Carol Tatum loaned me her book on the beginnings of Friendship Force, entitled The Other Side of the Mountain: Bridging the Great Divides, by Charlene Terrell. I recommend this book for all members of Friendship Force; it’s an inspiration of why we are members of this group. Let me highlight a few key points:
* In 1972, Wayne Smith was a Protestant minister (who worked with communities in Brazil) who had an idea of “people-to-people diplomacy” between open-minded people in the U.S. and people in Brazil.
* He broached this idea with then Governor Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn and they were enthusiastic and supportive of initiating an exchange.
* The first trial Friendship Force exchange was in 1973 when 200 Georgians flew to Pernambuco, Brazil and 200 Brazilians flew to Georgia. In both countries, people were hosted at private homes for 10 days. The exchange was so successful that the same exchange continued for many years.
* Friendship Force was officially chartered on March 17, 1977 with the full support of now President Carter, and with the First Lady acting as its Honorary Chairperson.
* The first official journey brought 381 goodwill ambassadors to Atlanta from Newcastle, England, and the same number of Georgians left for Newcastle.
The philosophy of Friendship Force was not “WHERE they were going”, but rather “WHY they were going”, that would make the difference. For a while ambassadors would pack a suitcase and not even know WHERE they were going until the last minute! Could we now imagine receiving 381 ambassadors at one time? Or even 200? Or not knowing where you were going?
Friendship Force has evolved to a different format since the early days, yet we must remember the philosophy is the same. As Wayne Smith insisted, the purpose was, “To provide…a means by which the people in the United States and other countries can meet and develop friendships and understanding among each other. It is our belief that the knowledge, understanding, and friendships developed through personal contacts with the people of different countries will promote the cause of World Peace.” As we begin to travel again, let’s keep Wayne Smith’s words in our minds.
In friendship, Jackie