Friendship was out in full force last week, with a group of 16 travellers staying in homes around Hay River as a part of the Friendship Force travel organization.
The group from the Niagara Region of Ontario were hosted by the 14 members of Friendship Force in Hay River during a visit to the South Slave.
Tom Makepeace and Nancy Makepeace have been members for 10 years, and lead the Hay River chapter of Friendship Force.
“It’s a way to get to know our community better,” said Tom. “We explain things to people and to do that we have to have our research done. We learn more about our history when we have to explain it to visitors.”
“It’s interesting to see our community through others’ eyes,” said Nancy. “Especially when they are excited to be here.”
The travellers stay in the hosts’ houses and become part of life in Hay River for the days they are visiting.
This year, the group also toured Fort Providence, Fort Smith, the Hay River Reserve, and, of course, Alexandra Falls. A new location on the itinerary for this year was the Northern Farm Training Institute, which sparked some interest in the visitors from Ontario.
“Most of our visitors have gardens, so people were interested to learn what grows here,” said Nancy.
Linda Hamilton is the director of the group visiting from Ontario.
“We have a travel committee that presents different places you can go,” she said. “We all vote on the options presented. We go all over the world but most of us have not seen our own country so we chose to go North.”
Hamilton has been to the North before, and with her son living in Yellowknife, she has some connection to the area. After the group’s visit in the South Slave, they will carry on to the other side of Great Slave Lake, farther north to the Mackenzie Delta, and then back down the Dempster Highway, ending in Dawson City, Yukon. They will be in the North for a total of 19 days.
“They have been wonderful hosts,” said Hamilton of her new Hay River friends. “This place has treated us to great hospitality and the experiences have been very diverse. Our group has enjoyed every minute of it.”
Hamilton had an especially high regard for her host, Liz Buckley.
“I hope some day she will come to visit,” she said. “Even her grandchildren. If they are ever in the area, I hope I will be able to return the hospitality.”
Hamilton said the nature of Friendship Force allows members to dive into the culture of a place more than if they were to travel alone.
“Even if you are not the one travelling, you get a cultural experience hosting, as well,” she said. “I have really enjoyed hosting people from all over the world. They have all been positive experiences.”
Next up for the Hay River group will be a trip to New Zealand in 2017.
Friendship Force is an international non-profit organization spanning 63 countries and boasting 16,000 members who are all committed to forming friendships around the world. They do this through travel, staying at the houses of other members and getting a glimpse of the everyday culture of their destination.
Their motto – Faces, Not Places – sums up their mission to promote relationships and peace around the globe.