Viewpoints

Sister cities are a worthwhile endeavor

My brother and I have had our disagreements in the past, but at the end of the day we are always best friends. Not all sibling relationships are as functional as the one I have with my brother: some families have minor disagreements that cause serious strife. Unfortunately for our country, we have been having such divisive “disagreements” a bit too frequently over the past few years. While the motivations behind these debates are varied, the problem still remains: In this age of global terror and Middle-Eastern conflict, how can our country improve its international relations without sacrificing security? In order to further develop international goodwill amongst citizens we need to look no further than your gorgeous sister…sister city, that is.

There is no doubt that the United States contributing funds to a country can assist in instilling good faith in the recipient, but history is littered with occurrences where such funds have been poorly spent or simply wasted. Within our own country we have problems coordinating the funding of the federal government with the needs of the localities. One needs to look no farther than Hurricane Katrina to find a country that is frequently disorganized when it comes to communication and distribution to those in need. To organize such assistance internationally clearly adds another level of complexity to the process. The Sister Cities International Program has helped such coordination succeed.

Many individuals are under the impression that a sister-cities program is nothing more than a way for politicians to have press conferences in which native trees and “tokens of friendship” are exchanged. Fortunately for all of us, a sister-cities relationship can wield tremendous benefits for both parties. For the past 50 years Sister Cities International has, as stated in its mission, aimed to “promote peace through mutual respect, understanding, & cooperation—one individual, one community at a time.” Although this may sound like nothing more than an ambiguous hope for a better tomorrow, Sister Cities is much more than hugs and warm fuzzies. A Sister City relationship requires a massive amount of effort and mobilization in order to truly be successful. A specific example of Sister City success is the Chicago-Casablanca partnership.

As stated in the Pew Global Attitudes Report of July 14, 2005, favorable views of the United States by Moroccan citizens have jumped 22 percentage points over the previous year. This study had 49 percent of Moroccans holding a “favorable” view of the United States, while such a distinction stood at 27 percent as recently as March 2004. Regardless of political affiliation, it is clear that in today’s world, where winning international support has become difficult, the United States doing so in a predominantly Muslim country is even more notable.

Pew additionally concluded that one of the most important factors in this increase of positive sentiment has been the Chicago-Casablanca Sister City Program. By utilizing private sector resources, this relationship, has been able to bring together individuals from both countries in order to assist in solving common concerns and enhancing goodwill. In displays of successful citizen diplomacy, professionals were able to help corresponding parties by allowing for cultural exchange in addition to occupational advice. One such example is Chicago opticians providing for eye examinations and eyeglasses in Casablanca’s impoverished areas. Another event brought Chicago basketball trainers to Casablanca to help in the athletic development of 900 children form Casablanca’s poorest neighborhoods. This program, entitled “Casa-Basket,” was only a precursor to the overwhelming success observed when 60,000 Moroccans saw Chicago’s South Shore Drill team give performances throughout the country.

Although these programs may not be complex they all have something in common, they work. As simple as classroom correspondences and flag raising ceremonies are, they bring about a cultural recognition that is simply too rare on the international stage. Although the Sister Cities program is a private entity sponsored by municipalities, our nation should take note. It is also not surprising that the leading city in this program is Chicago. A city that has built its reputation on hands-on management has expanded and shown its possibilities to spread goodwill through means other than those that are purely financial. If the United States is to truly be the global leader that brings prosperity to the far reaches of our planet, then friendship gestures such as the Sister Cities Program need to be further supported and enhanced.