The first time Camas City Administrator Lloyd Halverson set foot in Poland, the formerly communist Eastern European country was in the middle of major government and infrastructure overhauls.
When Halverson visited the country again a few weeks ago, the changes were dramatic. New airports, highways and sewer systems dotted the landscape. Young people spoke English. Freedom of speech was no longer a foreign concept.
“It reconfirms for me that transformational change is possible,” Halverson said. He marveled how the Polish economy and government has changed drastically for the better during the last generation.
Halverson and five other Washington residents toured Poland two months after a Polish delegation visited Camas, Clark County’s second largest city. The contingent toured three Polish cities — Krapkowice, Morawica and Zabierzow — that have been sister-cities of Camas for the past six years.
The visits are mutually beneficial, Halverson said, because they offer learning experiences for both the visitors and hosts, and build relationships between people of different cultures that are, at least in theory, long-lasting.
“I’m a better leader for their contacts … more mature, more wise and I hope that benefits our people as well,” Halverson said.
Halverson and other members of the group stayed in Poland between May 25 to June 5. Each member paid their own way.
Camas is no stranger to sister-city arrangements, having partnered with two Japanese cities 30 years ago. That partnership ultimately led Halverson, the city’s administrator, to start a similar one with the three Polish cities.
Halverson first visited Poland in the late 1990s as a municipal adviser for a private company. He spent 15 months there, during which time he sowed the seeds of today’s partnership between Camas and the three Polish cities. Each of the cities are several hours apart from each other.
Overseas trips could also forge business relationships.
“If we’re more familiar and comfortable with people from different cultures, it’s a good thing for our business atmosphere,” Halverson added.
Camas councilwoman Linda Dietzman housed members of the Polish delegation in her home during their April visit. Her follow-up trip to Poland “opened her eyes,” she said.
“I gained an appreciation for the world and a sense of closeness to other people,” Dietzman said.
Camas Library Director David Zabertink also left impressed.
“Poland is just going gangbusters trying to modernize and become a western country,” he said.