Direct Action in Wichita

Elena Carbunaru (Romania), Robert Bekefi (Hungary) and Vladislav Petkov (Bulgaria), who are doing their internship in Wichita, Kansas, took part in a direct action that took place on October 15th 2013. The protest happened during Kansas Policy Institute’s annual dinner in Wichita.

KPI is part of American Legislative Exchange Committee (ALEC) and is connected to manipulative researches that feed bad policy and legislation proposals in the sphere of education, healthcare and environment. The protest was organized in collaboration between trade unions and community organizations and groups, among which Sunflower Community Action, Wichita.

European fellows visited Tim Griffin’s office in Little Rock

Kalina Hristova (Bulgaria) and Oana Botezan (Romania) with Arkansas Community Organizations were part of the group that visited U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin’s office in Little Rock delivering a letter calling for him to vote to end the government shut down, lift the debt ceiling, end the automatic spending cuts and raise revenue by closing corporate tax loopholes. ACO was coordinator of the meeting.

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European fellows volunteering at the Immigration Reforming March in Chicago

Korean immigrants and Slovak fellow Boba during the march in Chicago

European fellows from Hungary (Zsofi), Bulgaria (Victoria), Slovakia (Boba) and Romania (Laura) did also a bit of volunteering on Saturday (October 12, 2013) in Chicago. Boba and Laura helped their co-fellows Zsofi and Victoria (from the same fellowship program in U.S., coordinated by Great Lakes Consortium for international training and development & thanks to U.S. department financial support) during very interesting march on immigration reform, organized by one of the hosting organization ICIRR.
The Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights is a statewide coalition of more than 130 organizations dedicated to promoting the rights of immigrants and refugees to full and equal participation in the civic, cultural, social, and political life of our diverse society.

European fellows Zsofia and Victoria as ICIRR volunteers at immigration reform march in Chicago – 12 October 2013

Thousands of immigrant leaders and families and allies from immigrant rights, labor, faith communities marched on October 12th to demand that Congress should pass immigration reform with dignity, justice and respect for all immigrants.
The action started at Teamster city at 12pm and it ended around 4pm at Daley Plaza in Chicago city. Zsofi and Victoria prepared the banners and posters for the march and helped organizers to gather people from different neighborhoods of Chicago. Laura and Boba took photos, videos and made notes for their reports. The marching people demanded that the federal government should halt deportations, stop the further criminalization of immigrants, and pass legalization that includes a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants. We could see hundreds of banners and posters with slogans like: “Legalizacion ahora”, “Obama, escucha! Estamos en la lucha!”; and we could hear the sentences like: “Stop the deportations.”; “Families together.”; “Enough is enough.”

The Most Important idea that we’ve learn that day was: How powerful and strong one crowd of thousands of courageous people can be – when it’s well organized (people stand together to achieve their goal – basic human rights). It can have very strong influence on politicians & decision makers!


The Fall European Delegation is ready to explore Community Organizing in U.S.

The second European delegation with 19 fellows will be in  the U.S. from September 30 – November 9, 2013. They will participate in group seminars, round-table discussions, site visits, and had interactions with United States leaders. A tailored 3-week internship with mentoring, multicultural events, and participation in volunteer activities as well as in the Professional Fellows Congress in Washington, D.C. will also be included in the 6-week professional fellows program. Participants will prepare a 6-9 month  individual and group Action Plan for follow on activities. They  will have opportunities to experience the American family life and the diversity in the U.S. through staying with American host families during showbox download their internship in Little Rock (Arkansas), Chicago (Illinois), Manchester (New Hampshire), Langley Park (Maryland), Toledo (Ohio), Detroit (Michigan)  Wichita (Kansas), St. Paul (Minnesota), Philadelphia (Pennsylvania and   New York (New York).

Download in PDF – Fall European Delegation

26 alumni successfully completed their projects

During the spring/summer of 2013 the Great Lakes Consortium announced a small grant application opportunity to any of the 2012 alumni for them to complete some projects. Small grants (under $2,000 each) helped to cover expenses of the projects but alumni contributed their volunteer time, brought in additional resources and engaged others to do the same. Small grant support was also available to create training materials or other publications that are connected to this exchange program so more people can benefit from the experience. From the four countries altogether 26 of the 32 alumni submitted applications and successfully completed their projects by August 30, 2013.

They proposed and implemented a variety of activities including issue organizing, parent and/or youth organizing, training/seminar/workshops, involving disadvantaged people from urban or rural communities, with special emphasis on Roma and disabled people. As pokemon go gps signal not found a result thousands of people became familiar with com-munity organizing and many of them were youth who got very interested to continue this type of community work. In the small grant projects alumni collaborated with others who participated in different exchanges and they brought back different experience to share. Some U.S. mentors also helped the alumni in the organizing in Europe and/or preparing training materials.

