WORLD of friends is a world of peace: That is the simple philosophy behind a global organisation on a mission to make the world a better place.
By offering "arms that embrace, not arms that make war", Friendship Force International Inc brings together people from across the globe, of all ages, cultures and religious backgrounds to form lasting bonds.
More than 350 Friendship Force clubs exist in more than 60 countries. In Australia, there are 25 clubs in action and one of those is on the Sunshine Coast.
Friendship Force International Sunshine Coast president Ray Troyahn said he was confident that by meeting new people and fostering friendships, the local club could "make a difference (to the world), starting at a grassroots level".
With about 100 members on the Coast, he said the purpose of the club was to link people from all walks of life to gain a better understanding of different lifestyles and environments.
To do this, members of the force were required to take part in organised exchange programs.
Participants could choose to travel to another member's home, in Australia or overseas, and live with that family for a week.
An avid traveller, Mr Troyahn and his wife Noela said the exchange programs would often take members to destinations they would not normally think of travelling to.
He said the experience of living in another family's home and experiencing a foreign environment was priceless.
"It takes you out of our comfort zone," Mr Troyahn said.
"The standard of living you get depends on the people you are staying with.
"They might have a Rolls-Royce or they might not even have a car ... you just take it as it comes."
After travelling to "some really exotic places", Mr Troyahn said not even language barriers could get in the way of developing friendships.
"We once stayed with a family in Belarus who didn't speak any English ... it was very interesting," he laughed.
"It just meant we had to work even harder (to communicate)."
Members were also encouraged to act as hosts and invite others to stay in their homes and show visitors what life was like for them on the Sunshine Coast.
The club president, who had opened his Kawana Island home to many international visitors, said, "People will walk into your house as strangers but will leave as lifelong friends. That is what Friendship Force is all about."
From taking his guests along to private family events to showing them popular tourist attractions, Mr Troyahn said he found "the little things we take for granted" was what visitors enjoyed the most.
"The Europeans who come to stay love our beaches and the surf," he said.
But whether it was travelling abroad or hosting, Mr Troyahn said the Friendship Force experience was not about simply holidaying.
"The club places great emphasis on exchange programs being about "the faces not places," he said.
He said the purpose of the group was to promote friendship-building and promised the new friendships made were invaluable and would last a lifetime.
"We are not a dating website, we aren't a charity organisation, we aren't affiliated with any political or religious groups," Mr Troyahn said.
"Our mission is pure."
He encouraged any resident, no matter what age, who was social, had the capacity to travel and loved being active to consider joining the Sunshine Coast group.
FRIENDSHIP FORCE INTERNATIONAL
- Friendship Force International was founded on March 1, 1977 in the United States.
- Its first president, Wayne Smith was announced by President Jimmy Carter at a White House gathering of state governors.
- The founders envisaged that friendship among people of different nations and cultures not only would be personally enriching for participants, but also could contribute to world peace on a broad scale.
- It is not affiliated with any religious or political organisations and is non-profit.
- The Friendship Force was a 1992 nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize.
- Membership is open to all.
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