Summerland and the Japanese city of Toyokoro officially became Sister Cities in 1996, but some still wonder what possible benefit there is in having a sister city agreement.
Lorrie Forde, the public relations person for the Sister City Committee, said there are cultural and economic benefits to Summerland in having this relationship.
“It’s an opportunity to grow as a person. That’s the cultural element of it. I see an economic benefit to the community, because when people from Toyokoro come here, they spend money in Summerland and they order product from here to sell in Toyokoro,” she said.
Toyokoro also employs a Summerland youth each year, in a very well paid position, as an assistant English teacher.
All the people serving on the Sister City Committee have visited Toyokoro, some, several times.
“It is such a rewarding experience. I would call it life changing for many people,” Forde said. “The community of Summerland is enriched through the perspective that people bring back. They come back with new ideas, new energy, enthusiasm and they come back stimulated.”
Forde also explained how the committee has grown.
“When people return from their trip they often want to serve on the committee as a way to give back,” she said. “Everyone on our committee is community minded. That is one of the common denominators that pull us all together.”
Forde became involved after her 15-year-old daughter went to Toyokoro as a student delegate.
“She came back with this new outlook, this new perspective that in my opinion was life changing for her, so I will be forever grateful. She grew a new level of confidence,” said Forde. “For me when I saw that happen for her, I said, I want to support this for other kids.”
A delegation of adults and students from Summerland visit Toyokoro every two years. Everyone pays their own way. The delegation is led by the mayor or someone from municipal hall.
The committee works with a local travel agent to book the flights. All the arrangements for accommodations and meals are made ahead of time.
“We get a package price so people aren’t paying for anything once they leave home,” said Forde.
A much larger task for the Sister City Committee is making the arrangements for hosting the delegations coming from Japan. A student delegation is coming in August and an adult delegation is coming in October.
The screening process for host families is underway. Each of the five students from Toyokoro will stay with a Summerland family who has a teen of the same age and gender.
“It’s an opportunity for them to see what a Canadian family lives like, so the home stay experience is huge for them. They want to practise their English and have their world view affected in a positive way,” said Forde.
The students are accompanied by two chaperones, usually teachers, one male and one female. They will also stay with a Summerland family and will be available to the students if need be.
The young people coming to Summerland will have earned the right to come here through an academic selection process.
When the adult delegation comes, arrangements are in place for them to be “toured from dawn to dusk,” visiting local businesses, schools, public services, city buildings, wineries and parks. They stay at a local motel and eat their meals in local restaurants.
A welcome at municipal hall and a farewell party is held for both delegations.
Transportation to and from the airport is also looked after by the committee volunteers.
“There is a lot of behind the scenes work, but the reward is of such significant benefit to the people that experience it, that it makes it all worthwhile,” Forde said.
If readers would like to find out more about the benefits of the Sister City experience, they are invited to call Lorrie Forde at 250-494-9644. If you could host a Japanese student in August call Karen Hooper at 250-490-6514. To find out more about Toyokoro, visit www.summerland.ca.