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.

Ionela Maria Ciolan – fellow from Romania

Ionela Maria Ciolan
Bucharest, Romania

Ionela Ciolan is a first year Ph.D. candidate in International Relations at the National University for Political Studies and Public Administration, in Bucharest. She is currently researching on the European Neighborhood Policy in Eastern Europe and EU-Russia relations. In addition, to her academic work, Ms. Ciolan is also a Human Rights Activist and Educator in Romania. She is the initiator of the Volunteer Facilitators’ movement of Amnesty International in Romania and the founder and group leader of the first group of human rights activists for Amnesty in her country.

Since 2011, Ms. Ciolan has had organized 8 human rights campaigns with a reach of more than 8000 people in order to help them develop their basis in human rights and increase their participation as citizens in social and civil actions. In her work with Amnesty International in Romania, Ms. Ciolan is trying to change the hatred mentality, to educate Romanians to accept minorities, to be more tolerant and to further promote the idea of embracing our differences. She uses human rights education approaches to challenge stereotypes and usually works with young people.

Ms. Ciolan was involved in 3 international human rights campaigns focused on the rights of minorities: (1) “S.O.S. Europe, People before borders” – Amnesty International Third Human Rights Action Camp, a 9 days project designed to work on the immigrants’ issues and rights; (2) “Stop forced eviction of Roma in Romania” – international campaign which tried to appeal to the public to support the cause by asking the Romanian Prime-Minister to stop the forced evictions of Roma people from various communities in Romania and change the current legislation in this area; and (3) “My Body, My Rights”, which promotes the sexual and reproductive rights of women and LGBT people).

Bucharest, Romania
photo credit:

Ms. Ciolan has an experience of eight years as a volunteer in different local, regional, national and international NGOs and has interned at the European Institute of Romania and Foreign Policy magazine – Romanian branch.

Recently, she joined the cause of the Policy Center for Roma and Minorities in supporting the rights for safe and secure housing for Roma and other disadvantaged people from the Iacob Andrei street, Ferentari neighborhood in Bucharest, a ghetto type area where both Roma and non-Roma people live in extreme poverty. Together with the Center, Ms. Ciolan tries to stop forced evictions of the people from this street and help them organize as a community.

Throughout her five years of studying International Relations and European Studies, both during  Bachelor’s and Master’s programs, Ms. Ciolan have come to a great understanding of the international community, actors and events, in Europe, but also globally. Nevertheless, her biggest interest is focusing on the Central Eastern Europe (including Russia) and its relation with the EU. During her Erasmus mobility at the University of Bologna, Ms. Ciolan had the opportunity to study national political movements, civil society and democracy, community participation and social trust with prestigious professors across Europe. Moreover, she has successfully published 3 academic articles. All have appeared in peer-reviewed journals indexed in international data bases.

Ms. Ciolan is fluent in English, both written and spoken and has knowledge of Spanish, Italian and French.

Chicago, IL
photo: Emil Metodiev

This fellowship is her first opportunity to travel to the United States. During the fellowship experience in the U.S., Ms. Ciolan would like to learn new methods on how to empower people in minority communities and to see and understand the innovative approaches of the hosting organization. Also, she is very interested to learn more on community organizing and on developing local advocacy plans. Ms. Ciolan expects to gain new ideas, know-how and experience in dealing with both the affected groups and the authorities. She will use these skills in her activity at the Policy Center for Roma and Minorities, where she plans to have a very active advocacy projects in the support of the Roma community. she intends to use her work at Amnesty International Bucharest as a spring board for campaigns aimed at stopping forced eviction, by raising awareness of this issue at local and national level.

In her free time, Ms. Ciolan loves to cook and try new recipes. She enjoys reading about the impact of technology upon the international community.

Ionela will be having her internship at Chicago Coalition for the Homeless in Chicago together with Johanna Laszlo

Peter Petak – fellow from Hungary

Peter Petak
Pecs, Hungary

Peter Petak is working as a Leader of community workers at the Hungarian Association for Community Development, as well as at the Civil College Foundation. Both organizations focus on working with different disadvantaged groups like Roma, unemployed, disabled, and poor people. From 2010 he has been supporting community workers who work with marginalized social groups. His tasks include trainings and consultations, workshops and network organizing, both in countrywide programs and in programs focusing on areas of deep poverty in Eastern Hungary.

Mr. Petak was a founder of a successful and well known neighborhood NGO which represented the interests of the local community in the town of Pecs. He also organized civil coalitions and cooperations of NGO’s. He participated in developing and teaching the first officially recognized community organizer training in Hungary. His speciality area is the organization of campaigns for community issues.

Pecs, Hungary

Mr. Petak graduated with an MA from the University of Pecs, Faculty of Humanities in 1994, and he has completed studies as a Community Development Trainer at various institutions between 2003-2014.

