Whistler anxious to reach out to world 

‘Suite of initiatives’ way for multi-level community participation

By Bob Barnett

Many Whistlerites don’t take their good fortune for granted, and are anxious to reach out to communities in developing countries around the world.

That message came across loud and clear at a brainstorming session that drew approximately 25 people to the Telus Conference Centre Sunday afternoon.

The two-hour workshop, hosted by the municipality and facilitated by Mayor Ken Melamed, was intended to get a sense of community interest in helping others around the world and to develop a process for deciding how and whom to help.

“It doesn’t make sense for Whistler to practise sustainability within its own boundaries or its own region if the world is not working toward the same thing. We have to think and act collectively,” said Melamed, who began by saying the subject has been near and dear to his heart for a long time.

The world is a big place, Melamed said, and there are many people in need. But where to start? The session was kicked off with presentations from four speakers, each of whom offered an example of assistance in developing countries.

Brock Carleton, of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ International Centre for Municipal Development, discussed how ICMD programs brought staff from Canadian municipalities together with their municipal counterparts in Third World countries for peer-to-peer education. The ICMD works with the Canadian International Development Agency and other agencies in 40 countries around the world. Canadian municipalities that are involved in the ICMD programs generally “sponsor” participating staff members by covering their wages while they are working overseas.

Brian Barnett, the RMOW’s general manager of Environmental Services, discussed his work with Water for People, an association of water professionals who facilitate small, local water projects in developing countries. Barnett emphasized the importance of water with some statistics:

• more than 1 billion people around the world have no access to safe drinking water;

• 80 per cent of all diseases are related to water quality;

• 4,000 children die every day from water-related illness.

Whistler Rotary Club member Bernie Lalor-Morton discussed Rotary International’s campaign to eradicate polio, and specifically a trip to Ethiopia she and her husband, Bob Morton, made a few years ago as part of the Rotary effort.

Jay Wahono presented two views of his native Indonesia, one that showed the devastation caused by the 2005 Boxing Day Tsunami and a second that illustrated the country’s potential for development through tourism. Wahono has been advocating Whistler share its tourism expertise with communities in Indonesia.

Following the presentations discussion revolved around Whistler’s capacity to help, opportunities to do more through partnerships, and focusing on areas that are Whistler’s strengths, including tourism, sustainability and the ability to leverage Whistler’s place in the global market.

“Is it reasonable to invest part of the municipality’s budget in international projects?” Melamed asked. He noted the budget for Whistler’s sister city relationship with Karuizawa is about $25,000 annually.

Alternatively, the municipality could include appeals for donations through things like the annual tax notice and the RMOW website.

While there are existing channels for the municipality and municipal staff to get involved in international projects, most people in attendance were not municipal employees but were eager to help. Lindsay Mackenzie suggested a “group resume” be put together that looked at areas of expertise brought to the table by people who want to be involved.

Melamed suggested “a suite of initiatives” may be in order, which would allow community members to participate on different levels.

A task force will be struck to further refine the possibilities and look into who and how Whistler can help. The task force is expected to report back by the end of the summer.

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