For many, many years, the Associated Country Women of the World have encouraged members to become pen pals with members in other countries. The same is encouraged within Canada, in an effort, in both cases, to stimulate conversation, encourage the trading of opinions and in general create a healthy attitude between people who really don’t know one another. Numerous times, these tenuous connections have resulted in life long friendships, and special trips to see one another, maybe for the first time!
There have been stories about members who have corresponded for 30 or more years. They recount the opinions they shared, and how the counsel of someone across the ocean has changed their conclusions about a situation, or even a world leader. I met an English doctor, who lived and worked in the Republic of South Africa, at an ACWW Conference in Hamburg Germany in 1980, met her again in Vancouver in 1983 and we have corresponded through the ensuing years. We have shared stories of our families, travels, work within the Women’s Institute or the Associated Country Women of the World, among other things, and have come to a point where each thinks of the other as a dear and valued friend. We had hoped to meet in 2016 when the ACWW Conference was held in Warwick, England. But it was not to be! It will indeed be a sad day when an email arrives from the family of one of the correspondents advising the other that her friend has passed on.
I have found correspondents also through the International students we hosted – I am in touch with three young women in Japan and a Spanish student who by now is probably starting to practice her career – that of an engineer.
Pen Pals today don’t always put pen to paper – email is the way to go! So much quicker – no problems with penmanship and no writer’s cramp!
In this world which demands instantaneous responses, letter writing is slowly dying out. But email is swift enough – and writing to someone across the world gives you the opportunity to slow down for a little while and formulate your thoughts into coherent paragraphs, easy for your friend to understand and respond to. Our world needs a little slowing down, to make us a more thoughtful and considerate population. Knowing someone from another country, even through correspondence, allows or at least encourages one, to put yourself in that other person’s position and wonder how you would cope with their problems. My friend in South Africa is currently living with her family in Capetown. Her most recent letter brought the Capetown water crisis into sharp focus for me. Currently, the projected date when the water taps in Capetown will run dry is April 12, 2018. A truly frightening thought! No water for cooking, bathing or drinking! Their swimming pools are empty, lawns and flowers dying. South Africa has been in a drought for more than a year now, and although they have implemented severe water use restrictions, the situation is becoming more and more dire. Her last letter included news of some brief showers that had gone through. The populous was out gathering as much of the precious liquid as they could, but that may only extend the water supply for an additional few days.
So I encourage you: make your contribution to a better world: get to know someone through a pen pal arrangement – just see what you can learn, and check sometimes to see how the effort has changed your thinking and actions!
Ruth Fenner, BCWI Historian
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