium who had joined our group. And they are arriving with their club in Victoria in October to be home hosted by our club!

But wait – there’s more!

After a long hike into the countryside of Myanmar, ambassadors were treated to a home cooked meal by the family of one of the local farmers

When we joined 90 other Friendship Force members from around the world on the “Festival at Sea” transatlantic cruise in May, we were sitting in the dining room and the woman at the table beside us kept staring at me. She then said, “You look familiar – I think I know you!” I asked her where she was from and she said Adelaide. I looked long and hard at her and asked, “Was I at your beach house for lunch in November?” and she said “Yes!”

My big “A-ha!” moment came to me recently when I compared the FFI Myanmar trip to the five-star land and river boat cruise. Two years later, I could not tell you a single name of the other 125 passengers we cruised with, nor have we kept in touch with any of them. Two years after the Myanmar trip, I can still recite the name of each person on the trip and have remained in touch with most of them.

For me, travelling and hosting with Friendship Force, is all about those cherished memories and lasting connections with friends from around the world.

Gail Wainman, President of Friendship Force Victoria and Vancouver Island in Victoria, British Columbia

A woman in an open market during a big boat festival in the village of Nyaungshwe, the portal town to Inle Lake, Myanmar
Thursday, September 13, 2018

FFI Recognized by GuideStar with Gold Seal of Transparency

Friendship Force International was recently recognized with a 2018 GuideStar Gold Seal of Transparency! This signals that we have provided up to date and accurate financial and organizational information on our GuideStar Nonprofit Profile in an increased effort for transparency.

GuideStar is the world’s largest source of information on nonprofit organizations. More than 8 million visitors per year and a network of 200+ partners use GuideStar data to grow support for nonprofits. In order to get the 2018 Gold Seal, Friendship Force International shared important information with the public using our profile on Now our community members and potential donors can find in-depth information about our goals, strategies, capabilities, finances, and progress. We’re shining a spotlight on the difference we help make in the world.

Check out our GuideStar Nonprofit Profile here:

Friendship Force has also been reviewed and approved by the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance as an accredited charity as well – another positive accomplishment and recognition for our organization!


Reflections of Japan: A Global Youth Journey

“Being from a small town, I’ve realized that the world is pretty big.”

– Hunter, Global Youth Journey to Japan Student Ambassador from South Dakota, USA

Travel can be transformative at any age, but immersion and exposure to new cultures, places, and faces as a teenager can particularly affect one’s perspective on life. In June, FFI piloted a multigenerational Journey throughout Japan. The first ever Global Youth Journey to Japan brought together 15 students from three countries along with 12 of their family members serving as chaperones, including grandparents, aunts, uncles, and parents. FFI Staff on the Journey included our Japanese Regional Support Manager, Noriko Kamamoto, and Director of Marketing and Communications, Kaitlyn Ranney, along with FFI leader, Will Henderson. The group traveled to Tokyo for a 10-day program, and were hosted by 3 Japanese Friendship Force clubs – FF Musashino Meguro, FF Hiroshima, and FF Mt. Fuji Yamanashi.

Many of the students knew about the travels and adventures their grandparents, aunts, and uncles had taken with Friendship Force, and they jumped at the chance to join their family members on this Global Youth Journey. Annette Watson of FF Tamworth Australia traveled to Japan with her grandsons Olly, 15, and Will, 14, along with her daughter (and their aunt), Chris. As Annette reflected, “This is tremendous for grandparents and it’s a fabulous experience to take a grandchild on this –  they’re always on their best behavior. This is my sixth trip with my grandkids. It’s been lovely especially to have the three generations along.”

Hunter, an 18-year-old student from Aberdeen, South Dakota, USA, really enjoyed being with peers his age on this trip. “But I also connected with my grandma in a different way,” he said. Lou Ann King from FF, Dallas, Texas embarked on the Journey with her grandson Caspian, from Hawaii. “On a personal level, this gives grandparents an opportunity to bond or have an experience with their grandchildren. This way, our grandkids get to learn about us and our experiences in a different way,” she said. “The multi-generational aspect is key.”

Traveling with adult family members made for a more comfortable inaugural trip abroad for many of the students. As Svetlana from Moscow commented about traveling with her grandfather, Boris, “It was better than expected…. I felt calm with him because he has experience traveling,” she said.

A cornerstone of this educational, student-focused Journey was quality time spent in Japanese schools with Japanese students. The Journey began in Tokyo at Hosen Gakuen Jr. & Sr. High School, where the student ambassadors spoke with Japanese students in conversational English classes and acclimated to Japanese culture and customs.  

“There’s a general inherent respect and focus on respect here – of each other’s space, belongings, and each other in general. The students are very welcoming and I can relate to a lot of them – some who are into school and some who aren’t so much,” explained Naia, a 17-year-old ambassador from Portland, Oregon.

