V o l u m e V T A K I N G A C T I O N — C h a n g i n g L i v e s i n M i n o r i t y C o m m u n i t i e s

Whenever one person stands up and

says, “Wait a minute, this is

wrong” it helps other people do the


Gloria Steinem

V o l u m e V T A K I N G A C T I O N — C h a n g i n g L i v e s i n M i n o r i t y C o m m u n i t i e s

Taking Action — Changing Lives

in Minority Communities


Albania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia

and The United States of America

Taking Action — Changing Lives Chronicles Organizers and Organizing

And Invites You to Explore Sixty-three European Stories

of the Professional Fellows Program:

“Shaping Participatory Democracy”

Crisis and Success, Creativity and Innovation,

Organizing Generations and Sharing Experiences,

Invention and Re-invention, Persistence and Determination,

To better the lives of families and communities… All Leading to Success.

Published by

Great Lakes Community Action Partnership, Inc.

Great Lakes Consortium for International Training and Development

December 2019

Sponsored by the U.S. Department of State

Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs

Office of Citizen Exchanges

Professional Fellows Division


Taking Action — Changing Lives

in Minority Communities


Copyright December 2019

Great Lakes Community Action Partnership

Great Lakes Consortium for International Training and Development

Volume V

Printed in the United States by

Amazon Kindle Direct Publishers

Dr. Elizabeth Balint ~ Copy Editor

Martin W. Nagy ~ Designer and Chief Editor

Photographs are from ~ Participants, online Facebook & websites,

Elizabeth Balint, Emil Metodiev, Lorena Gjana, Viktoriya Maryamova

Cover design ~ Ruxandra Nagy



“Taking Action—Changing Lives in Minority Communities”—Volume V


Dear Readers:

We are proud to bring you the new edition of a book that describes our work with the

U.S. Department of State’s Professional Fellows Program, and the ways in which this

program is changing civil society as we know it, both in central and eastern Europe where

we work, and in the U.S. through the impact that our fellows have on the organizations

they are mentored by.

This program allows us to bring young civil society professionals to the U.S. to gain

experience working in like-minded organizations and be mentored by seasoned

professionals here. It creates a platform for exchanging ideas, building meaningful

connections, and empowering people to take the initiative to make necessary changes in

their societies. As the Chinese proverb says, “If you want one year of prosperity, grow

grain. If you want 10 years of prosperity, grow trees. If you want 100 years of

prosperity, grow people.” Our mission, both domestically and abroad, is to grow people,

and thereby grow thriving communities and societies.

We have seen this program mature with each successive group of fellows, moving from

the work of a few passionate individuals to the development of a budding movement of

people working together to build something bigger. We have built a strong alumni

network of people that support one another’s work across regions and countries,

providing encouragement and opportunities for collaboration that strengthen the whole.

Our work continues to be challenging in the face of increasing divisiveness and

exclusion, but our network is undaunted and determined to build a future that is inclusive

and one in which equality of opportunity is the norm for all people. We are committed to

the democratic process and to ensuring that historically marginalized groups have a voice

in that process.

We invite you to share their stories and hope they will inspire you as they have us. As

always, we are grateful to the State Department for the ongoing support of this powerful

program that is changing the lives of so many.

Ruthann House

Ruthann House


Deb Martin

Community Development Director

“Change will not come if we wait for some other person, or if we wait for some other

time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.“

Barack Obama


“Taking Action—Changing Lives in Minority Communities”—Volume V

Great Lakes Community Action Partnership





GLC is a Program of GLCAP, a collaborative effort of: Lourdes University,

Bowling Green State University, The University of Toledo, and

Great Lakes Community Action Partnership, Inc.

Great Lakes Community Action Partnership

Fremont, Ohio U.S.A.




Co-Plan—Institute for Habitat Development, Albania

C.E.G.A. - Creating Effective Grassroots

Alternative Foundation, Bulgaria



PEN—Pro Europe Network, Bulgaria

(Since October 2019)

CCF - Civil College Foundation, Hungary

CeRe - Resource Center for Public

Participation, Romania

CKO - Center for Community Organizing, Slovakia






P.O. Box 352424

Toledo, OH 43635 USA

Phone: 419.973.8007



Elizabeth Balint, GLCAP/GLC Project Manager


“Taking Action—Changing Lives in Minority Communities”—Volume V



Ruthann House & Debra Martin, GLCAP




Elizabeth Balint GLCAP/GLC





GLC Leadership Team


Sondra Youdelman


Spring 2018 European delegation

Fall 2018 European delegation

U.S. mentors in this program 2018-2019


From Experimental to Mainstream: Community Organizing in Romania

Alexandru Palas and Vera Turcanu-Spatari, Country Directors

2018 Poster - Professional Fellows Program Alumni from Romania


New Young Leaders for Action, Unity and Power in Ineu

Daniel Bredet

Roma Community, My Community

Loredana Mihaly

Roma Sisterhood

Georgiana Anca Nica


Bridging the Gap

Andreea Ghimpu Lupascu

Let’s Move Forward Together

Larisa Maria Nechita

Life Gets Better Together

Iulia Merca


Fuelling Community Organizing

Madalina Marcu

Sharing Power with the Citizens

Elena Racu

They Represent Us

Alexandrina Dinga



Andreia Bruckner, Claudia Macaria, Iulia Merca, Andreea Lupascu,

Loredana Mihaly, Larisa Maria Nechita, Anca Irimia, Oana Urs
























Public Services Focused on People through Design Thinking

Alexandrina Dinga, Lavinia Chiburțe, Raluca Onufreiciuc, Elena Racu

We Want a City without Barriers

Silvia Nichita, Aurora Martin, Anca Irimia, Maria Larisa Nechita


Bulgaria: Bringing Communities Together for an Intersectional Social Change

Emil Metodiev and Vladislav Petkov, Country Directors

2018 Poster - Professional Fellows Program Alumni from Bulgaria


Empowering Deaf Young People

Alexander Ivanov

Coalition Building to Enhance Women’s Rights

Valentina Gueorguieva

Organizing for the Environment: Saving the Kresna Gorge

Desislava Stoyanova


Learn and Grow Together: Creating a Community to Address

Youth Unemployment

Paulina Petrova

Empowering Young People in Samokov: Hub-a as a Place to Stay

Georgi Nikolov

To Boston and Back: Open Spaces for Youth Empowerment

Dobrina Kisova

Establishing a Youth Center in Razlog

Kostadinka Todorova

Empowering Youth and Promoting Sex Education

Julia Jurieva

Empowering Roma Students in Rakitovo

Angel Kochev


Eat and Meet: Building Bridges Through Food

Vesy Deyanova, Diana Nedeva

Antiracist Wave

Emil Metodiev, Vladislav Petkov

5 th GLC Professional Fellows Alumni Reunion in Bulgaria


Hungary: From Small and Difficult Steps Towards Huge Victories

Mate Varga, Country Director

2018 Poster - Professional Fellows Program Alumni from Hungary


Disability Organizing: Every Strong Building Has a Solid Base

Daniel Csango

Spreading the Word about Independent Living in Hungary

Zóra Molnár

Enhancing Roma Communities: from Services to Reaching Out for Power

Angyalka Kulcsár

























Building Leadership and Increasing Young Workers Membership

Annamaria Kunert

Electoral and Labor Organizing

Beke Karoly


Keep the Trees on the Római Banks!

Szilvia Kaprinyak

Towards a Local Community Theatre

Zsuzsa Berecz

Inclusion in Education, Step by Step

Sara Horlai


Finding a Path in Changing Hungary

Annamaria Kovacs, Timea Kovacs, Agnes Molnar

Action Reflexion Society: Artist and Activist Meeting, Budapest

Balázs Horváth-Kertész, Zora Molnar, Fanni Aradi, Monika Balint,

Peter Petak, Peter Galgoczi

Democracy Lessons for Young Roma Future Voters

Dzhevid Sali Mahmud, Milenko Milenkov, Lydia Mirgov, Jolana Natherova,

Szilvia Szenasi


Slovakia: From Projects to Achievements in Community Organizing

Veronika Strelcova and Maros Chmelik, Country Directors

2018 Poster - Professional Fellows Program Alumni from Slovakia


Rural development in the region of Lucenec

Jana Bielikova

The Walk towards Equality

Adam Engler


School as the Center of Community

Maria Bilova

Organizing Homeless People in Capital of Slovakia

Ivana Navakova


Educating Young Roma on the Values of Democracy

Jolana Natherova, Martin Klus, Veronika Strelcova, Lydia Mirgova

Community Organizing in Photographs

Miroslav Ragac, Jolana Natherova, Veronika Strelcova, Maros Chmelik

Roma Communities in Parliamentary Elections in Slovakia 2020

Lydia Mirgova, Jolana Natherova, Daniela Batova


Albania: New Beginnings: Community Organizing in Albania

Lorena Gjana, Country Director

2018 Poster - Professional Fellows Program Alumni from Romania























Social Artistry: Colorful People

Lorela Musta

Organizing Families of Children and Youth with Disabilities

Alda Kondakciu

My Story is What I Have, What I Will Always Have.

It is Something to Own.

Arber Kodra

Empowering Women Economically Through Social Enterprises

Suela Koçibellinj


Empowering Rural Youth to Build Communities in the Cerrik Area

Albana Hasmeta

Empowering Young Girls in Rural Areas to be Active in the Community

to Prevent Domestic and Gender-based Violence

Marsela Allmuça

Volunteering Is an Act of LOVE

Erisa Mercolli


Youth Empowerment in the Gramsh Municipality

Nensi Dragoti

Assembly of Freedom—AFA

Ivi Bejtja

Involvement of the Concerned Public in Environmental Decision-Making

Arion Sauku


The LGBTI Civic Engagement Project

Arber Kodra, Vladislav Petkov, Alexandru Palas

Youth Involvement in Decision-Making for Better Democracy

Ivi Bejtja, Nensi Dragoti, Albana Hasmeta, Marsela Allmuca,

Lorela Musta, Brejdon Xhavara

Empowering Youth, a Potential for Community Development

Nensi Dragoti, Marsela Allmuca, Lorela Musta

Start Up Your Own Enterprise

Suela Kocibellinj, Alda Kondakciu, Albana Hasmeta

1 st Albanian Professional Fellows Alumni Reunion

Lorena Gjana


SPRING 2018 Professional Fellows In The USA

SPRING 2018 Professional Fellows Volunteering

SPRING 2018 Professional Fellows Congress, Washington, D.C.

FALL 2018 Professional Fellows In The USA

FALL 2018 Professional Fellows Volunteering

FALL 2018 Professional Fellows Training in Chicago at the Chicago

Coalition for the Homeless

FALL 2018 Professional Fellows Congress, Washington, D.C.

2012-2018 Professional Fellows Delegations

FIVE PUBLISHED VOLUMES on the Professional Fellows Program

History and Availability


EPILOGUE Martin Nagy and Elizabeth Balint






























“Taking Action – Changing Lives in Minority Communities” – Volume V


By Elizabeth Balint, GLCAP/GLC Project Manager

This “Taking Action–Changing Lives in

Minority Communities”–Volume V book is

published as part of our FY 2017 Professional

Fellows Program (PFP): “Shaping

Participatory Democracy” grant from the U.S.

Department of State Bureau of Educational

and Cultural Affairs, Office of Citizen

Exchanges, Professional Fellows Division.

This grant started in September 2017 and the

work was completed by the end of December

2019. We included a new country: Albania.

The FY 2017 grant are renewable for 2 more

years (FY 2018 and FY 2019) and based on

our success we are able to continue our work

at least until 2021.

