Two women from Southeast Asian countries where devastating floods occur regularly are in Berlin studying how the town deals with stormwater, wastewater and solid waste.
The town introduced Pradnya Rahmani of Indonesia and Xyla Gualberto of the Philippines at the Berlin Welcome Center last Thursday and again at a Town Council meeting on Monday.
They will be in Berlin through Nov. 11 via the Professional Fellows Program, a partnership between the town, the U.S. State Department and the International City/County Management Association.
Gualberto, who comes from Cagayan de Oro on the island of Mindanao, said flooding is common there.
“Before, we used to have a no-typhoon zone and that’s why a lot of investors would come to our city, because it’s a very safe place. But since 2011, all that has changed,” she said Monday. “Major floods displaced thousands of families and even brought $2 billion worth of property damage to where I’m from.
“That’s why I’m really working … to stop that kind, or at least mitigate that kind of disaster, because it is affecting a lot of people. And usually the most vulnerable people are the ones who are affected and it’s hard for them to rise again.
“I have seen the cost of environmental neglect and how it affects children, mothers, indigenous people. I’m really trying my best by implementing projects back at home that would stop this.”
Gualberto said she promotes sound practices and targets awareness in children. When she returns home, she wants to involve more stakeholders, from governments, to businesses and private citizens.
“My community project is really to help integrate all these efforts,” she said. “There are a lot of existing efforts going on in our city and our region. My challenge is how to integrate them and streamline them, so that they would be more effective and we could help more people and stop the flooding, stop more disasters from coming.”
Rahmani lives near Jakarta, the capital city of Indonesia, and works organic-waste-treatment researcher in the environmental and sanitation department in Depok.
She said she developed a new treatment system using fly larvae that can reduce composting times from three months to two weeks.
“My city currently has the highest waste-diversion rate in Indonesia,” she said. “We have [a] 20 percent waste diversion rate and our recycling is about 60 percent, [which is] also one of the highest in Indonesia.”
The waste-diversion rate measures the amount of waste that is redirected from landfills to recycling centers.
The two women arrived in Berlin on Oct. 14. Gualberto, during a casual reception last Thursday, said she was impressed with the town.
“I love it, because I really appreciate [that] the town has its own character. It has this really small town, American vibe that I haven’t experienced in my own country,” she said. “It has a lot of history, but at the same time it’s … inviting for tourists.”
Rahmani said she appreciated the professional atmosphere created by town staff.
“The people have been very nice. They’re a close-knit community,” she said.
Several dozen people greeted Gualberto and Rahmani at the reception, including Berlin Mayor Gee Williams, County Commissioner Bud Church and Delegate Charles Otto.
Williams said it was Berlin’s second straight year of being host to visiting professionals. He said Town Administrator Laura Allen set up both visits and was active with the International City/County Management Association.
“There are many communities that wish to host … [from] all over the country,” Williams said. “Having two Asian fellows back in a year and a half is really something to be proud of, because the State Department wouldn’t be recommending us for return visits unless they got good reports.”
“We’re very happy you’re here and … we’re looking forward to what you recommend to us,” he added.
Church said Berlin was a “very friendly, important town,” but invited Gualberto and Rahmani to tour other sites throughout the county, including Ocean City and Assateague.
“Get the culture of all of Worcester County,” he said. “It’s a wonderful county. It’s a community county [and] we all work together.”
Otto said the Philippines and Indonesia were important to the area, in part because the Handy Seafood in Crisfield (as well as Phillips Foods Inc. in Baltimore) “have a vested internet in the Philippines and Indonesia raising soft crabs and other seafood.”
“It’s good that you’re here, because your environment is important to us as well,” he said. “I hope that you see the public investment and the private investment we put into environmental quality.
“This town has made a tremendous commitment with the wastewater treatment and thinking out of the box with the spray irrigation, [so] we don’t have discharges into the waterways,” Otto added. “We’re proud of that and we’re always looking for ways to improve,”
Gualberto thanked everyone for the warm welcome.
“Especially the people who really took their time to be here and to join our reception,” she said. “We’ve never felt so welcome and, here’s it’s just been a few days, but we already feel like we’re a part of the town, a part of the family.”