Overseas Pinoy help sustain Cebu-Dutch city sisterhood

by JEREMAIAH M. OPINIANO
OFW Journalism Consortium

CEBU CITY–MIGRANT Filipinos continue to burn the passion of city sisterhood through a fire truck, which is expected to arrive here after a 15,000-kilometer journey.

For 47 days in mid-June 2010, a fire truck route from the northern Dutch municipality of Haarlemmermeer (pronounced “jar-le-mer-mir”) celebrates a goodwill gesture brokered by migrant Filipinos since 1990.

Donations to be raised for the fire truck’s journey will go to the projects of the sister-city organization Vereniging Haarlemmermeer-Cebu (VHC), according to Filipina-Dutch Ruby Langeveld-Cumba.

The sister city ties, says VHC board member Langeveld-Cumba, lead to the provision of development aid worth over €1.5 million in two decades, from a Dutch municipality with 0.14 million residents to an urbanized Philippine City with nearly 0.8 million people.

Reaching Cebu, the keys of the fire truck will be given to the Emergency Rescue Unit Foundation (ERUF), the first beneficiary of the sister-city ties when then Haarlemmermeer mayor Aad Van Hulst and Cebu City counterpart Tomas Osmeña began exploring sister-city ties on October 15, 1990.

The gist of that 19-year support to ERUF is further improving the emergency rescue operations of the nonprofit group with training support from Haarlemmermeer’s fire department.

“This (journey of the fire truck) will be a tremendous adventure,” said Haarlemmermeer current mayor Theo Weterings during his visit here in the second week of December.

Called “Beyond Marco Polo,” the journey of the 1994 red “DAF” fire truck from Haarlemmmermeer to this city will span 17 cities in nine countries.

A briefing material said it refers to the 24-year journey of 13th-century merchant Marco Polo, his father Niccolo and uncle Maffeo in Asia. Marc Polo’s route was from Bolgar in Bulgaria to the former Dadu, or what is now known as Beijing, China.

A project coordinator, ambulance, nurse, firefighter, and a communications person will be part of the Haarlemmermeer team driving the 5,385-kg. fire truck, according to Langeveld-Cumba.

“Hopefully, next year’s fire truck of ERUF, driving all the way from Haarlemmermeer, will not conk out,” Langeveld-Cumba said noting that a fire truck and two ambulances donated previously are rusting away in the ERUF’s compound in Banilad municipality here.

Haarlemmermeer had already donated three fire trucks and eight ambulances to Cebu City.

Witness

LANGEVELD-CUMBA has been the sister-city relationship’s quiet Filipina lobbyist and liaison since 1990.

A native of Cebu City, she arrived in the Netherlands in 1974 as an operating room nurse.

In the late 1980s, Langeveld-Cumba said she hosted the stay of a member of a dance troupe from her hometown who visited Haarlemmermeer for the annual Volkerendag, the city’s annual cultural celebration.

She got into the loop of the ties brokered by Van Hulst and Osmeña that resulted to a signing of a letter of intent for the sister-city relationship.

The sister-city agreement was formally signed December 2, 1992.

The agreement was sealed when Haarlemmermeer named one of its brug or bridge, some five kilometers away from where Langeveld-Cumba lives, after Cebu City.

Here in Cebu City, in the district of Guadalupe, a bridge is named Haarlemmermeer.

Since the signing of the deal, the Haarlemmermeer government has allotted €0.50 cents per resident of Haarlemmermeer (then it was fl0.50—half of the old Dutch currency, the guilder) to projects of VHC for Cebu.

Counterparts coming from Dutch local government leagues, companies and development organizations such as Oxfam Novib and the Nationale Commissie voor Internationale Samenwerking en Duurzame Ontwikkeling (National Commission for International Cooperation and Sustainable Development or NCDO) have helped finance projects under the sister-city arrangement.

Projects include rescue capability building through ERUF, computer donations, a charity hospital, a village water systems project, schools for kindergartens, internships in agriculture, and a youth cultural exchange program involving Dutch and Cebuano volunteers.

Langeveld-Cumba also coursed some of the development aid from Haarlemmermeer to Cebu City-based groups such as the ERUF and the Ramon Aboitiz Foundation Inc. (RAFI).

The group formed by the Aboitiz clan has been said to have helped in VHC’s weeks-long exchange programs, the Dutch-Pinoy Xplore Program (for the Cebuanos going to Haarlemmermeer) and MyCebu (for Dutch volunteers going to Cebu City), that expose volunteers to socio-economic and politics-related activities in the two cities. (319 words)

Decades

HAARLEMMERMEER is more known for Schipol International, the world’s biggest airport.

Langeveld-Cumba said while Haarlemmermeer also has sister-city ties with the Hungarian city of Hódmezovásárhely (found in the south-eastern part of Hungary), the relationship is more to foster cultural exchange.

While Cebu City also has international sister city ties with the US cities of Seattle, Salinas and Chula Vista, Xiamen in China, Kaoshiung in Taiwan, Beersheba in Israel, Parramatta in Australia, St. Petersburg in Russia, and Bandung in Indonesia, Langeveld-Cumba said the one with Haarlemmermeer “is aligned with Cebu’s social development needs”.

Philippine cities and municipalities in various parts of the country have forged sister-city and town-twinning ties with counterparts in North America, Asia, Middle East, Oceania, and Europe.

But some Filipinos found in more than 200 countries have helped lobby for sister-city ties between Philippine hometowns and the migrants’ new overseas settlement communities. An example of a town twinning relationship that Filipinos abroad initiated was the Canadian city of Vaughan and Baguio City (northern Philippines) —with the Filipino-Canadian Association of Vaughan (FCAV) lobbied to Vaughan officials.

Sister city relationships like that of Haarlemmermeer and Cebu City are outlets for Filipinos and Filipino organizations to channel donations to urban and rural hometowns in the Philippines (with the help of communities in foreign lands).

However, Langeveld-Cumba laments that of VHC’s more than 150 members and volunteers, most are Dutch and the few Filipino members are neither from Cebu province nor active with VHC activities.

Regardless of the minimal Filipino participation from the Netherlands, the fire truck and ambulance donations have not stopped.

Haarlemmermeer mayor Weterings said in his speech before the Cebu City council during his visit here December 8-12 that these donations celebrate two decades “of support to the fire fighters and ambulance nurses from one of the least developed cities in the world.”

Hopefully, the fire trucks and ambulances won’t douse the ember of ties between the two cities but further make it healthy, Weterings said.

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OFW Journalism Consortium