Thursday September 20, 2012

GREAT BARRINGTON -- When Ina and Esu Anahata first traveled in 2008 to the tiny West African country of Burkina Faso, they didn't have much to offer beyond a promise.

The couple, founders of the BARKA Foundation, left the impoverished country, pledging to one day come back with enough money to drill a well and bring clean water to the city of Fada N'Gourma.

This year, the Anahatas made good on their promise, delivering not just a well but improved sanitation infrastructure -- projects funded through years of fundraising in the Berkshires.

Now, the BARKA Foundation is hoping the cross-cultural exchange of goodwill between the Berkshires and Fada N'Gourma will continue.
To that end, the town of Great Barrington inaugurated a sister-city relationship with Fada that the Anahatas hope will mutually benefit the two communities for years to come.

"A sister city relationship is sometimes just a sign when you come into town," Ana said. "But our goal is to really have Great Barrington take this on in their own hearts as a project of theirs, because we truly believe we have something to learn from them ... the flow needs to go back and forth."

The exact form the sister-city relationship takes will be decided by a steering committee established by the Board of Selectmen last week. The board is hoping a diverse cross-section of local residents will sign on, and asks anyone interested to call the town manager's office.

BARKA's fundraising efforts over the past years have touched all corners of Berkshire County, from Will iamstown to Pittsfield to Great Barrington. Monument Moun t ain High School Students, for example, went on a water walk, filling jugs of water in a river and carrying them back to class in an effort to show them how people in Fada live.

In Burkina Faso, 80 percent of the population is subsistence farmers and one in five children die of preventable diseases by age 5.

The Anahatas say the twinning of Great Barrington with Fada merely formalizes the relationship that started forming organically when they began fundraising in the county.

"This really just concretizes the relationship," Esu said. "We're very excited about the future of this relationship and where it could be lead, and we want to be very clear that it's not just about us helping them -- it's really about developing this relationship of reciprocity to understand how we can help each other to walk toward a more sustainable future."