An evening to celebrate — and get to know — Madison’s Sister Cities

April 1, 2018

If you want to meet some of Madison’s newest neighbors, look out your front door, past the east coast of North America, and across the Atlantic Ocean to The Gambia.

The West African nation is home to the city of Kanifing, named Madison’s ninth “Sister City” in 2016. It’s one of the global neighbors that has a particularly special relationship with Wisconsin’s capital.

That relationship and others will be feted April 14 at “Celebrate Madison’s Sister Cities,” a special dinner and program for the public highlighting the bridges that Madison citizens have built with nine sister cities across the globe.

Along with Kanifing, sister cities include Arcatao, El Salvador; Freiburg, Germany; Vilnius, Lithuania; Camaguey, Cuba; Ainaro, East Timor; Mantova, Italy; Obhiro, Japan; and Tepatitlan, Mexico.

The April 14 event at Madison Area Technical College’s Truax campus will include remarks by Madison Mayor Paul Soglin and a keynote address by former Gov. Jim Doyle and educator and former Wisconsin First Lady Jessica Doyle. Madison Youth Choirs will perform a program of international music. Along with a buffet dinner, guests will see a photo exhibit and receive a booklet profiling the sister cities program and the cities themselves. Reservations must be made by April 9.

The event was the brainchild of Madison Alder Samba Baldeh, the City Council’s representative to the sister cities program. Baldeh wanted a chance for the program’s volunteers to showcase the work that they’ve done and help others learn about the program.

Madison’s sister cites “are all different. Some are in developed countries, but the majority are in developing countries,” Baldeh said. “They all have their needs, but they all can share a lot with the city of Madison.”

Each sister city has its own committee of volunteers (contact information is at www.cityofmadison.com/sister-cities). The City of Madison has budgeted a total of $10,000 annually to be spread among all the committees, Baldeh said.

Sister city committees have been involved in service projects, from sending hurricane relief and medical supplies to sponsoring student exchanges and hosting cultural events.

“We do some things that are similar, but we do some things that are unique to each sister city,” said Carolyn Gantner, chair of the Madison Sister Cities Collaboration Committee. “There are different ways to become involved in a sister city group” – from volunteering occasionally, such as at the annual International Festival at the Overture Center, to making donations, to becoming an active core member of the group, she said.

“There are a lot of opportunities to not only contribute to this endeavor, but also to visit the sister cities,” Baldeh noted. “I think it’s a good way (to gain) exposure to other cultures and ways of life outside of the United States.”

Although representatives from all the sister city committees come together monthly to meet, “This will actually be the first time we did one of these events together,” Gantner said of the April 14 dinner.

“It’s a way of bringing the community together, with all nine of our sister city committees and to learn about our past, our future plans, and about ways to become involved in our different sister city programs.”