Squamish develops parameters for Humanity Village 

Community well on its way to raising $1 million for village in Sri Lanka

If the people of Squamish have anything to say about it, their town could be changing the world one small village at a time.

At least, that’s the idea behind the Squamish Humanity Village Project, which has taken on a life of its own ever since Squamish Councillor Jeff Dawson first proposed that his town "adopt a village" in the tsunami-ravaged regions of the world.

Since then the community has rallied together, some putting aside their day jobs for the time being, to turn the dream into a reality.

"It really is a testament to the town and the amount of volunteerism that there is in this town," said Patricia Heintzman, one of the organizers of the Squamish Humanity Village Project.

Over the past three weeks, with the help of more than 200 community volunteers, the "adopt a village" proposal has expanded and morphed into the Squamish Humanity Village Project.

Volunteers are hoping to choose a small village in Sri Lanka in the coming days so that Squamish can develop a long-term sustainable relationship with the people there. It won’t be a parental relationship, with Squamish dictating the rebuilding effort. Rather, it will be an equal partnership, where both communities can learn and share with each other.

"As soon as we have a village, it allows us to concentrate our focus much more specifically at determining exactly how many fishing vessels they lost and what types of retraining might be necessary, because employees were lost and businesses were lost. How many homes need to be rebuilt," said Heintzman.

"We can actually get to know them. What do they like to eat? What do they wear? What concerns them during the day relative to what concerns us during the day?"

But the real beauty of the Humanity Village Project is that Squamish will create a template to build the relationship and can then share that template with other cities and towns in North America.

"If we take one puzzle piece and we deal with our little one puzzle piece but there’s 10,000 other puzzle pieces around the world, it can be an incredible shift in the whole global consciousness," said Heintzman. "It’s quite a lofty ambition."

It may be lofty but already Squamish has had calls from communities around Canada and some even further afield who want to learn more about their initiative.

Another goal of the Humanity Village project is to ultimately change the way people in so-called first world countries think about those in so-called Third World countries.

"If we multiply this over the whole country… it could be a significant paradigm shift in the way people think about how first and Third World (countries) interact," she said.

Instead of people simply giving money to relief efforts in Third World countries, the Humanity Village project aims to get Squamish people connected and interacting with the people there. For example people from Squamish can go to Sri Lanka and help build houses, others could provide expertise on engineering, others still could counsel victims traumatized by the tsunami.

"I’m hoping there’s waves of people from Squamish going to this village and learning about Sri Lanka and vice versa," said Heintzman.

Roughly $160,000 has been raised already, with $100,000 coming from MAC Real Estate company in Vancouver. Other fundraisers in Squamish have helped make up the balance.

The ultimate goal is to raise $1 million this year.

Anyone interested in volunteering can call Sea to Sky Community Services at 604-815-4004. The group meets every Wednesday.

You can also mail a cheque payable to "Squamish Humanity Village Project" to Sea to Sky Community Services, Box 949, Squamish, V0N 3G0. And for more information go to www.humanityvillage.org .

Whistler, meanwhile, is still investigating opportunities through the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. Council supported plans to pursue the Indonesian island of Nias as Whistler’s second sister city. That relationship would also be a two-way partnership with a focus on rebuilding and developing a sustainable long-term relationship.

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