A few people in the city were wondering why Castlegar City Council made a donation to help the Japanese people after the horrendous earthquake and tsunami disaster. Aren’t taxpayer funds supposed to be for paving streets and building sidewalks?
Indeed, the main function of City of Castlegar funds is for improving local conditions, be they in the streets or in our parks or in our library. On the other hand, as council has at its discretion the right to look outside of itself and help others if necessary, it chose to donate to the Japanese relief effort through the Canadian Red Cross.
The donation was quite specific in that it was directly related to Castlegar’s sister city, Embetsu, on the island of Hokkaido. Embetsu itself suffered very little damage, but Council decided to donate one dollar ($7,987 total) on behalf of every citizen of Castlegar. Council did this to honour its Embetsu connection and let it know through the donation that we’re thinking about the Japanese people in distress.
Castlegar has had a long historical relationship with Embetsu. As recently as two years ago at the opening of our city hall, Embetsu’s city council came to Castlegar for a visit of friendship. Former Mayor Audrey Moore was part of several college and city delegations visiting Embetsu and, five years ago, current Mayor Chernoff accompanied Grade 8 exchange students from Castlegar to Embetsu. Indeed, the sister-city connection is valued and has been in place for 25 years.
As part of the sister city dialogue, Castlegar and Embetsu have been exchanging Grade 7 and 8 students every second year. One year Castlegar students go to Japan and the next year Embetsu students come to Canada. Part of the cost of this trip is covered by a bequest of several hundred thousand dollars from now-deceased Mitsou Shikano, former Aoyama College owner and philanthropist.
If we look around Castlegar, we see Japanese students every day. They shop in our local businesses, they buy vehicles, and they ride our buses. These students are part of the international program at Selkirk College, which has had major partnerships with various universities in Japan, most recently from Konan College near Nagoya.
These young people put a fair chunk of change into the local economy through tuition, through their purchases and through the home-stay program. They actually pay to stay with local families to improve their English and learn a bit about our culture.
As Castlegar citizens know, Zellstoff-Celgar made a donation to the Japanese relief effort, too. They did it because they cared. However, they also realize that the Japanese are among this mill’s good customers for pulp. And I suspect that’s true of the lumber mills as well with a lot of our lumber heading to Japan.
Another connection is through Castlegar’s Rotary clubs. These clubs take in exchange students from around the world, and often a student is selected from Japan. These students stay with local families.
In addition, Castlegar Rotarians have sent senior high students to Japan on exchange for a year at a time. They are received into Japanese homes, take courses at Japanese high schools, learn the Japanese language, and come home citizens of two countries.
Indeed, these young people would be the first to tell Castlegarians that we are citizens of a global world. It is no longer acceptable to be insular, provincial, and look only to ourselves. Castlegar’s donation along with that of Zellstoff-Celgar’s may only be a drop in the bucket, but it did send a message that we recognize the world as a small place. And we care when one of our neighbours comes to grief.