“They are very kind and helpful – which I appreciate because that’s how I would want to be if people visited me.”

Later in the Journey, ambassadors spent a day at Fukuyama Municipal Jr. & Sr. High School, where they accompanied their Japanese student “buddies” on a school tour and participated in club activities, like calligraphy and a tea ceremony. They experienced a full day as Japanese students would, including bento boxes for lunch in the junior high homerooms and helping to clean the classrooms afterwards – a daily activity for students in Japan. Later in the day, the Russian students shared their home culture in a presentation and Japanese students taught ambassadors about a variety of cultural topics (from kimonos to ninjas and the roses of Fukuyama), while practicing their English language skills. “They have a lot of freedom and options with clubs to participate in,” observed Alina, a 16 year old from Albany, Western Australia. “They clearly have a good education system, especially when it comes to other languages.”

Even with only a day spent together, the American, Russian, and Australian students connected with the Japanese students. “The students are very kind. They looked at us as though we were special people, even though we really weren’t. They clapped when we came in!” said Polina, a 16 year old student ambassador from Moscow, Russia. “One Japanese girl texted me and she said she was inspired by me and wanted to learn English as well as I knew it. She wanted to keep in touch because of that!”

During a weekend with FF Mt. Fuji Yamanashi, the ambassadors visited the third school of the Journey – Suomi Elementary School, a private, independent learning school nestled within a forest, where students enjoy self-directed learning with a focus on nature and English conversation. The Suomi kids performed for the FFI group – even pulling the student ambassadors in to join them. That evening, student ambassadors were home-hosted individually with families of FF Mt. Fuji, while grandparents and chaperones stayed at a local hotel for the night.

Both students and adults, ambassadors and hosts, alike commented that the time spent in their hosts’ homes while experiencing their daily lives was the most meaningful. “This was my first experience in a homestay. It was cool because I had three host families and they were all different from each other, and now I have a better understanding of Japanese personalities,” said Svetlana from Moscow.

Naia from Oregon admitted she was initially nervous about being home hosted, “…but I found that you need to just be open-minded, respectful, and meet people halfway. You’ll make mistakes, but it’s ok. I think homestays are the way to go because you learn a lot more. It’s a window into the culture more than if I was in a hotel alone or with my family.”

Even with generational differences between family members and ambassadors, the Japanese clubs truly imparted the home of home hosts. “Everyone made me feel like I was part of the family,” said Demetri, from Georgia, USA. Mr. Toru Ogawa of FF Hiroshima said, “Younger generations can melt the ice in five minutes.”

Caspian, from Hawaii, explained, “I felt at home there even though I was very far away from home. I’ve definitely learned a lot with the host families. I learned I’m a little more independent than I thought I was. Away from what I know and have experienced all my life, I still function just fine. I’m adaptable.”

The student ambassadors also reflected on the differences and similarities between their home cultures and Japanese. “Before the trip, I thought Japanese people were very different from Europeans or Americans with a completely different culture. But after some communication and time with them, I found they are very similar,” said Valentin from Moscow, Russia. “They are the same people as us, just in a different country. I really liked my host families. The people made this trip – not just Japan itself.”

Though the new faces meant a lot, the vastly different places also impressed the ambassadors.  “I was most surprised by the technology – the toilets and trains! – how efficient they are. The MagLev is so advanced – how they use magnets to hover above the tracks. Riding the bullet trains was a totally new experience [for me],” said Caspian from Hawaii.

From memorable meals of okonomayaki and hoto to Maglev trains and Zen Buddhism meditation with a German monk, the activities of the program exposed all to the vastness of Japanese culture, history, and language. One of the most powerful days of the Journey was at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, touring the peace monuments and remembrances from the August 6, 1945 atomic bombing of Hiroshima. The afternoon concluded with a moving recitation of stories and poems by victims of the A-bomb by volunteer readers and time in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.

The young people took a lot away from their experiences – changes that they will hopefully bring to their home communities. “I’ve learned to be very kind to everyone – even strangers, because the Japanese people are kind to everyone,” said Olly, 15, from Australia. Anita of Denver adds,I would assume [the students will] take important parts away from this, especially comparing experiences and lives. It’s a tremendous opportunity.” As Annette of FF Tamworth, Australia reflected, “Some of these kids will be leaders when they grow up. They will be strong ambassadors for their country.”

Upon return to Tokyo, the group met up with FF Musashino Meguro hosts for a farewell party at the National Olympics Memorial Youth Center. Ambassadors reflected on their experiences and expressed gratitude to their hosts and for the many new friendships formed over the previous ten days. Many adults commented about how impressed they were with the group of student ambassadors and the bonds formed among all involved – in just a week.

Svetlana’s grandfather Boris, a member of FF Moscow, proclaimed,

We are heroes of the Friendship Force – breaking all the stereotypes. And our mission is accomplished now.