Compassionate Brattleboro forges connections across three continents

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BRATTLEBORO — A signpost pointing toward "sister communities" could show worldwide relationships forged by those living around here.

"It would be nice for our kids to pass by the park and have it explained to them, 'Hey look, we've got connections on three continents,'" said Jim Levinson of Compassionate Brattleboro, which formed after Brattleboro voters overwhelmingly supported the town signing the international Charter for Compassion with about 435 cities and towns. "I think it would be neat for the high school, too, to sort of have an initial in with localities in these other countries."

Levinson said money will need to be raised to purchase the sign. It would read: Colonia Pandora, Apopa, El Salvador — 3,790 miles, Croix-des-Bouquets, Haiti — 1,767 miles, Fakir Bagan, Kolkata, India — 7,640 miles and Kaiguchu, Kenya — 7,213 miles.

At its April 15 meeting, Compassionate Brattleboro approved applications submitted by representatives to the four sister communities.

"In each case, existing linkages were indicated along with hopes and expectations for active and reciprocal relationships between these towns and Brattleboro," according to a news release. "Most included activities involving youth."

The Brattleboro-based Centre Congregational Church has helped the Caba itas school and students in the Colonia Pandora community.

Sheila Humphreys and Mariam Diallo, of Brattleboro, have been assisting the Foyer Evangelique Orphanage in Haiti. St. Michael's Episcopal Church in Brattleboro aided children affected by a 2010 earthquake there.

"Cultural programs in Brattleboro have already been taking place to support this effort," according to a press release. "With a sister relationship, a student exchange program could be initiated, and Brattleboro students could develop creative ways to support the orphans in Haiti."

Compassionate Brattleboro described Fakir Bagan, a slum area in Kolkata, India as "the poorest" of the four communities. But over the last 15 years, the group said, there has been "remarkable progress in improving health and wellbeing, particularly among reproductive age mothers and young children. The prevalence of severe undernutrition among children has been reduced from 13 percent to 3 percent."

Calcutta Kids, a nongovernmental organization which has worked with community members in Marlboro including those at Marlboro College, has brought local residents to Fakir Bagan to work with families.

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Kaiguchu is home of the Nobel Prize-winning environmentalist Wangari Maathai, who has ties with SIT Graduate Institute and Brattleboro. It also has relationships with the Guilford Community Church and Oak Grove School in Brattleboro. Both properties have trees planted by Maathai.

More than 50 community members have traveled to Kaiguchu for service work and to learn about indigenous and contemporary cultures, according to the press release.

"With Kaiguchu as our sister community, we could help support, for example, vocational training for AIDS orphans, perhaps creating the first solar-powered school in the country," Compassionate Brattleboro said. "And our teenagers could join theirs in so-called 'green safaris,' tree planting along with wild animal adventures."

The group hopes to have at least one sister community relationship with another town in the United States that has signed on to the Charter for Compassion. Area residents with suggestions on the project are encouraged to send letters to the local newspapers and/or email compassionstory@gmail.com.

Compassionate Brattleboro started about two years ago. Dialogue about sister communities began about six months ago, when local violin maker Doug Cox saw a photo of a signpost in a park in California with panels giving the number of miles and direction of sister cities.

"Doug said, 'Wouldn't it be nice to have a bunch in Brattleboro with a signpost like that?" said Levinson, who believes that a subcommittee of his group will be created with the different "ambassadors" designated to communicate between the communities.

Levinson hopes to increase interactions across the continents and get more locals involved in various projects. He also expects to eventually have a town resolution to officially establish the relationships.

The overarching goals of his group are to have compassion in this community and show compassion to other parts of the world. The sister communities project is meant to be reciprocal.

"We have a lot to learn from these towns," Levinson said. "These interactions can be very rich. We don't want any of this to be seen as we're giving, they're taking."

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com, at @CMaysBR on Twitter and 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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