TIM SMITH/BRANDON SUN
Garnet Shearer with the Friendship Force of Brandon and Area hugs Friendship Force ambassador Leilla Alcantara do Carmo of Brazil prior to a tour of the Riverbank Discovery Centre on Thursday.
Brandon has some new friends — a group of 12 Friendship Force ambassadors from Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Members of the Friendship Force of Brandon and Area give a tour of the Riverbank Discovery Centre to Friendship Force ambassadors from Sao Paulo, Brazil on a sunny Thursday morning. The ambassadors from Brazil will spend the week touring Westman, including Riding Mountain National Park and Green Acres Hutterite Colony. A historic tour of Virden has also been planned. (TIM SMITH/BRANDON SUN)
After spending a week in Toronto, the excited travellers made their way to Brandon Wednesday afternoon where they were welcomed with a potluck of perogies, salmon and rhubarb pie. They’re staying with members of the Friendship Force of Brandon and Area, just one chapter in the international cultural sharing program.
"Some people think it’s a travel group and that’s definitely not what it is," Brandon chapter president Linda Nay-Kamann said. "It’s a cultural exchange — travel is the means to make it happen."
Friendship Force is an international non-profit organization founded by Jimmy Carter in 1977 and has grown to include 360 chapters worldwide. The Brandon group started in 2008 and has hosted groups from Belgium and Australia.
Their Brazilian guests will be in the city until June 6 and treated to distinctly Westman activities such as tours of Clear Lake, Virden and past favourite Green Acres Hutterite Colony. In Brandon, the visitors will meet the mayor and stop by the Daly House Museum and the art gallery.
The group kicked off its local festivities at the Discovery Centre Thursday morning with a nature walk.
For guests Pedro Moncau and his wife, Friendship Force members for 12 years, it’s the little things that make Brandon special.
"I’m surprised by the different tonalities of green — you have a bright green colour in all of the trees, plants and fields," Moncau said. "And the air — I take a breath and it’s just fantastic."
On the walk, the group was momentarily stalled by a flooded path. One by one, members from both countries helped each other over a crude stepping stone of sticks. Locals then took the time to explain the history of the Assiniboine River and the peak of last year’s flood.
Guests helped each other translate, as not everyone speaks English.
"We’re communicating with English and some Spanish, because I don’t know any Portuguese," said Brandon member Beth Davies who showed her solidarity by donning a matching bright 2014 Brazil FIFA World Cup hat alongside her guest. "It’s working well so far, it’s not precise — but it’s fun."
Davies moved to Brandon permanently from England five years ago, after her granddaughter was born.
Davies joined the group to make friends in the city, and to connect with others. Now Davies is taking off independently with the international organization, doing a global exchange to Argentina later this year.
The local chapter started in 2008 and includes 22 members. Members have already visited Costa Rica and New Zealand and will tour Hamburg, Germany this October. All flight costs are individually assumed, along with additional day trips, but mainly the $130 host fee covers the necessary room and board.
While anyone can join a chapter, the organization is struggling internationally to engage young people in the face-to-face cultural exchange.
After reading about the group in the Brandon Sun, Lorelyn Knight, 30, joined the Brandon Friendship Force as its youngest member. Knight moved to the Wheat City from the Philippines nine years ago and wanted to make more connections in the community.
"I have a big (Filipino) community here, but because it’s so big we’re becoming scattered," Knight said. "At the first Friendship Forces meeting, I felt like I belonged."
Knight, who is studying finance and accounting at Assiniboine Community College, took time off this week to spend with the new guests.
"I knew they were coming, it’s exciting, so I changed my schedule," Knight said. "This is a chance to highlight what we have here in Brandon."
After their time in the Prairies, the Brazilian visitors will make their way to Vancouver and Victoria.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition June 1, 2012