A Brief History
The relationship between the Fox Cities and Kurgan began in the mid-1980’s with the purpose of seeking peace, cooperation and understanding between American and Russian people. Since that time, hundreds of average citizens from the Fox Cities and Kurgan have conducted countless programs and visits with a wide variety of topics and purposes – everything from art exchanges and pen pals to health care training and domestic violence prevention.
The relationship began and operated for many years under a Sister Cities agreement made official in 1990. Since the earliest days of the program, however, the organization has been an active and effective global development agency. The organization’s work has been recognized on the national and international level, and has garnered the attention of media, governments, and world leaders around the globe.
In the early 1990s, however, local interest in the Fox Cities-Kurgan Sister Cities program waned when it appeared that “peace had broken out” with Russia. Like many organizations, it held on with a core group of dedicated volunteers who continued their good work with the contacts they had in Kurgan.
However, Russia’s shattered economy soon revealed that the country’s recovery was uncertain. Criminal enterprises rose dramatically. Businesses were unwilling to invest in Russia as hoped. Alcoholism and prostitution rose dramatically. Children and the elderly began to live on the streets. Health care was next to non-existent. Faith in the government spiraled downward. Hopes for a working democracy and a humane standard of living dwindled.
In 1997, the US government began to understand that not only were these deplorable conditions, but that they contributed to a weak Russia that could be as dangerous as a strong one had been. Federal funds went into U.S. programs promoting security and community infrastructure strengthening in geographic areas of Russia housing weapons of mass destruction, such as the town of Shchuchye in the Kurgan oblast.
Due to its stable, long-standing relationship with Kurgan, the Fox Cities-Kurgan Sister Cities Program received some of these funds in the form of grants. The organization began collaborating closely with agencies and partnerships around the globe. Their resultant program activities focused on infrastructure development and weapons reduction, and reignited local community attention on the sister cities concept again in the Fox Valley.
For the next number of years, the organization saw great successes, including a visit from Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, who gave the keynote address at a global security conference coordinated by the sister cities program. In 2009, many years of effort to facilitate the building of a chemical weapon deconstruction facility in Shchuchye finally came to a close as the facility opened it doors for operation.
In 2010, to celebrate the 20-year anniversary of the successes throughout those years, the Fox Cities-Kurgan Sister Cities Program undertook a significant revitalization process that will position the organization for 20 more years of success. By harnessing new technologies, involving new partners in both communities, and enhancing programming, the organization continues to thrive.
In 2011, riding a wave of new energy from the 20th anniversary celebrations, the organization saw more participants travel between our communities than in the past eight years combined. More than 40 citizen diplomats set off for the other side of the world to share culture, arts, education, and more with friends in our sister communities. The past year has seen the launch of two new programs, an Arts Initiative and the Global Institute program for high school exchange, which have further strengthened our partnership.