Donna and John Karvia have welcomed delegates into their home from Chehalis' sister city, Inasa, Japan, for about 15 years.
"We feel that if there's ever going to be peace in the world, it's going to be with the children," Donna Karvia explained.
Sunday, they joined the dozen or so other families in Chehalis who played host to this year's delegation from Inasa at a potluck in the Virgil R. Lee Community Building at Recreation Park.
The retired Chehalis couple themselves have twice visited the Japanese town, and have stayed with host families there: once in about 1992, and again in 1994. And they have continued to stay in touch with families they've met, Donna Karvia said.
Most years the Karvias have youngsters from the Inasa-cho delegation stay with them. This year, they are playing host to two adults, but one is the superintendent of education in Inasa, Kasuke Shibata.
The other, a woman named Yakuri Matsumoto, is a tour guide for a travel agency who will bring her first-hand impressions of the United States with her in her travels.
"The only picture that people, young and old, get of the United States is what they see on television," Donna Karvia said. "We hope that by getting to know us personally, they will see how we really live, and that we have the same values, the same caring for family."
This year, 27 delegates are visiting from Japan to spend about a week in Chehalis. The 10 adults, two high school students and 15 junior high students arrived Friday, after first learning about traffic on Interstate 5 while stuck in jams for several hours between Seattle and Chehalis. The delegates return to Seattle on Wednesday.
Inasa-cho, which means town of Inasa, and Chehalis have been sister cities since 1990. Delegates have journeyed to the United States, and from Chehalis to Japan, just about every summer since then, although last year the group from Japan changed its mind in light of conflict in Iraq and concern about SARS, which continued to ravage East Asia last year.
Dave Campbell, who became city manager in Chehalis just a few years prior to 1990, said the decision to join the international program came when a person from Japan involved in a sister school program with local schools spoke to town officials in Inasa.
"We got involved because of an interest in sharing cultures," Campbell said. "We learn a little about different types of government and services, but that's not the primary purpose at all. It's about international friendships."
Chehalis is one of the smallest cities in Washington to join the sister city program, and the only one in Lewis County. Cities such as Seattle, Kent, Renton, Bellingham and Olympia are among the dozen or so that also participate, with sister cities in Japan, Mexico and a handful of other countries.
The point of the program, just as with schools in the sister school program, is cultural education. Citizens in the United States learn about other countries and make international friends, and citizens from other nations learn about America, said one delegate from Inasa, Noriko Arakawa.
Arakawa works at Inasa town hall. This year was her second trip to Chehalis.
"We like to see the different way of living," Arakawa said. "We are grateful to you, Chehalis, for the experience. The generosity of families here is greatly appreciated."
Many of the families that play host to delegates in Chehalis have welcomed foreign exchange students into their homes over the years. Bob and Marcia Stocking, with their 14-year-old son, Randall, are one such family.
This is the first year the Stockings have been part of the sister city program. They are sharing their home with two young men the same age as their son, Hiroshi Saruto and Fumiya Suzuki.
Marcia Stocking said her son, Hiroshi and Fumiya bonded quickly. At the potluck Sunday, Randall used chopsticks to eat chicken, potato salad and other American foods. Hiroshi and Fumiya used knives and forks.
Bob Stocking chuckled over the irony. Then he talked about how the young men were using an electronic dictionary to speak to each other, typing in English or Japanese words and letting technology translate.
"Nothin' like technology to help bridge the language gap," he said.
The Stockings, as are other host families, are spending these six days showing delegates how families in America live.
Friday night, after Hiroshi and Fumiya arrived, the family ate pizza. Saturday they visited the Olympic Game Farm, on the Olympia Peninsula, where the Japanese delegates had up-close and personal encounters with Northwest animals such as deer and bison.
Sunday, the Stockings took their delegates to church and the potluck. Today, the group from Inasa visits Mount Rainier. Tuesday, the Stockings will take Hiroshi and Fumiya to Northwest Trek.
Wednesday morning, they leave for Seattle, where they will spend the day, and leave for home on Thursday.
"We will definitely do this again," Bob Stocking said Sunday.
And most of the families do.
Dian McClurg covers city government in Centralia and Chehalis, and health issues for The Chronicle. She may be reached at 807-8239, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.