Ivana Raposova – fellow from Slovakia

Ivana Raposova
Bratislava, Slovakia 

Ivana Raposova works as a Junior Research Fellow in the Centre for Research of Ethnicity and Culture (CVEK) an independent research institute dealing with the minority issues and minority rights in Slovakia. Ms. Raposova deals with the issues affecting the quality of life of a variety of minorities in Slovakia. She is mostly interested in the situation of Roma and migrants.

Ms. Raposova is currently doing a research on good practices in inclusive education at Slovak elementary schools. She also takes part in the campaign “Slovakia for All”, which aims to bring together minority community leaders and human rights activists across Slovakia and help them to find the common ground, unite and strengthen their voice. It is precisely this latter activity that she incorporated into her pre-departure activities, and in which Ms. Raposova could benefit tremendously from the GLC training later on, as the minority communities in Slovakia are generally politically, as well as publicly, underrepresented and very fragmented.

In the past, Ms. Raposova used to be a youth leader working actively with the group of children and young adults in YMCA. She used to organize regular meetings, trips, summer camps, as well as the trainings for other youth workers. In 2013, she spent 4 months in Nepal teaching English in the rural community school. During her volunteer years, Ms. Raposova has attended several trainings in leadership, youth work and experiential education. However, she has not had a chance to participate at a training focused specifically on community organizing. Given her current occupation and interests, this competence can be crucial for her future work with the minorities in Slovakia.

Bratislava, Slovakia

By education Ms. Raposova is a Sociologist. She has acquired her Master’s Degree from the Masaryk University in Brno, Czech Republic, where she is currently persuing her Ph.D. As a part of her studies Ms. Raposova spent one semester at the Bosporus University in Istanbul, Turkey. Her current research interest is directed towards community urban festivals as means of overcoming social tensions and creating inclusive common places. She prefers ethnographic qualitative methods trying to understand the perspective of the people. She speaks English, German and Czech.

Ms. Raposova has been to the United States already three times, always working during the summer through the “Work and Travel program”. She always loves coming back and discovering new and deeper layers of the complex and diverse American society. She would like to use the opportunity to visit the States once more to acquire a better understanding of the American civil society, especially how the NGOs operate and how the community work is being done.

Charlottesville, VirginiaMs. Raposova would prefer to work with migrants, refugees, Romas and youth. The acquired knowledge and skills she would like to use in order to professionalize her own work with the minority communities and their representatives. She possess strong organizational skills; she has a team-player soul, and she has a passion for education, both, as an educator, as well as a constant learner.

In her free time Ms. Raposova loves travelling, getting to know new cultures and cuisines, doing yoga or jogging. She is vegetarian trying to avoid the dairy products.

Ivana will have her internship at Virginia Organizing (Charlottesville, Virginia) together with the fellows Peter Petek and Cristinela Ionescu

Maria Magdalena Ilie – fellow from Romania

Maria Magdalena Ilie

Bucharest, Romania

Maria Magdalena Ilie works as a Social Program Coordinator in the business sector, being responsible with the development of the social department of the company and Corporate Social Responsibility-CSR related activities. She is also working in a Romanian national NGO, where she holds the position as President (The Romanian Association for Community Support and Initiative). The NGO is focusing on community work and the development of grass-roots organizations and local initiative groups.

Part of this activity is working with a local NGO (The Saint Stephen Association). This NGO focuses on a disadvantaged community and serves a number of over 100 persons per month delivering social services through a large spectrum of social services from Day Center to awareness programs on specific issues identified in the community. Ms. Ilie’s role is to engage with the youth and develop social services starting from the needs identified by them and related with their minority background. There is a large number of Roma youngsters who experience exclusion, bulling, marginalization and these are directly influencing their performances in school and also their participation in the community. Ms. Ilie’s main goal is to give these youngsters o voice and a way of expressing, integrating and activate in their community and society.

Memorial of Rebirth,Bucharest, Romania
photo: Nico Trinkhaus

With over 10 years experience in the NGO field, Ms. Ilie accomplished a lot in the field of inclusion and community work facilitating the access and participation of different vulnerable groups, such as: people with disabilities, unemployed, youth, Roma, seniors, prisoners, etc. She was key expert in a number of European Strategic Projects implemented in Romania in partnerships with other organizations from Austria, Germany, Hungary and Republic of Moldova. She also was engaged in organizing and coordination of large awareness events and professional gatherings (e.g. The International Conference in Social Work, 2010, The South-East Conference in Social Work, 2009), but also smaller community events focusing on specific issues (e.g. Christmas Fair – fundraising and community participation event – December, 2014).

Ms. Ilie was the youth leader of the Romanian group in an exchange program and united 5 countries and more than 20 youngsters in a multicultural environment, involving the teams in promoting human values as: acceptance, leadership and positive engagement.