As we completed FY 2017, it is important to

evaluate our progress since we started the

Professional Fellows Program in 2011 and by

December 2018 a total of 12 European cohorts

who came to the U.S. in 6 years (2012,

2013, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018). A total of 224

European alumni had an opportunity to learn

from U.S. practices by the end of 2018 and

implement new ideas in their own country

after return.

On our successful completion of FY 2017

grant we would like to again showcase the

success stories from our participants of this

grant who came to the U.S. during spring or

fall 2018 and also from a few other alumni of

previous programs who accomplished

additional interesting joint alumni activities.

Most of our alumni received individual small

alumni grant support to accomplish their

project and were assisted by their own U.S.

mentor in person or on-line. Some of them

also received support from other U.S. mentor

(especially if their own U.S. mentor was not

able to travel to Europe).

The Professional

Fellows Program is

designed by the U.S.

Department of State

as a 2-way exchange.

Since FY 2017 grant

it includes fellows

from five countries of

Europe and their U.S.


The overall goal of

this exchange was to provide development

opportunity for up-and-coming and mid-level

professionals from Albania, Bulgaria, Hungary,

Romania and Slovakia to gain knowledge of

U.S. practices and create a forum for American

and foreign participants to collaborate and share

ideas; and build a global network of

professionals. As a result of this exchange,

European and American participants develop

enhanced leadership and professional skills,

build mutual understanding, and create lasting

and sustainable partnerships.

European fellows could learn U.S. practices to

develop capacity of program participants to be

strong advocate for participatory democracy in

Eastern Europe by enhancing skills related to

community organizing, citizen engagement,

community-led development and advocacy.

Special emphasis was placed on participants wo

hare from and work with marginalized/

disenfranchised and rural communities

(including African American, Latino, Native

American, Roma, disabled, homeless, LGBT,

immigrant/refugee). They could explore diverse

methods from across the U.S. (urban and rural

areas) for citizens to solve problems in their own

communities, they could learn skills in

leadership development, building community

organizations and gain hands-on experience at

civil society organizations.


Preface by Elizabeth Balint

Through internship placements at state-wide

or local organizations, Europeans could gain

experience and adaptable approaches that

they can implement after their return.

At the time when we started the first

exchange in 2012, there were some

experiences in community organizing in two

of our four selected countries, but none of

them and/or the European partner networks

put special attention to minorities, and/or to

rural areas, that are so critical if we want to

see grassroots democracy and empower all

segments of the society in both urban and

rural areas. As we added Albania to the

program in the FY 2017 grant it was a lot of

new needs to provide community organizing

experience that fellows could use in their

country the first time.

European participants of the


By the end of 2018 a total of 224 European

fellows — came to the U.S. for a 42-day

fellowship experience. This total includes

21 spring 2018 and 19 fall 2018 fellows on

FY 2017 grant.

During the selection, our goal was to create a

diverse group of committed people in each

delegation who will continue the work after

they return home. We had significantly more

women in the European group than men.

A special effort was made to recruit Roma

participants. We were extremely pleased

with the additional 6 Roma participants who

participated in 2018, and with that our

Roma alumni network grew to 36 in the

last couple of years. In addition, the

majority of our fellows worked directly with

Roma populations and/or with other

minorities. We continued our effort to recruit

not only Roma participants, but activists or

professionals (service providers, etc.) who

actively work with Roma and/or other

minority groups. The number of participants

who are working with the population with






groups in

the exchange

Total participants











U.S. Host




2013 &






FY 2017








FY 2017






10 2 18 7

184 40 111 20




53 8

50 8

39 4

105 22

Males 49 12 52 9

Females 96 28 59 11


who traveled



30 6

LGBTI 11 4 7 3








or cities

more than

1 million


capital or

under 1


25 2

11 4

3 4 4 1

102 24 42 8

82 16




Preface by Elizabeth Balint

disabilities or with refugees/immigrants is

also growing. As a result of more targeted

recruitment in 2018, we hosted 4 more

participants who had a disability (1 deaf, 1

blind, and 2 in wheelchairs) who needed

additional assistance that we were able to

provide them, including sign language


Originally within each country, we had a

focus on building a strong base in the capital

city, but in Slovakia we selected a partner in

Banska Bystrica that helped with more

geographic diversity. While more than half

of the 2018 fellows were selected from the

capitals, many of them are working regularly

in other small communities, and some of

them started to organize both in the capital

and also somewhere else. We selected

people with different professions and from

different workplaces. Very few worked at

government agencies as social service

provider, or worked at universities or other

educational or research institutions, or

private businesses, but the majority worked

at different NGOs. We are closely watching

the mobility among our alumni. From the

2018 European fellows so far, only one

person moved from his country of Bulgaria

to Italy. Almost all of the 2018 alumni kept

close connections with the project and many

are involved in alumni activities even if they

changed jobs.

There is a new trend because we built the

capacity of our European partners, they are

now competing more successfully for grants

supporting community organizing in Europe.

So some of our previous alumni and from

the 2018 delegation were hired as paid

community organizers. This progress is a

great result of the experience and skills that

our fellows gained from the PFP.

The Inbound itinerary for the

European fellows in the U.S.


1. Joint activities before the internship

(workshops, group seminars, site visits in

NW Ohio and in Chicago);

2. Four weeks tailored internships at a

community organization where the

participants had exposure to day-to-day

operations, gained practical organizing

experience and had interaction with U.S.

organizers, community leaders and

government representatives in different


3. Joint activities after the internship with peer-to

-peer learning and sharing the internship

experience in Washington, D.C.;

4. Participation at the Professional Fellows

Congress with other fellows from around the

world in Washington, D.C.

The U.S. itinerary also included multicultural

events, cultural experiences, participation in

volunteer activities, presentations in US

communities, preparation of a six-to-nine- month

Action Plan for follow on activities, and planning

Fall Fellows dinner with Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur

the U.S. mentors exchange visit to Europe. The

fall 2018 fellows also had the opportunity to share

their experience during a dinner in Washington,

D.C. with Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur (9th

Congressional District).

Fellows enjoyed the American hospitality and

learned about the U.S. culture by staying with host

families for 4 weeks during their internship. In

2018, each fellow gained experience at least in

three states: Ohio, Illinois, and Washington, D.C.

where the joint activities took place. Depending

on where they were placed for their internship,

they had additional opportunities to visit and

learn from other U.S. states as well.


Preface by Elizabeth Balint

In 2018, altogether 23 U.S. hosting

organizations (national, state or local) from

10 U.S. states provided internships for our

European fellows. Fellows gained

knowledge and experience as well as

adaptable approaches that they could

implement after their return. They had

opportunities to examine the relationship

between civil society and government and

learned about U.S. practices on transparency

and accountability. During these exchanges,

European participants learned diverse

community organizing methods for citizens

solving problems in their own communities

and gained hands-on experience at both

public and civil society institutions in the

U.S., and by working with the U.S. mentors

in Europe on follow on activities.

a homestay with their fellow’s family for two to

three days.

It was also important to include the diversity of

the American society into the selection of U.S.

mentors. We placed high emphasis of selecting

minority representatives (African Americans,

Latinos) with community organizing and training

experience. They could also share their culture,

traditions and life stories at various community

The Outbound component

U.S. mentors from the U.S. internship

hosting organizations were selected to travel

for a reciprocal visit overseas. They had an

opportunity to share professional expertise

and gain a deeper understanding of the

societies, cultures and the people of other

countries in Europe.

From FY 2011 through FY 2016 grant a

total of 111 American mentors traveled in

eighteen groups to Europe (few of them

participated more than one time) to provide

mentoring, assistance with workshops with

alumni, consultation and site visits at alumni

organizations and communities, help

overseas partners in improving curriculum

and outreach programs, discuss

implementation of the action plans etc.

In 2018/2019 related to this FY 2017 grant,

a total of twenty Americans traveled to

Europe in 7 groups The length of their visit

was up to 2 weeks. They usually spent

about 1 week in each country from where

they hosted fellows earlier. Their activities

were similar as in prior years with the main

focus on working with their fellows and help

them to implement their action plans. In

addition, Americans also gained cultural

experience and enjoyed evening home

hospitality, and some of them also accepted

events (Black History Month presentations at

American Corners, universities). We included

talented young organizers who were great role

models to the Europeans, but we also had veteran

organizers with a lot of experience that were also

needed as European organizers have many unique

challenges and questions.

Additional features

On WSOS/GLC PFP there is requirement for each

fellow to create a pre-departure action plan for

a field experience of 2-3 months organizing in a

minority community that fellows need to

implement before the arrival in the U.S. Fellows

submitted their pre-departure action plan report

for a joint discussion and sharing experience

with other fellows and with experts when they

arrived in the U.S. This field work was also a

start for their consultation with their internship

host organization and U.S. mentor before they


Preface by Elizabeth Balint

created a plan for their follow on activities

after their return. As a result in 2018, each

fellow came prepared with some experience

and challenges related to community

organizing and citizen participation. They

were active in sharing experience at joint

trainings and other workshops and they were

better prepared for their internship especially

to do field work in U.S. communities. Some

of them continued this experience after their

return home as part of the follow-on action

plan, some learned from the challenges and

chose a different project.

While every fellow who came to the U.S. in

2018 were committed to work on their

individual project that they planned at the

end of their U.S. fellowship, not everyone

could complete the original plan and not

everyone succeeded as originally planned,

some changed their project and some

completed several follow on activities.

Overall the 39 alumni impacted close to

73,000 people in 5 European countries and

engaged many alumni and local leaders to

implement their projects. From our 40 2018

fellows, 39 submitted their stories for this

book. This 97.5% rate is higher than

previous year. Important to highlight that

the majority of the fellows had to implement

their project in their free time as volunteers.

In spite of some challenges, our alumni were

very diligent and determined to try out what

they learned and start to build the capacity

among themselves – by developing/

improving alumni network programs – to

make a difference. Most of them received

small grants to cover the expenses related to

their individual projects especially during

their US mentor visit in their country.

In addition to the individual projects from

the FY 2017 grant we had a joint alumni

small grant competition to encourage 2-3 or

more alumni to work together as a team

either from their own country or from other

countries to implement a project and/or

planning the preparation of an upcoming

(international) project.

As a result 16 joint alumni projects were

implemented with a total of 56 alumni involved,

and impacted close to 10,000 people in 5


It is important to highlight that the 40 European

fellows also made an impact in 10 U.S. states

and 11 cities on close to 2700 people, as they

made various presentations, volunteered on

community service projects and assisted to 23 U.S

host organizations with their European

experience. They also connected with 45 host


Volume V includes a variety of experiences from

our fellows to share successful methods as well as

lessons learned to help others who are faced with

similar challenges. In addition to our 2018 PFP

alumni, some our previous alumni of the PFP

also contributed their joint alumni success stories

to this publication to show their efforts to help

their communities and their country with their

U.S. experience even years later.

The use of modern technology, Skype and social


Preface by Elizabeth Balint

media also contributed to building a closer

relationship and friendship among the

alumni and their American mentors, host

families and friends. Our 5th international

reunion of our PFP alumni in June 2019 in

Bulgaria was very successful and resulted in

new collaborations and ideas, and some of

those are also included in this book.

During the grant period Albania organized

their own country’s 1st reunion (also inviting

the 2019 fellows) and GLC representative

and country directors to discuss ideas for

alumni network development and shared

lessons learned from GLC Alumni reunions

from all other countries.

understanding, created long-term professional ties

not only between the U.S. and the European

participants, but also among the participants

within Europe and within their own country. This

program also strengthened the capacity of our

European partners and the European Networks

and enhanced the collaboration between GLCAP/

GLC and its U.S. and overseas collaborating

partners. Altogether, this program impacted more

than 2,000 people in Europe and 1,000 in the U.S.

between 2017-2019.

