News

Partnership for Peace Links U.S. Communities with Iraqi Cities

Rene Gutel

The major U.S. news outlets reported on a pair of suicide bombings in Hilla, Iraq in May, which killed 27 people and injured dozens more. For most Americans, the attack in Hilla was just another in a string of deadly incidents in a town somewhere in a war zone far away. An American exchange program is hoping to change that... at least for the residents of Tempe, Arizona.

The community in the Sonoran Desert and Hilla are on the road to becoming Sister Cities -- as part of a project called "Partners For Peace." Tempe is the 5th and smallest American city chosen to participate in the program, joining Dallas, Tucson, Denver and Philadelphia, which have linked up with Kirkuk, Sulaymaniyah, Baghdad and Mosul. For nearly half a century, the goal of Sister Cities International has been to foster friendship and business connections between cities.

Mike Conner, who heads the latest partnership in Tempe, says the new Partners for Peace project takes that concept one step further. "When you meet someone and you become their friend," he says, "the chance for conflict is greatly reduced; you're not gonna bomb your friend. And I think that's what's important about the partnership for peace."

Mike Conner is a filmmaker, and his enthusiasm for the project grew out of a visit to Iraq to make a documentary. He traveled around Iraq with a small film crew, and was struck by how his perceptions of the country changed over the course of his stay.

"I was very humbled because I came with, I feel, a fairly arrogant attitude that I had the answers, and the way we live here is the way the whole world should live," he recalls. "When I met Iraqis, I found them to be very warm and hospitable, and so I was very impressed with their sense of what I have is yours, so I found that very interesting and I learned a lot from them."

Mr. Conner came back to the United States and made the unconventional move of putting down his camera and becoming a part of the story he'd covered, joining the Sister Cities project.

Sister Cities International has a long history of life-changing experiences. Tempe resident Richard Neuheisel, a past president of the Sister City organization, saw that firsthand in 1989. "[We] had a young fellow come from Skopje, Macedonia, then it was part of Yugoslavia... and he came with a bit of a chip on his shoulder, he wasn't so keen on America," Mr. Neuheisel recalls. "After the 3 month time period, he said he'd changed his attitude about America. He was going to go back and maybe see if he could get involved with matters in Skopje and maybe implement some changes." He pauses before delivering the end of the story: "I'm happy to tell you today he's the president of the country."

The U.S. State Department has given the Tempe-Hilla partnership a $20,000 grant to develop the program. Additional funds will be raised locally with an annual Oktoberfest event in downtown Tempe. Mike Conner has already begun planning how to spend the money. "We'll be sending over a carton, a very large ocean container of wheelchairs to be distributed in Hilla," he says. "We're developing other elements... possibly bringing teachers here, for language and cultural training and submersion, and also other programs we'll be aiding in education, et cetera in Hilla, Iraq."

Officials with Sister Cities International say Iraqis in Hilla are also enthused about the partnership. Hilla officials couldn't be reached for their comments. But a delegation is coming to the United States some time in the next 6 months to work out details of the developing program. Mr. Conner says he has more questions than answers.

"At this point we know some of the needs of Hilla," he says, "but what we want to do is develop a friendship and not come with arrogance, and say, 'This is what you need' but rather say 'What is it you are in need of? How can we help you?' and also 'How can you help us? What is it you have to offer us?'"

If the point of the Partners for Peace project is to make friends... there's clearly a lot of work ahead. On the Tempe campus of Arizona State University, an unscientific sampling shows most people know nothing about the Iraqi city… but still support the idea of partnership.

"No, I don't know anything about Hilla, Iraq," says one young man, adding, "I think the idea of cooperative agreements between sister cities is a great idea." Another offers a similar sentiment, "I think it's great, I mean, getting to learn [about] different people from different countries. I think it'd be a big influence on us." A woman who hadn't heard of the agreement with Hilla finds the idea interesting. "I'd like to see maybe if anything comes of that." Another student laughs, "I never even heard of Hilla, Iraq. I don't even know where that place is at."

That's one thing Sister Cities International plans to change.

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs