Chesapeake Hosts Sister City

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Joinville has over 500,000 people, more than 700 industries, the world’s largest dance festival and a sister city right here in Chesapeake, Virginia. Named for a French prince, Joinville (pronounced zhahn-vill-ee) is located in the costal area of southern Brazil. Settlers from Germany, Norway, and Switzerland established the city in 1851. In addition to its nickname of the “City of Flowers,” Joinville is perhaps best known as the home to the only Bolshoi Ballet school located outside of Moscow.

What is a “sister city”? President Eisenhower initiated the program in 1956 as a way of fostering “citizen diplomacy”—people-to-people relationships rather than government-to-government relationships. A city (or other local municipality) forms a partnership with a city in a foreign country to promote cultural, educational, and economic exchanges.

Joinville is the largest city in the Brazilian state of Santa Catarina, which is Virginia’s sister state. Chesapeake entered into an alliance with Joinville in 2002, under the guidance of then-Mayor William Ward. According to Peter Wallace, Chesapeake’s Chief Information Officer and current president of the Sister Cities Committee, the mayor wanted to focus on the economic development piece of a sister city match. Chesapeake has a significant number of foreign businesses (including three from Brazil), and committee members hope the relationship will provide business opportunities for both cities.

One aspect of Joinville-Chesapeake educational collaboration is the teacher exchange. The Chesapeake committee hosted three Joinville English teachers in January. “I was amazed by the number of public schools and how big they are compared to our schools,” said visiting teacher Joseane Correa. “Another aspect that impressed me was how engaged the students are in the projects the school does during the school year. They are very dedicated and determined to do the best projects.”

The teachers visited ten Chesapeake public schools; toured local historical sites, businesses and museums; met with the mayor, city council and other local dignitaries; and traveled to Washington, DC, for the Sister Cities Inaugural Gala.

Committee member and retired Chesapeake Public Schools administrator Ann Myers, who hosted the teachers at her Great Bridge home, considered the gala the highlight of the exchange. However, much of the visit involved providing information and ideas the teachers can use in their classrooms at home. The teachers shared in an array of educational experiences such as International Baccalaureate courses, band practices, and physical education classes. The committee also provided educational events beyond the classroom such as a special tour of the U.S. Capitol arranged by Congressman Randy Forbes, visits to the Smithsonian Museum and Colonial Williamsburg, and a meeting with an ODU professor engaged in Brazil nut research. Myers credited “everyone on the committee with providing something special for them.”

“Our visit was great on many levels because we could see and compare with our reality and it gave us some kind of encouragement to do more for our kids. We really hope to visit Chesapeake again,” said Correa.

Myers had traveled to Joinville with a Chesapeake Sister Cities contingent in 2011 as part of an educational exchange. She taught American dances (the Virginia Reel and the Electric Slide) and, more importantly, a seminar on suicide prevention and intervention—information that proved useful just one month later to a Joinville teacher.

In addition to educational and economic opportunities, the committee sponsors pen pal matches for students and local events that promote cross-cultural awareness such as the Brazilian Festival. At OpSail 2012, members visited a Brazilian vessel where the captain hosted a reception for them in his quarters.

Chesapeake’s Sister Cities Committee is independent of the city government and supported via fundraisers and donations from Chesapeake area businesses and citizens. For 2013, the committee hopes to make their successful “Dancing With the Chesapeake Sister City Stars” fundraiser—a dancing competition for local celebrities—an even bigger event.

A key goal is a future medical mission, where local doctors would provide vision and dental treatment and teach Joinville doctors the latest American advancements in medical care. “We’re not just looking to help, we’re looking to teach,” said Wallace.

More information about the Chesapeake’s sister city program is available at http://www.cityofchesapeake.net/Government/Boards-Commissions/Full-Listing/sister-cities.htm or on the “Sister Cities Committee of Chesapeake” Facebook page.

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