We are continuing to work together on involving

more people, providing more training, sharing

effective methods and success stories to change

lives and help communities to flourish.

This citizen civic exchange promoted mutual

Thank You to All of our collaborative partners and organizations and our leadership

and management team and alumni in the U.S. and in Europe for their tireless effort

and support to the 2017-2019 Professional Fellows Program!


“Taking Acon—Changing Lives in Minority Communies”—Volume V



U.S. Department of State ECA Professional Fellows Division,

Our Program Officer: Linnea Allison

Linnea Allison with the spring 2018

Professional Fellows group in Washington,

Linnea Allison with the fall 2018 Professional

Fellows group in Washington, D.C.

Our partners at the U.S. Embassy

in Tirana, in Sofia, in Budapest, in Bucharest and in Bratislava;

GLCAP Board of Trustees and leadership

Great Lakes Consortium Advisory Board

Project Advisors in the U.S. and Europe:

Dave Beckwith, Christine Doby, Sondra Youdelman and Chuck Hirt

In-country partners and country directors and coordinators;

Emil Metodiev, CEGA & PEN, Vladislav Petkov, PEN

Vera Turcanu-Spatari and Alexandru Palas, CeRe;

Mate Varga and Lilla Matyas, Civil College Foundation;

Veronika Strelcova and Maros Chmelik,

Center for Community Organizing

U.S. host organizations, U.S. mentors, host families and friends

GLC volunteers: Viktoriya Maryamova, Ruxandra Nagy

Evaluators: Edita Bednarova (internal), Diana Cheianu-Andrei

All of our Professional Fellows Program alumni in Europe and in the

U.S.A., European Community Organizing Network (ECON) and

Central and Eastern European Citizens Network (CEECN).


“Taking Action—Changing Lives in Minority Communities”—Volume V


The 2017-2019 Professional Fellows Program

was a collaboration between WSOS/Great

Lakes Consortium for International Training

and Development (GLC) and partners from

the U.S. and 5 European countries. WSOS

name was changed in November 2018 to

Great Lakes Community Action Partnership


GLC is a program of Great

Lakes Community Action

Partnership– formerly known

as WSOS Community Action

Commission. GLC was

established in 1999 as a cooperative

effort among several institutions

within NW Ohio: Bowling Green State

University (BGSU), The University of Toledo

(UT), Lourdes University, and WSOS

Community Action Commission, Inc. GLC’s

mission is "to initiate, seek support for, and

coordinate international training and

development efforts linking resources with

needs in the world community." The

Principles and Objectives of the Consortium

include: "cooperation and collaboration

between its members and any of its partners;

WSOS Community


Commission was

established in 1965 as

part of the grassroots

community action network which spans

virtually every county in America. WSOS’s

mission is to "help people help themselves,"

especially in small and rural areas. The nonprofit

corporation employs over 400

individuals, and receives 75,000 volunteer

hours of support annually to help thousands of

people. Among its many services, WSOS

works with local governments in community

development, and assists low-income

individuals to improve their lives (housing,

education, social services, economic

recognition of rural and urban development

and training needs; sensitivity to cultural,

ethnic, and national diversity; multi-national

relationships and participation; multidisciplinary

approaches and participation;

development and promotion of sustainable

and replicable programs; development of long

-term relationships and projects; development

and leverage of financial support for the

mission; fiscal and program planning,

evaluation, and accountability." In 20 years,

GLC has completed many successful

international programs focusing on local

government, economic, community

development, community organizing, NGO

development, poverty alleviation, improving

conditions for people with disabilities,

educational and workforce development etc.

in Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa, and in the

Middle East, sponsored by the U.S.

Department of State, USAID, Open World

Leadership Center or other private and

nonprofit sources. As a result, new

organizations and networks were created and

capacities of our collaborating organizations

were improved, partnerships were established

with Americans and other alumni involved in

the exchanges. On every program, GLC

empowerment). WSOS is managing the Rural

Community Assistance Program (RCAP) for

Ohio and six other states (including Illinois,

Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, West Virginia,

and Wisconsin) and has established

relationships with several other community

organizations in these states. WSOS for

GLC’s international activities has obtained 20

grants from the U.S. State Department. In 20

years, WSOS/GLC international programs

from 20 countries had more than 1,450

foreign participants in NW Ohio and

organized visits for more than 1,070

Americans to travel overseas. We introduced

the foreign guests and programs at more than

660 multicultural events with an impact on


“Taking Action—Changing Lives in Minority Communities”—Volume V

U.S. Internship Hosting Organizations

As part of the Professional Fellows Program,

European fellows were placed at community

organizations. In 2018, 40 European fellows

who came in 2 groups were placed at 23

organizations from 10 states in 11 cities across

the U.S. where during their 4-week internship,

they gained practical experience from the dayto-day

operation of a nonprofit organization.

We selected organizations with national or

state-wide activities, or local neighborhood

organizations. Fellows shared their internship

experience at joint peer-to-peer sessions at the

end of the program. Fellows had opportunities

to interact with community leaders, participate

in a variety of media events, direct actions,

volunteer activities, and through presentations

shared their own experience from Europe

especially issues facing minority communities.

They also participated in workshops and

trainings where they learned new approaches.

Fellows developed their 6-9 month action

plans to implement after their return. They

also worked with their U.S. mentors to plan a

reciprocal visit for them in Europe so they also

could gain first-hand experience about the life

Selected Partners from Europe

WSOS/GLC selected countries where we

worked since 2011 on similar Professional

Programs on five previous grants from the

U.S. State Department, plus added a new

country Albania for this grant. Based on our

previous successful cooperation, these partners

were interested in expanding their previous

work, and were ready to continue with us and

this program to make more impact in minority

communities, and build more ties with

counterparts across the U.S. These 5 countries

have many similarities in their legislative

processes, they are all hit by the economic

and issues in communities in Europe.

Mentors offered assistance, consulting, and

provided joint trainings to spread community

organizing methods to a wider audience.

These organizations were selected by an open

announcement and competitive process. Most

of these organizations have a long

organizational history and experience in

community organizing, advocacy, engaging

the community to solve their own issues,

providing leadership training, and generating

their own resources through grant writing,

membership and grassroots fundraising. U.S.

host organizations also placed the fellows at

private homes, so European fellows had an

opportunity to learn about the American way

of life, family, culture, traditions and build a

closer friendship in the community. At each

organization, one or more U.S. mentors

worked with the fellows. From them, some

were selected and 20 U.S. mentors

participated in a reciprocal visit in Europe up

to 2 weeks to follow up with the mentees on

the implementation of their action plans, assist

them and gain professional and cultural

crisis and they are facing many problems in

minority communities.

All these partner organizations are supporting

civic participation and grassroots democracy

development approaches to solve community

issues. They are committed partners and have

qualified country directors who have

demonstrated capacity and commitment to

maintain a regular connection with WSOS/

GLC to help coordinate recruitment, pre-select

and interview qualified individuals from each

country, prepare participants prior to departure

for the U.S., organize the U.S. delegation’s

visit overseas, work with alumni and U.S.

partners to implement follow on activities, and

assist in the evaluation, and collect their

success stories. Romanian country directors

provided additional help to Albania with

trainings and interviews of the applicants.


“Taking Action—Changing Lives in Minority Communities”—Volume V

GLCAP/GLC Partners Hosting Professional

Internship in the U.S. in 2018:

Illinois (IL): Chicago

Logan Square Neighborhood Association

Chicago Coalition for the Homeless

Louisiana (LA): New Orleans

ACORN International

Massachusetts (MA): Boston

Massachusetts Community Action


Community Training and Assistance Center

Michigan (MI): Lansing

Michigan Disabilities Rights Coalition

Nevada (NV): Reno


New York (NY):

Rockaway Youth Task Force (Far Rockaway)

FIERCE (New York)

National Equality Action Team (New York)

TIDES Advocacy Fund (New York)

Picture the Homeless (New York)

North Carolina (NC): Charlotte

Action North Carolina

Ohio (OH):

US Together (Columbus)

American Council of the Blind in Ohio

Toledo School of the Arts (Toledo)

Pathway Toledo (Toledo)

Washington, D.C.:

Center for Popular Democracy

Gallaudet University

Rural Community Assistance Partnership

United States International Council on Disabilities

West Virginia (WV): Charleston

WV Healthy Kids and Families Coalition

A Special Thank You

to U.S. mentors & partners and

host families, who worked with

and welcomed our

European delegations to their

communities, organizations, and


During the spring 2018 delegation:

Martin Nagy, Dave Beckwith, Peter Ujvagi,

Leah & Michel Boudreaux, Isabel & Richard

Hodge, Keith Freeman, Rachel Ramirez, Brian

Perea & Nancy Aardema, Bill Slotnik &

Donna Ogden, Martin Swinehart, Mustafa

Sullivan & Skye Adrian, Brian Silva, Nelini


Milan Taylor, Tamera Jacobs, Hector Vaca,

Mark Poeppelman, Sorailla Duquerette,

Amanda Pritt, Dave Gierke,

Veronica Cullinan & husband Jeff,

Hannah Willage & Zach Schroeder, and Brian

Perea, Candace Goreman and Chris Ross, Julie

Anderson, Susan & Martin Heyman; Mara &

Andrea Colon, Orlando Roach, Betsy Malcolm

& husband Mike, Alison Hirsh and Jon Green,

Rachel Kubie, Tony & Sue Gugliemotto; Ann

& David Strickler, Dr. Suresh & Marna Ramnath,

Dani & Jeff Moran, and others..

During the fall 2018 delegation:

Martin Nagy, Dave Beckwith, Peter Ujvagi,

Wade Rathke, Kathleen Wood, Lew Finfer,

Theresa & Howard Metzmaker & RoAnne

Chaney, Monique George, Brian Silva,

Jessica Moreno, Hector Vaca, Vicky Prahin,

Paula Ross, Nathan Ohle, Howard Rosenblum,

Carey Jo Grace, Every Smith, Judy Shea,


“Taking Action—Changing Lives in Minority Communities”—Volume V

Albania: is the newest

country added in the FY

2017 Professional Fellows

Program. The first

Albanian delegation

arrived to the U.S. in

spring 2018.

Co-Plan, Institute for Habitat

Development was selected as WSOS

partner in Albania. Co-Plan was established

in Tirana, Albania in 1995. It is a pioneering

and leading knowhow non-profit

organization in the field of sustainable

development, city-making and good

governance. The activity of Co-PLAN is

built upon four expertise areas, namely: (1)

Spatial Planning and Land Development; (2)

Urban and Regional Governance; (3) Urban

Environmental Management; (4) Public

Policy, Research and Advocacy.

Through its participatory

planning approach, in the

process it has engaged key

actors and interest groups,

such as local communities,

central and local government

authorities, private sector, and other key

stakeholders in planning processes.

Participatory practices and democracy

promotion related initiatives make for a natural

continuation and growth of prior experiences in

the field, such as: “KINDLE Advocacy (US

Embassy Tirana, 2016-2018)”; “Social

Sustainability and Citizen Engagement (SSCE)

Initiative of the Urban Partnership Program

(UPP) Phase II (World Bank, 2015-2016)”;

“Performing Democracy: Urban Activism for

Civic Democracy (US Embassy Tirana, 2014–

2015)”; “Local Democracy Promotion Project

(Swiss Embassy in Tirana, 2014-2019): ”Better

journalism for civic education: from a city of

needs to a city of opportunities” (U.S. Embassy

in Tirana, 2012-2013) and more.

