Students extend olive branch to sister city

March 23, 2009

By Warren Kagarise

Clark Elementary School fifth-grader Kahlie Bomgardner works on a page for a journal that will be sent to students in Chefchaouen, Morocco. Tina Eggers

Clark Elementary School fifth-grader Kahlie Bomgardner works on a page for a journal that will be sent to students in Chefchaouen, Morocco. Tina Eggers

Clark Elementary School fifth-graders recently embarked on a diplomatic mission with cedar planks, copper strips and a message of friendship. Students used the materials to craft journals that will be sent to children in Chefchaouen, Morocco.

Teacher Julia Landa, whose 24 students undertook the project, said the assignment kindled an interest in the African nation.“The wanderlust and the cultural intrigue were immediately sparked,” she said.

Chefchaouen and Issaquah inked an agreement in 2007, binding the distant municipalities as sister cities. Issaquah residents Dan and Portia Anderson, who will vacation in Morocco later this year, plan to deliver journals produced by the Clark students. The Andersons will also deliver art supplies to Moroccan students.

The students planned to visit the Blue Door, an arched doorway sent by Chefchaouen officials as a gift for Issaquah City Hall. They were scheduled to deliver the journals and sample a Moroccan tea during the March 24 event.

Students fashioned the journals from cedar planks — which became the covers — recycled paper and copper accents. Landa said a parent volunteer planned to bind the journals with leather cord. The students also wrote inscriptions for the title pages. Landa integrated art, science, social studies, reading and writing into the journal project.

“I thought this would be a really good chance for them to make something and put their hearts and souls into it, and to share something with people on the other side of the world,” she said.

She said the idea for a sister-city project came from City Clerk Tina Eggers, whose daughter Morgan is in Landa’s class. Landa and her husband, Brent Johnson, visited Morocco last year. They toured Marrakech, Casablanca and the capital, Rabat. Chefchaouen, nestled in mountainous, northwestern Morocco near the Mediterranean coast, was a last-minute addition to their itinerary.

When she launched the unit on Morocco in early March, Landa showed a slideshow of photos she and her husband snapped during their trip.

“I had always wanted to go” to Morocco, she said, adding that she also wanted to retrace part of the route her parents traveled when they drove a Volkswagen van throughout Europe and Africa during the 1960s.

“Anywhere their V-Dub would take them, they went,” she said.

In Chefchaouen, Landa and her husband spent three days sightseeing, shopping and listening to the Islamic call to prayer.

“Walking around the town, you feel such a connection to where you are, because the people have been there for so long,” Landa said.

Mayor Ava Frisinger, who has traveled to Morocco twice in the years since the sister-city agreement, said Chefchaouen’s long history permeates the town and the identity of its people.

Moreover, the sister-city initiative provides an “opportunity for people in our community to be introduced to a culture that is significantly different from what we have here,” she said.

She said the ties that bind the two cities are deep.

“We’ve experienced such a great friendship between one another,” she said. During her visits, “we found ourselves welcomed, embraced and treated as family.”

Reach Reporter Warren Kagarise at 392-6434, ext. 234, or Comment on this story at

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4 Responses to “Students extend olive branch to sister city”

  1. Trish De Asis on March 24th, 2009 5:06 pm

    hi im acutal in ms landas class im so happy that we did these project. today was the feild trip to the blue door. i just like to say these is a grate project

  2. Tom Cochran on March 27th, 2009 12:57 pm

    My daughter Julia is in Ms. Landa’s 5th grade class. When Ms. Landa first asked me to help with their Morocco project I didn’t know much about Chefchaouen or about the rest of her class.

    In the following weeks, the students showed me what is best in this corner of the world. Subjects included: spotted owls; evergreen forests; waterfalls; mountains; salmon; apples; tulips; rain; rainbows; the Space Needle; ferryboats; starfish; coffee; airplanes and more. They wrote about family, friends, skateboarding, skiing, basketball, and pets. I have to say, as an architect, their creativity made my jaw hit the floor more than once.

    At a time when local challenges, not to mention national and international problems, disconnect and scatter us, there is so much to be learned from our kids. They didn’t just reach out. They extended themselves as Warren states in the article.

    Finally, I want to say that something really good is going on in Issaquah schools and in this special little town. Schools take their fair share of criticism and that’s as it should be. Lord knows the City takes it’s hits and always will. That said, they are doing a great job of nurturing our kids. No, not perfect, but great.

    If you’re not already involved in our schools, get involved. Materials and time for this project were 100% donated by the community. Thanks Issaquah Cedar for reduced prices. Thanks Tina Eggers, Julia Landa and the Andersons. Art funding in our elementary schools is mostly smoke and mirrors. Staff is stretched thin and supplies are pathetic. That’s my opinion, but I’ve been in the trenches. When projects like this happen, they happen because there’s a great teacher behind it and the community steps up to the plate. If you’re concerned about moral values, drug abuse, teen pregnancy, mental health, std’s, renewable energy, whatever…get involved in the schools. See what’s good and help where it’s needed.

    Tom Cochran, IHS 67
    parent volunteer

  3. Burton E. Bard Jr on April 8th, 2009 12:02 am

    I have the honor to serve as Washington State Coordinator for Sister Cities International. Last year we held the Sister Cities State Conference in Issaquah with the assistance of Mayor Frisinger and Issaquah’s Sister City Commission, chaired by Mohamed Belali. All attendees were treated to a wonderful Moroccan lunch and were inspired by the story of the development of Issaquah’s Sister City relationship with Chefchaouen, Morocco.

    There are very few Sister City matches with cities in the Islamic world, and only two or three in our state. On the other hand the State of Washington has 30 such relationships with Japanese cities. All Sister City relationships represent the opportunity to develop personal, cultural and ongoing relationships, such as the one between Ms.Landa’s Fifth Grade Class and students in Chefchaouen. It fits in nicely with Sister Cities International Mission Statement: “Promote peace through mutual respect, understanding, & cooperation – one individual, one community at a time. Issaquah’s tie with an Islamic country and city also matches one of Sister Cities International goals to develop more Sister City ties with Islamic countries as the search for understanding and peace grows. Kudos to the teachers, kids and adults as they develop this international relationship!

    Burton E. “Bud” Bard Jr
    State Coordinator – Washington
    Sister Cities International

  4. Mouden on July 5th, 2009 8:34 am

    In my opinion this kind of intercultural exchanges between students from diffirent comunities would help more in education.Students in this shore are also in need to understand the other closely.Your city has done a long step to achive the goal of bridging gaps between comunities.
    Good lack to you
    From Chefchaouen

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