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Winnipeggers welcome new American friends

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There are numerous individuals and groups striving to create a better world.
For one group, the secret may be as simple as making friends.

Friendship Force was established in 1977 by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who envisioned that building friendships between people of different nations and cultures would contribute to a more peaceful and harmonious planet.

New friendships were forged recently as the Manitoba chapter of Friendship Force welcomed a contingent from Raleigh, N.C.

"Everybody’s just shown us a great time," said Raleigh club president Bob McCamy during a visit to the Manitoba Legislature. "We’ve gotten to see a lot of Manitoba, and particularly Winnipeg. It’s just a beautiful city."

Friendship Force is a non-profit organization that’s grown to include 350 clubs in 67 countries.

Members act as "friendship ambassadors" on their travels, staying with host families while they take in local sights and soak up local culture.

"You learn more about an area from the perspective of a person who lives there, rather than simply experiencing it as a tourist," said Michael Rakouskas, another of the 16 North Carolinians in town for the week-long visit. "It’s just a wonderful way to see a new community and particularly to explore internationally."

Following a welcome lunch at Harbour View Golf Course, the Raleigh group was treated to scenic bus tours north and south of the city as well as an afternoon and evening train ride aboard the Prairie Dog Central Railway.

Their busy itinerary also included a visit to the Netley Creek Hutterite Colony and a close-up look at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights under construction in downtown Winnipeg. "Many of us would love to come back and tour that when it is finally open," Rakouskas said.

Shirley Twerdun is a member of the Friendship Force of Manitoba. The St. Vital resident said: "The priority is to learn about people and their cultures, whether it’s people coming to us as ambassadors or our club members travelling to other places around the world."

According to Twerdun, the Manitoba club has 50 to 60 members. Many are retirees, although Twerdun said they’d love to see more young people get involved.

She added members hail from several Winnipeg neighbourhoods including the North End, West Kildonan and Transcona. Some come from as far away as Beausejour to the Friendship Force meetings, held the first Wednesday of each month at the Masonic Memorial Temple near Confusion Corner.

More information is available by calling 204-237-7856 or through the Friendship Force website at

Twerdun said some Manitoba club members will be travelling overseas in October to visit Friendship Force comrades in Japan. There are also plans to visit San Francisco and Portland, Ore. next year.

A future visit to Raleigh could be in the cards as well.

"Hopefully in the next year or so we’ll get them to come back down, and they’ll be ambassadors to us and we’ll be their hosts in North Carolina," said McCamy, adding Friendship Force has allowed he and his wife Jean to make many great friends over the years.

"It’s just a wonderful and exciting thing. It gives us a chance to know folks and in most cases it has resulted in enduring and ongoing friendships," he said. "We have a very busy time at Christmastime sending out cards."

McCamy credits email with making it somewhat easier to keep in touch. "My wife is a joke trader and she trades jokes with people on about six continents."

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