Imagine a headwaters community in the midst of a high altitude environment and which serves as a tourist destination. Sound familiar?
While those characteristics clearly define Gunnison, they’re also shared with Majkhali, India. For that reason, this past spring Western State Colorado University students approached Gunnison City Council to ask if they wanted to be “sisters” with Majkhali. But what does it mean for one city become a “sister” to another in the first place?
Sister cities start with commonalities. Broadly speaking, a sister city is a long-term partnership between two communities in two different countries, recognized by leaders in both places.
Becoming a sister city offers both communities the opportunity to benefit from the global collaboration. The partnership fosters cultural diversity, with a variety of potential ideas to inspire each city.
This past Tuesday, Gunnison city leaders met with representatives from Majkhali, including Ajay Rastogi and Ajay Prasad. Rastogi is cofounder of The Foundation for the Contemplation of Nature and director of the Vrikshalaya Himalayan Center, and Prasad is the principle advisor for the foundation.
Rastogi, Prasad and Mayor Jim Gelwicks met to make the sister city relationship official, and after an exchange of gifts and words, signed an agreement to engage in the collaboration.
There is now a mountain pen pal club at Gunnison Elementary School, and Western students even have floated the development of a Majkhaliinspired garden in Gunnison. Once the relationship grows, there’s even potential for travel funding, fellowships and grants for the community and students to foster networking and research on a global scale.
This summer, 16 graduate and undergraduate students from Western paid a visit to Majkhali alongside faculty members Karen and John Hausdoerffer.
The group travelled into the Indian Himalayas for three weeks to study how to build sustainable mountain communities. The class, called “Mountain Resilience,” was offered through the School of Environment and Sustainability at Western.
One of the goals of the trip was to develop clean water systems in the village of Majkhali, as well as study other similarities to our own mountain community — such as declining snowpack, shifting growing seasons and water use.
While in Majkhali, students worked alongside the Foundation for the Contemplation of Nature to pursue social and ecological resilience in Gunnison and other mountain communities across the globe.
Those in Majkhali sometimes have to walk up to three miles to go to school or the hospital and all without easy access to water. Western students worked with members of the community to build a water station alongside a local architect, who created an amphitheater to provide a sacred space, said John Hausdoerffer, dean of Western’s School of Environment and Sustainability.
“What can we learn from each other, in terms of ecosystems, in cultures, societies, economies?” asked Hausdoerffer during a cultural celebration held on campus following the signing ceremony solidifying the sister city relationship.
Student body president Lauren Hopp says she is excited to reflect back on what was learned on the trip and begin applying those lessons.
“This excursion began as an opportunity for us students to open our mind through placebased learning,” added Hopp. “We went out to gain different perspectives on different livelihoods around the world.”
Hopp indicated that the sister cities partnership provides a foundation for creative thought, and it’s up to students to turn that creative thought into action.
Mayor Gelwicks noted his own involvement in building a sister city. Even though he has never been to Majkhali, he announced trust in the Gunnison community, in Western students and those he had the pleasure of meeting from India.
And while he commended the efforts to build relationships across the globe, he also encouraged communities to keep up the good work.
“This is worth our future, this is worth the future of our citizens — because while my signature ... went on a piece of paper today, tomorrow it is still a piece of paper unless the people in Majkhali, the people of Gunnison do something,” he said.
(Kate Gienapp can be reached at 970.641.1414 or firstname.lastname@example.org .)