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Old stories, new audience: Island history captivates visitors from around the globe

Gary Sakuma leads the visiting group of International Cultural Heritage Preservation participants through the Bainbridge Island Historical Museum Wednesday, June 18. - Luciano Marano | Bainbridge Island Review
Gary Sakuma leads the visiting group of International Cultural Heritage Preservation participants through the Bainbridge Island Historical Museum Wednesday, June 18.
— image credit: Luciano Marano | Bainbridge Island Review

Visitors from as far away as Mongolia, Nigeria and Romania came to Bainbridge Island Wednesday to get a firsthand look at some island history and to swap tales of preservation.

Historical preservation was the order of the day for the more than 15 International Cultural Heritage Preservation participants from more than a dozen different countries around the world.

“These visitors have been nominated by their U.S. Embassy as upcoming leaders in their fields and invited to participate in the U.S. State Department’s premier professional exchange program called the International Visitor Leadership Program,” explained Emily Peters, senior program officer for International Visitor Program. “This particular delegation’s program is entitled ‘Cultural Heritage Preservation.’ Over the course of about three weeks, the group will travel throughout the U.S. and discuss management and strategy for cultural centers and heritage sites, tourism, financial management and fundraising for culture and the arts and educational programming.”

The list of representatives included guests from Albania, Bahrain, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Fiji, Mali, Mongolia, Nigeria, China, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey and Yemen.

The group first toured the Bainbridge Island Historical Museum where they were guided by Mary Woodward, daughter of famed Bainbridge Island Review editors Walt and Milly Woodward, and Gary Sakuma, American Legion post commander for Colin Hyde Post No. 172 and who was himself born in the Minidoka Relocation Camp in Hunt, Idaho.

Following the museum tour, the group next visited the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial where they were guided by Clarence Moriwaki, president of the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial Association.

Joseph Umoibom, general manager and curator of Terra Kulture,  a cultural center in Nigeria, said that he was most interested to learn “how the U.S. has managed to preserve and promote its cultural heritage.”

Umoibom said he was impressed with the support for historical and educational programs and institutions in their surrounding communities, and their ready supply of volunteers in America.

“We have come from 15 different countries, some countries have history dating back to 2,000 [or] 3,000 years, way beyond what the U.S. has,” he explained. However, those countries have been unable to promote the preservation of their culture and history with the effectiveness of America,” Umoibom explained.

“You have a large base of volunteers,” he said. “People who are willing to give time, who are willing to donate resources, to make sure this history is preserved. Back home we don’t have that. It’s a lot of learning.”

Sakuma said that the museum presentation went very well and he fielded many questions from the guests.

“I don’t think they were knowledgable about this subject because of their backgrounds,” he said. “They were more interested in the treatment [of Japanese Americans] and how the United States reacted and the reaction now, which, essentially, the United States apologized [for the imprisonment] in 1988. I think they wanted to know if things presently are any different than they were in the past.”

The delegates’ trip to Bainbridge came at the tail end of their American visit.

According to the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs website, the program is the U.S. Department of State’s premier professional exchange program. It is based on short-term visits to the United States that give current and emerging foreign leaders in a variety of fields the chance to experience this country firsthand and cultivate lasting relationships with their American counterparts.

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