"Donít walk in front of me, I may not follow.
Donít walk behind me, I may not lead.
Walk beside me and be my friend."

ó Albert Camus

Friendship:
Godís Most Precious
Gift


Juile Delbridge welcomes Neil OíDonnel, Founder, International Pen Friends Club, to Sydney, Australia in 1995. Six years later on February 1, 2001 Neil welcomed Julie as IPFís New President.

Have you ever known of a recipe for friendship? Well, thereís one with  the following ingredients:

3 phonecalls a week

1 letter a month

2 cups of kindness

4 Saturdays (alternatively, Sundays) of shopping

Method: Mix ingredients carefully. Take turns stirring. Heap with hugs and lace with laughter. Sweeten to taste and sprinkle with a smile. Bake till memories turn golden.

On August 3, the world will celebrate International Friendship Day. A Day to recognise our friends and the great contribution they make to our lives. One of the organisations that promotes peace, harmony and friendship across borders is the International Pen Friends Club. While many people are putting their fingers to the keyboard and communicating at record speed with friends around the world via the Internet, the International Pen Friends Club (IPF) is one of a kind that promotes friendship through correspondence of a different type ó the good old way of putting pen to paper.

The IPF was founded in Dublin, Ireland, on April 7, 1967 by Irishman Neil OíDonnell. Neil grew up during World War II. The fact that strangers were killing one another perturbed him. He thought that if somehow he could help people communicate as friends, it might help stop wars. Or, perhaps, if people knew one another as friends instead of strangers, they might be less likely to go to war.

Neilís endeavour to bring about peace was launched. And what better place to begin than with a humble shoe box in his home! Yes, a shoe box was the first thing Neil thought of for filing membersí details on cards, and he used it until it fell apart with too many records. He then formed a worldwide representative network by asking IPF members if they would like to represent the Club.

Over the years, Neil and his team of worldwide representatives and Head Office staff overcame many political and economic challenges to gain members in virtually every country of the world. Neil particularly faced a lot of difficulty gaining members in Russia and Eastern Bloc countries and at one stage he granted 40,000 free memberships to people in those countries! Local currency from those countries could not be exchanged in Ireland and it wasnít easy to promote IPF due to the political situation then prevailing in these countries. He overcame these problems by appointing agents there who, in turn, were able to find ways of reaching the local people.

 

 

Neil had started from nothing. No sponsorship, no government funding. He funded the Club through membership fees. He devoted a lot of time to the Club and his wife, too, helped him in the early days by typing penfriend lists before going to work. The International Pen Friends Club has grown over time. The shoe box has long been replaced by computer technology. With a membership of over 3 lakhs in 210 countries, the Club today is the greatest pen friend organisation in the world. Its youngest member is eight years old and the oldest was born in 1920.

On 1st February, 2001, the IPF moved its operations to Australia when Neil retired and Julie Delbridge from Australia became its new President. Julieís enthusiasm for the penfriend hobby is strong, having first joined the Club as a 19-year-old member in 1979 and being appointed the Australian Coordinator for the Club in 1982. Says Julie: "I am still writing to three penfriends from the first list of penfriends I received from IPF. Hanni from Switzerland was on that list. Together, with the hundreds of letters we have exchanged over the years, Hanni and I have travelled to various parts of Australia during her five visits. Iíve also explored many parts of the stunning Swiss countryside with Hanni. The penfriend hobby has many dimensions and is an extremely enriching hobby. It is an educational adventure of friendship and fun."

IPF is non-political and non-sectarian, is self-funding and, in India, provides services since June 1992 in Hindi, English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish. It has its own Stamp Exchange Division with over 6,000 stamp-exchanging club members.

Each year the Club grants thousands of free memberships to people in countries facing severe economic crises, such as Africa, Central and South America, etc., as also in areas where local currencies have no exchange value, for example, countries in the Soviet Bloc.