Hungary: Civil College

Foundation (CCF) was

established in 1994 as a

nationwide adult education

organization which provides

practical training for citizens

willing to act for the members

of self-organizing communities, the

participants of community work and

community development vocational training

programs. CCF became a leading

organization in civil society development in

Hungary, having intensive connection with

several hundreds of civil society

organizations and minority groups. The

foundation’s office is in Budapest, but has

purchased a former elementary school

building in Kunszentmiklós-Kunbábony. In

1997, they converted it into a modern

residential training facility. CCF also

organizes courses in other parts of the

country, adjusting to local needs. CCF

training courses are all

connected to the theory

and practice of

community development

and target the

development of civil

society and the

strengthening of community involvement/

community action. CCF offers “civil trainings”

for civil and community activists (often Roma

groups, unemployed people, and community

groups). In addition, CCF also offers

community development and community

worker vocational trainings. CCF has a wideranging

network, organizes several national

and international events and is involved in the

activities of several working groups in order to

represent the case of citizen and community

participation in the decision-making processes.

CCF is the main organizer of the Citizens

Participation Week in Hungary, reaching 25 to

40 thousands of citizens every year.


“Taking Action—Changing Lives in Minority Communities”—Volume V


Creating Effective Grassroots

Alternatives Foundation (C.E.G.A.)

was established in 1995 in Sofia with the

mission to support social inclusion through

capacity building and community

empowerment. Advocacy is an integral part

of their work. They are specially targeting

local organizations and groups which mainly

work with the Roma community and public

authorities, both on local and national level

and with schools.

C.E.G.A. works in 4 main fields:

(1) Capacity building for social inclusion of



(2) Improvement of policies for social

inclusion of disadvantaged

communities; (3) Changing attitudes for social

inclusion of disadvantaged communities, and

(4) International development.

C.E.G.A.’s target groups include local

organizations and groups working mainly with

the Roma community; public authorities both

on the local and national level; and schools.

Recent programs include: “Youth of the

World”; “Youth Without Borders”; Youth

Actions for Human Rights”. C.E.G.A. is

currently serving as a fiscal agent of the

Equality League, which is an informal coalition

and manages the funding for the League

development received by the European Union

Pro European Network

(PEN) took over from

CEGA the administration of

the GLC program in

Bulgaria in October 2019.

The non-profit organization

was established in 2007 and since then is

actively working for strengthening

democratic practices and effective

fulfillment of human rights. Working with

young people, both Roma and non-Roma on

issues connected to human rights and social

justice has been a cross-cutting priority of

the organization. PEN has organized and

partnered in a number of international

exchanges, trainings and projects. The

organization has great experience with local

actions and partnership with schools, youth

and/or Roma groups and organizations from

all over the country. PEN currently works on

a couple of international initiatives targeting

learning and action processes with young

people on the topic of racism (project

STAR – Stand Together

Against Racism) and genderbased

violence (project New

Genderation). PEN develops

and sustains a wide network

of experts and volunteers, which are

committed to the values and principles of the

organization and join to specific projects and

initiatives. PEN is well-connected in the field

of human rights and is cooperating with Roma,

LGBTI, women’s rights and other

organizations and groups on different

occasions, including the Equality League. Both

leaders from PEN and part of its expert pool

have been part of the GLC Professional

Fellows Program since 2012. Emil Metodiev,

who served as a country director of the

program in the last 7 years while working at

CEGA, chairs Pro European Network. As a

result, PEN has played an active role in

promoting and sustaining the GLC program in

Bulgaria, as well as a leading role in


“Taking Action—Changing Lives in Minority Communities”—Volume V

Romania: The Resource Center for

Public Participation (CeRe) was

established in 2006 in Bucharest as the

independent continuation of the civic

program of the National Democratic

Institute (NDI) in Romania. In the last 12

years, CeRe developed its own strategy and

managed to raise funds from both European

and U.S. donors to accomplish its mission.

In its efforts to enforce citizens’ involvement

in public decision making, CeRe often chose

to work with minority groups having a

weaker representation and lacking capacity

to advocate for their rights. Working directly

with citizens or through partner NGOs,

CeRe helped with campaigns around issues

related to the Roma minority, people with

mental disabilities, physically disabled children

or adults, people suffering from Parkinson’s

and children with autism. Through these

campaigns, not only do these groups achieve

concrete changes, but they win more space in

the decision making process. CeRe has been

providing training and consultancy to a variety

of NGOs country wide from minority issues to

the environment. CeRe is also working in

partnership with leading NGOs in Romania and

is part of many Romanian and international

coalitions and networks working for human

rights, and for increased citizen participation.

Slovakia: The Center for Community

Organizing (CKO) began 1999 in Banska

Bystrica with a focus on teaching Slovaks

about community organizing. CKO supports

the active participation of citizens in the

public decision making processes, helps

citizens to advocate for their natural

interests, and creates the space for the

effective co-operation between citizens,

government and business sector in the

complete development of the communities.

CKO provides assistance to activists in civic

initiatives to better ensure that they become

a part of the decision making of local

governments. The work with citizens is

focused on fostering the feeling of the

responsibility for the development of their

neighborhood and city. CKO wants to

contribute to the changes in the Slovak

society into a society of active citizens in

which the "voice of people" is asked for and

respected. The core program of CKO is the

empowerment of citizens through a

methodology of community organizing to assist

them in solving issues confronting them and to

build their capacity to engage over the long

term in the public and social processes that

affect their lives. CKO also provides services

for citizens and the public administrative and

business sectors, both within Slovakia and

internationally, that can help increase the

quality and also the quantity of public

participation in the decision making process.

CKO trained several hundreds of active

citizens who became successful community

activists. Some of them later were elected as

members of local government.


“Taking Action—Changing Lives in Minority Communities”—Volume V

GLC Teach Democracy

Leadership Team

The 2017-2019 Professional Fellows

Program “Shaping Participatory

Democracy” that we also call GLC

Teach Democracy was managed by

Dr. Elizabeth Balint, WSOS/GLC Project

Manager. All the activities were supported

and supervised by Debra Martin, Director

of WSOS Community Development

Department, where GLC and all other

international activities belong. In the U.S.,

additional program coordinators and

assistants, interns and volunteers worked on

different parts of the exchanges including:

Chisom Ugwu, International Program

Assistant in 2019, Viktoriya Maryamova,

as well as GLC Advisory Board members:

Martin Nagy and Peter Ujvagi, and others.

In Europe the activities were managed by

Country Director/Country Coordinator in

each participating country. Aida Ciro and

Lorena Gjana in Albania, Emil Metodiev

and Vladislav Petkov in Bulgaria, Mate

Varga in Hungary (in 2018 Eszter Laszlo,

in 2019 Lilla Matyas, Country coordinators)

and Alexandru Palas and Vera Turcanu-

Spatari in Romania and in Slovakia

Veronika Strelcova and Maros Chmelik.

The Leadership Team included Project

Advisors, David Beckwith, Christine Doby,

Sondra Youdelman from the U.S., and Chuck

Hirt from Europe. They all contributed

volunteer advise and assistance throughout

every step of the exchanges. Together, they have

more than 150 years of community organizing

experience from the U.S. and/or Europe that was

extremely valuable for the design and

implementation of the program. In addition to

their professional expertise, they have a wide

network of U.S. and European partners that we

are able to reach for internship placement and/or

recruiting participants. In addition, they worked

with many funders who are interested in

community organizing in order to improve the

sustainability of this project beyond the initial

grant period. During this grant period we could

see clearly the result of an increased interest

from foundation support in community

organizing in Europe.

We also continued our collaboration with

Central and Eastern European Citizens Network

(CEECN) and European Community Organizing

Network (ECON). This way, our program

participants also benefited from their activities

in Europe and our alumni and their organizing

work also strengthened these organizations.

We also benefited from great advice and useful

feedback from the U.S. mentors and European

alumni, that shaped many aspects of the



Marn Nagy is a volunteer GLC advisory board member currently

serving as vice-president. He has been a mentor for the GLC/GLCAP

Professional Fellows Program since 2011 and coordinates services for

both in-and-out-bound delegaons. For the past 37 years, Marn has

been the execuve director of the Arts Council Lake Erie West,

managing programs and services at the Common Space Centers for

Creavity and Seven Eagles Historical Educaon Center, three venues in

northwest Ohio.


Remarks on the Professional Fellows Program by Sondra Youdelman

The Value of the Professional Fellows Program

By Sondra Youdelman

In 2012, my organization at the time – Community Voices Heard

(CVH) in New York State – hosted our first two interns from the

Professional Fellows program, Marton Gosztonyi from Hungary and

Ana Maria Suciu of Romania. Ever since then, the program has held a

dear place in my heart. CVH continued to host interns while I was the

Executive Director and I believe more than 10 from across the region

had the opportunity to spend time learning from our model of civic

community engagement.

We were also able to send 4 members of our staff team over to eastern

Europe to deepen the mentorship relationships and support the work –

myself, Mo George, Jennifer Hadlock, and Aaron Jones. We

participated in the Civic Participation University (CPU) in Hungary,

we did presentations on Participatory Budgeting in Romania, we

talked about electoral organizing with Slovakians ready to add that to

their toolkit, and recently Mo George had the opportunity to return and

support the Bulgarian LGBTQI community with a nearly month-long

exchange. What an amazing opportunity for our staff to share their

experience and expertise with organizers in other countries; and what

an amazing opportunity to stretch our own perspectives while seeing

the struggles our counterparts are addressing and witnessing the

progress they make and successes they achieve.

I am constantly inspired at the work that the past Professional Fellows

are able to advance: be it Marton Gosztonyi helping to create a

Budapest NGO hub space, Aurora; Mihnea-Mihail Florea working to


Sondra Youdelman is the

Campaigns Director at the

People’s Action Institute. She

is also a Community

Organizer, Trainer, and U.S.

Mentor of the GLC

Professional Fellows program.


create MozaiQ an LGBTQ+ initiative group in Romania; Magda Iliu of Romania recently bringing some

of the young people she works with to NYC when they received an award for a short film they made

about peace; the list goes on. The successes of the Fellows inspire us back at home to continue our work

and shift our thinking about our own challenges and opportunities.

I have also had the pleasure of attending a few of the reunions – opportunities to continue to build and

deepen relationships across the region, across our continents, and continue our mutual learning and

training. The 5th Reunion in 2019 in Bulgaria was a fabulous opportunity to reconnect with mentees,

learn about the amazing work everyone is doing around the region, share best practices, and grapple with

some of the biggest challenges of the day. The fellows are organizing programs around challenging

issues in challenging environments. Our realities are becoming closer to one another. Our time together

always serves to re-inspire everyone about the work ahead, and the fact that we are in a community of

practice together tackling it rather than alone.

Some other thoughts of my U.S. colleagues that were also in attendance:

In an inclusive space for learning, we shared each other’s inspiring stories that are bringing

about real change in the communities where we live. …we created a new, larger community of

organizers that will continue working together to support each other and create communities

where everyone has access to full justice and equality. – Jay Gilliam


Remarks on the Professional Fellows Program by Sondra Youdelman

The 2019 Alumni Reunion in Bulgaria made it clear that this program serves as an effective and

a powerful catalyst for organizers in developing their leadership, professional skills, and

connectedness to their fellow organizers in the region. … I have been truly amazed at the way that

they [former Fellows] are successfully adapting community organizing to meet local needs

and challenges. – Louis Goseland

From my perspective, these alumni are on the leading edge addressing extremely important issues

in their home countries and bringing them together with each other and U.S. mentors only can

lead to mutual benefit and learning. – Martin Swineheart

Over the years, I have been touched by meeting the fellows in this program and hearing about

their wonderful work and witnessing their drive to grow, learn, and impact their communities. –

Hannah Willage

And, Cris Doby summed up the reunion perfectly, but this could be said of the entire Fellowship


The 2019 WSOS Professional Fellows Reunion in Bulgaria was engaging, inspiring, inclusive,

and energizing! The entire event was engaging because of the careful planning that assured that

everyone was involved and connected throughout the reunion. For example, the ‘superhero’

groups meant that every participant met and connected with some new people. Inspiring because

it was clear that the training and preparation that the fellows received through the program was

contributing to their personal development and to their communities. …. Inclusive because the

reunion integrated the full participation of every person, including persons whose sight, hearing,

and/or mobility were compromised. And energizing because the fellows and mentors are clearly

building lasting, sustainable relationships to advance democracy and civil rights.