This is his first opportunity to visit the United States. In the previous years, Mr. Petak has started to work intensively on community organizing, and he devoted much energy to the introduction and widespread adaptation of community organizing in Hungary. For this purpose, he would like to learn, gain experience and find partners in this exchange program.

Mr. Petak is a father of five boys, and in his free time, he enjoys making excursions with his family, and reading.

Peter will be having his internship at Virginia Organizing (Charlottesville, Virginia)



Dilyana Gyurova – fellow from Bulgaria

Dilyana Gyurova-Kyupeliyski
Sofia, Bulgaria

Dilyana (Diki) Gyurova is working for CONCORDIA Bulgaria Foundation in Sofia since it funded in 2008. Initially she worked as a Deputy Director and since 2012 as an Executive Director. Mrs. Gyurova is managing the overall work of the organization in Bulgaria starting from the pedagogical aspects and establishment of a certain organizational culture till networking, communication, budgeting and fundraising.

Mrs. Gyurova previous working experience is in the field of social work with elderly people, and also in national and international volunteering projects within the peace organization Service Civil International and its Bulgarian branch Cooperation for Voluntary Service.

CONCORDIA is an independent international organization that supports children, young people and partly elderly in Romania, in the Republic of Moldova and in Bulgaria. The social services in Sofia are provided to homeless young adults, to neglected children and their families, being about 90% from the Roma ethnic minority. Community organizing and support belong to the priorities of her organization CONCORDIA Bulgaria Foundation, so she and her team in Sofia are very interested in the exchange program and quite ambitious about the field work and its outcomes.

Alexander Nevski Cathedral, Sofia

Their target groups for the current social services are homeless young adults (very often former orphanage children) as well as children and families from several marginalized Roma communities in the city of Sofia – the districts Orlandovtzi and Malashevtzi with population of up to several hundred people and no official information as many of them don’t have a proper housing and thus also don’t have permanent addresses nor jobs. This is where also the future plans for Community organizing are focused with the main aim to support the Roma families so that they can provide better care and education to their own children and thus to achieve a smaller number of neglected children, school drop-outs etc. The field work is planned to be conducted in cooperation with mobile social workers’ teams of CONCORDIA and partner organizations acting in the particular districts and Dilyana finds this as very challenging and a great opportunity at the same time.

Keeper of the Plains Statue (Wichita, Kansas)
photo by: Jordan McAlister

Mrs. Gyurova holds two Masters’ Degree; first is in Social Work obtained at the Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski” and second – in Accounting and Controlling from the University for National and World economy in Sofia. Also Dilyana (or Diki as she is mostly known among fellow trainers and volunteers) has some experience as a non-formal education trainer in youth work, volunteering projects, human rights education and other topics, mostly gained from working with international youth groups. Her own long term volunteering project back in 2003 was also in the field of Human rights education in Germany. Apart from English, Mrs. Gyurova speaks German and in the last years she learned some basic Romanian. She has good knowledge of Russian and French too but unfortunately she doesn’t get many chances to practice.

Mrs. Gyurova has never visited the U.S. before. She is really excited about this learning opportunity. Some of the topics that are of greatest interest in the overall program of the Exchange are Organizational development, Direct action and Fundraising.

In her free time Mrs. Gyurova enjoys playing, cooking and drawing with her children as well as doing some Yogalates or karaoke singing.

Dilyana will be having her internship at Seed House (Wichita, Kansas) together with Claudia Popa and Monika Jurikova 

Monika Jurikova – fellow from Slovakia

Monika Jurikova
Bratislava, Slovakia 

Monika Jurikova is working as a Social worker in urban locality, where are the social welfare and social apartments. In this disadvantaged neighborhood live around 1500 people and around half of them are Roma with different social and economy status. Along with the total absence of any leisure and social services there is a room for development of many conflicts, social pathologies (crime, pollution, drug use, vandalism, …) and the tense atmosphere between different groups of population. Children and young people make up almost half the population of settlement. For many of them are leisure activities offered by other institutions outside the settlement unavailable (required regular attendance, active participation, distance, financial costs). Street becomes a meeting place, a place for leisure, sometimes a refuge, sometimes playground.

Bratislava, Slovakia

For several years Ms. Jurikova has been doing streetwork and preventative activities in club for teens. Before she worked in non-goverment organization that was focused on drug users. Later she was part of team who did preventative activities at school focused on harassment, violence and experimenting with drugs.

Wichita, Kansas

Ms. Jurikova studied at the Faculty of Education, Department of Social Education and she graduated with her Master’s Degree with specification Etopedie – emotional disturbances. During studies, she spent three summers in the U.S. with “Work and Travel program”.

Ms. Jurikova is communicative person, and except English she is able to speak in several Slavic languages, especial  Czech and Polish.

