Pakistani officials to visit Great Barrington

Tuesday May 1, 2012

GREAT BARRINGTON -- Three Pakistani public officials will visit the town next month to learn how local government in the United States works and to share their own professional experiences.

The visit is part of the U.S./Pakistan Professional Part ner ship Program, an exchange program funded by the U.S. State Department. The partnership is intended to improve relationships between the nations and cultivate professional skills for government officials.

The Amherst-based Institute for Training and Development will conduct the project, bringing 75 young Pakistani professionals to the U.S to meet their counterparts. Over the course of two years, five groups of 15 Pakistan public administrators will take part in four- to six-week programs in Mass achusetts, New York and Washington.

Great Barrington Town Manager Kevin O’Donnell said the program is a great opportunity to learn about a highly populated country, which is also strategically important to the U.S., especially in light of their shared issues.

If this effort can in some small way improve those relations, O’Donnell said, it can only help.

"You’re less apt to be enemies if you start getting to know each other," O’Donnell said.

Great Barrington will host the Pakistani officials from May 21-31. O’Donnell said it’s a short time, but local officials will try to give them a flavor of life here through a mix of structured events and free time.

Town officials intend to take the Pakistanis on tours of Fairview Hospital and various town facilities, including the police station, libraries and public works buildings.

Pakistani administrators also will tour the area and participate in cultural activities, including attending the Berk shire International Film Fest ival, and visiting the town’s shops and restaurants.

The program is a "two-way street" in which both parties will learn from each other, according to O’Donnell, but affecting change is easier said then done.

In response to a question about how Pakistani administrators will implement new ideas without new legislation in their country, O’Donnell said, "Don’t know, and I guess that’s going to be their challenge. Hopefully, they’re going to come back with a lot of good ideas" to discuss with senior officials.

Two Pakistani officials spent time in Pittsfield and Lenox in 2011 as part of the same program. Lenox Town Manager Gregory Federspiel said the visit allowed both sides to look at challenges they face, and gave him an opportunity to take a fresh look at addressing issues here.

"It causes you to reflect, which we seldom do," said Federspiel. "We should actually do that more. It’s just go, go, go. And sometimes, you forget to stand back."

O’Donnell is hoping Ameri can officials will also visit Pakistan in November for two weeks to understand how the Pakistani government works and to share their experiences back home. O’Donnell referred to his experience as a member of the International City Management Association and said talking with other town managers is always helpful because he and his peers are often facing the same problems.

"You take general ideas," O’Donnell said, "and you try to customize them to your situation."

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