The stories within this 5 th Professional Fellows book tell it all – the success of the program and the

successes of the Fellows themselves. Despite organizing in challenging times and contexts, the former

Fellows continue to inspire. It is such an honor for those of us that have served as mentors in the United

States to have played even a little part in the growth and development of the program and the professional

lives of the Fellows. The Fellows and their work play a role in helping us maintain purpose and vision in

our own work while affirming the power of community engagement in all contexts.

We are changing our own lives as we work together with others to change the circumstances that they

find themselves in; making sure that the world around us reflects the world we want it to be, rather than

just the world that is. As the program continues and the number of those involved in it across both

continents continues to increase, the possibilities for collaborative change and transformation expand.

In solidarity,



GLCAP / Great Lakes Consortium for International Training and Development

“Shaping Participatory Democracy”

Participants of the Spring 2018 European Delegation from Albania,

Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia in the United States,

April 14 - June 2, 2018

The program is funded by the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational

and Cultural Affairs, Office of Citizen Exchanges, Professional Fellows Division.


GLCAP / Great Lakes Consortium for International Training and Development

“Shaping Participatory Democracy”

Participants of the Fall 2018 European Delegation from Albania, Bulgaria,

Hungary, Romania and Slovakia in the United States,

October 3 - November 17, 2018

The program is funded by the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational

and Cultural Affairs, Office of Citizen Exchanges, Professional Fellows Division.


GLCAP / Great Lakes Consortium for International Training and Development

“Shaping Participatory Democracy”

U.S. Mentors Delegations visited Albania, Bulgaria, Hungary,

Romania and Slovakia between September 2018 and June 2019

The program is funded by the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational

and Cultural Affairs, Office of Citizen Exchanges, Professional Fellows Division.


Photo Gallery: “Taking Acon—Changing Lives in Minority Communies”—Volume V

“Taking Acon—Changing Lives in Minority Communies”—Volume V



From Experimental to Mainstream: Community Organizing in Romania

Alexandru Palas and Vera Turcanu-Spatari, Country Directors

2018 Poster - Professional Fellows Program Alumni from Romania


New Young Leaders for Action, Unity and Power in Ineu

Daniel Bredet

Roma Community, My Community

Loredana Mihaly

Roma Sisterhood

Georgiana Anca Nica


Bridging the Gap

Andreea Ghimpu Lupascu

Let’s Move Forward Together

Larisa Maria Nechita

Life Gets Better Together

Iulia Merca


Fuelling Community Organizing

Madalina Marcu

Sharing Power with the Citizens

Elena Racu

They Represent Us

Alexandrina Dinga



Andreia Bruckner, Claudia Macaria, Iulia Merca, Andreea Lupascu,

Loredana Mihaly, Larisa Maria Nechita, Anca Irimia, Oana Urs

Public Services Focused on People through Design Thinking

Alexandrina Dinga, Lavinia Chiburțe, Raluca Onufreiciuc, Elena Racu

We Want a City without Barriers

Silvia Nichita, Aurora Martin, Anca Irimia, Maria Larisa Nechita
















Taking Acon—Changing Lives in Minority Communies—Volume V

From experimental to mainstream: Community Organizing

in Romania

By Alexandru Palas and Vera Turcanu-Spatari, Country Directors

“When we are organizing a group of people,

the first thing that we do is we talk about the

history of what other people have been able

to accomplish - people that look like them,

workers like them, ordinary people, working

people - and we give them the list: these are

people like yourself; this is what they were

able to do in their community.” Dolores


During the past few years we have seen

community organizing become a more mainstream

method of bringing change to disenfranchised

people and communities that need it the most.

Younger activists understand the importance of

grassroots work and are paying closer attention to

empowering members of their communities

instead of just offering services or doing advocacy

on their behalf. Moreover, they are doing this in an

increasing intersectional way. This approach is

making the changes that they achieve more

durable, with long lasting effect.

The “Shaping Participatory Democracy” program,

funded by the U.S. Department of State, has had a

key role in this shift of perspective. We’ve seen an

increased interest in the exchange program from

activists outside of Bucharest and from people that

work on new issues, such as refugees. Even people

that have been mobilizing in massive protests

against corruption are realizing that protests can

only take you so far and that you need organizing

to bring about lasting change. We are also

witnessing increased collaboration between alumni

of the program and a steady support in recruiting

and preparing new fellows – all signs of a

maturing network of alumni.

This solidarity between different organizations is

even more important now, in the Romanian

context, where there has been a noticeable

deterioration of CSO’s sustainability over the

course of 2018, according to the Civil Society

Organizations’ Sustainability Index. As an effect

of the massive protests that have happened over

Vera Turcanu-Spatari

Fall 2019 Alumna

Alexandru Palas

Spring 2017 Alumnus

the past years, more Romanian political leaders

used a negative and aggressive rhetoric towards

CSOs, accusing them of being foreign agents and

spreading fake news, which led to a worse public

perception of CSOs. The operations and financial

reporting requirements have also become harsher,

putting an unnecessary strain on organizations’

activity. Training opportunities for personal and

organizational development resources remain very

limited. Given the local context, the work done by

this program’s alumni – the training sessions and

workshops they do to teach others throughout the

country what they have learned in the U.S. and the

grassroots work that puts organizations in direct

contact with people, nurturing relationships based

on trust – is more important than ever.

The value of this program is that it provides

activists with the necessary mindset and tools to

bring hope to people that have been abandoned by

society and have long lost faith that they have the

power to change their lives for the better.

In the rural area of Valea Seaca, a sisterhood

program has been kicked off, where young Roma

women are being mentored by experienced,

successful Roma women, thus getting useful

advice and learning they have the power to


Taking Acon—Changing Lives in Minority Communies—Volume V

succeed in life. In another rural area, Ineu, the

Roma community has been activated and used

their newfound power to make the local authorities

invest in the electrical infrastructure, providing

electricity for the first time to more than 30

families. Hector Vaca Cruz, from Action North

Carolina, brought a lot of new energy into this

community during his visit and formed a strong

bond with his mentee and the local community,

thus being instrumental in the project’s success.

This initial success gave people from the

community the confidence to make plans to solve

other infrastructure problems and even get

involved in political life, running for the upcoming

years ago just to get the simple permit to have a

Pride March. Thanks to the work of the local

exchange program alumna and their European and

US mentors, the LGBT community has much

stronger ties, working together and supporting

each other. They also came up with a new

objective – that of opening an LGBT community

centre, which would be the first one in Romania.

This is a community with very few resources, so

they benefitted a lot from having a close

relationship with both the European mentor,

Romina Kollarik from Slovakia, and the U.S. one,

Mustafa Sullivan, who works with homeless

LGBT youth. Their similar experiences helped

provide relevant advice.

We were happy to see a shift in approach in the

work concerning refugee issues. This field of work

has become more pressing in Europe in recent

years, but it was also considered an issue where

the people affected are powerless and unable to

work on solving it. The US experience helped our

alumna integrate community organizing tools in

their organization’s work, providing people with

the know-how and confidence to self-advocate and

formulate their own objectives, instead of just

being passive recipients of services.

local elections.

Vera and Alex, country directors.

In Baia Mare, an ex-mining city in the North of

Romania, the work of one of our alumni has had a

widespread impact. This city had well known

housing problems and a history of discrimination

against the Roma community. The relentless

organizing efforts of our alumna helped people get

the City Hall to come up with a plan to provide

social housing and school transportation plus

afterschool programs. These improvements related

to housing and education will have a huge and

lasting impact for many families and the

community around them.

In Cluj, one of the biggest cities in Romania,

LGBT activists were fighting the City Hall three

People living with disabilities are another category

that has been historically disempowered by the

way that authorities treat them – from the school

system all throughout their lives. One of our

alumni, herself a member of the visually impaired

community, brought hope from the US and a new

perspective on what is possible, getting people to

self-advocate for better accessibility. She worked

closely with young people from the blind

community by holding workshops in high schools,

but also cleverly used the national media to get the

message of hope to a more widespread audience.

Vicky Prahin’s U.S. experience was essential in

providing people with a different perspective and

also her presence in Romania made it easier to

access mainstream media.

The most important aspect of the projects that

concerns minority or marginalized communities is

that they have been planned and run by the people

from those communities, which are closest to the

problem. The leaders and sometimes even the

community organizers stem from the afflicted


Taking Acon—Changing Lives in Minority Communies—Volume V

communities and the victories that they registered

gave them a newfound sense of confidence and

self-worth. This has always been a staple of the

work that alumni of this program have done, but a

more recent development is an increase of

intersectionality, with organizers developing new

projects across issues, communicating more and

learning from each other.

In Iasi, the biggest city in the historical region of

Moldova, we saw Civica, an organization that has

been involved in this program for many years,

become a local powerhouse for community

organizing related to local issues. They continued

their great work by building a citizen innovation

incubator, where they helped citizens conceive

project proposals to solve city’s issues and they

also provided them with the necessary connections

to experts and local councillors, so that their

proposals would become local policy.

Another of our alumni, that is based in Bucharest

and has extensive experience in networking and

fundraising used her skills to popularize the

community organizing methodology with other

organizations and funders, highlighting its merits

and potential and planting the seeds for the success

of new organizing work in Romania.

All of the U.S. mentors’ visits to Europe proved to

be a valuable part of this program. They provided

much needed support to their mentees who are

often working under difficult conditions and they

also helped spread community organizing

philosophy and specific tactics to a wider audience

in Romania. These visits are also an opportunity

for the U.S. mentors to learn more about the

Eastern European context and how organizers here

have adapted tactics from the U.S. and made them

their own.

The alumni network in Romania is growing both

when it comes to geographical area and field of

work. The alumni maintain a high interest in

remaining involved in the program even years

after participating in the exchange. They

participate in monthly meetings, help recruit, train

new fellows, work together on projects and

provide support to new fellows. The network has

become a space where activists can come together

and share best practices across fields of work.

Highlight of 2019 Alumni Activities

Alumni monthly meeting.

June 11th - Monthly alumni meeting

At the meeting we did a round of introductions so

that the alumni could meet their new colleagues.

The talk was productive, as the alumni discovered

they work on similar topics. We also introduced

Alex as the new program manager and explored

future actions that would make the network

stronger, among which was a 3-day retreat for

activists to get a chance to work on shared


July 1-5 - Citizen Participation University

Four alumni of the program joined a group of 70

European and American community organizers in

Kunbábony, Hungary. They participated in

workshops and talks, sharing their stories and

successful tactics with the other organizers.

Alexandru Palas delivered a presentation on the

resistance against ultra conservative groups during

the 2018 referendum to ban same-sex marriage.

The alumni testimonials were very positive and

some plans for transnational projects and

collaborations emerged from the CPU.

