At State Senator Bob Wieckowski’s State of the District Address and Awards Ceremony held at Sunpower on Oct. 29, the refreshments included cupcakes, mini-quiches, and Halloween-themed cookies decorated as ghosts and witch hats. But the real treat was the public recognition of local heroes in cities that Wieckowski serves. The Santa Clara Sister Cities Association (SCSCA) was named the Santa Clara Local Hero.
“It’s an honor to be recognized,” said Kathy Watanabe, president of the SCSCA. “I’m just so proud of Sister Cities because we work hard to make sure that the kids- whether they’re our exchange students or our students going to visit other countries- have the best experience possible.”
“They [SCSCA] have a group of kids that come from Japan for one week that stay in the city and then they send kids [from here] to Japan for a week, and there’s a group that goes to Portugal and [Portugal sends] kids back,” Wieckowski told the packed room.
This year the SCSCA gave away 10 scholarships so students could travel to Portugal and Japan as Sister Cities exchange students, according to Watanabe. In addition, Santa Clara Sister Cities hosted almost 40 international students this past year. The organization is hoping to send four kids to Ireland next year and bring four kids from Limerick to Santa Clara.
Watanabe mentioned that several Santa Clara High School students- Tamara Pantic, Frank Poon, and Ajaipal Chahal – were part of an enlightening panel discussion at a recent Sister Cities International conference.
“The students presented such strong arguments to support why the United States should support refugees in crisis,” Watanabe said. “Aside from the importance of helping those in need, the students talked about the potential positive economic impact refugees can bring to a country by bringing their skills to the workplace, paying taxes and [helping to] boost economies.”
The goal of the SCSCA is building international relationships in the community. The organization is also currently working with the international school at Mission College. Some teachers there are interested in meeting with visiting students and introducing them to American college life, according to Watanabe.
“[The Sister Cities Association was started] back in 1956 by President Eisenhower,” said Santa Clara vice-mayor Debi Davis, the community member who introduced SCSCA at the awards ceremony. “We have a great group of ladies and gentlemen who worked very hard… We have three sister cities in Santa Clara. We have Izumo, Japan, Coimbra, Portugal and now Limerick, Ireland.”
On Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, the SCSCA will host its annual tea fundraiser.