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BEACON Senior News - Western Colorado

Friendships around the world

May 29, 2018 09:37PM ● By C.J. Payton

Travel abroad, broaden your thinking and step outside your comfort zone. These are principles that members of Friendship Force International (FFI) live by while promoting global understanding and bringing together a network of individuals seeking to make friends and overcome differences.

In 1977, President Jimmy Carter endorsed FFI, asking governors to return to their state and choose a volunteer leader to serve as a state director for the nonprofit. First Lady Rosalyn Carter was an honorary chairperson of the national organization until 2002. Today, FFI has more than 15,000 active members in more than 60 countries.


Outbound journeys

The local FFI chapter was established in Grand Junction in 1986. Members plan an international journey every year, usually at a reduced rate, and stay with fellow FFI clubs to learn about their country or region first-hand.

Sue Palmer took her first trip to Fortaleza, Brazil in 2005. Her hosts greeted her and a friend at the airport and escorted them to their home. Palmer learned many things about Brazilian culture in the week she stayed there, like how it’s not uncommon for locals to sleep in hammocks to stay cool from the night’s heat because most buildings are without air conditioning.

Breakfast and evenings are typically spent with the host, while daytime activities are spent with the group. The host club or family provides most meals and organizes a number of sightseeing activities based on the group’s list of desires and preferences.

Palmer, who travels with FFI almost every year, insisted there is no better way to learn about the history of other cultures, countries and people. Travelers don’t need to know the language of the country they’re visiting. Most people are able to communicate using hand gestures or translation books, but they can also look to the volunteer translator who accompanies every journey abroad.

Inbound journeys

The local club also has opportunities to host visiting FFI members from other regions and countries. Typically, visiting clubs want to see the Grand Mesa and Colorado National Monument, travel to Moab and Mesa Verde, tour area museums and local wineries, and go shopping. One visiting club from Russia wanted to meet the mayor and local commissioners, while another group from Ukraine wanted to make nightly trips to Walmart.

FFI members are considered ambassadors to their country and are expected to be courteous and respectful of the culture and customs of the host country. Prospective members are vetted, interviewed and screened to ensure the safety of all FFI ambassadors.

“You don’t have to be an extrovert to be an ambassador,” Palmer said. “Just have an open mind to other people.”

Make new friends

Verna Bunn, an active FFI member for nearly 30 years, has learned through many exchanges that all people generally want the same thing.

“We want to raise our families, be happy and productive in the community, have great friends and work to get the things we would like and need,” she said. “We realize differences in our countries’ politics are somewhat beyond our control.”

This year, local FFI members are traveling to Haliburton Highlands, Ontario, Canada, in June, and will host a group from Birmingham, Alabama in October. Annual membership is $35.

To learn more, visit, call Palmer at 260-4653 or drop in at FFI’s monthly meetings at 6:15 p.m. on the third Thursday at First Baptist Church, 720 Grand Ave. in Grand Junction.

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