Global Connections

Sandy and its Sister Cities Build Long-lasting Relationships

Peri Kinder

May 30, 2013

It’s been nearly 60 years since Dwight D. Eisenhower founded Sister Cities International, creating a network to unite business and political leaders, educators, youth and volunteers across 136 countries. Eisenhower’s vision was to promote peace through a mutually beneficial global connection, impacting the lives of all those involved with the Sister Cities program.

For 10 years, Sandy City and its two sister cities, Piedras Negras in Mexico and Riesa in Germany, have enjoyed a relationship of true friendship, creating a cultural exchange between residents in all three cities.

Since the partnerships were formed in 2002, several representatives have traveled between the cities, bringing aid when needed, sharing arts programs and studying the diverse economic communities.          

Piedras Negras, Mexico

Just across the Rio Grande River, near Eagle Pass, Tex., Piedras Negras is a busy crossroads between nations. Known for its mining industry and Old Mexico atmosphere, the city is also the legendary birthplace of the “nacho.” Each October the town holds a three-day International Nacho Festival to celebrate bar owner Ignacio (Nacho) Anaya’s contribution to Mexican culture.

Though it’s a beautiful town rich with history, Piedras Negras is overrun with crime, natural disasters and poverty. Drug cartels have gained increasing control over border cities, and Piedras Negras is no exception. Additionally, a deadly flash flood in 2004 devastated the city, washing away hundreds of homes and killing dozens. A lethal tornado hit the area in 2007 and, in 2010, Hurricane Alex unleashed its fury on the city’s residents.

Although Piedras Negras didn’t become an official Sister City with Sandy until 2002, humanitarian efforts have been going on between Rotary Clubs in Utah and Mexico since 1988. The first project in Piedras Negras was the donation of an ambulance filled with medical supplies to help the people in the community.

Chris McCandless, Sandy City Council Sister City liaison, has worked with the Mexican city since the late ‘80s and helped organize dozens of projects to assist the residents of Piedras Negras.

“This relationship gives us an ability to serve, an ability to understand and appreciate what we have,” McCandless says. “We get to meet wonderful people and provide a service they would not ordinarily have. There are not a lot of options for the poor people of the city. We’re helping one person at a time, and then helping another person. When a call comes, it doesn’t take much effort to arrange supplies or money.”

Sandy City, with the help of the Sandy and Fort Union Midvale Rotary Clubs, and the Sandy Ridge Community Church, has provided a total of three ambulances, one fire truck, seven truckloads of medical equipment, hearing aids for adults and children, a Sub for Santa and fire-fighting equipment to Piedras Negras. And the organizations helped build and supply a children’s wing at the local hospital—along with providing aid during the city’s several natural disasters.

Unemployment in the area is as high as 30 percent, and most children don’t get more than a junior high school education because families can’t afford the $200 per year it costs for the city’s higher education. However, the Piedras Negras Rotary Club started a scholarship program so students can receive financial aid, repay the loan and help the next group of students.

Recently, dignitaries from Piedras Negras visited Sandy City and were given the royal treatment as they attended a REAL soccer game, toured Park City, shopped at City Creek and met with Utah Gov. Gary R. Herbert, who signed a friendship proclamation.

 “[Piedras Negras] needs economic development that’s not crime related,” McCandless says. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for those who live down there and fight the fight to protect their family. People here sit back and make judgments, but try living life a day in their shoes.”

Riesa, Germany

While the relationship with Piedgras Negras is a more humanitarian effort, the Sister City alliance with Riesa, Germany is a cultural exchange where Sandy City and Riesa share a connection through business, entertainment and the arts.

Located next to the Elbe River, Riesa is a small, industrial town, heavily invested in its sports and arts programs. The city is a successful industrial location specializing in steel production, electronics, food production and metalworks.

 “Sandy City is more service-oriented, we have very little industrial business in our community,” Sandy City Communications Manager Trina Duerksen says. “Residents of Riesa have come to Sandy to do job shadowing, talking to bankers and tech schools.”

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