of the Middle East staff present the symbol of Tiznit to Mayor Joseph
Curtatone and his staff. Photo courtesy of the University of the Middle
By Julia Fairclough
about other cultures makes for better teachers who are sensitive to
diversity, which is especially important when working in a
multicultural community like Somerville. The same rings true for
painters, musicians, healthcare workers, and just about every other
That's why the city of Somerville just entered into
a Sister Cities Civic Participation and Leadership Initiative with
Tiznit, Moracco; a cultural and professional exchange that entails
inviting 30 participants to travel there in December. The group said
while there are already several teachers and city officials attending
they are looking for artists to join the entourage.
and Tiznit are very similar; there are lots of artists and influences,"
said Omar Boukili, a Moroccan native and office administrator for the
University of the Middle East (UME), the Somerville-based organization
that promotes educational leadership and civic engagement through
cross-cultural understanding. "Tiznit is more progressive, and a very
special town, like Somerville."
Located near the Moroccan
Atlantic coast and the Tachila and Ouarzemimene mountains, Tiznit is
known for its handcrafted silver jewelry. More recently, Tiznit
(population of 55,000) has undergone an influx of both Moroccan and
international artists who have settled on the hills surrounding the
city in search of serenity and inspiration, Boukili said.
brought the sister city partnership proposal to Mayor Joseph Curtatone
last summer. Curtatone and some of his staff will be travelling to
Tiznit. UME wants a cross-section of Somerville residents to attend,
which also includes doctors and public health experts, non-profit
administrators, city planners, and business owners, said Ray Matsumiya,
UME's executive director.
The sister city exchange is
facilitated by UME, which will provide the translation, and logistical
and cultural advisory services. The five-day professional development
and cultural experience is designed to set the stage for a productive
sister cities partnership, he added.
UME has a long-standing
relationship with Morocco. For the past 12 years, the UME has sought to
empower the most motivated and progressive secondary school teachers of
the Middle East, North Africa, and the US through professional
development and exchange programs that equip teachers with the skills
and knowledge to broaden their perspectives and horizons.
was six Moroccan teachers who came up with the sister cities idea and
to form a partnership with Somerville, with the hopes that this will be
an ongoing relationship, Matsumiya said.
Last summer, teachers
from Tiznit visited Somerville and came to the high school to spend
some time with teachers. From there, Somerville became interested in
gathering a group of teachers to go to Tiznit, said Dr. Vincent McKay,
the assistant superintendent of schools. It was a natural fit, he said.
Ten teachers from various schools in Somerville will attend in December.
about opening our doors to the world," McKay said. "Learning about
other cultures makes them better teachers who are sensitive to
Talmadge Nardi, who teachers English at the Academy
of the Pacific Rim in Hyde Park, participated in a UME trip to Lebanon
last year. She said the trip opened her eyes in more ways than she ever
dreamed. For example, she worked on a collage project with Lebanese
teachers that looked at their life experiences. Their collages were
deeply influenced by political repression and conflict resolution,
while Nardi's was more "hearts and stars," she said.
"I thought I would learn about other cultures, but also ended up learning a lot about myself," she said.
More information on the Sister Cities Initiative with Tiznit:
trip's agenda includes a luncheon with the mayor of Tiznit, tour of the
city, presentations, cross-cultural community building activities, site
visits to schools and other applicable organizations, and group
discussions. The cost of the program is $1,150, which includes all
accommodations, food, and trip activities. It does not include air
travel. Those interested in traveling to Tiznit can download an
application at http://ume.org/programs/open-applications or call (617)