After spending a week in the area, five young Russian leaders said they noticed a lot of similarities between problems in their country and the United States and the way people work to meet community needs. They also noticed some differences and will be returning home with some new ideas that may help them better serve Russian kids.
The women Svetlana Bazhenova, Yuliya Belyayeva, Yekaterina Lycheva, Alina Pokalyakina, and Anastasiya Starikova were in Minot from June 22 through today as part of the Open World Program, managed by the Open World Leadership Center at the Library of Congress. They stayed with host families in Minot. All of the women are in their 20s, as this delegation is aimed at bringing emerging young leaders from Russia and the former Soviet Union who came of age after the fall of communism.
Bazhenova, a journalist, is a special correspondent with the Voronezh Region Broadcasting Company; Belyayeva and Lycheva are program managers with the Arkhangelsk Region Center for Social Technologies, a non-governmental organization; Starikova is a sociologist with Social Initiatives Foundation. The women come from different parts of Russia and said that the trip also allowed them to form connections with each other that will help once they return to Russia.
From left to right, the Open Border Program delegation from Russia included Svetlana Bazhenova, Yekaterina Lycheva, Anastasiya Starikova, Alina Pokalyakina and Yuliya Belyayeva.
They were exploring how private, non-governmental agencies, as well as government, are playing a role to spur recovery and maintain human services. Pokalyakina, project manager for the Center for Social Initiatives, said she was impressed by the level of influence that different social service agencies in the United States seem to have over public policy and how they try to improve services for their clients. That isn't always the case with similar social service agencies in Russia, she said.
The group was also greatly impressed by a visit to the Quentin Burdick Job Corps Center, said Bazhenova, and by how devoted the staff there are to the students. Job Corps helps 16- to 24-year-olds who qualify via income guidelines to receive job training. That sort of program isn't available for similar populations in Russia.
The group also toured flood-impacted areas of the city and met with city, county and non-governmental organizations. They did some volunteer work in a flooded house and it was the first time some of them had operated a drill.
The group also enjoyed a visit to the Boys and Girls Club on the Fort Berthold Reservation and one person in the group said she can take some of those ideas back to Russia to use with the people she serves.
The trip also included a visit to Minot State University's North Dakota Center for Persons with Disabilities and to the International Peace Garden. They had an opportunity to give presentations about their organizations in Russia during an event at the Taube Museum on Wednesday.
Joseph Jastrzembski, of the Minot Area Council for International Visitors, said he was afraid it might be hard to find host families for the group because of the area's housing crunch, but volunteers opened their homes. The women thanked their host families, many of whom took them to other cultural events. They also appreciated having a chance to attend services at St. Peter's Orthodox Church in Minot and to speak with the pastor, whom they said speaks perfect Russian.
The Open World Program is a unique, nonpartisan initiative of the U.S. Congress designed to build mutual understanding between the United States and Eurasia. More than 18,000 Open World participants have been hosted in all 50 states since the program's inception in 1999. Delegates range from members of parliament to mayors, from innovative directors to experienced journalists and from political party activists to regional administrators. Minot also hosted a delegation from the program in 2009, according to Jastrzembski.