By Amanda Malnik
On Feb. 14, Oak Hall Middle and Upper School teachers, Robert Ponzio and Terrence Ho are the keynote speakers at the University of Florida’s Model United Nations conference, “Florida Crisis Simulation IX”, to present about their involvement in the Gainesville Sister Cities organization.
The Gainesville Sister Cities program began in the 1980s. Steve Kalishman founded the organization after marrying a woman from the Soviet Union. Kalishman would visit his wife and her family in the Soviet Union and enjoyed the city and the people. While the United States and the Soviet Union’s governments were not in contact at the time, Kalishman was interested in having both of the cities be in contact and build a relationship. He voiced his idea to the mayors of Gainesville and Novorossiik and formed the first sister city. The Gainesville Sister Cities organization has since formed eight sister cities in total.
Ponzio began his involvement with the organization when Kalishman connected cities in Israel and Palestine. Ponzio connected to the program because of his upbringing. He moved frequently as a child and formed that opinion that the more allies an individual has, the safer they are. “To be able to know your neighbor as a person, rather than a stereotype, is very important,” Ponzio reflected. Oak Hall used to be a home base for the mayors of the two cities in Israel and Palestine to visit. Utilizing an American city as a location to meet and get to know each other has been positive thus far. Kalishman is responsible for pairing up 19 three-way sister cities in Israel and Palestine. Ponzio’s involvement and appreciation for the Gainesville Sister Cities Program is a key reason Oak Hall has a sister school in China. For more than a decade, the school in China and Oak Hall have alternated visiting each other every year. While Ponzio has been active in the program for many years, Ho recently asked to be involved with the program and visited three sister cities this summer around the world as a representative of the program. Ponzio and Ho find this program to be so crucial because, after all of their travels around the world, they have come to realize that immersing oneself in another culture builds a more human picture of someone of that culture.
Ponzio and Ho will educate the delegates of the conference on the history of the Gainesville Sister Cities program as well as their involvement with the program and what they have done at Oak Hall. The main message of their presentation is that anyone can join the program and help to break the stereotype of a country or culture.