Fountain Hills is looking toward the Western Hemisphere for its third sister city. The Town Council, during its Thursday night meeting, unanimously endorsed the possibility of reaching out to an El Salvador town for a potential exchange of education, culture and trade.
Under consideration are three towns: Ataco, Apaneca and Juayua. They are in the Central American nation’s mountainous west, in a region known as the “Route of the Flowers.”
A small contingent of Fountain Hills officials is expected to visit El Salvador this spring. A decision whether to adopt a town would come after that trip.
Fountain Hills already has two sister cities, both in Europe. Nothing against Kasterlee, Belgium, and Dierdorf, Germany, civic leaders say, but they’re very far — nearly 6,000 miles away.
“It’s time we had one in the Americas,” said Sharon Morgan, former mayor and current events director for the Fountain Hills Chamber of Commerce.
By air, the distance between Fountain Hills and the Salvadoran capital of San Salvador is a little less than 2,000 miles. Also, El Salvador’s time difference is only one hour; Belgium and Germany are eight hours ahead.
Morgan, who made the presentation to the council, also noted that adopting a Spanish-speaking sister city would benefit Fountain Hills’ students. Mayor Wally Nichols echoed that belief.
But there’s more to the selection of El Salvador than just geography. Just as important is a former Fountain Hills vice mayor’s biography.
Leading this push is Enrique Melendez, born in El Salvador in 1937. Although he spent his teenage years and adulthood in the United States, with dual citizenship as proof, Melendez still wants to help his native land.
“These towns are very similar to Fountain Hills in terms of population and arts and crafts,” said Melendez, who serves as an honorary consul for El Salvador. “I thought it would be a good fit.”
In addition to the arts, Melendez touted the region’s coffee. The crops are grown in nutrient-rich volcanic soil, at an elevation of 5,000 feet.
Most Americans know of El Salvador because of its bloody civil war, which cost 75,000 lives in 12 years before it ended in 1992.
But El Salvador’s economic health has revived, growing at a steady and moderate pace since the signing of peace accords, according to the U.S. State Department, and poverty has been cut in half.
Once Fountain Hills and the to-bedetermined town establish sister city relations, one of the first tangible exchanges will be in education.
Marian Hermie, superintendent of the Fountain Hills Unified School District, envisions a swap of students, and perhaps teachers, for weeks at a time. She said a few years ago, a group of students from one of the European sister cities visited, but only for a few days.
Melendez already has sold another Arizona town on El Salvador. In July, the Prescott City Council decided to develop sister city relations there.
“The timing is ideal,” said Prescott Mayor Rowle Simmons, who will be accompanying Fountain Hills officials during the spring visit. “We had the opportunity to be the first Arizona city to do something like this, and we just jumped at it.”
Local Sister Cities
Fountain Hills: Kasterlee, Antwerpen, Belgium; Dierdorf, Rheinland-Pfalz, Germany.
Gilbert: Newtownabbey, Northern Ireland, U.K.; Leshan, Sichuan, China.
Mesa: Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada; Caraz, Peru; Guaymas, Sonora, Mexico; Kaiping, China; Upper Hutt, New Zealand.
Queen Creek: Jesus Maria, Aguascalientes, Mexico.
Scottsdale: Alamos, Sonora, Mexico; Cairns, Queensland, Australia; Interlaken, Bern, Switzerland; Kingston, Ontario, Canada.
Tempe: Carlow, Carlow, Ireland; Lower Hutt, New Zealand; Regensburg, Bayern, Germany; Skopje, Skopje-Karpos, Macedonia; Timbuktu, Mali; Zhenjiang, China; Al-Hilla, Babil, Iraq.
SOURCE: Sister Cities International.