July 26th - Monthly Alumni Meeting

This was the first time we used Zoom conference

feature to facilitate the participation of alumni

outside of Bucharest to the monthly meeting. We

had 4 alumni present for lunch in CeRe’s office

and 4 more from other cities in Romania present

through zoom. The feedback for using Zoom was

generally positive, although it would have been


Taking Acon—Changing Lives in Minority Communies—Volume V

better if 2 moderators were available, especially

for mixed live/video meeting. The topics being

discussed were next year’s local elections and how

can we help each other in our work and one of our

alumni’s project - a mobile Modern Slavery

Museum, which got funded through the Alumni

Accelerator Grants.

August 29—September 2nd, Albanian

National Alumni Reunion

Alexandru Palas and Vera Turcanu-Spatari

participated in the Albanian Alumni National

Reunion where they shared best practices on

recruitment and keeping the alumni network

engaged. They also helped plan the 2020 European

Alumni Reunion that will take place in Albania by

giving feedback on the current plans and sharing

their experience organizing the reunion in

Romania in 2018.

September 5-8th, Rural Youth Summit


Victor Catalin Toma organized the first edition of

the Rural Youth Summit, a learning and

networking space organized as part of the

European Youth Village Project. Participants had

the opportunity to attend workshops about topics

such as community organizing, human rights,

public debates or environment policies. More than

that, they could connect to people from rural

communities that ran community building projects

during the past year and meet the candidates for

next year’s European Youth Village title.

Alex and Victor Toma at the Rural Youth Summit.

Albanian National Alumni Reunion 2019.

Alexandru Palas was invited to take part in the

Summit as a workshop facilitator. He delivered

two workshops in which participants explored the

concept of collective power, how to effectively

recruit people for campaigns and how to do issue

cutting. This was also a good opportunity to

advertise the Professional Fellows program to

rural communities.

Deb Martin and Elizabeth Balint from GLCAP at

the Albanian Alumni Reunion 2019 in Albania.


GLCAP / Great Lakes Consortium for International Training and Development

“Shaping Participatory Democracy”

European Fellows traveled to the United States in 2018

on FY 2017 Professional Fellows Program from ROMANIA

The program is funded by the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational

and Cultural Affairs, Office of Citizen Exchanges, Professional Fellows Division.


Success Story by Daniel Bredet

New Young Leaders for Action and Power in Ineu

By Daniel Bredet


Daniel Bredet traveled to the

U.S. in the Spring of 2018 and

had his internship at Action

North Carolina in Charlotte,

North Carolina.


My return from the U.S. and motivation…

After returning from the U.S., together with my group, I continued to

do door knocking and one on ones to unite and motivate people to get

involved. We held community meetings to shift attitudes from passive

and hopeless to fight, fight and win in Ineu in Bihore County.

We found the main weakness of the Roma community was

unemployment. Lack of sources of income affects all aspects of their

life: education, health and housing. Most of the population benefit

from social aid which is a very small amount from city hall on an

irregular basis. This makes them dependent and at risk of being

controlled by the elected mayor.

Lack of active leaders in the Roma community meant people were not

represented politically or civically. Elderly withdrew with no support,

adults are concerned about personal affairs—some are working

abroad, youth are invisible and do not have self-confidence. The

community is in total apathy. Everyone talks about young people

living a life different from what their parents or grandparents lived.

The biggest problem I encountered was the 3 community leaders for 3

churches in the Roma settlement. The first leader had commercial

affairs, is very motivated by money, but has little influence even if he

keeps good relations with local authorities to protect his business. The

second religious leader has the greatest influence on the community

through ecclesiastical services and is considered the mayor's man. The third leader is considered to be

representative of the poor, has ideas and fights for the community, but has a cold relationship with the

local authorities. They all declare support for the community, but there is a rivalry, envy and hatred

between them. It is a challenge to bring them together to overcome the chaos, division and rivalry

between churches, families and the people they lead.

The Poorest, Darkest Street

Listening to people from the community, I

identified numerous needs for the community: an

electricity network, sewage, paved roads, housing

plots, garbage collection, social services, school

violence, recreation/sport infrastructure for youth,

and leadership and representation on the local

council. The people want to build a Community

Center with educational, religious and bath

services; construct a playground for children and

have community foundations provide social


Currently, electricity poles aren’t connected to

other streets and 25 houses on the edge of the

Ineu, Roma neighborhood street, February 2018.


Success Story by Daniel Bredet

community in the poorest area completely lack electricity. Over 200 people pull their electric lines along

the streets creating the danger of electric shock to children and adults with these improvisations. Over

100 children have difficulty doing homework in proper conditions for school participation. The lack of

electricity combined with flooding due to lack of sewers and unpaved roads and the lack of public

garbage services etc., leads to a feeling of living in the Middle Ages.

New Leaders Unite the Community

Our community organizing initiative was welcomed. At first, people were cautious and pessimistic about

solving the problems, had lost trust in other organizations and public institutions, their leaders and even

people inside the community to solve problems. Things started to change after several visits, but the

people demanded to see concrete change. I discovered people with a high level of understanding of

problems and solutions, of the public mechanism, the cause of the situation and what needed to be done.

The most important thing would be to get them united and active so they would not be fooled again and

increase pressure on the local public administration to make them accountable.

In the door-to-door discussions I noticed people with the potential to lead, people who know the

problems of the community, the causes of these problems, possible solutions and the history of the

community. I found people who understood the need for community organizing and were directly

affected by problems.

I also discovered 30 potential leaders and made a list of names and contacts. The people wanted to

prepare and have a big meeting to discuss their problems. They even made a portrait of a good leader:

someone who is courageous and smart with authorities, a good negotiator and knows how to talk and

persuade people to fight until a problem is solved, to care for the community, has a vision and direction

to lead people in the right way.

Fieldwork with the U.S. mentor Hector Vaca

Hector Vaca, my U.S. mentor came to visit me and

assist me in my efforts. We were invited to the home of

a parent and potential leader who called us for a

meeting. I told them to set the best location, to bring

family members and friends to the meeting; to tell other

people about the idea of community organizing and the

formation of an action group. I told them to keep

messages with the most relevant arguments, the need for

involvement, ideas about the problems and solutions

they told me in my one on one meetings. They offered to

put posters up in the community announcing the date,

time and location of the meeting.

Young people were very receptive, active and spread the

word to other people and organized. They came on time,

were active in discussions and said what they think and

feel about proposed solutions. The older leaders

Ineu, March 2018 in the church group

meeting. Young, smart, dynamic members of

the Group of Action, Unity and Power.

continued with accusations, betrayal, blocking interventions of authorities and foundations in the

community and mistrusted the young group's intention to get involved accusing them of lack of

experience. It was a confrontation of the old leaders with the young, wanting to intimidate them, preach

to them, speak to them about the unity they have not achieved in 25 years. The young people accused

older leaders of their lack of action, outcomes, hypocrisy, personal interest for money and leadership



Success Story by Daniel Bredet

Finally, we discussed what an organized community looks like and what a disorganized community looks

like with direct reference to Ineu. They talked about a model community where it has succeeded and that

community had a day care center, sewers, running water, paved roads and leaders who were involved in the

community and accountable to the community. We spoke about the role of the group, the organization of

the departments with community leaders. I made a simulated local council meeting demonstrating how local

decisions are made to show the importance of the presence of Roma councilors and prepare a draft

resolution on the problem of electric poles. People talked, collaborated and built stronger relationships.

A time for change is here

People understood that it is time for the group to act for change and they could no longer continue in the

same pattern of conflict and narrow personal interests. It was also understood what the difference was

between trying to solve problems on the individual level and approaching them at a group level representing

the entire community.

My mentor, Hector Vaca Cruz, with the youth group.

It was established that there is a need for

Roma who are both close to the

community in this group, as well as ones

in public institutions, such as the Roma

expert, the elected councilor, the medical

mediator, people to turn to for those with

problems. It was agreed that people

should run in the next local elections to

gain access to decision-making and to

power. They learned from past

experiences that have led the total lack of

councilors for a community of 2,000

people due to conflict in the community.

They learned about community

organizing, social change and public

participation and now have a group called

the Ineu Action, Unity and Power Group.

With my U.S. mentor we visited the community - to get to know the realities, problems and people, to meet

the leaders of churches, affected people, parents, families affected by the electricity problem, public roads,

sewers, community garbage, police abuses, lack of involvement of local authorities. We had a community

meeting where Hector, my mentor led them in a discussion about the type of community they should strive

for, who should do it (leadership) and how to get to that type of community (activism / organizing). The one

on one method was used in discussions with families so the initiative youth group could learn from the

mentor how to put it into practice.

At the workshops, we discussed power dynamics at the local level and precise goals of the group, necessary

resources, conditions, tactics and exact phases to follow step by step to solve the problem of the lack of

roads in the community. We worked on something very concrete with practical solutions which is what the

entire community had asked for, nothing too theoretical. The training was a success. We strengthened the

group of young people and by convincing them they can change things, discuss, analyze a real situation and

its causes. This group is now stronger, more confident about what to do in the next time period to generate


The Roma community's situation improved thanks to the increase in school attendance by over 90%,

starting with kindergarten, primary, secondary and even high school. In the community, the mentality about


Success Story by Daniel Bredet

the importance of education has changed and parents send children to school and support them, so a new

generation of young, open and educated Roma has emerged. Overall, with 20 people actively engaged in the

project, we were able to impact over 1,000 people.

The young leaders succeeded in bringing light to the streets of Ineu, but also to people’s hearts. Some of the

result of their work with the authorities were:

· Electricity network introduced by the City Hall for free for 30 families;

· New strong youth leaders’ group who will participate in the 2020 local election;

· Meetings with the group for knowledge and skills;

· Door-knocking and one on ones to unite and motivate people to get involved, resolve concrete problems

· Community meetings to change attitudes from passive to active and have something to fight for/win;

· Community meeting with the mayor to discuss the budget for electricity and other needs;

· A detailed plan of action for a new campaign on roads with the U.S. mentor;

· Facebook group with information about jobs, scholarships, new activities;

· Driver’s licenses for youth in the community (first time in the community history);

· Increased self-esteem and trust in other members of the community;

· Dialogue between youth leaders and the old leaders;

· Starting a constructive dialogue between mayor and local leaders.

Group photo with my U.S. mentor, Hector Vaca, and the youth group.


Success Story by Loredana Mihaly

Roma Community, My Community!

By Loredana Mihaly

The Impact of the U.S. Experience

The Roma community in Romania still represents one of the most

exposed populations to social exclusion due to the high degree of

poverty, low level of education, and discrimination. Locally,

specifically in my city, Baia Mare, we have visible results in combating

these phenomena.

Participation in the U.S. Department of State's Professional Fellows

Program has produced a radical change in my personal and professional

life, being one of the most challenging professional experiences

concerning community organizing.


Loredana Mihaly traveled to

the U.S. in the Spring of 2018

and had her internship at

Rockaway Youth Task Force in

New York City, New York.


As for my community, more than a year after visiting the U.S., visible

changes have been achieved through an integrated approach. More

specifically, the community worked on what they considered pressing

issues like education, community development, discrimination and


We tackled the problems of Roma people with new and fresh forces and

with much more care following the experience of the Professional

Fellows Program. As far as education is concerned, we continued to

work with the community supporting the people from the poorest

communities to enroll their children at school. The kids are now doing

very well by themselves, keeping up with the rest of the class.

The Story

The story began in one of the largest local

Roma communities of Craica, in Baia Mare.

Here live 750 people in 200 improvised

dwellings without access to utilities. This

community has lived like this for more than

30 years. In this community, people do not

communicate with each other, with the

exception of those from their extended


I started by going door to door talking to

each of the members of the community.

