Selectman Shawn McDonald talks the importance of 'sister city' partnerships

By Angie Hilsman | Jul 23, 2017
Courtesy of: Shawn McDonald McDonald visits a cooperative located in an old windmill in Povoacao.

When Select Board member Shawn McDonald visited an Azorean town with 30 other forum members last month, he didn't expect the coolest thing he'd return with would come from nearby South Coast city, Taunton.

At the Forum for Cultural, Educational, and Economic Cooperation on June 19, Lagoa's visitors showed off their municipality's strengths, including Taunton's app that allows residents to report potholes.

While the "See, click, fix" app is great for reporting busted street lights, graffiti, and other non-emergency items, McDonald's agenda was bigger than that.

"It's an opportunity to renew connections and different friendships so that we can plan for cultural exchanges in the future," he said.

Among the visitors were representatives from Dartmouth, Taunton, New Bedford, and Bristol, Rhode Island; Ottawa, Canada; Santa Cruz, Cape Verde; and Algarve, Portugal — all of which are sister cities of Lagoa.

"Sister city" designations officially recognize cultural and historical ties between two places. Dartmouth has four sister cities, including the Azorean cities of Nordeste and Povoção, and Dartmouth, England.

McDonald's trip could expand that list. "[Santa Cruz and Algarve officials] are very interested in doing the sister city with Dartmouth," he said.

While Dartmouth has done student exchanges with its sister cities before — McDonald specifically mentioned its orchestra students and soccer players — the selectman said he would like to see more business opportunities emerge from the connections.

"What we're trying to do is focus on the fishing industry, where maybe we can send fishermen.... Or do museum exchanges," he said. McDonald said he was able to connect a Rhode Island boat builder to one in Povoção during the weeklong trip. There's also the opportunity to connect officials from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and the University of Azores, where officials are trying to expand the maritime program, McDonald said.

During the trip, McDonald visited an Azorean co-op set in a historic mill, a ceramics factory, and a tea factory where workers sorted the leaves by hand to get rid of stems, he said. McDonald said that being able to ship wares between Dartmouth and the Azores is a huge opportunities for the town's artists and businesses.

But McDonald's biggest takeaway — and reason he wants the sister city program to expand — is a little closer to home.

"They're just like we are. They're family-oriented just like we are. They get up and go to work just like we do. They work hard. They play hard," said McDonald. "It's to open up people's eyes to different cultures, and I think that's the most important thing."

Dartmouth has a Sister Cities Committee, which focuses on expanding cultural, economic, and educational opportunities between Dartmouth and its relations overseas. Currently, the committee members are appointed by the Town Moderator, but McDonald would like to change that so the Select Board appoints its members.

"That way, the Sister Cities Committee can work closely with us, and we can shape future visits," he said. He added that there's not much of a budget for the committee, but incorporating one would support transportation and gifts in the future.

The town paid for McDonald's $600 plane ticket to the Azores, while McDonald paid for his wife's ticket. McDonald also bought gifts from Salt Marsh Pottery to exchange, which he paid out of pocket, he said.

While this wasn't McDonald's first trip to the Azores, nor his first time representing the town while connecting with foreign officials, this time he was equipped with a video about Dartmouth's businesses, culture, and resources. McDonald's last visit was in 2012.

 

Along with Algarve representatives were singers from mainland Portugal. Video courtesy: Shawn McDonald

 

Video courtesy: Shawn McDonald

Former whale hunt landing, Faial Da Terra. (Courtesy of: Shawn McDonald)
The town of Furnas is set up on a volcano, which keeps the hot springs fuming. (Courtesy of: Shawn McDonald)
McDonald presents a video on Dartmouth at the forum. (Courtesy of: Shawn McDonald)
McDonald with Lagoa Mayor Cristina Calisto Decq Mota. (Courtesy of: Shawn McDonald)
McDonald with Povoacao Mayor Pedro Mello. (Courtesy of: Shawn McDonald)
View of Povoacao from former whale watch area. (Courtesy of: Shawn McDonald)
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