Fredericksburg’s ties with Nepal didn’t end with a fundraiser last spring to help victims of an earthquake that rocked Kathmandu.
Instead, the people involved found that this area already had some relationships with a country that’s been called “the gateway to Southeast Asia”—and have forged new ones.
“After the benefit, there was such an outpouring of support. We decided we wanted to do something better, something stronger,” said Purna Shrestha, a native of Nepal who owns Here & Abroad Bistro and Bakery in downtown Fredericksburg.
Shrestha heads a committee that’s creating the Fredericksburg–Kathmandu Nepal Sister City program, which received a unanimous endorsement from the City Council at its Dec. 8 meeting. This will be Fredericksburg’s fifth Sister City civic organization. All promote cultural and commercial ties. The other four are with Este, Italy; Fréjus, France; Princes Town, Ghana; and Schwetzingen, Germany.
Shrestha said the Kathmandu Sister City is “the most exciting one,” noting that plans are already in motion to include a Nepali cultural festival in the University of Mary Washington’s annual Multicultural Fair on April 9.
The earthquake that set the stage for this latest Sister City was the worst natural disaster to strike Nepal in 81 years. At least 9,000 people died and thousands more were injured. Among the survivors was a 15-year-old boy who’d been buried under debris for five days until Robert Schoenberger of Spotsylvania County and fellow members of a Virginia search and rescue team helped to find and rescue him.
Another Spotsylvania resident, David Caprara had been in Kathmandu for a volunteerism event a month before the quake. Caprara, who works for the nonprofit Global Peace Foundation, learned that many of the young people at the event had formed Rise Nepal to help their battered country, and was inspired to help organize a fundraiser for them in Fredericksburg.
Held on June 14 at the Inn at the Old Silk Mill on Princess Anne Street, it featured local musicians as well as Prem Raja Mahat, a native of Nepal whom NPR dubs “the Bob Dylan of Kathmandu.” Fredericksburg-area artists also donated works to the silent auction, and restaurateurs provided Nepalese food.
The event raised more than $16,000, which Rise Nepal used to provide 150 temporary shelters for those left homeless by the earthquake.
The idea to form a Sister City with Kathmandu grew out of meetings with the fundraiser’s organizers as well as a growing regional network of supporters, Caprara said.
Letters of interest and support for sister city relations were exchanged last month between Fredericksburg Mayor Mary Katherine Greenlaw and Rudra Singh Tamang, Kathmandu’s chief executive, he said.
“I am very pleased to inform you that Kathmandu Metropolitan City is also eager to join hands of collaboration and mutual sharing of best practices and experiences with your historic city through developing sister city relationship between our cities,” he wrote to Greenlaw. “Your deep sympathy and sincere efforts to the people of Kathmandu is highly admirable and I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks to you and the people of Fredericksburg for the same.”
Greenlaw is now honorary chair of the Fredericksburg–Kathmandu Sister City Development Committee.
UMW also has exchanged partnership letters with Tribuvan University in Kathmandu, Nepal’s oldest university. UMW has a Center for International Education and its Leidecker Center for Asian Studies supports interdisciplinary study of Asia.
In addition, the Fredericksburg Waste Water Treatment Facility hosted a Nepali environmentalist from the Bagmati River Cleaning campaign in Kathmandu, and the Friends of the Rappahannock hosted a Nepal environmental exchange on conservation best practices.
The Bagmati, the biggest river in the Kathmandu valley, faces a number of serious environmental and ecological challenges because untreated sewage is dumped into its waters.
The Sister City committee sees additional exchange possibilities between artists and in tourism and business, Caprara said. Three shops in Fredericksburg—Latitude Fair Trade Store, The House of Milk and Honey and River Rock Outfitter—already carry items from Nepal.
“Our first interest stemmed from our adventure-tourism customers who travel to Nepal for climbing and hiking expeditions,” said April Peterson, who owns River Rock Outfitter with her husband and is its general manager.
“We have outfitted several customers for their trip and they have returned with various gifts that we display in the shop. Our most notable gift are prayer flags that we hang up all around our shop,” she said. “In addition, we have participated with nonprofit groups supporting Nepal. We provided discounted gear, including tents and even outfitted one of the Nepal delegates with boots.”