They did not even trust each other. There

was complete distrust for political parties as

the people felt betrayed, cheated and

ignored by political leaders. Still, I sensed

leadership potential in some of the people,

so I invited them to a meeting at the

community center in the neighborhood.

Community meeting of Roma people from Baia Mare

facilitated by my European mentor, Claudia Macaria.


Success Story by Loredana Mihaly

They only came because they had a very pressing problem - they risked being cut off from the power grid,

as they were not connected legally. It was a very noisy meeting with shouting and frustration spilling over. I

listened to them, I let them talk, I understood that these people had no opportunity before to discuss their

problems because no one cared about them. This is how the process of community organizing started in

Baia Mare.

Community meeting with the participation of the Mayor

and other local authorities.

Its not easy

After the first community meeting, a group of

active citizens was formed. It was not an easy

process. I was mentored on this journey by my

European mentor from the alumni network,

Claudia Macaria, program coordinator at the

Resource Center for Roma Communities - Cluj

Napoca. It took dozens of community meetings

for people to slowly understand that this was

about them, about the problems they face, and

how they can organize in the process to solve

them. They were used to waiting for people

from outside the community to come and fix

their problems because they did not have the

courage to express their needs, their problems,

and especially because no one listened to them. I

did not come up with the solution as they

expected me to. Instead, I helped them feel

empowered by giving them the courage to

believe in themselves and to get involved in

what they wanted to change.

My U.S.mentor, Tamera Jacobs, in a workshop with

leaders from the initiative group.

After many years in which they were not heard

but only seen as a problem and not as people,

they were not used to fighting for themselves,

yet the community organizing process brought

radical changes. After the first few meetings

where people were only complaining about their

problems in disarray, they learned to respect the

proposed procedure. They learned to list their

problems, prioritize them and get involved in

solving them. When they needed outside

resources, they asked for them. What followed

was the direct and active involvement of local

public authorities in solving the situation in

education because 60 children in the community

were not allowed in school. The reasons were that they were from the Roma community, dirty, poor, not

attending kindergarten etc. It took the intervention of the Mayor to fix this. They were accepted in school

and today those children are students in the fifth grade. Thus, we sensitized the authorities to the needs of

the community. Emboldened by this first success, people started writing petitions for what they needed. We

organized several meetings with local authorities to solve their problems, meetings where people spoke

directly to the representatives of the institutions. It was a success.


Success Story by Loredana Mihaly

Throughout this process we did not forget the most important resource of the community – the youth. We

involved the Roma youth who could produce the change needed in the community in the activities

undertaken. Young people participated alongside community members in joint actions building a way

forward together. Joint actions were held both in and outside the community, in the center of the city, in

public institutions, cultural venues, thus increasing the visibility of the Roma community locally and


Community organizing works

The changes in the Craica community also

inspired 6 other local Roma communities to

go through a similar process. We started with

community meetings where we identified

potential leaders. They got involved in local

actions and now we have an initiative group

made up of Roma leaders from all the

communities in the region, capable of

articulating their needs, coming up with

solutions and making authorities listen to


Local public authorities started participating

in community meetings. This constant

dialogue between the citizens and the

authorities led to having over 1,000 children

enrolled in school, kindergarten or the Roma History Project event by Roma youth.

Second Chance Program (a National

Program through which adults irrespective of age can continue their education from where they left off).

The Local Council of Baia Mare hired (through the Young Roma Maramures Organization) people from 3

of these communities as child supervisors, responsible for taking the children to and from school and of

maintaining a direct link between the schools and the communities. They are part of the initiative groups

organized in the Roma communities.

The process of community organizing also led to an increase in solidarity with new activists, social workers

and NGOs coming forth in support of the Roma community. A lot more individuals both from Romania and

from abroad also showed their support for the fight for equal rights and fair treatment of Roma people. We

are proud of our accomplishments so far, but have a long way to go. We started with a group of 15 people

involved in our initial project and now we can say that we have impacted 20,000 people in our Roma


One issue that is yet unsolved is that of having housing documents. Solving this issue would also improve

social inclusion, access to IDs and to better jobs. Work on this issue will surely be a priority in the near



Success Story by Georgiana Anca Nica

Roma Sisterhood

By Georgiana Anca Nica

Empowering women of all ages

My organization, E-Romnja, has been working with the community in

Valea Seaca, Bacau County for 3 years now with the goal to empower

the local Roma community to exercise their rights, access public

services and participate in the political life.

Throughout our community organizing work, a problem that kept

coming up was early school dropout of young Roma girls ages 14-18.

By digging deeper, we found out this problem had multiple and related

causes: poverty in the community, lack of support in school, lack of

positive role models and early marriages. The thing that stuck with us

was that a lot of the girls were saying that it would be great if they had

someone at home whom they could talk with about their issues like they

talk to us when we visit. This is why we decided to work on the lack of

role models issue.

We started a mentorship program which paired young girls from the

local community with older “sisters” who continued their studies past

high school and were also involved in volunteer work. Through this

program of Roma Sisterhood, we paired 18 girls with mentors. In the

meantime, the girls changed their views on education with some of them

already finishing high school and their “sisters” helped to further

develop their own feminist perspective on the world.


Georgiana Anca Nica traveled

to the U.S. in the Spring of

2018 and had her internship at

TIDES Advocacy Fund in New

York City, New York.


I returned from the Fellowship Program in the United States with an even stronger belief in the value and

power of community. Our Sisterhood Program was developed specifically to help build strong and longlasting

ties in the community of Valea Seaca, so that women, young and older, would be empowered to

have an active life and fight for their rights to education, healthcare, and thus live quality lives.

In the beginning, we paired 10 young Roma girls

from the local community with 10 Roma women who

volunteered to provide mentorship with the goal of

helping them build confidence and useful soft skills

so that they can successfully overcome obstacles they

face in school, to get a perspective on possible

education tracks, and have someone to advise them.

This first phase was a complete success. Trusting

relationships were built between the girls and their

mentors and all the girls stayed in school with

improved performance.

Roma "sisters" get together for a picture after a


In the year that passed, some of the girls graduated

high school and enrolled in tertiary education. Their

success contributed to strengthening the whole

community as the women have an essential role in the


Success Story by Georgiana Anca Nica

life of the community. Besides contributing to the household budget, they are often responsible for its wellbeing,

for raising and educating the children and for maintaining good relationships between family

members. It is our deeply held belief that especially in the case of Roma women in Romania, “the personal

is political” and their personal growth is the growth of the whole community.

Success prompts determination

The initial success of the program made us determined to continue our work: as some of the girls from the

first generation graduated high school, we continued to enroll new ones in the program. We’ve had 18 girls

go through the program and all of them made real progress. The value of this program also convinced

donors to start providing financial support which allowed us to grant scholarships and other resources to

provide Roma girls with the means to continue their education. In total, we involved 20 people in the

project and were able to conservatively impact 100 people.

My U.S. mentor’s visit to Romania also contributed to the success of this program. Nelini Stamp came to

Romania in February 2019 and shared her experience working in communities with people of color. She

held workshops on the importance of engaging the community in the electoral process, both at the E-

Romnja office and in the Valea Seaca community. This helped people deepen their understanding of what is

possible if they work together and hold local authorities accountable. As her visit coincided with the

celebration of the abolition of slavery in Romania, she also took part in a commemorative march to mark

this important turning point for the Roma community, thus learning more about racism in Romania and the

struggle of Roma people.

Participating in this

Fellowship also influenced

the way my organization

does community work. One

on ones became common

practice, both with the staff

and volunteers of the

organization, but with

people from the

communities in which we

work. This brought the team

closer together, helped us

better understand the needs

of the people from the

community and made our

work more impactful.

Public demonstration on International Roma Day.

Being a part of the alumni

network facilitated

collaboration and work with

new communities, such as

the inmates from Pitesti

Penitentiary whom we

helped organize with my fellow alumna, Andreea Lupascu.

We will continue our work with the community from Valea Seaca and from other rural areas to help them

organize and defend their rights, develop their communities and create a better understanding of the

intersectional nature of the issues they are facing.


Success Story by Andreea Ghimpu-Lupascu

Bridging the Gap

By Andreea Ghimpu-Lupascu


Working at the Romanian National Council for Refugees (CNRR) is a

culturally and socially immersive experience, which constantly gives

me opportunities to learn about people’s strength to leave behind

trauma, re-adapt and build a new life from scratch.

Refugees’ paths towards integration in Romania are challenged by

various factors, some of which are intrinsic to being a foreigner, others

of which are generated by civil society’s prejudice or lack of awareness

regarding their rights. For many, simple things like enrolling their

children in school, opening a bank account or renting an apartment can

be an overwhelmingly challenging experience.

The local non-governmental organizations active in the field are very

dedicated in providing them with support, but organizational culture

mixed with budget restrictions limit consultations with them on

advocacy priorities or project objectives.

Refugees themselves might be disempowered by the situation they

survived in their countries of origin. Non-democratic regimes or

conflict zones repress free speech and dialogue which takes a toll on

people’s trust in public authorities and civil society in the state

providing them with humanitarian protection.


Andreea Ghimpu-Lupascu

traveled to the U.S. in the

Spring of 2018 and had her

internship at US Together in

Columbus, Ohio.


Nevertheless, refugees are striving to build a connection with

Romanians and learn as much as they can about our culture and way of


Training is key

Community empowerment session on access to

labor, February 2019

The training I received through the U.S. fellowship

and at US Together with my U.S. mentor, Mark

Poeppelman, equipped me with community

organizing skills which I attempt to ongoingly

integrate in my work to support refugees gain more

confidence and increase their engagement with the

local community. It is a process which requires

acquainting people with their rights, building a

feeling of belonging and creating a sense of

community among people with diverse backgrounds.

With that in mind, we prioritized community

empowerment as one of its objectives for 2019. With

UNHCR’s support and funding, we organized 7 such

meetings, themed on subjects selected by refugees,

ranging from access to education, labor, housing,


Success Story by Andreea Ghimpu-Lupascu

combating discrimination and hate speech or accessing family reunification. The events are yet to amount to

the level of community organizing, but discussions shared did encourage them to identify issues which

affect their daily life and exercise their ability to formulate action plans to tackle them. In total, the

meetings were attended by around 30 people of different backgrounds and origins from countries including

Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and the D.R. Congo. We also know that our project has directly impacted 60

people, but this is a conservative number.

One of the most important achievements is that we

managed to bridge people who have been in

Romania for a longer period of time together with

recently arrived asylum seekers who need guidance

and support to find a job, settle or to simply be

encouraged by others about what will follow.

Employed refugees would take the role of

motivational speakers for those unemployed,

encouraging them that having a job is the fastest path

to integration. Those who managed to reunite with

their families would guide those who intent to apply

on the procedure that follows while those who

acquired permanent residence permit would motivate

others to strive learning Romanian and remain in the


Training session for refugee mentors. April 2019.

Lessons learned include improving the way we handle the diversity of languages spoken, gender and

religion which might transfer into certain barriers as talking openly and bonding with others. Their

participation was also encouraged if they attend together with their children the community empowerment


A common wish for eveyone attending was to

increase engagement with the local Romanian

community. Following their consultation, we started

to run a mentoring program to match Romanian

citizens with refugees with the aim of helping them

navigate the city and increase their participation in

local life. We trained the mentors on specifics of

working with refugees and potential manners in

which they could provide them with support. My

mentor, Mark Poeppelman from US Together,

helped us a lot during his visit in Romania by

providing advice on how to convince people to join

in and share tasks with participants. We also

organized a workshop with other NGOs from the

field who were interested to learn more about

community organizing and fundraising.

Community empowerment session with

Romanians and refugees.