Ms. Jurikova is very excited to visit community projects in the United States. She wants to bring experience and new ideas to her project.

Ms. Jurikova enjoys travelling, meeting new people, learning new cultures. During freetime she enjoys all kind of sport, especial cycling, jogging, swimming, trekking and hiking.

Monika will be having her internship at Seed House (Wichita, Kansas) together with Claudia Popa from Romania and two more fellows.

International Friendship Night in Toledo

Intercultural Dinner in the Hungarian Club in Toledo with the first Fellows Delegation in 2012

Please join the Great Lakes Consortium for International Training and Development in welcoming a 22-member Professional Fellows delegation from Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria.
Enjoy the Pot-luck dinner – by bringing a dish to share!
This multicultural event is free and open to the public.
Seats are limited, please make a reservation by calling Elizabeth Balint at 419-973-8007 or send an e-mail to

5:00PM Social Hour with Silent Auction to raise money for GLC’s international goodwill projects

6:00PM Welcome & Pot-luck dinner

6:45PM Introduction of the international guests

Recognition of the 25th anniversary of the Toledo-Szeged Sister City relationship and welcome the guests from Szeged, Hungary –by Ann Galloway, President of the Toledo-Szeged Committee

Short presentations by two media representatives: Szilvia Suri from Hungary and Cristinela Ionescu from Romania about the minority life and issues.

Announcements of upcoming events and international projects

This delegation’s visit in the U.S. from April 19- June 5, 2015 is sponsored by the U.S. State Department Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs Professional Fellows Division as part of “Sustaining Civic Participation in Minority Communities in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia and U.S.A.”.
This program is presented in collaboration with the Hungarian Club of Toledo, Toledo-Szeged Committee, and WSOS Community Action Commission Inc.

Claudia Popa – spring fellow from Romania

Claudia Popa currently is Manager of Colors Association, a small Romanian NGO founded in 2008 that aims to develop individuals and their communities to meet the challenges of now-a-days life, implementing mainly educational, cultural and youth projects and activities for children, youngsters and seniors from Brasov and Sibiu Counties and promoting voluntary work as the main tool for personal and community development.

Having more than 3000 beneficiaries every year, Ms. Popa has been actively involved in developing new activities for Roma children, persons with disabilities or socially disadvantaged, etc. For instance, during 2015, together with her team, she is going to develop a new visual arts program for 400 Roma children from Garcini neighborhood in Brasov County, with the support of EEA Grants. Organizing members of the community, being a leader or generating ideas are skills that Ms. Popa has been practicing since primary school. During the years she has added lots of others – e.g. being a trainer or communicator, using technology and social media etc.

Ms. Popa has started her NGO career as a youth volunteer for Brasov Branch of the Romanian Red Cross during her University studies in 1998. Between 2001 and 2008 she has worked as a Manager for the Sibiu Branch of the same organization.

Brasov /foto: Iulian/

foto by Iulian

In these years Ms. Popa has created new innovative programs for different minority groups and not only and been a part of the national teams that created the youth leadership system and the communication strategy for the organization. In the same time here she learnt how to organize volunteers and beneficiaries and mobilize resources to meet different needs and solve problems.

Ms. Popa has a BA in Economics and International Transactions from the Transylvania University, Faculty of Economics in Brasov (Romania 2001). She is a Postgraduate in Fundraising from the Babes-Bolyai University in Cluj Napoca (Romania 2009). Ms. Popa also took part in Participatory Capacity Development Program organized by German Red Cross between 2004-2005, and in a training in advocacy organized by Grasp/USAID in 2003. She has qualifications as a trainer, youth worker, HR and project manager and extensive experience in PR and non-formal education.

Ms. Popa is a native Romanian speaker and C1 level English (speaking, understanding, writing, and reading). She has also basic German knowledge, and she can understand and speak a bit of French, Spanish and Portuguese (due to similarities with Romanian and/or practical international work).

Wichita, Kansas

This is going to be her first visit to the U.S. With the support of this fellowship Ms. Popa would like to be more efficient in mobilizing and empowering people, and resources from her community in addressing the problems that they have and to see practical examples from civic organizations in the United States.

She is going to use her knowledge and skills in strengthening Colors and other NGO’s that she works with in both Brasov and Sibiu to be able to solve problems. Her field work is going to be in Garcini neighborhood (part of Sacele, a town close to Brasov), target group being the Roma youngsters. She has already done different activities for children in this community and she is interested in extending them to youngsters as well, with the support of local partners.

Ms. Popa special interests are youngsters and topics like leadership, campaign planning (e.g. empowerment) and fundraising. Her hobbies are sports (swimming), blogging, photography, travelling and meeting new people.

Claudia will have her internship at Seed House (Wichita, Kansas).