Evanston maintains strong ties to its sister city in Belize

Grace Johnson

Evanston’s twin sister is a city in Latin America.

Belize City has been the “sister city” of Evanston since 1999. Evanston aids Belize City with a flow of ideas, visits from city personnel and donations of all sorts, said former Deputy Fire Chief Samuel Hunter, liaison for the project since 1999.

“Belize City is very similar to Evanston,” Hunter said, noting the city is located on the Caribbean Sea and serves as the country’s main port. “They are both old communities on a body of water with very similar populations.”

The transcontinental relationship formed in the early 1990s. A group of Belizeans living in Evanston helped further the effort to connect the two cities by holding meetings and raising money, said former Evanston mayor Lorraine Morton.

Morton appointed Hunter liaison because of his interest in the project. The cities’ bond has been strong ever since, said Morton, who has visited Belize many times.

“Belize City was in need of many things and still is,” she said. “Their traffic lets me know I would never drive a car there.”

Belize City’s town planner and city engineer from its city council spent time in Evanston, facilitating an exchange of ideas, Morton said.

On one of her visits to Belize, Morton was delighted to see its city council had implemented some of Evanston’s strategies, including one-way streets.

The exchanges of city officials, donation drives and other fundraising events are all planned by the Evanston/Belize Sister City Committee. The committee consists of seven volunteers, often Belizeans living in Evanston.

Vallen Taylor-Whittaker, a native of Belize, has lived in the United States for more than 30 years and has been active in the cities’ partnership since the very beginning.

“I’m always about helping people, especially my own people,” she said, adding Evanston has a sizeable Belizean population. “I thought my input could make a difference, and I’m willing to roll up my sleeves and work hard to meet the needs of Belizeans back home.”

In the aftermath of Hurricane Keith, which struck Belize in 2000, and Hurricane Iris, which hit in 2001, the committee organized food, clothing and generated donations to be sent to Belize City, Hunter said.

“We are below sea level, so the hurricanes always wipe us out,” Taylor-Whittaker said.Following Hunter’s retirement as deputy fire chief in December, Taylor-Whittaker will serve as the new liaison for the project.

The next goal is to set up dialysis clinics in Belize, said Hunter, who plans to stay involved with the project.

“If the average Belizean was diagnosed with diabetes or kidney failure, there is no way they could fly themselves out of the country to get treatment or afford a privatized clinic in their own country,” he said.

Evanston is working with the Ministry of Health in Belize to build dialysis clinics, Hunter said.

As Taylor-Whittaker takes over, she said she is looking to recruit more people to get involved with the relationship. The project’s committee is looking for a young woman to serve as Evanston’s ambassador to Belize City. The ambassador will be chosen through an essay contest, Taylor-Whittaker said.

“We need new voices and younger blood to give us new ideas,” she said. “This is a new year and the job will be bigger.”

The collaborative attitude of the sister city relationship is key to making it work, Taylor-Whittaker said.

“It’s a job for a team,” she said. “One person couldn’t do it.”[email protected]