A Welcome World of Women
"If only people would learn that experiencing a different lifestyle is interesting, enriching and mind-opening. Too many people regard different as threatening. It pleases me that ordinary women travel the world, discover the joy of befriending people from different cultures, and learn about themselves at the same time; in our web of international friendship."
Frances Alexander, Founder 5W
Women Welcome Women World Wide (5W) is a unique women's international friendship and travel network. It was founded by Frances Alexander in 1984, in the United Kingdom. Her idea was to foster international friendship, by enabling women to visit one another in their own homes. It started in Europe; but just as friendship knows no boundaries, there are now members in every continent except Antarctica. This year, 2009, celebrates 25 years of that friendship around the world.
Currently, around 2500 women have joined, from over 80 countries. Australia has over 460 members, second only to that of the United Kingdom. Any woman is eligible, regardless of nationality, religion or home circumstances. Members range in age from sixteen to over 80 and are from many different backgrounds. What they have in common is a wish to befriend other women worldwide. Some hostesses are able to accommodate partners and children. Others are unable to travel, but still value the benefit from the contact of women visitors.
5W operates as a non-profit trust. No money is spent on advertising; the enthusiasm of its members is considered the best publicity. A group of Trustees, including one from Australia; oversee the organisation. Members must sign the confidentiality agreement in relation to the membership list. Its infringement is an offence under UK law. Each member is accountable for protecting the good reputation of 5W. This is essential so members can travel with confidence.
The rules are basic: general courtesy, consideration and common sense. It is suggested to request no more than a two night stay. Be prepared to non-judgementally accept different lifestyles and to fit in with your hostess' schedule.
I heard of 5W in 2007 and decided to join. When I planned to travel in 2008, I consulted the membership list. In addition to contact details, it includes information on age, occupation, housing situation, languages spoken and interests. Several months before my departure, I summoned the courage to send letters. The development of friendship is assisted by taking time to correspond before visiting. I was amazed and at how soon envelopes with foreign stamps began to arrive. Even though some weren't able to meet me, I was grateful to receive their replies. Overall, I met nine members while travelling in Europe.
My first hostess was Monika at Berlin. I was met at the station and shown around the city centre before we took the train to her home. Monika had prepared an information folder and delightfully personalised it with a 'Hello Isabel' cover. While there, I discovered she had recently undergone major surgery, had ongoing health problems and twice daily visited her disabled son. Despite this, her welcome was warm and giving. I am privileged to have received it.
I met Almuth, one of the Trustees. She escorted me on a day trip to the beautiful Potsdam area. Lunch was the famous local potato soup, followed by sharing delicious tortes. The next day we walked what was the eastern sector. She is an expert on Berlin past and present, and took me to places I would not have discovered. Her account of growing up behind the wall painted a graphic picture.
In Prague, I stayed with Nadia and her family. One evening she was invited to the opening night of an exhibition at Art Prague - Modern Art Gallery. She insisted I accompany her. It was exciting to rub shoulders with the artistic elite of the Czech Republic and neighbouring countries.
Next, she wanted me to experience local music. We went to a bar in a cellar and were entertained by a blues band. There were nine in the group; with the leader skilfully alternating between piano, trumpet and French horn. I could understand little of what was said, but it did not detract from my appreciation of the lively music.
That is a brief introduction to my 5W story, a taste of my 5W encounters. The rest of the members I met were in the UK, where the wonderful kindness and memorable experiences continued. I still marvel at the warmth of the welcomes I received and maintain contact. In the future, I look forward to offering a warm welcome to another woman of the world.
To join, the recommended minimum donation (RMD) is UK£35 (about A$63), with an annual renewal of £25 (about A$45) for continuous membership. This covers the cost of providing one Membership List and three newsletters per year.
For more information: www.womenwelcomewomen.org.uk
by Isabel Truscott