Ms. Ilie has a Master’s Degree in Social Anthropology and Community Development at the Bucharest University, Faculty of Sociology and Social Work, and numbers of trainings in the field of project coordination, training of trainers and volunteer work with minority groups (e.g. Roma community and youth with disabilities). The most notable experience was being a volunteer in Ireland, Dublin and working with a community of travelers from Finglas community a disadvantaged area from Dublin 15 district.

Ms. Ilie is proficient in English. She has developed a platform in English, where she is writing about social change and social activism with powerful global impact (www.proinitiatives.net).

Ms. Ilie strongly believes in the community role of addressing and solving the most pressure problems, and this is her strongest point in wanting to participate in the fellowship program. She believes in practice work and models and empowerment that come from the people who deal with the same problem.

Chicago, IL

Ms. Ilie visited the United States before as a tourist. She never had the chance to see how the people deal with real issues and how the organizations and institutions get involved and help them solve the problems. She believes that this could be the appropriate model in engaging stakeholders in Romania. The U.S. government did not support her previous visit to the U.S.

There are few local opportunities for Roma youngsters. She believes that the U.S. organizations could provide best practice models and interaction with professionals from this field in order to apply and develop programs aimed to encourage and increase youth participation. Her focus is on designing and developing programs for Roma youngsters. The group she is addressing during her fieldwork in Romania is a group of youngsters who experience specific issues related with xenophobia, bullying, and exclusion. Ms. Ilie has a long-term involvement in this community, as this is also part of the work with the local organization she is supporting in developing social services, through trainings, fundraising activities and capacity building activities.

Ms. Ilie is very involved in outdoor and educational activities for children, as a parent. She is taking piano lessons, as she enjoys music. She also is interested in multicultural communication, organizational development and self-development.

Maria Magdalena will have her internship at Jane Addams Senior Caucus (Chicago)

Bence Pal – fellow from Hungary

Bence Pal
Budapest, Hungary

Bence Pal has been working as an intern at the Habitat for Humanity Hungary since July 2013. First he supported the organization’s Donor Relation manager activities, and then he was responsible for grant writing. From the fall of 2014 Mr. Pal has started to assist the Habitat Resource Centers which operate in some Roma communities in Hungary. Their goals include advocacy and searching and sharing best practices to reduce housing poverty especially among minority communities.

At the Habitat for Humanity Mr.Pal witnessed the birth of the new strategy of an NGO that emphasized the situation of the Roma people in Hungary and the coping strategies through resolving their housing poverty issues built on the people’ – who experienced the program – will to act, and to their efforts to solve their own problems. (Habitat’s core approach is also more like to ‘teach to fish’ instead of just ‘giving a fish, in other words it involves actively the beneficiaries.)

Mr. Pal is also involved in the community organizing project of the Aurora Community House. The Aurora street and its neighborhood is a very diverse place with a lot of potential, but it is also a stigmatized area of Budapest. The community organizing team would like to unite the locals here, give them back a positive identity about themselves, strengthen their abilities to represent their self-interest, regarding different issues they may concern them, and also cooperate or/ and step up for the change towards the local decision makers.

Budapest, Hungary
photo: Emil Metodiev

Previously Mr. Pal was volunteering for the cause “Fair Trade” that has a common approach with community organizing. It builds on the inner resources of the people, so they can shape their own life by making their own decisions and efforts. He was promoting the cause itself in Hungary as well, and was volunteering at a Finnish NGO called “Uusi Tuuli” (New Wind) that supports indigenous people in Mexico, also by selling their coffee. Thanks to the opportunity Mr. Pal had a chance to meet oppressed people from India and Mexico as well who were trying to mobilize their inner resources also by producing goods by Fair Trade standards.

Mr. Pal continuously seeks opportunities where he could make a difference and help other people, therefore he was and is involved in many projects and causes in Hungary and abroad as well. His view is nowadays that it is achievable to make this world and Hungary a better place through strengthening small local communities, and by multiplying their experience that relevant changes are really possible. Shaking up small group of people, who lost hope, and shaping a community of them, giving back their faith in themselves by respecting their decisions, can make them believe again – or first time in their life – that they really can have an impact on their own lives.

Mr. Pal studied communication (journalism) and encountered with the diversity of the minority issues through his Finno-Ugric studies. (There are different minorities with different situations and different historic roots; therefore with different rights and levels of autonomy in countries where Finno-Ugric people live, from Norway through Baltics to Russian Federation.) He speaks fluent in English and has intermediate language skills in German, and beginning in Spanish.

Mr. Pal participated some of the community organizers training in Hungary that prepared him to his recent neighborhood organizing activities working with minorities in a poor neighborhood of Budapest. He also participated in a fundraising-training at the Foundation for Development of Democratic Rights (DEMNET Hungary) because he thinks that is crucial for NGOs, CSOs, and citizens in grassroots organizations to learn how to use different fundraising tools and methods to achieve their goals or obtain financial resources for their projects.  He would like to see a development on this field in Hungary and see the increasing prestige of fundraising as an everyday activity and as a profession in Hungary as well.

