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Feel the Love With Bahamas’ Host Program

The Bahamas’ People-to-People program pairs visitors with volunteer hosts for authentic, insider island experiences.

 

It’s only Wednesday and already this week Marilyn Johnson has had 35 requests by tourists who want to partake in the People-to-People Program, a service sponsored by the Ministry of Tourism in the Bahamas that matches up volunteer native hosts with visiting tourists for a unique Bahamian experience. People-to-People, managed by Johnson, takes into account visitors’ ages, hobbies and interests, and includes activities ranging from shopping and home-cooked meals to visits to local schools, area nightlife and more.

The “Real” Bahamas

Romeo Farrington, a certified host of the program, says that visiting couples or families can get involved in activities such as cooking, where the host wife usually shows her guests how to make a Bahamian dish. Farrington says it gives a different view of The Bahamas, because “right away, the experience changes,” he says. “[It] moves away from the typical.” And this program is surely a delightful, atypical way to experience a foreign country.

The People-to-People Program has skyrocketed in popularity with the advent of the Internet, where it is publicized on www.bahamas.com. But the program has actually been around since the mid-1970s. Volunteers are recruited from the ranks of the island’s “Bahamian Host” organization, a training program through which most tourism personnel pass and which covers island history, tourism, the family islands and attitude training. From there, volunteers are chosen for People-to-People backed by references, home visits and other screening.

Shopping, Tea Parties and Church

On one recent visit, the program arranged for a U.S. physician to scuba dive with a local while his wife attended a tea party held at the Government House in Nassau. Another family had five teenaged children who wanted to visit the mall and movie theater with locals. And an educator wanted to go to a local school to compare curricula. But the most common request: to attend church with a native Bahamian.

Not every experience is without incident. One visiting Roman Catholic neglected to disclose her persuasion when requesting a church visit and was brought to a lengthy Baptist service. She afterward told the People-to-People coordinators how her husband “slept, woke and slept” again during the service. It must have made for an amusing tale in retrospect!

Lasting Friendships

The experiences, however, are mostly success stories and lasting friendships are often created. Johnson says she knows of one Bahamian girl who will be staying with an American family when she attends university in the United States, the result of a relationship forged through People-to-People. Another U.S. woman has rarely missed her annual get-together with the Bahamian friend that she met through the program more than 20 years ago. More recently, kids have started becoming e-mail pals through the program.

So what does the program cost? Nothing. Many volunteers do it because they love meeting new people, cooking, entertaining or the like, though guests often chip in to help cover costs. After all, the nature of friendships new and old is about sharing. But what’s really special about People-to-People is sharing new cultures and customs from which each party learns and grows.     

The Bahamas’ People-to-People Program is available in the Nassau and Grand Bahama areas, as well as on the islands of Abaco, Bimini, Eleuthera, San Salvador and the Exumas. Cost: Free. Two weeks advanced noticed required. Program is not a homestay, but a cultural day exchange between host and visitor. www.bahamas.com


Destinations: Bahamas

Themes: Beach Vacations, Experiential Travel

Activities: Sightseeing


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