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Monday, Sep 10 2012 11:00 PM

JOHN HEFNER: Bakersfield's half-century-old sister city project aims high

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    John Hefner

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The board of the Bakersfield Sister City Project Corp. appreciates the recent articles that have appeared in The Californian about the construction and opening of the Sister City Gardens, located along Mill Creek on 18th Street. This "dream-fulfilled" was built by the city of Bakersfield using grant monies, but the city does not provide any financial assistance to the Bakersfield Sister City Project Corp. We are also especially grateful to Mayor Harvey Hall, who spearheaded the campaign to build these gardens, and to Dianne Hoover and her staff at the city Recreation and Parks Department, who coordinated the project. We also welcome this opportunity to publicize our mission and our programs.

The Bakersfield Sister City Project was organized as a nonprofit, all-volunteer corporation in 1964 to direct and manage Bakersfield's Sister City relationship with Japan, established on Aug. 21, 1961. The Sister City program had its origins five years earlier, on Sept. 11, 1956, when President Dwight Eisenhower challenged civic leaders "to help build the road to peace" by working out "thousands of ways by which people can gradually learn a little more about each other." This challenge was answered by the founding of the People-to-People program and its offshoot, the Sister Cities program. Eisenhower's dream of peace through understanding the culture of other peoples is a primary goal of Bakersfield Sister City Project Corp.

After more than 30 years with just one Sister City (Wakayama), our organization -- in cooperation with then-Mayor Bob Price and the Bakersfield City Council -- helped the city of Bakersfield to form Sister City relationships with two more cities: the Partisan District of Minsk (1995), and Cixi, China (1996). Ten years later, under the leadership of Mayor Hall, we signed Sister City agreements with Santiago de Queretaro, Mexico (2005), followed by Bucheon, South Korea (2006), and Amritsar, India (2010).

Our board of 17 director, chaired by Mayor Hall, oversees five active Sister City relationships. Recently, we sent one group of students to Wakayama; hosted two youth groups from Japan; hosted a 50th anniversary visit by Wakayama Mayor Ohashi in November 2011; hosted a visit by Mayor Malik of Amritsar in August 2011 (when he signed the Memorandum of Understanding); held a fifth anniversary visit by the vice mayor of Bucheon in 2011; and welcomed two youth groups from Bucheon in January 2012. We also sponsored a Concert of Peace & Hope on Sept. 11, 2011 -- the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks and the 55th anniversary of the Sister Cities movement.

In addition, we have sponsored many aid programs, including providing school supplies for children in Minsk and making donations to orphanages in Queretaro and Amritsar, and contributing to a girls school in Amritsar and to the Wakayama Red Cross' Earthquake/Tsunami Relief Fund. Hall Ambulance also made significant donations of ambulances, equipment, and EMT training to Queretaro. Our Bakersfield Korean War veterans, along with the Korean American Association, helped to build the memorial at Jastro Park. Our many youth exchanges over the years have introduced hundreds of students from Bakersfield to students from other lands and their cultures. It is these kinds of activities and memories that have made our program strong for more than five decades.

We are currently preparing for a visit by an official delegation from Bucheon from Oct. 11-15. This delegation will be accompanying a group of internationally renowned traditional Korean dancers, musicians and singers, who will put on one very special performance at the Harvey Auditorium at 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 13. (For tickets or information, contact Jae Shin at 706-9698.)

We frequently are approached by various individuals and groups, suggesting that Bakersfield should have other Sister Cities. To all, we explain that we have developed a protocol to be followed for establishing such relationships that includes providing proof of broad-based community support. Anyone interested in developing a Sister City should consult our website, www.bakersfieldsistercity.org.

We also invite all interested individuals to attend one of our board meetings held normally on the first Tuesday of the month. Or better yet, participate in some of our many activities throughout the year. Our Sister City board members, led by Mayor Hall, are very proud of our Sister City Project that only last year celebrated its 50th anniversary.

For more information, email me at johnhefner3@yahoo.com.

John Hefner is president of the Bakersfield Sister City Project Corp. He also was the first sister city exchange youth from Bakersfield to Wakayama in 1965 and also took more than 100 students from Bakersfield to Wakayama in 1987 as principal of Fruitvale Junior High School.

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