Sister City

Bend, Ore., and Muzaffarabad in the Pakistan region, have officially established a sister city relationship.

The Bend City Council agreed on Oct. 13 to begin partnering with Muzaffarabad, the capital of Azad Kashmir. In March, Muzaffarabad officials followed with their support. That now makes Bend the first official city in the United States to partner with Azad Kashmir, an impoverished Muslim community literally on the other end of the world.

Here is the signed letter:

Only one other U.S. city – Fresno, Calif. – has such a relationship in Pakistan, said Laura Giroux, the membership manager for Sisters City International, a nonprofit that officially recognizes partnerships between U.S. and international communities. But Fresno’s sister city is based in the wealthy cultural city of Lahore.

Muzaffarabad, on the other hand, was the epicenter of the Oct. 8, 2005 earthquake that killed at least 73,000, left 3 million homeless and destroyed more than 1,000 hospitals and 8,000 of the region’s 11,000 primary and secondary schools. Azad Kashmir itself is the controversial plot of land over which India and Pakistan have constantly fought.

Given these facts, the benefits to Bend may not appear obvious at first. Muzaffarabad will not be sending our citizens Gucci sunglasses or high-tech computers. But consider the following benefits for the city of Bend to partner with this city that we at Kashmir Family Aid presented to the City Council:

1. The sister city relationship would mainly benefit Bend students. Much of the foundation for this has already been set with Bend-La Pine Schools. Susie Lucas from Highland Magnet School is helping us set up an e-mail exchange program between her children and Pakistani students. Lucas even held a fundraiser in 2006, when her class gathered about $3,000. Specifically, we’re looking at providing 25 computers for children at Pyramids International School in Muzaffarabad, Azad Kashmir. The Oct. 8, 2005 earthquake took a heavy toll on this school. The quake destroyed much of the building, including a rudimentary computer lab. If these students can get computers, they will be able to e-mail children from Bend. This project would help Bend students in many ways. It will:

~ Give students a sense of pride and ownership with a project

~ Teach children how to think outside themselves

~ Encourage students to take the initiative and learn to supervise a project

~ Help children learn about and research world events

~ Teach students how to communicate clearly and simply with a completely different culture on the other end of the world that has almost no Western influence

~ Help children learn how to use Microsoft Office programs, e-mail, Web cameras and other technology

~ Teach students some basic phrases of Urdu, Pakistan’s native language.

2. The sister city would also benefit other Central Oregon schools. Last year, the Redmond School District hired Nate Munoz as a community coordinator to

connect students with local nonprofits. Nate has been working with us to set up another e-mail exchange program between three fifth grade classes and students from the Nilore Model School in Nilore, an extremely illiterate and impoverished village outside Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital city. Most kids in the area don’t know how to read, and about 98 percent of mothers are illiterate. While some parents send their children to local government schools, they have a high dropout rate. Meanwhile, many of the Redmond students Munoz works with have low test scores and come from broken, low-income families. He sees this Pakistan project as a way of boosting these children’s self-esteem by giving them a charitable task to strive for that encourages them to think outside themselves and focus on other students’ problems. Once that and additional mentoring happens, Munoz believes these Redmond students’ test scores will begin to improve. If this program is successful, Munoz has said he would like to see this project duplicated at other schools in Central Oregon – including more schools in Bend.

3. Both of these projects will also benefit Pakistani students – not just Bend residents. It’s easy only to think in terms of how a project benefits us. While Bend is facing many economic problems right now, other cities throughout the world are much worse off. For example,

female literacy in Kashmir villages is just 3 percent. More than 70 percent of females in Pakistan can’t read at all, let along use a computer. And many students currently have no means of learning how to use a computer – an essential skill now for any Pakistani who wants to leave the impoverished rural areas and get a living-wage job. We have spoken in-person with several Pakistani teachers, who specifically said that they want their students to learn how to e-mail and interact with Bend children. One of the teachers, Nadia, says her students have never met a Westerner – let alone an American. Muzaffarabad, for example, has almost no Western influence. Often, Pakistani children have only one option to the private secular schools we support – an Islamic fundamentalist Madrassa school. Some Madrassa schools teach militant jihad to young children who will ultimately take paid jobs as jihadists once they become teenagers. This is attractive to many of these impoverished children who lack skills: Jobs are scarce and jihadist “jobs” pay four to six times as much as what can be earned in manual labor. Not many westerners understand that jihadists are literally holding highly paid jobs.

4. Partnering will allow Bend to become known for helping an impoverished Third World country that has almost no Western influence. As stated earlier, no other city in the United States has a sister city in Azad Kashmir. Bend is the first to partner with Muzaffarabad – the epicenter of the 2005 earthquake.

As of 2007, fewer than 400 of the region’s original 11,000 primary and secondary schools have been rebuilt, the Bozeman Daily Chronicle estimated. That means about 13 million children – out of some 27 million total – are still not enrolled in any school.

5. Partnering could bring commerce, tourists to Bend. Muzaffarabad is known for its beautiful rugs and ornate textile industry. In addition, while many families in Pakistan are poor, some individuals are wealthy and regularly visit the United States on business trips. Partnering with Muzaffarabad would certainly encourage them to consider travel to Bend. We are also planning to sell beautiful Pakistani rugs from local merchants at The Kilns Bookstore, a nonprofit hub that just opened in The Old Mill District featuring progressive clothing, coffee and books that benefit social justice causes.

6. Partnering will bring diversity to Bend’s sister city relationships. Several of the councilors mentioned at the June 30 work session that they wanted a variety of sister cities. While Bend has partnered with Japan and Nicaragua, Muzaffarabad is literally on the other side of the world. It remains one of the most mysterious and least-visited regions of the world. This sister city relationship has so much diversity and potential to offer.

7. Partnering will help Bend residents travel to Pakistan. Giroux said that establishing a sister city relationship helps cut through the red tape involved with visas and similar documents. Muzaffarabad has typically been closed to the West, like China and Burma. But since the 2005 earthquake the government has been encouraging U.S. tourists to visit the region. In May, Sam Carpenter and Christopher Stollar with Kashmir Family Aid met with the prime minister of Azad Kashmir – Sardar Attique Ahmed Khan. The prime minister told us he encourages U.S. travel and is making efforts to ease restrictions. A partnership between Bend city councilors and Sardar Khan would speed up that process. Sam is willing to take interested residents to Pakistan to explore the region’s wild rivers, ancient mosques and the world’s tallest mountains.

For more information, contact Kashmir Family Aid Director Christopher Stollar at 541-385-1970 or