With U.S. foreign policy in question since the attacks Sept. 11, the federal government has scurried to make changes. However, Madison has continued its involvement in international affairs.
Madison has been reaching out to the global community for over a decade through the Madison Sister Cities organization.
There are currently nine cities the organization reports as sister cities, including Ainaro, East Timor; Arcatao, El Salvador; Bac Giang, Vietnam; Freiburg, Germany; and Vilnius, Lithuania, among others. Each city has been receiving a stipend of $1,000; insignificant to Madison’s budget but enough to make a difference in the cities.
Without warning, this year the city of Madison reduced the grants by 20 percent, leaving sister cities to fund their volunteer-run programs without the anticipated amount of annual financial support.
Nijole Etzwiler of the Madison-Vilnius Sister City organization said she was upset with the decrease in the stipend.
“[I was] absolutely horrifed,” she said.
Etzwiler has focused on Vilnius, Lithuania, where the program has existed since before the USSR disbanded. The two cities have maintained their relationship.
“[The program showed that] we can be friends with people behind the iron curtain,” Etzwiler said.
The horrors of Sept. 11 brought out the friendship that has developed because of the program.
“The organization helps us build friendship and understanding,” Etzwiler said, “[As soon as they heard of the incidents] our Lithuanian friends called us and asked if everything was all right.”
Diane Farsetta of the Madison-Ainaro Sister City Alliance said the program fosters understanding of other cultures.
“[It is] a kind of relationship promoting cultural exchange,” Farsetta said.
She said the organization is tentatively reaching out to the West Bank in the hopes of improving relations between the United States and the Middle East.
The organization allows people to take action against government policies they do not agree with, Farsetta said.
“[The attacks will] give us a broader context ? one thing we can take away from this is we need to change our foreign policy and make it better,” she said.
Ryan Mulcahy, spokesperson for Mayor Sue Bauman, said that the project benefits Madison.
“It is a wonderful avenue for people in Madison to get acquainted with other countries,” he said.
Mulcahy said Madison will continue to add cities on an annual basis.
“The future is bright and open ended,” Mulcahy said. The organization is expecting to receive an $8,000 foundation grant in the near future.
Each city has to go through a grant process and assistance is distributed on a need basis. If more money is needed, cities must rely on private fundraising.