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Nelson Establishes Sister City Relationship with Kaoma, Zambia

Bill Metcalfe
By Bill Metcalfe
November 14th, 2012


Nelson City Council formalized a municipal partnership (a “sister city” relationship) with Kaoma, Zambia at its meeting on November 5. 

The partnership will not be an economic one but will be “based on solidarity and friendship,” says Isabel Herzig of Ymir, one of the organizers of the initiative. Kaoma is both a town and a district with a population of about 14,000 in the western part of Zambia.

Herzig says solidary and friendship may not seem very concrete or significant to us, “but to them it is incredibly important because it is a community that has never been in the global eye before, never had a global partnership, nobody has ever shown interest. So it creates that feeling of being bigger than oneself.  That really validates the way our community here says it is, which is a global community, and that we believe in global issues. It is not based on economy although we hope to have knowledge transfer and sharing.”

“We are going to start out with pretty general language—friendship, solidarity and mutual understanding,” says Councillor Donna Macdonald.  “We are not starting out by defining any specific goals. We are not committing staff time or money and what it actually looks like in concrete terms will evolve over time.”

Macdonald worked with CUSO in Africa in the 1980s and is interested in development issues there. She has been the main mover on the council for this initiative.

Remote and rural

Herzig says Kaoma is a remote area isolated by poor roads that wash out in the rainy season and by a lack of cell phone service. “I was there in 2008 just before the rainy season when it is incredibly hot. Kaoma is an 8 to 12 hour drive from (Zambia’s capital) Lusaka—not that far, but the roads are atrocious, like a walking path, going through forested areas, very rural.”

“It has typical earth homes with thatched roofs,” she says. “It is mostly agricultural, but much of it is not close to water sources so that causes problems.”

A strong network of organizations

Herzig is part of the Nelson Area Kaoma Alliance (NAKA) which has been working with the people of Kaoma for several years in the areas of education, water quality, and sexual abuse awareness, in conjunction with its parent organization, the Victoria International Development Education Association (VIDEA), which in turn has working relationships with the group Women for Change in Zambia.

Forestry and the arts

Herzig says Kaoma has some similarities with the Nelson area.  “One is forests. They have hardwood forests and are trying to develop a way of responsibly logging them and creating secondary markets with carpentry and crafts.

“And there are huge artisan markets in Kaoma and we have a huge artisan community here as well.  We bring their artisan baskets over here and sell them. They are going to be training up some youth to do wood sculptures that we would start selling over here for them.”

Sexual abuse curriculum

“We will be sending somebody over there in the next year because we have worked on curriculum on sexual abuse with children and families. They have never spoken about those issues before, and I would love to see that knowledge sharing start and develop.” NAKA is doing that work in conjunction with Women for Change.

“Every year someone comes to Vicitoria, B.C. from Zambia,” Herzig says, “and I would love it if we could bring one of Koama’s District Council members to meet the council here in Nelson.”

Fighting for a spot in school

Asked what most impressed her about the Kaoma area, Herzig said, “I loved the determination of the youth. I run a youth group here through NAKA at Wildflower School, and we talk about it a lot. Kids their age in Kaoma are fighting for spots in school because there aren’t many official schools, most are community schools with volunteers teaching them and trying to do it while trying to survive. They have to take the same placement exams that the kids who go to real schools do, and yet they are determined to pass them and hopefully get to university.”

Herzig says NAKA has sent two young men to university there recently by finding Nelson area sponsors willing to contribute $25 per month for several years.

“One of them, Michael, is the first one from his village to go to university. The youth are incredible. The 30 to 40 age group has been wiped out by AIDS and so the youth are being raised by their grandparents or they are leading the household themselves and they are still managing to go to school.”

Keeping our lives in perspective

Councillor Macdonald says the goal is mutual benefit. “It is our belief that having this kind of relationship with a developing country is a benefit to Nelson residents,” says Macdonald, “in that it opens the window on a pretty different part of the world and looking through that window helps keep our lives and our issues and our needs in perspective. They are looking fearfully at the effects of climate change on their forests and their agricultural capabilities. We have so many more resources to address those issues.”

Nelson also has sister city relationships with Izushi, Japan, and with Baie-St-Paul, Quebec (expires in March 2013). 

Categories: GeneralPolitics

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