OCEANFRONT – Virginia Beach hosted the 61st annual conference of Sister Cities International this past month, bringing people from around the world to the city in support of the organization’s vision to encourage peace through interactions between citizens from different cultures.
The conference was held on Friday, July 14, and Saturday, July 15, at the DoubleTree Hilton Hotel Virginia Beach and at the Virginia Beach Conference Center, though a number of related events were held throughout the city that week, including at Virginia Wesleyan College and the Military Aviation Museum.
Ruth Hodges Fraser, president of the association in Virginia Beach in addition to her duties as the city clerk, said the host city also recognized its own Sister City partners during the week, including by featuring food from each nations. Such hospitality throughout the week was noted by guests in Virginia Beach.
“We have never been welcomes at any city so well,” said Lawrence Uebner, the treasurer for Sister Cities International who comes from Omaha, Neb. He said in addition to networking and sharing ideas, the conference this year also addressed the role of technology, which can link distant communities.
Stephen Reid, chief executive of the Ards and North Down Borough Council in Bangor, Northern Ireland, said the visit was a chance to reignite relationships with Virginia Beach, and he looked forward to working closer together. Bangor and the Beach are sister cities. He said there have great exchanges in areas such as schools and discussions about tourism and agriculture during the visit. “We’ve got links that we can build upon,” he said.
Virginia Beach City Councilmember Jim Wood, who represents the Lynnhaven District, participated in a discussion of the city’s partnership with another sister city, Olongapo, Philippines. “This is the kind of thing that fosters world peace,” Wood said on Saturday, July 15, amid the conference. “I just wish it was more widespread.”
Close ties have developed in education and public safety areas, with Virginia Beach assisting Olongapo during a typhoon, visits by student delegations and a special visit by Olongapo first responders.
Wood was on a panel with Olongapo Vice Mayor Jong Cortez and Virginia Beach Battalion Chief John Keyes, who headed up training for the Virginia Beach Fire Department when the Olongapo representatives were here. Both spoke about the successes of the relationships, and spoke about goals to continue the partnership, including lessons learned from the training effort.
Cortez said first responders who trained here shared what they had learned when they returned home. “Our goal is really to put up a similar fire fighter training academy in the Philippines,” Cortez said.
Another goal is keeping the partnership strong.
“We hope and pray that this will continue,” Cortez said.
In addition to ceremonies and panels, some meaningful moments came with simple conversations. Osman Mubarik Abu, senior assistant registrar at Tamale Technical University in Ghana said he enjoyed seeing the beach, even noting that the heat of that week reminded him of home. But it was the interactions that lead to relationships and exchanges.
Tamale, Ghana, Mayor Iddrisu Musah said the conference was an opportunity to build relationships outside of national-level diplomatic channels. “I’ve had the opportunity to interact with people I’ve never met,” he said, adding that he hoped to develop partnerships for his community.
Virginia Beach is sister cities with Miyazaki, Japan; Moss, Norway; Bangor, County Down, Northern Ireland; and Olongapo, Philippines. The Beach also has two friendship cities, San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua, and – as of this past year – Waiblingen, Germany.
Learn more about the Sister Cities Association of Virginia Beach by visiting vbsca.org. Reach the association at (757) 385-4303.
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