From IU’s diverse faculty and student body to East 4th Street’s bevy of ethnic restaurants, Bloomington has a strong multicultural flavor. Just as significant, but less well known, is Bloomington’s longstanding relationship with its sister cities, Posoltega, Nicaragua, and Santa Clara, Cuba. (A third sister city connection, with LuChou Province in Taiwan, has been largely inactive for the past several years.)

Bloomington’s history with Posoltega, a small municipality in western Nicaragua, began in 1988 and intensified a decade later when Hurricane Mitch badly damaged the town. A Bloomington delegation took medical supplies, food, and other types of aid to its sister city. Since then a local committee has continued to develop the relationship by organizing trips to Posoltega, setting up a lunch program for vulnerable children there, starting literacy and eye-care missions, and establishing a scholarship program for youth hoping to attend Nicaraguan universities.

“The relationship is very inspiring for young people in Bloomington and Posoltega,” says Barbara Seitz de Martinez, who co-chairs the Bloomington-Posoltega Sister Cities Committee. “I’ve seen several students develop careers with an international focus who were influenced by our trips.”

Due to travel restrictions, Bloomingtonians have not been able to create as personal a bond with residents of Santa Clara, the capital city of the Cuban province of Villa Clara, in the center of the island. But for Cynthia Roberts-Hall, who helped found the local organization CUBAmistad (“amistad” means “friendship” in Spanish), Bloomington’s tie with Santa Clara is no less meaningful.

“It’s important that we spread the truth about Cuba, that there’s more to the country than the media would have us believe,” Roberts-Hall says. Since 1999, when Bloomington and Santa Clara became sister cities, Roberts-Hall has helped plan two trips to Cuba and coordinated efforts to send medical, school, and other supplies through the international aid organization Pastors for Peace.

Roberts-Hall also focuses on initiating cultural exchanges between Bloomington and Santa Clara and was instrumental in organizing the Cuban film festival this fall at IU Cinema.

For Beverly Calender-Anderson, director of the city of Bloomington’s Safe and Civil City Program, the Sister Cities program is an invaluable way of achieving greater multicultural understanding. “It creates opportunities to connect with others through pen-pal and travel programs and can really broaden horizons,” she says. “When you’re connected one-on-one and really get to know people, that’s how we’re going to move toward a more peaceful world.”