Read more about the activities in the newsletter

1st U.S. Mentors

Meet the first U.S. mentor group traveling to Europe

1st U.S. MentorsThe first delegation with a total of 19 fellows from Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia visited the U.S. from April 1 – May 11, 2013 and participated in group seminars, round-table discussions, site visits, and had have interactions with United States leaders..

U.S. mentors will travel  for a  reciprocal visit to Europe. The Out-Bound component will include at least two American mentors’ teams to travel to Europe (between June 2013 and March 2014) for up to 21 days to provide joint workshops with the alumni and on-site consultation and fieldwork, and conduct wider outreach programs. The first U.S. mentor group will travel to Europe from June 19 through July 17, 2013 with 8 Americans who hosted, trained, worked with the European participants of the Spring 2013 delegation. Americans will work with the European alumni in providing workshops, assist with consulting and mentoring. They will be involved in field experience and learn about best kayak reviews minority issues and gain cultural experience in Europe. They will have an opportunity to share professional expertise and gain a deeper understanding of the societies, cultures and people of other countries. This citizen civic exchange will promote mutual understanding, create long-term professional ties, enhance the collaboration between GLC and its partners.

The second European delegation is expected in the U.S. from September 29 – November 9, 2013.

The Great Lakes Consortium – through WSOS Community Action Commission, Inc. – as Contract Agent and Manager – received a grant for a two-way exchange between September 2012  and August 2014 from the U.S. Department of State for the “Building Grassroots Democracy in Minority Communities” with at least 32 participants from four countries of Europe and for 18 U.S. mentors.

Meet the U.S. Mentors:

EU Fellows

Anita Vodal reflects on her time in the US

EU FellowsMy name is Anita Vodál, and I’m a trainee lawyer at the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union. I came to the U.S. through an international community organizing exchange. My previous intention was to learn how to combine legal empowerment with community organizing back in Hungary. Surprisingly, I learned that you cannot empower people without organizing them – making them aware of their own power.

I was so absorbed in the issues and social problems of Hungary that I didn’t have much time before I arrived to think about how things would be in the U.S. I spend most of my time in the “world as it is,” instead of the “world as it should be,” which means that I was complaining about social injustice all the time without taking any action.

Five weeks ago, I arrived in the U.S. with 18 other fellows from Central European countries with the enthusiasm to learn community organizing and how grassroots democracy functions. Our training included a three-week internship during which our group split up and each of us went to different organizations in various states across the country. We all work with minority groups back in our countries (Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia) as part of the legal, social worker or organizing staff. I was placed for my internship at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH), along with Miro Ragac from Slovakia.

This exchange program, funded and organized by the U.S. State Department, also allows community organizers from the U.S. go to Central Europe in order to learn how things work there, how powerful organizations operate, what are the biggest social challenges organizers have to face, etc. Europeans try to get the same answers from American organizations and participants during the six weeks spent in the U.S.

I was completely aware that there are homeless people on the streets in the U.S. too, and that people are concerned about various social issues. However, I never thought that Americans struggle with the same challenges as we do in the middle of Europe – after 40 years of Socialism – nor that in the U.S. people also have to fight for democratic values and against racism. I had to realize that discrimination remains an issue even if we are across the ocean in a country ruled by a democratic leader. It seems to me that this struggle is something that we have to fight for, no matter where we live.

In Hungary, Roma people are the biggest ethnic minority, or about 10% of the entire population. The Roma community faces an enormous level of discrimination in every facet of life, including housing, employment, and education. They live in very poor living conditions, lots of them have no running water in their houses, the unemployment rate is almost 90%, and most of the Roma children go to segregated schools or classes. The far-right political party, Jobbik, has 20% of the representatives in the Parliament. This ruling conservative government supports the idea of “gypsy criminality.” This concept has significantly increased the level of racism experienced by Roma people in the last few years.

During my stay I the U.S., I have realized that this country also faces serious problems of discrimination and segregation, even though it is ruled by a democratic government.

I would like highlight the issue that surprised me the most.

If a person has a criminal background in the U.S., they have to carry this felony through their entire life as a stamp on their forehead. It stays there forever; anyone can have access to their criminal record. Related to homelessness, these people are excluded from public housing through the Chicago Housing Authority for at least five years, and have to wait at least another couple of years on the housing choice wait list until they can access an apartment. They cannot rejoin family living in public housing just because of the felony. They can hardly get a job, since their future employee can easily do a background check on them. What is the point of letting people out of prison if they are excluded from most services and their fundamental rights are curtailed? In Hungary, you can get rid of the felony after a certain amount of time, depending on the crime. There are some extensions, but in most of the cases your criminal record becomes blank and nobody can check it except certain authorities. It is your private information. It seems that there are regulations that are more humane in Central Europe and the U.S. has to improve.

Besides plenty of best practices, useful tools and great advice that I can take back home with me, I’ve learned during my time in Chicago to live sometimes in “the world as it should be.”