Delegation of Ukrainian women leaders explore Northwest OhioWritten by Joel Sensenig | Managing Editor | email@example.com
Five Ukrainian women leaders participating in a program called Open World are visiting Northwest Ohio through Nov. 18, examining accountable governance and how small and rural communities in the United States are working together with public, private and nonprofit sectors to implement community development tools to improve the quality of life.
Great Lakes Consortium for International Training and Development — a Program of WSOS Community Action Commission Inc. — is hosting the delegation.
The visiting delegates are from two geographic areas of Ukraine: three hail from eastern Ukraine, while two are from a region in Western Ukraine where The Anastasia Fund (led by Rep. Marcy Kaptur and her family) has provided several humanitarian, educational and development assistance in the past 20 years. The five delegates are accompanied by a facilitator as well as a translator from the Cleveland area.
While in Northwest Ohio, the delegates met elected government leaders including Kaptur; Toledo City Councilwoman Lindsay Webb; Peter Ujvagi, former state representative and current chief of policy and legislation for Lucas County; and Jim Ellis, mayor of Fremont, to understand the role of the different levels of government, as well as the local and regional collaboration between the public-private and nonprofit sector.
Gary and Beth Anne Varney of Sylvania, are hosting Vira Flyat, one of the delegates from eastern Ukraine. Flyat is the head of a nonprofit human rights organization working to provide educational activities promoting human rights, providing legal aid to the population and promoting transparency and accountability in government in her region.
According to information provided by Great Lakes Consortium, Flyat — who does not speak English — would like to gain experience about nonprofits in the U.S. working with human rights, particularly women’s rights and gender equality issues. She’s also interested in learning about American democratic values and seeing the everyday life of ordinary Americans.
Gary Varney, a copy editor for Toledo Free Press and private online language instructor, said he and his wife have enjoyed their time as hosts.
“With us, she gets a taste of daily life in the United States,” he said. “We take her around to our favorite haunts.”
He said she enjoyed Mayberry Diner, located near the Varneys’ home, and they plan to take her out for some shopping, the Toledo Museum of Art and Wildwood Preserve Metropark before her Nov. 18 departure.
Varney speaks elementary Russian, which is why Flyat was assigned to the couple. Still, the communication aspect takes a lot of effort.
“I’m usually a night owl,” Varney said. “But when using a foreign language I’m not very familiar with, I’m wiped out by 9 p.m.”
Still, welcoming a foreigner into their home has been a rewarding one for the couple.
“My wife and I are internationally minded, we speak other languages to various degrees, so this is right in our wheelhouse so to speak,” he said. “We love learning about each other and each other’s customs.”
Managed by the Open World Leadership Center, a support agency of the United States Congress, the Open World program is designed to enhance understanding and capabilities for cooperation between the United States and the countries of Eurasia by developing a network of leaders in the region who have gained significant, firsthand exposure to America’s democratic, accountable government and free-market system. The Open World program works to link members of Congress to Eurasian leaders and is an instrument for Americans engaged in citizen diplomacy.
From WSOS, the delegates will learn about the four pillars of the community (entrepreneurs, leaders, youth and charitable donors) and how these pillars need to work together in order to build a strong community with a future for the next generation.
The delegation will get rural entrepreneurship development ideas in Amish Country of Ohio (agricultural and arts/crafts businesses in Holmes County), in Northwest Ohio’s Cooperative Kitchen in Bowling Green, in a small bakery and a pottery studio in Toledo. Guests will learn successful leadership training programs at Bowling Green Chamber of Commerce and also from University of Toledo student Jerry Palermo, who just published his leadership book.
Through meetings, discussions and site visits, the delegation will have opportunities to gain and discuss new ideas, and prepare an action plan how to make changes in their own communities after returning to Ukraine. While the Ukrainian guests are coming here to learn from American counterparts, Americans will also benefit from this visit by learning about Ukraine, the role of women and activists in Lugansk at this time of conflict with Russia, the difficult and dangerous living and social conditions there and the Victory nonprofit organization that the Lugansk guests are representing, according to a news release.
Great Lakes Consortium for International Training and Development was established in 1999 as a collaborative effort of Bowling Green State University, Lourdes College, The University of Toledo and WSOS Community Action. GLC has welcomed more than 1,000 international guests from 17 countries around the world and assisted 850 Americans to travel overseas on professional, educational and cultural exchanges.
Since its founding by Congress in 1999, the Open World program has enabled nearly 20,250 current and future Eurasian leaders to experience American democracy, civil society and community life; work with their American counterparts; stay in American homes; and gain new ideas and inspiration for implementing change back home. More than 7,200 American host families and their communities in all 50 states have partnered with Congress and the Open World Leadership Center to make this ambitious public diplomacy effort possible.
The Open World program currently operates exchanges for political and civic leaders from Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.
For more information on the Open World program, visit www.openworld.gov.
Tags: Bowling Green Chamber of Commerce, Great Lakes Consortium for International Training and Development, Jerry Palermo, Open World, Open World Leadership Center, Ukraine, WSOS Community Action Commission