Group takes action to promote good will | NevadaAppeal.com

Group takes action to promote good will

PETER THOMPSON

When not randomly gunning each other down in the streets, Americans are busy staying rich, fat, boastful, loud, arrogant, ignorant and intolerant in our wanton disregard for the rest of the world, its laws and its people.

It is overblown stereotypes like these, collected from a quick sampling on the Internet, that the Friendship Force International hopes to ameliorate with good will and citizen diplomacy.

Active in more than 60 countries, the club’s singular mission is “to create an environment in which personal friendships are established across the barriers that separate people” through an extensive program of week-long home-stay exchanges.

Reno-Tahoe club President Loren Hart, said, “we have 46 members from all over Carson City, Sparks, Minden, Dayton and Reno.”

Active in the program for 13 years, Hart says he’s always amazed when he opens his e-mail to see messages from around the world.

He’s traveled to more places than he can remember, including Germany, New Zealand, Costa Rica, Japan and Turkey.

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“The dinner table is one of the most convenient and often used places in the home to get to know each other,” notes Hart. It is, indeed, the most common place to start from.

“We’re in a unique position that, as private citizens, we can do things that governments can’t,” he said.

A few years ago, they had a group that went to Jordan where they were hosted by Iraqi exiles.

Friendship Force International was founded in 1977 by the late Wayne Smith with the support of President Jimmy Carter and first lady, Rosalynn. The original focus of the group was on diffusing Cold War tensions. One famous exchange of the era involved sending citizens from the U.S. state of Georgia to the emerging Soviet Republic of Georgia.

With the complexities of the post Sept. 11 world and the war on terror, Hart sees the importance of the program now even more than ever.

George T. Brown, president of the Atlanta-based force, said “We need to bridge the gaps that have opened between Americans and our traditional allies around the world, friendships we assumed were strong but now are in need of repair.”

“Perhaps most critically,” he said, “Americans must connect positively with the Muslim world, learning about their culture as well as sharing the best from our society.”

“I’d love to travel to the Middle East or host a family from the region,” Hart said.

For 2005, the Reno-Tahoe chapter of the friendship force will be receiving visitors from Rijnmond, Netherlands and traveling to Wolfsburg, Germany.

For more information about joining Friendship Force International, home hosting or traveling with the group, call Loren or Ruth Hart at 972-1561 or visit http://www.friendshipforce.org.

Contact reporter Peter Thompson at pthompson@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1215.