Bilwi-Puerto Cabezas Sister City Program
15 Beech Street, Burlington, VT 05404
The Burlington/ Puerto Cabezas Sister City Program continues to promote interaction between the residents of Vermont and the residents of Puerto Cabezas, a municipality on the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua. 2009 will mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of the program. While our strategies have changed over the years, our focus continues to be the creation of partnerships between like-minded groups and individuals in Vermont and Nicaragua. Annual funding from the City of Burlington provides both financial and moral support in maintaining and growing the relationship.
On September 4, 2007, the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua was struck by Felix, a class five hurricane that destroyed many houses in Puerto Cabezas and whole communities along the Miskito coast. The sister City Board, in conjunction with Burlington Mayor Kiss, created a “Roofs for Christmas” campaign to raise money for helping homeowners there with the rebuilding. Vermont donations of over $10000 were raised and sent to our counterpart sister city group in “Port”. Over 50 families to date have been helped by those donations to rebuild damaged houses.
Board member Dan Higgins produced a video showing the effects of Hurricane Felix and the responses by residents of Burlington and Bilwi. The video has been shown on cable channel 17 and a copy has been left with the Mayor’s Office.
Leaders in Bilwi have repeatedly said that one of the most important aspects of the relationship has been the delegations of Vermonters we have sent to Puerto Cabezas. In February 2008, board member David Hutchinson traveled to Bilwi with his counseling class of 13 Johnson State College students. Their focus was on meeting with various health providers in the community and observing techniques they were using to help people adjust to the stress from the hurricane. The students met with counselors, nurses, school administrators and municipal leaders, as well as traditional healers from the Miskito communities.
Several of the Johnson students have remained in contact with people they met there and are organizing fundraising events for the Barrio Cocal School in Bilwi, one of the schools they visited.
In October 2008, Debby Hodgson, who oversees a youth leadership project in Puerto Cabezas, visited Burlington. The Johnson group had met her during their February trip, and on this visit David Hutchinson and she discussed possible further collaborations between her group and Johnson State College.
The Sister City Program continues to support local video projects in Bilwi, especially URACCAN’s community video channel, BilwiVision, by offering technical advice and shared costs for equipment. Young people working for BilwiVision provide hour long programming every day offering segments with news, interviews, debates, health, variety, women's issues, and cultural activities. Programs are offered in Miskito and English/Creole as well as Spanish. This is a critical media asset in a region with no newspaper.
During 2008 the Sister City Project purchased two new field video cameras for BilwiVision, and we have occasionally authorized support as well for independent videographers documenting culture and life in the region.
The Sister City Program seeks ways of expanding interest and participation in the program. In December 2007 we staffed a booth at the International Festival at the Fairgrounds in Essex Junction and were able to speak with many people. In September 2008 we oversaw an information table at the Burlington Latino Festival and were one of several humanitarian groups hosting the Latino Dance party at Contois Auditorium. High school and university classes, especially Spanish classes, have offered good opportunities to discuss the program, and we are currently exploring a possible collaboration with the Vermont Institute on the Caribbean that would involve video exchange between members of the Bilwi video program with students producing videos in Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic.
Our most far-reaching conduit for connecting with new people has been our web site, www.uvm.edu/sistercity . Each month we are contacted with requests for information about Nicaragua’s Caribbean Coast, as well as requests for information about the various DVDs available through our web site.
TRAINING in the CONSTRUCTION TRADES
Board member Charlie Delaney has over the years traveled to Bilwi and worked with local young men carrying out small construction projects. These projects have offered his helpers an opportunity to learn construction skills and when the job is finished Charlie leaves the tools with his apprentices. Charlie is planning another trip to work on rebuilding houses in Bilwi for January 2009.
Anyone interested in joining him can contact the Sister City Program.
2009 will be the 25th anniversary of the relationship between Burlington and Puerto Cabezas. We are in contact with people in both communities discussing ways we might acknowledge and celebrate that history. Ideas for Burlington include a music and dance celebration on Church Street. A late winter delegation to “Port” is another possibility.
Board member Dan Higgins has proposed the making of a collaborative video project, some footage produced in Vermont, some produced in “Port” by videographers there, that would highlight the creativity of residents of both communities: artists, musicians, mask makers, dancers, story tellers, etc. Anyone interested in participating in this collaborative video project can contact Dan directly: firstname.lastname@example.org.
In summary, the Burlington/ Bilwi-Puerto Cabezas Sister City Program acts as an umbrella organization ready to support a wide range of people-to-people contacts. We invite collaboration with existing organizations and seek to expand our board to include diverse interests in the community. Vermonters are welcome to attend our irregularly scheduled but food-provided meetings, which take place at board member Jane Kramer’s house, 15 Beech Street. We can be contacted through our web site and people can be included in our mailings by sending us their email address.
We appreciate the official support of the city of Burlington and look forward to continuing to provide Burlington residents with this unique opportunity: to explore issues of importance to them by viewing those issues through the perspectives of their sister city counterparts.
Dan Higgins, Sister City Program Coordinator