Thursday, November 20, 2014

Open World Opens Doors: Ukrainian Women Leaders Learn about America

The Ukrainian women receive certificates upon the highly successful
completion of their Open World program, "Accountable Governance: Women Leaders."
 With Dr.Elizabeth Balint, GLC, at final program at the Sylvania Public Library. Ever-teaching, Elizabeth presented the women with a PowWow give-away, a native America tradition!  The women were grateful for the tradition, the gifts of love, and the international understanding the entire program offered. 
The three women community leaders from eastern Ukraine, Vera Flyat, Tonya Aksenina, and Natalia Dohadailo, were friends from my Peace Corps days in Starobelsk village in eastern Lugansk oblast.  We worked together on many projects.  And here they were, almost three years later, in the USA, in NW Ohio, in Sylvania. So hard to believe! In America for the first time, thanks to Open World, an exchange program of US Congress and made possible by Rep. Marcy Kaptur. We had administrative help along the way from Maureen Jameson of World Services of LaCrosse,Wisconsin, a national hosting organization like GLC in NW Ohio.
Handouts brochures, flyers, and some  information that the women
 received from the various sites they visited. 

United Way in Port Clinton
The women were overwhelmed with the new opportunities they had and the ways of life we have in our country.  It's hard to imagine coming from a war zone to America for an international training program in democracy building, leadership development, and citizen involvement in social change.  But these women are not whiners; they are upbeat, brilliant, hopeful, engaging, funny. Sometimes the sadness shows, and the suffering, but not often. "We want to be positive," Natalia said many times if we trailed off into the sad news.

The women from Lugansk oblast, plus two women from Burtyn Village in the Khmelnitsky oblast in western Ukraine, Stansilava Ostrovska, mayor, and Antonina Swintitska, a teacher, along with the delegation coordinator,Tamara Zykova from Kyiv (right photo, with Rep. Marcy Kaptur), completed a full and busy program that took them from Toledo and Sylvania, to Port Clinton, Fremont, Bowling Green, the Amish community in Holmes County, to Detroit and Warren, MI.
Stanislava in Holmes C0untry

The group's translator was Olga Shostachuk, from Cleveland. Tamara filled in quite a bit, as did Natalia Dohadailo.

Facilitated by Dr. Elizabeth Balint, project manager of the Great Lakes Consortium for Training and Development (GLC), the women travelled from
Great idea from Amish
In Fremont, at WSOS
Port Clinton
program to program in four counties representing WSOS Community Action, taking in tons of information, experiencing everyday life, and absorbing the culture and diversity of America.  They met with Rep. Marcy Kaptur, local mayors and officials, professors, teachers, and nonprofit managers, former Toledo city council member Peter Ujvagi and current member Lindsay Webb, members of the Toledo Hungarian Club, students, agricultural workers and consultants, entrepreneurs, staff and volunteers of the Ottawa County United Way and other rural nonprofits, church-based and community-based programs for the poor and elderly, with Toledo Botanical Gardens and community gardens, The Hungarian Club hosted a Ukrainian-Hungarian friendship lunch.  The women visited the Hartzler Farm in Wooster, the Hershberger Farm and Bakery, and other farms and entrepreneurial efforts in Amish country.The women presented programs on Ukraine Today with Patti Skaff at Lourdes, Laura Kline at Wayne State, Irina Stakhanova at Bowling Green.
At Hungarian Club, top, with Bill Hilt and Peter Uvjagi. 
Above, starting out in Washington, DC; meetings with Rep.Kaptur, at Lourdes. 
It was an incredibly rich and varied program that covered the four community pillars required by Open World: leadership development, youth engagement in community service, entrepreurial development, and community philanthropy. The women received their Open World Certificates of  Completion with gratitude.  "I am overwhelmed at this experience of seeing America up-close and learning how it works," Tonya said.  "We will bring home new ideas and new energy," Vera promised. "It's the people exchange that was so important," Natalia added.

"I hope they learned as much from us as we learned from them," BethAnne Varney said.  They did. A lifetime of experience for all of them. Open World made a difference.  It was hard to say goodbye, but we will be hearing from these women!

Special thanks for this fantastic experience belong to Viktoriya Maryamova, a program coodinator for the GLC and dedicated volunteer; to WSOS; World Servces of LaCrosse, and of course GLC project manager Dr. ELizabeth Balint, who planned, organized and implemented one of the best Open World programs I can imagine, with outstanding success.

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