Mr. Pal never traveled to the United States before. During the fellowship in the U.S., he would like to gain practical experience on community organizing basics, so he can do a better job in different organizations where he is currently involved including how to motivate people and to make them believe in themselves, how they can discover and use their own resources to build power in minority communities, how to raise funds in the community for causes that are not particularly popular.

Bence will have his internship at Seed House (Wichita, Kansas) together with Dilyana, Monika and Claudia

Eva Riecanska – fellow from Slovakia

Eva Riecanska

Bratislava, Slovakia

Eva Riecanska is currently a Researcher and Project Coordinator with the NGO Utopia. The main goal of this civic association is to support deepening of democratic processes in society, building citizens’ active participation in running their own affairs increasing social inclusion. At present, Ms. Riecanska is involved in an international project to foster social and solidarity economy and create a support structure (incubator) for development of cooperative businesses in the Visegrad countries.

NGO Utopia is the main partner of the project. One of the main objectives of the project is to empower especially people from poverty-stricken and socially excluded communities, and to find inclusive, economically and environmentally sustainable, cooperative and community-driven solutions to economic and social deprivation.

In 2012-2013,  Ms. Riecanska became involved in the process of participatory budgeting in Bratislava. She had work within a thematic community “The Green City” that dealt with environmental issues and later as a volunteer she also co-facilitated meetings of this community. As a representative Ms. Riecanska served on the Board for Participatory Budgeting. The Board coordinated the work of all thematic communities involved in participatory budgeting, drafted proposals to improve the process, promoted it among citizens and communicated with the Municipal Office and the City Council.

Since 2012, NGO Utopia has been regularly involved in co-organizing the Europe-wide festival TransEuropa in collaboration with the European NGO European Alternatives and since 2013 Ms. Riecanska has been one of the principal program directors of the Slovak part of the festival.

In 2011, Ms. Riecanska cooperated with the Milan Simecka Foundation as a Leader of a research team that carried out an in-depth large scale qualitative study of Roma community centers in Slovakia. Through this research she had a chance to closely analyze several issues related to community work and community organizing in impoverished and socially excluded settings.

Previously, Ms. Riecanska worked for the UNDP Regional Center in Bratislava as a Research Officer for the democratic governance practice department focusing on conflict prevention, gender and capacity building for local development. Since 1993, she has been involved with the women’s rights organization ASPEKT with which she worked as an author and translator, website and newsletter editor and media campaign and outreach coordinator and which she represents on the Committee for Gender Equality at the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs and Family of the Slovak Republic.

Ms. Riecanska studied Ethnology/Cultural Anthropology at the Comenius University in Bratislava, Slovakia (graduated in 1987) and Sociology at the University of Pittsburgh (PA, the U.S., 1998-2002). After finishing her studies at the Comenius University, she worked as a researcher at the Slovak Academy of Sciences. In 1997-1998 she was a member of an international research project hosted by the University of Cambridge, UK.

Ms. Riecanska  has experience in academic teaching/lecturing – at the University of Pittsburgh she taught classes and led seminars on social problems, gender and race and global and comparative sociology, and has published academic papers and essays intended on topics related to minorities, women’s rights and grass-root civil society. Ms. Riecanska’s language skills include good written and verbal English, intermediate Russian and basic German.

Ms. Riecanska have already been to the U.S. as a graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh, PA,  in 1998-2002. She also visited the U.S. as a Fulbright scholar in 1997. However, this exchange program would be of a great importance to her, as it may provide her with an opportunity to learn from experienced practitioners and get her own hands-on experience of various approaches and methods of community organizing and citizen’s participation. Especially she wishes to learn more about how to mobilize people and motivate them to get involved in community projects and how to resolve conflicts and reach consensus.

Chicago, IL

Ms. Riecanska is interested in all issues related to community-based solutions to poverty, economic self-help and the like. She wishes to gain practical experience in all aspects of community organizing pertaining to these issues, but also more broadly to social exclusion. Back in her home country, she wants to promote community organizing in local development to combat poverty and social exclusion, as these themes and aspects are still rather overlooked in Slovakia. Specifically, she would like to gain skills in leadership, direct action and campaign planning. The groups she is interested is are the Roma, people of color, the homeless and women (esp. minority women facing multiple discrimination).

In her fieldwork before the U.S. trip Ms. Riecanska plans to work with the Roma, esp. Roma women, with whom her organization has already established some collaboration. The idea is to build and/or strengthen their skills and capacities for collaborative and community-driven activities to combat poverty and social exclusion and to fight against the vicious cycle of prejudice and discrimination through community activities that would build bridges between the Roma minority and the non-Roma at the level of their local communities.

In her free time, Ms. Riecanska likes to pursue her hobbies that include various outdoor sports, yoga, dog training, gardening, cooking, digital photography, documentary films, literature and arts. She also likes to learn about animals and nature and enjoys meeting new people.

Eva will be having her internship at One Northside (Chicago) together with Szilvia Suri from Hungary.