Thanks to the work of a local foundation an official delegation from Mongolia came to Howell last week to learn more about the democratic process and enter into a sister city agreement with the township.
The representatives from the Sukhbaatar District of Ulaanbaatar were welcomed to town last Saturday with a dinner at Our House Restaurant. The dinner coincided with Kalmyk Day festivities which were sponsored by the Kalmyk Three Jewels Foundation. Their trip also included a tour of township facilities before the agreement signing at last Tuesday’s council meeting.
Baljinnyam Gan-Erdene, who serves as the chairman of the Citizens Representative’s Council of the district said through a translator that it was a valuable experience for the delegation. “Because the United States is the main democracy, and we in Mongolia are trying to accomplish being the main democratic country in central Asia we really like to have a contact in America,” he said. “We chose Howell because of the Kalmyk contacts and the Kalmyk community here.
The Kalmyk community has been in Howell for decades after many immigrated here from around the world. Since that time the community has established several Buddhist temples in the town, welcomed His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Howell and contributed to the community in many other ways.
The Chairman said there are many similarities between his district and the township which made the agreement even more beneficial. “What we want to accomplish is cultural and educational exchange,” he said. “We want to work together with the Americans and we want to learn from them.”
Bob Taunov, who started the Kalmyk Three Jewels Foundation with his sister Maria said the trip was a successful one for everyone involved. “It was a very big success because we think that we’ve accomplished bringing two cities together that have a great deal in common.” Taunov said planning for the trip started in April and was just the latest example of work they have done to bridge the gap between the Kalmyks here and overseas.
Last October the foundation helped sponsor a trip by the Dalai Lama to New York City, which Taunov said helped bring the community even closer together. “That particular event strengthened our resolve to make sure that the traditions and the culture and the religion get passed on to future generations.” He said as the second and third generations of Kalmyks are born in America they felt it was important that they know where their roots were including more about the holidays and traditions of their ancestors. “We started with that and then go a bit further with how we need to be treating people,” he said.
Mayor Bill Gotto said signing the agreement with the Mongolians was just another example of why he is proud to call such a multi-cultural place as Howell home. “It makes it an awesome town,” he said of having such a variety of cultures and religions in the town. “What makes it even more special is that we live in an era of cultural diversity. Sometimes that works and sometimes that doesn’t. I’m very proud to live in a community where it does seem to work all the time.”
In the past Howell has signed sister city agreements with populations in Russia and China and Gotto said he was glad to see a new agreement signed with the Mongolians. “It has to mean something,” he said. “The people who came from those countries, who emigrated into Howell, they left some things that probably weren’t very good. It’s nice to have been viewed that America and Howell Township were viewed as a safe haven for them to leave their homelands.”
Since moving to the township and especially since joining the council Gotto said he has gotten more familiar with the Kalmyk community. “They’re very subdued,” he said of the temples and other locations which blend into their surroundings. “They’re tucked away and over the last couple years I’ve gotten to meet them and see them. Once you’re inside their walls the level of spirituality and community and family, it’s very much the same.”
Gotto said he looked forward to seeing what exchanges and experiences become available to Howell residents as a result of the agreement.