BERLIN – The Berlin community welcomed two environmental professionals from the other side of the world this week as they prepare to spend a month in “America’s Coolest Small Town.”
The town, in partnership with the International City/County Management Association and the U.S. State Department, is hosting two environmental professionals from April 30 to May 28. They will work on projects related to the town’s stormwater management.
“Berlin has been seen as a model in sustainability,” Town Administrator Laura Allen said. “It seemed like a good idea to get out there on an international platform. This community is very welcoming and I thought it’d be a nice fit.”
The two professionals, Crisanta Marlene Rodriguez from the Philippines and Zalikha Wan Zaharuddin from Malaysia, are part of the Professional Fellows Exchange Program, which brings people from around the world to the United States to broaden their professional expertise. Zaharuddin, 25, said she joined the program to expand her professional experience and look for sustainability projects here that might work in her own community.
“We have to educate people,” Zaharuddin said.
She said that in her country, it’s difficult to even get citizens to separate their garbage from their recyclables. Rodriguez, a 35-year-old forester, said that in her country, too, citizens protested government-led sustainability initiatives. She said she was intrigued by the local environmental program Grow Berlin Green and was interested in exploring the stormwater improvements the town has underway.
“We have the same issues [in the Philippines],” she said. “How you cope is more advanced than in our country.”
She says getting citizens to participate in environmental programs has been difficult and she’s anxious to see how Berlin promotes community participation in its sustainability programs.
Following a welcome reception Wednesday, Rodriguez and Zaharuddin were expected to begin exploring the town’s stormwater management programs Thursday. Allen said they’d been tasked with coming up with ideas for educational programs that could involve the town’s youth and were also being asked to provide recommendations on ecotourism possibilities for Berlin.
In the meantime, they’re enjoying the historic town.
“I love the buildings and the architecture,” Zaharuddin said. “It’s very different from where I live.”
“It has character,” she said. “And the people are so warm.”
Following their time in Berlin, Rodriguez and Zaharuddin will travel to Washington D.C. to take part in the Professional Fellow Congress from May 31 to June 2. There they will have the opportunity to discuss what they’ve learned with other participants in the program, which places young people in positions throughout the country.