by CHRIS GILMORE
Many Coast residents have been affected by the ongoing restrictions on international travel, but there’s one community group in particular that’s been hit harder than most.
Friendship Force Sunshine Coast is a group based around ‘home hosting’ international visitors. Members invite visitors to live with them and share meals, ideas and customs, and in turn members venture overseas to receive the same hospitality.
The group’s activities are all done in the name of friendship and cultural understanding, and its motto is “a world of friends is a world of peace”.
But since international travel restrictions have been in place, the group has been forced to change tack. Members have instead been busy supporting local communities by journeying around the region, as well as hosting local events.
“Since COVID and the need to modify the activities and extend the fellowship within the club, we have decided to explore and support our local communities,” says Robyn Stewart from Friendship Force Sunshine Coast. “So, apart from Zoom trivia nights, local dinner dates, picnics and theatre evenings, the club has journeyed around the Sunshine Coast visiting sites from Gympie to the Glass House Mountains, the hinterland to the beaches.”
The group’s recent activities have included a guided a tour through the Queensland Air Museum at Caloundra by pilot and aviation buff Noel Dennett, and a fellowship picnic with the North Moreton Friendship Force. Sixteen members also embarked on an intrepid 3179km adventure west to Charleville and Thargomindah. Members are also planning a visit to Perth later this year.
“Club members might be grounded due to COVID restrictions around the world but they are certainly maintaining their spirit of adventure and innovation,” Robyn says. “Normally the members would be planning the next year’s program to visit associated clubs both overseas and around Australia, however the compromise focus has evolved into explorations of our local environment with all its attractions.”
Friendship Force Sunshine Coast is a non-profit, non-political group founded in 1989, and part of a global network of more than 300 clubs. The local group began when founding member Glenys Marsh advertised in the local paper for home hosts for 27 members from Atlanta, Georgia. The response was immediate and the exchange was a success for making friendships, learning about different cultures and showcasing the Coast. Since then, the club has gone on 78 overseas journeys to 22 different countries and hosted 76 overseas clubs from 17 different countries. Members also host and visit the other 24 clubs based around Australia.
Hosting visitors from other countries hasn’t been without its cross-cultural amusements. Robyn mentions an incident with Dutch visitors who, after a swim at Maroochydore beach, stripped off entirely to dry off before getting dressed. They were surprised to learn Australians don’t view the naked body as normal on their beaches.
Friendship Force Sunshine Coast has also stepped up to help those in need. In 2013 the club hosted 20 children and three chaperones from Japan.
“These highly traumatised kids had lost parents and other family members as a consequence of the tsunami that hit northern Japan in 2011,” Robyn says. “To add to this problem, the group were also exposed to the nuclear power plant at Fukushima damaged by earthquake at that time.
“The idea of the humanitarian exchange was first raised by club past president Graeme Donaldson but passed to Tom and Jean Ledwidge to mould it into the success it was.”
Jean says: “Although we are not usually fundraisers, we had much support from Friendship Force members and clubs worldwide, church groups, Rotary clubs and friends and family members (through) organised raffles, garage sales and publicity for the event.
“A committee of club members organised visits to surf clubs, a school, university, Australia Zoo, a croquet club, a family sports day at the botanic gardens and other coastal activities.
“We all – hosts and visitors – made many new friends, learnt about different cultures and customs, and saw what could be achieved by co-operating with people from disparate backgrounds. Sad children became happy while living with new families. One boy who had not spoken after the shock of losing both parents learned to play card games and laugh again, and they shared their traumatic experiences with us.”
So while Friendship Force Sunshine Coast has adapted to the global situation, members will no doubt be anticipating the reopening of international borders soon.
For more about the club and its activities visit friendshipforcesunshinecoast.org.au.