The Burlington/ Bilwi-Puerto Cabezas Sister City Program
15 Beech Street, Burlington, VT 05404
Annual Report 2005-2006The Burlington/ Puerto Cabezas Sister City Program continues its mission of promoting understanding between the people of Vermont and the people of Puerto Cabezas on the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua. Our focus is connecting people and promoting the exploration of issues relevant to both communities.
Sister City activities this year involved continuing support for URACCAN’s fledgling community video program, helping bring a young Miskito man to Burlington to further his education, and initiating a collaborative effort with UVM and Burlington College to bring writer Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz to Burlington to launch her new book about Nicaragua. We offer support to many individuals and groups seeking information about Nicaragua’s Caribbean Coast. This included UVM medical students in their outreach program, as well as numerous other people who contacted us through our web site.
16 months ago Margarita Antonio, the Director of the Communications Program at URACCAN, visited Burlington and experienced the public access work done at Channel 17. Returning to Bilwi Margarita organized a group of young people who for the past year have been providing the residents there with an hour a day of community video programming. The shows, carried on the local cable television, include segments with news, interviews, debates, health, variety, women's issues, and cultural activities. There is a question of the day asked of local citizens, and there are summaries in Miskito and English/Creole as well as Spanish.
BilwiVision programming has come to play an important role in the community, providing a unique place for public dialogue, and it represents what might be one of the first instances in Nicaragua of providing free community access to television by ordinary citizens. The Sister City Board has allocated funds providing matching grants for new equipment, with URACCAN paying half and the Sister City Program matching the other half. This past year we helped purchase a new Macintosh computer and several video cameras for the BilwiVision group. In February board member Dan Higgins provided video training workshops for three diverse groups in Bilwi: students in the URACCAN Graduate Anthropology program, students in the URACCAN Communication Studies program, and young people in the University’s Preparatorio program.
TRAINING in the CONSTRUCTION TRADES
In September 2005 the Sister City Program provided airfare to bring Elwin Finley, a young Miskito man, to Burlington, and helped him enroll in classes at the Technical Center at Burlington High School. Elwin studied carpentry, electricity, and plumbing. This training was part of board member Charlie Delaney’s vision to create a training program in Bilwi for young people interested in learning construction skills. Elwin’s training was to prepare him to be able to return to Bilwi and eventually become director of that program.
The Sister City Board has allocated funds also for the printing of a brochure that could be used by Charlie in gathering donations of tools and materials for the project.
In April the Sister City board, in a unique collaboration with the UVM Latin Studies Program and Burlington College, hosted Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, well-known historian and human rights activist. Ms. Dunbar-Ortiz chose Burlington for the launching of her new book, Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War, because of Burlington’s support for the people of the region during that war. While in Burlington Ms. Dunbar-Ortiz spoke to students at UVM as well as Burlington College, appeared on Richard Kemp’s show on channel 17, and gave an insightful interview on Mark Johnson’s show on WDEV radio.
UVM MEDICAL STUDENTS
Once again in 2005 a group of UVM medical students devoted a semester of their community outreach project to health care issues in Puerto Cabezas. Working under their supervisor Dr. Karen Burke the students researched support systems in Vermont that might assist in dealing with health issues in Bilwi. Their task was to assess the needs, barriers, and necessary components to establishing a health liaison between Burlington, Vermont and Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua. As a final project they constructed an informative (and updatable) web site useful for any medical personnel who might be visiting the region. Their site can be found at www.med.uvm.edu/studentaffairs and typing in the word “Puerto Cabezas”.
In discussions with leaders in Bilwi we have been told repeatedly that they feel one of the most important activities we can sponsor would be to organize on a regular basis a delegation from Vermont each year that would visit Puerto Cabezas. The best model to date has been board member David Hutchinson’s 2003 Johnson State College delegation in which the trip followed a semester of classroom work preparing students to understand the histories and cultures of Nicaragua’s Caribbean Coast.
David is contemplating taking a delegation to “Port” next spring made up of graduate students in the Johnson counseling program.
Professor Sandy Baird of Burlington College has expressed a desire to teach an American History course (incorporating all the Americas) at URACCAN that would include URACCAN students as well as some from Burlington College.
Dan Higgins continues close contact with the BilwiVision video group and is working with Marisha Kazeniac of the Vermont Institute on the Caribbean exploring ways the Bilwi video program might expand to include video exchanges with students producing videos in the Dominican Republic.
In summary, the Sister City Program acts as an umbrella organization supporting a wide range of people-to-people contacts. We invite interesting proposals from anyone in either community, and we try to ensure reciprocity in our exchanges. Our public annual meeting will take place October 3, 2006, at Jane Kramer’s house at 15 Beech Street. Burlington residents are always welcome to attend our irregularly scheduled meetings, and we continuously seek new members representing different interests in the community.
People can contact us through our informative web site, www.uvm.edu/sistercity, and can receive email announcements of meetings by sending us their email address.