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Friendship Force and friends will liven up the fair parade

The Island County Fair parade will have an international flavor this year, thanks to Friendship Force of Whidbey Island.

The peace-promoting group and its latest collection of visitors — 14 from Vietnam and 12 from Canada — will march in the parade on Saturday, Aug 21, as part of a six-day stay on Whidbey Island.

Participants will carry flags of their countries, and several will be dressed in costume, said Laura Strehlau of Freeland, past Friendship Force president and organizer of this year’s visit.

Local chapter members will carry an American flag and wear Friendship Force T-shirts, she said.

“We’re also working on a Good Ship Friendship semi-float,” Strehlau said. After the parade, hosts and visitors will take in the fair, she said.

Friendship Force of Whidbey Island is part of an international organization which participates in exchange visits with other chapters throughout the world in the interest of peace.

Local members have traveled to several countries, and have hosted foreign

visitors in return.

When a group from another country visits, a friendship tree is planted next to the soccer fields at South Whidbey Sports Complex off Langley Road.

About 20 trees have been planted so far, Strehlau said. At 9 a.m. Sunday, Aug. 22, a ginkgo tree will be planted in honor of the Vietnamese visitors, and Langley Mayor Paul Samuelson will deliver a proclamation, she said.

The upcoming visit Aug. 18-23 by the Vietnamese is a direct result of the local group’s library project in that country.

Group members spent more than a year raising money to build the library, and this past year sent a contingent to the building’s dedication ceremony.

The library is in Quang Tri Province in the central highlands, one of the hardest-hit areas of the 15-year Vietnam war. Its primary function is to educate the people of the surrounding area about unexploded bombs and land mines left over from the war.

During the visit, a group representing Vietnamese business executives approached the local group, pressing to organize a visit to Whidbey Island, Strehlau said. They wanted to coordinate their visit with talks in Olympia and New York.

“What they’re after is trying to promote trade between the U.S. and Vietnam,” Strehlau said.

She said the Vancouver, B.C. chapter of Friendship Force helped raise the money for the Vietnam library, so its members also were invited to visit Whidbey along with the Vietnamese.

Founded in 1991 and currently about 25 members strong, the local chapter of Friendship Force is one of more than 350 groups in 50 countries dedicated to promoting peace and cooperation through informal group exchanges.

Since its founding in 1977, with the help of former President Jimmy Carter, Friendship Force International has brought together millions of people.

Strehlau said the local group’s next trip abroad will be next year, to Germany and Romania.

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