Thirty years ago the mayors of Port Alberni and Abashiri, Japan, officially declared the two port towns as Sister Cities. When the opportunity arose, the idea was to encourage student exchange trips, expand cultural appreciation and form friendships.
Since the first exchange in 1986, those goals have been met and the Port Alberni International Twinning Society will be welcoming guests from Abashiri this summer to celebrate the anniversary.
A small delegation of 13 to 15 adults will arrive in Port Alberni on Saturday, July 16 for a brief stay to form and renew friendships, visit local sites, and take part in celebrations and a lakeside barbecue.
Society members from Port Alberni, as well as representatives from the City of Abashiri, the media and the Port Alberni Fan Club, who all have strong ties to the society, also hope to meet new people who want to be involved in keeping the relationship strong.
In 1986, the first group of about 80 elementary school students participated in an exchange.
Since then, student exchanges and teaching positions have taken place each year, and some of those participants have gone on to secure careers from the experience. The last student delegation from Port Alberni visited Abashiri in July 2014 and the society has another planned for July 2017.
Numbers have declined in recent years, but in Abashiri, the interest has remained steady. Actively promoting awareness of Port Alberni, a community centre named after Echo Centre was constructed and the Port Alberni Fan Club was formed. Members of the club organize Port Alberni-themed festivals.
“The fan club is made up of people who came here and fell in love with Port Alberni,” said society president, Sherri McKinnon. “They do a series of community events to raise awareness and sell things like maple cookies to help fund student exchanges. Every Christmas Day they have a Port Alberni night.”
The society is hoping to reciprocate the same hospitality and invite the community to volunteer with the event. The main anniversary celebration will take place on Monday, July 18. McKinnon hopes that by reuniting exchange participants from previous years, the event will illustrate the importance of continuing the relationship with Abashiri.
“The cultural exchanges are extremely beneficial not only to the kids, but also the entire families,” McKinnon said.
“Everyone is always blown away by the connections made.”
Without the support and interest of extra volunteers, though, the society struggles.
“It’s time to recruit and train new members so our next generation of Port Alberni students have an opportunity to be welcomed into homes in Abashiri and to experience Japanese culture and to attend school, and vice-versa,” said society vice-president and School District 70 liaison Laurie Morphet.
Different ways of getting involved include joining the organization, providing a homestay placement for an adult for three nights this July, chaperoning a student delegation trip to Abashiri in July 2017 or becoming a host family for Japanese students for four nights in January 2017.
An adult delegation will travel to Abashiri in July 2017.
For more info, or to volunteer, contact McKinnon at Sherri.McKinnon@viu.ca or Morphet at firstname.lastname@example.org or 250-724-4174.