Northern Ireland

US foster friends reunite in Belfast after 40 years

Lisa Fagan and Pat Kaphingst
Image caption Lisa Fagan and her seven-year-old twin daughters meeting Pat Kaphingst in Belfast

In the summer of 1978, at the tender age of 10, Lisa Fagan packed her bags along with 170 other youngsters and headed to the mid-western state of Minnesota.

She was going to stay with the Kaphingst family - Pat, her husband Harry, and daughter Amy, who was also 10.

It was the beginning of what Pat described and an "everlasting friendship" between the two, a friendship that began 39 years ago in the US and came full circle on Tuesday when the pair reunited in Belfast.

Lisa came to their meeting prepared with a very treasured possession - a yellowing, sellotaped scrapbook that contained every detailed accounts and mementoes of the 50 days she spent in the United States.

Image caption Lisa brought her scrapbook of her journey to the US to the meeting

She had meticulously kept airplane tickets, zoo brochures, hotel stationary and postcards from her trip, before painstakingly handwriting accounts to go alongside each one.

In her neatest 10-year-old's handwriting, she told of how she'd learnt to swim, gone to the movies for the first time, water fights and barbeques on the lake.

In her words: "Something exciting happened every day."

Now, in a Belfast hotel foyer with Lisa's seven-year-old twin girls looking on, she and Pat, now 77, began to slowly make their way through the scrapbook.

Image caption Lisa and Pat spoke of their "everlasting friendship" after meeting 39 years ago

They came across a page with a description of Lisa's host family, under the title My Opinion of Pat.

Lisa described her foster mother as "kind, generous and very pretty, with shoulder-length brown hair". The house was "beautiful with very expensive furnishings".

Pat listened intently to the description. The verdict? "It's pretty accurate!" she said.

Image caption For Lisa, the trip the United States was a "life-changing experience"

Laughing throughout their time together, Pat said the young girl from Ballynahinch was in no way homesick and had no problems speaking her mind.

Pat recalled that when the young Lisa asked to go places, she had explained that their family were not that rich - to which the 10-year-old replied: "Well, what are you?"

Both women said those seven weeks they spend together had a long-lasting impact on their lives.

Lisa described it as a "life-changing experience" that gave her "so much confidence". No-one in her family had ever been to the United States a fact that, Lisa said, made her "unbearable" when she returned home.

She travelled along with 170 others as part of the Sarah Hughes American Holiday of Irish Children Foundation.

During the 1970s and 1980s, thousands of youngsters from across Northern Ireland travelled on similar sponsored holidays to the US as a way of getting away from the Troubles.

As Tuesday's reunion showed, that trip turned into a friendship for Lisa and Pat that has endured across distance and time.

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