Visitors from afar bring outer East Portland families closer to the Portland Rose Festival

See why lasting friendships, and a beautiful performance, were just two of the benefits David Douglas School District families received for hosting students from Portland’s ‘sister city’ in Taiwan …

Dancers from Shu-Te High School, in Kaohsiung, Taiwan ROC, warm up on the David Douglas High School Horner Auditorium stage before their performance.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Everyone who watches the annual Portland Rose Festival Parade has seen this troupe of students, whose marching band and dancers lead the “Portland-Kaohsiung Sister City Organization” float.

But, no one could buy tickets for the performance by these musicians, dancers, and acrobats – students from Shu-Te (said Shoo-Tah) High School, in Kaohsiung, Taiwan ROC – a performance held in the Horner Auditorium at David Douglas High School on June 14.

In fact, no tickets were offered to the public.

The full-evening stage production was unpublicized, and went unnoticed by most Portlanders. Unless, that is, they were volunteers with the “Portland-Kaohsiung Sister City Organization”.

Richard Cole, secretary of the Portland-Kaohsiung Sister City Organization, says he’s proud of his continuing role because the relationship brings so much to the David Douglas School District.

Show rewards host volunteers
“Tonight’s program is for our host families, who open their homes to these students,” said Richard Cole, secretary of the Portland-Kaohsiung Sister City Organization, on the day of the show.

“These families open their homes, open their family life, and share with the girls what they do as a family during their six-day stay,” Cole told us. “Our host families are from all walks of life. The visiting students stay with families of modest, middle-income, and more well-to do families. On their trip home, they share experiences, and begin to get a picture of what American life is all about.”

Some of them still dressed in their warm-up clothing, students rehearse a dance routine, making sure they hit their “marks” on stage.

Six day stay creates life-long relationships
Participating families receive no financial incentives to host the students, Cole said.

“But, the bonding [among host families and the visitors] is absolutely amazing. Especially with the Internet, many of the families have kept in touch with their guests for years,” noted Cole. “We still correspond with young women who have stayed in our home. Apparently their stay with us had influence with them. It’s quite beautiful that they stay in touch.”

This performer takes a cue from her director during rehearsal.

Portland’s second Sister City
Cole went on, “The Sister City program was developed in the 1950s under President Eisenhower’s administration. He created the People to People Program to help create a more peaceful world. Portland’s first sister city was the Japanese city of Sapporo.”

Cole said he got involved in the Portland Sister City program in 1992, working to help set up the high school in Kaohsiung with David Douglas High School. The only problem was that Shu-Te High School teaches 9,000 students – far more than in the entire David Douglas School District. “We worked out an arrangement that our school district, in total, would partner with their high school.”

Even though Cole retired several years ago from his post as the curriculum director of the David Douglas School District, he’s continued to work with the Sister City program.

These three Shu-Te High School students help co-organizer Heidi Cole, as she prepares to distribute programs to guests at the evening performance.

The performers dance with grace and ease.

The combination of music, choreography, and lighting evoke colorful stories in any language.

Provides cultural education to generations of students
Another benefit of this Sister City program, Cole continued, is that it’s helped David Douglas students learn more about Chinese culture.

“Over the past two decades, every fifth-grade or sixth-grade student has had the opportunity to come to an abbreviated version of the evening program at the Performing Arts Center. Here, they get an introduction to Chinese Culture. That adds up to about 10,000 students!”

At these special performances, held earlier in the day, the young, squirmy fifth-graders settled down when the music began. “It is traditional Chinese music, but not Chinese opera. It’s very melodic and rhythmic – these young students just focused on it. They clapped like crazy at the end of each of the pieces,” reported Cole.

The program performed by the Shu-Te High School students will be long remembered by the appreciative audience.

Volunteer funded operation
“We have had very good fortune with past fundraising efforts, including registration fees for the Portland Rose Festival Dragon Boat Races,” Cole said. “But, we’re really a shoestring outfit; we don’t even have a street address. We invite folks to get involved to help us continue this wonderful program.”

You can learn more about their organization by visiting their website: CLICK HERE.

© 2010 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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