 

 

The IPF is not averse to CHANGE. Recently, it started a Special Groups Service to meet the needs of school classes, girl guides, boy scouts and youth groups aged 9-17 years. There are over 90,000 students registered as IPF members. Teachers have realised that through correspondence their students have a unique opportunity to learn good writing techniques, develop their existing hobbies or acquire new ones, gain a deeper understanding of subjects such as history, geography, travel, languages, commerce, literature, religion and music and, most importantly, have an opportunity to know the cultures of foreign lands. Also, as friendships develop between correspondents, the possibility of exchange holidays can be explored.

Writes Mrs. E. Hardy from St. Ives in Hartlepool Today: "I joined the International Pen Friends Club and soon discovered the fun of finding friends in faraway places Ö I have found pen-friendship an exciting, inexpensive hobby, catering to all ages and cultures. Over the years Iíve exchanged recipes, souvenirs, tears and laughter. My knowledge of the world and her people is greater, my life richer, thanks to my wonderful pen-friends near and far."

It is said that the pen is mightier than the sword. The IPF has its own international magazine, People and Places, which helps promote exchange of views between club members and develops international tourism. Subscribers can submit articles, photographs, etc. for publication. Whatís more, the best item submitted receives an award of U.S. $ 200!

All of us need someone in life. Someone who listens to us patiently, someone who helps us through our problems when nobody else would, someone who accepts us the way we are and lets us know that we are not alone. That someone is a true friend. Friends are special. We cannot choose our family members, but we can surely choose our friends. Society dictates that we select a single mate, but friends we can have as diverse as dialects. Friends are like candles, which light up our path and show us the obstacles in our way so that life is easier to deal with. They encourage us, support us, comfort us and, above all, genuinely care for us.

"It is hard to match the anticipation of waiting for letters to arrive, the stamps, postmarks, fancy writing paper, postcards, photos, tokens of friendship, the time and care people have taken to write the letters, sitting quietly and reading the letters time and time again, and possibly keeping them for many years as part of personal history. It is also great to receive something in the mail other than bills and junk mail."

ó Julie Delbridge, President, International Pen Friends Club

As I hopped onto the bus at Churchgate the other day, I came across a young, attractive girl. With a tongue-in-cheek smile, she gestured to me to sit next to her at the window seat. I wondered why I was being offered a much-wanted, always in demand, window seat! Lo! There was this huge platform on which I had to place my feet and sit all crouched up. She asked me where I was heading. I told her my destination. I noticed her gold ring, which was similar to mine, and we started conversing. I totally forgot about the uncomfortable position in which I was seated. We started getting acquainted. An advocate by profession, she told me about her weakness in not knowing Mumbai roads and lacking a sense of direction. Well, we found a lot of things in common and parted as friends. Since then, we have kept in touch with each other.

Friendship is a blessing that dwells in our hearts. We do not know how it got there and what it can do for us. But what we do know is that it brings a special lift, a special joy. Remember, Friendship Day comes only once a year. So make the most of it. It is time we take a moment to reflect upon the people we have met and the big and small differences they have made to our lives. Let your friends know they are truly appreciated, for one of the most precious gifts we receive from God is the love of a good friend.

Rashna Ardesher

 

"Lean on me, when youíre not strong
And Iíll be your friend, Iíll help you carry on,
For, it wonít be long
Till Iím gonna need somebody to lean on."

ó Lean On Me by Bill Withers

Bill Withers sang this song with true feelings for a friend. However, in todayís day and age, human values have deteriorated. Whether you call your friend "chum", "pal", "crony" or "buddy", friends today, instead of guiding each other on the correct path, tend to encourage and cooperate in the wrong direction (drugs, robbery, corruption...). In the name of friendship, friends should never forget values such as honesty, integrity, humilityÖ According to George Washington, "True friendship is a plant of slow growth, and must undergo and withstand the shocks of adversity before it is entitled to the appellation."

 

 


 

 

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