From Brattleboro, with compassion: Pen pals in the making

  • James Levinson holds a photos of a sign from Sacramento, Calif., about their various sister cities. Levinson and Doug Cox is interested in doing the same thing in Brattleboro. KRISTOPHER RADDER / Brattleboro Reformer

Brattleboro Reformer
Published: 8/22/2019 6:18:37 PM
Modified: 8/22/2019 6:18:24 PM

Students or entire classes are being sought to serve as pen pals between those in “sister communities.”

“We’ve been in regular touch with all of them,” said Jim Levinson, of the Compassionate Brattleboro Committee.

His group organized connections between four communities outside the United States. It also looks at ways to act in accordance with the Charter for Compassion, which the town of Brattleboro signed in 2017, joining communities around the globe in saying compassion needs to be made “a clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarized world.”

Levinson said some local teenagers are already communicating with other teens in sister communities.

“But it would be great to get going with the others,” he said, especially if students studying Spanish or French want to communicate in those languages.

The hope also is to get teachers and individuals who want to travel interested.

Each sister community has a local “ambassador” acting as a conduit between groups and has relayed information about their home. In return, they have received a “thumbnail sketch” of Brattleboro.

The town “received a significant influx of hippies in the 1960s who have become civic leaders and continues to attract people seeking non-material well-being and political engagement,” according to the description. “It has a strong civic sense and a very large body of non-profit organizations serving the community’s aesthetic, social, religious and material needs. Though historically accepting, the region is predominantly white; non-white population, currently around 10 percent, is growing and efforts are being made to address historic power imbalances.”

Levinson said the sister communities exchange emails and occasional telephone calls. And there have been special events to raise money and awareness for initiatives to help the sister communities.

But it’s not all about giving.

“What we don’t want is this to be a one-way street,” Levinson said. “We want it to be reciprocal and mutual.”

There is talk of local teenagers going on “green safaris” with teens from Kenya.

“They would see wild animals and plant trees,” Levinson said.

Kaiguchu in Kenya is notable for “its high quality volcanic ceramic soil, perfect for making its famous utensils and tiles; its pink sandy soil (used for ceramic blending in making the tiles); and its high-quality coffee beans,” Levinson wrote in a news release. The community is “now most famous as the home of the late Nobel Prize winning environmentalist Wangari Maatthai,” who planted trees locally and had been the subject of an award-winning documentary produced by Brattleboro filmmakers.

“The strongest relationship has come in relation to the schools, and it is hoped the relationships between Brattleboro and Kaiguchu might come to grow through FaceTime classes and the cow project which is blossoming and providing milk for local children, providing vocational training for some of the secondary students and installing the first solar power for a school in Kenya,” Rev. Lise M. Sparrow, of the Guilford Community Church, United Church of Christ, wrote in an email to the Reformer.

FaceTime is an app developed by Apple used to conduct video chats.

Levinson said Compassionate Brattleboro, which has about 25 people engaged via emails and seven or eight people who come regularly to meetings, formed a subcommittee focused on sister communities.

Committee member Peter Abell said Centre Congregational Church in Brattleboro has a longstanding “sister parish” relationship in El Salvador and provides scholarships for students there to attend school.

“A few Centre Church girls have traveled there in the past and have made friends there,” Abell wrote in an email to the Reformer. “It seems to me they are the ones who can most easily establish pen pal connections.”

Colonia Pandora in El Salvador “is a relatively new community, created in the 1970s, on land that had earlier been part of a corporate holding,” Levinson wrote. “While facing traditional problems of underdevelopment, including unsafe drinking water and poor roads, the community was further challenged by rapid inflows of population resulting from the civil war of 1980, and then the earthquake of 1986 which destroyed part of the country’s capital city. As a result, social and environmental needs have increased including, importantly, childcare as parents often have to travel long distances for employment.”

A reforestation program being developed has been identified as a way for those in the Brattleboro area to potentially collaborate more.

Croix-des-Bouquets in Haiti, “like Brattleboro, became famous as an artist colony” and has a similar number of residents, Levinson wrote. It is known for its iron sculptures and its cultivation of mangoes.

The landscape of nearby Meyer is described as “flat land covered with trees which the community has ardently protected against deforestation, a serious problem in Haiti as a whole.”

“In a state with inadequate funding even for safe drinking water, a group of citizens has been volunteering to help meet local needs and also help with orphans and abandoned children in the region,” Levinson wrote. “As a result of these church-based and civil society efforts, and despite the inflow of earthquake refugees, the Meyer community has seen a marked improvement in the lives of its citizens and is committed to continuing these efforts.”

St. Michael’s Episcopal Church and the Haiti Orphanage Sponsorship Trust, both based in Brattleboro, have been engaged in efforts to support orphans in Meyer. The thought is that a student exchange program could be created.

Marygold Village in India “is based in an area where families afflicted with leprosy three generations ago are now integrating into the wider community,” Levinson wrote. “With the help of Carmelite Monastics and others, the disease has been almost entirely eliminated (only a few persons are still being treated). And efforts are being made to remove the stigma which has been associated with this area.”

The community is looking at ways to produce organic and biodynamic foods to become more self-sustainable, according to the press release. It also is pursuing “clean water, play-based education for young children, family support services, vocational training and care of the elderly through multigenerational community life.”

Potential collaborative projects are said to include organic farming ventures and cottage industry initiatives.




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