The community empowerment meetings increased refugees’ confidence in approaching and enganging with

civil society and public institutions. Nonetheless, our mission is not over. We are well aware that there is

more to be done if participants will actively self-advocate and fully bridge the gap of communication

between them and their public authorities.


Success Story by Larisa Maria Nechita

Let’s Move Forward Together

By Larisa Maria Nechita

How could you?

“What do you want to become when you grow up?” - was a question I

would hear often in my teenage years. To get rid of this boring start of

a conversation, I was giving what I considered to be the right answers,

meaning respected professions like teacher, lawyer, etc. To my

astonishment, no matter what I was replying, the curious adults around

me were getting into never ending debates about why I will not be able

to practice certain jobs instead of encouraging my youthful dreams.

“How could you write on the chalkboard?” or “How could you manage

to read the clients’ documents?” Finally, I would end up replying that

I didn’t make up my mind yet about my impossible dream career. Back

then I did not imagine that I had already made my choice long before

understanding concepts like community organizer, advocacy, or

independent life skills.

I thought I would never again have to face questions like “how could

you…?” or “how do you…?”. I was totally wrong. When I left the

special school for the blind in order to continue my studies in a regular

public high school, I had the chance to meet skilled teachers who were

open to a new challenge for them and myself. I had to constantly

organize many one on one meetings with each of them in order to give

detailed explanations about how I will do certain things like passing

exams or taking notes. The same integration process took place at the


Walking with my guide dog, Tina, around the city center.


Larisa Nechita traveled to the

U.S. in the Fall of 2018 and

had her internship at the

American Council of the Blind

in Columbus, Ohio.


but having already been through this experience,

I knew exactly what my needs were and what I

was expected to do. At that time, it was not

common at all in Romania for a disabled student

to leave the specialized learning system, but I

somehow felt that the regular schools are

building a bridge between us and them. I wanted

to cross that bridge to see who the others are and

what they are like. If it was possible for me, it

will certainly work for other blind friends, that is

why I got involved in The National Association

of the Blind to help others find answers that will

bring a meaningful contribution to their personal

and professional progress.

It is forbidden to...

I learned that in Eastern Europe, being blind

means you have to find solutions on your own if

you want to practice a profession, integrate in a

university, lead an independent life, etc. I am not

complaining though. I have always had a


Success Story by Larisa Maria Nechita

supportive family and all these challenges I faced developed my negotiation skills and creative thinking.

Later on, I said to myself that it was not enough to advocate for my own rights because I found out that

other disabled people are struggling with the same obstacles.

During my studies I had the opportunity to

travel and study abroad at two well-known

universities from Bologna and Brussels where I

experienced models of integration by

excellency. Coming back, it crossed my mind to

get a guide dog in order not to depend all the

time on family and friends. Angel Dog, a

Romanian NGO, trained my dog Tina. She is

my ticket to independence. I no longer feel that I

am a burden for anyone. As you can imagine,

Romania is not familiar with the concept of

guide dogs. From the beginning, I was walking

on inaccessible streets without clear curb cuts,

no audio speakers in buses, no acoustic traffic

lights, busy sidewalks etc. Moreover, I felt like

an alien trying to do shopping on my own or to

Voice Corp Reading Service Interview.

enter public institutions because every time

there was someone at the entrance saying: “You

are not allowed to enter here with a dog.” or “It is forbidden because it is written right there. Don’t you see

it?” After a “pleasant” chat, I could finally go in. But many times, I asked myself why I should have to

explain the same thing over and over again…

Meanwhile, things have considerably improved. The city has become more accessible and mentalities are

slowly changing. I organized a few awareness raising campaigns through media and every day, even if I am

in a hurry, I stop and talk to people that are asking why the dog is wearing a harness. I always have a

positive mindset and I noticed that our presence on the street educates people and changes misguided

mentalities. I heard that somewhere in this world there is a wonderland where phrases like “It is Forbidden

to…” and “You will not be able to…” are rarely said. That is why I decided to apply to the Professional

Fellows Program and to travel by myself with Tina to a new destination.

No barriers land

At first, I thought I would have a difficult time

working with a guide dog in an unknown area,

but I was amazed to realize that it was far easier

to travel in an unfamiliar, but accessible

environment than in inaccessible familiar routes.

For 6 weeks I forgot that I am blind. Nobody

came to pet the dog and distract her. When

people were getting their pets out, they were not

coming close to a guide dog so she could do her

job properly. The curb cuts were obvious and the

numerous audio traffic lights were invaluable

and made our stay even more enjoyable. Tina

learned a new command: Follow! In this way,

we could safely follow the group, without

needing too much help. I made new friends and

Tina and I at the U.S. State Department reception.


Success Story by Larisa Maria Nechita

really felt part of a wonderful team, because with the help of Tina I didn’t put too much pressure on others.

My U.S. mentor, Vicky Prahin, the executive director of ACBO (American Council of the Blind) is also

blind. She lives in Ohio with her guide dog, Peace. For one month, we shared the same home. Words are

not enough to express how much I learned from her. We explored the city independently, we attended

meetings that offered me new perspectives and solutions that I have waited for so many years. I learned that

individual work matters, but the group work can really bring meaningful changes. I gave interviews to radio

stations that target the visually impaired population, drawing a comparison between Eastern Europe and the

U.S.A. I visited real schools for guide dogs where trainings are supported by smart fundraising actions. The

owners take part in mobility trainings from a young age. Thinking back how I spent hundreds of hours

around my town with my family and Tina trying to learn how to walk safely, in front of me a new world of

perspectives was suddenly opening up. In Ohio I understood concepts like support groups, the power of

weekly meetings, and how to identify a group’s needs with the aim of building a team capable to fight for


My U.S. mentor, Vicky Prahin, is a model for me regarding social integration from all points of view. We

quickly became best friends and we started planning how we would change lives for people in Romania.

My U.S. mentor, Vicky Prahin’s visit in Sibiu, Romania, where we held a community organizing

meeting with high school students about accessibility, inclusion and guide dogs.

Back home

I immediately shared with the community in Sibiu the majority of concepts and practices that the American

experience taught me. I started by building up support groups that I regularly meet. For a few months, I

taught a group of visually impaired people English and Assistive technology lessons. Now I am proud of

them because they are using accessible screen readers and phones that broadened their horizons. Even their

English is getting better and better. I also organized mobility trainings, encouraging them to use a white

cane and to apply in the future for a guide dog. I told the story of my American experience to everyone who

was willing to listen, emphasizing on the fact that there is nothing wrong with Romanian mentality - people

are kind, but because they never see us on the street, in public schools, at their work place, they don’t know

how to approach us. People lack information, but if visually impaired people of all ages are encouraged to

leave their comfort zone, a better understanding is perfectly achievable.


Success Story by Larisa Maria Nechita

When Vicky came to visit us, we worked with blind communities telling them how things work in the U.S.

Vicky inspired us to continue our work together and to become a more united community, with common

goals. Moreover, we emphasized the importance of spreading information about living an independent life

without sight in the larger community. We held training sessions in the general high school that I attended

and everyone was happy to find out how helpful Tina and Peace can be. The students asked so many

questions, expressing their wish to see us again and we got to the conclusion that raising awareness actions

represent the key to integration without difficulties. We involved 100 people and impacted 500 in our

programs and will continue our collaboration and now that we benefited from this exchange, we have a

better vision about how to tackle difficult issues that the visually impaired community is facing in Romania.

The Professional Fellows Program meant a big step forward in my career. Now I feel that I know not only

to advocate for myself, but for the others as well. I know now that I want to become a great community

organizer and I know exactly how to answer questions like: “How could you...?” and how to respond better

to reactions like: “It is forbidden to...”

“Move Forward!” I always tell Tina when I want her to keep a straight line. These words mean more to me

than just a dog command. I strongly believe that if we keep going forward together, we will reach our

dream destination faster.

Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur meets with Fall

Professional Fellows.

Larisa Nechita, Anca Irimia and U.S.

mentor, Vicky Prahin in Romania.

Tina is a 6-year old lovely Labrador. For 4 years, she has worked as a

guide dog. When it comes to work she gets over excited, but free time

always puts her in a good mood! She finds a good reason to wag her tail

all the time and nothing ever upsets her. When she’s not guiding, she

focuses on her hobbies. Her best friend is a male cat called Rib Bone and

they enjoy sitting together by the fire or walking around the yard chatting

happily. When we are riding the bike, she enjoys running around us on the

fields. If she has the chance to play with a ball, her joy is complete. I

learned from her that happiness can be defined by small things such as: a

puppy toy, a little cat, a sweet caress, or a long walk in the park.



Success Story by Iulia Merca

Life Gets Better Together

By Iulia Merca


In 2015, a coalition of religious/nationalist/far right oriented

organizations began a huge anti-LGBTQ movement in Romania. Their

primary project was to organize a nation-wide referendum to change

the definition of marriage in the Constitution, from “a union between

spouses” to “a union between a man and a woman”. This change would

not affect the (non-existing) legal status of gay couples, as the Civil

Code already had that gender specification, but it would be a trigger for

a wave of homophobia and it would also make any future discussion

about same-sex marriage very difficult. Their plan to have the

referendum was successful, but their agenda to change the Constitution

was not, because the LGBTQ community and its supporters boycotted

the referendum and it did not reach quorum.

All of this has put an immense pressure on LGBTQ people in Romania

for more than 3 years up to the referendum in October 2018. We were

subject to hate speech, gas lighting, overt-personal inquiries and

pressure to come out. A lot of members of the community moved out of

the country, many got involved in activism which in Romania almost

always means volunteer work. It led people to reach out to each other,

to look for and to offer support.


Iulia Merca traveled to the U.S.

in the Spring of 2018 and had

her internship at the FIERCE!

in New York City, New York.



In this context, in late 2016, when I moved from a smaller city to Cluj-Napoca, I started to get involved in

the movement, first as a simple volunteer setting up chairs at events and translating film subtitles at queer

film festivals. As I saw the change that these events made in the lives of LGBTQ folks, I quickly became

more active and started some projects myself. In 2018, before my U.S. fellowship, I left the organization I

had been working with and started to envision a new one with values more similar to mine.

Project Intersectional—after the workshop.

Before the Professional Fellows program, I led

group discussions on several occasions about what

people felt were missing in our lives. In total,

about 70 people participated. Each time I let the

group work out what the issues were and each

time the topics they brought forth were the same.

Some of them were of a legal or administrative

nature, some were about education and medical

care, others referred to the social context of our

lives, and some were intra-community problems.

Most of the issues were macro and could only be

solved by a complex movement, not something on

a local level. These affected their lives, but the

contribution they could bring was limited.

However, some issues discussed seemed more

manageable and we could address them together


Success Story by Iulia Merca

locally. Such was the fragmentation of the community - transphobia coming from gay people, racism and

ableism in the community, a polarization between those who were out and those who are closeted - which

we could address together by socializing in a more intersectional way. Another topic that always came up

was the isolation of LGBTQ people in smaller towns and rural areas which we wanted to alleviate by

organizing events outside of Cluj. They also wanted a context in our own city in which to socialize more

deeply, to create stronger bonds, more deeply connected groups. It also became clear that this community

needed more safe spaces in which to connect.

After these group meetings, a number of smaller group discussions and one on one talks, people seemed to

gravitate towards an idea that would help us start to improve our lives: a community center, a space

dedicated to queer folks in Cluj. That would allow us to organize more easily, to be more autonomous.


During my fellowship with U.S. mentor, Mustafa Sullivan, at FIERCE! in New York City, a community

center for LGBTQ youth of color, I saw in that center everything I had wanted to see in my hometown. The

way they had everything set up in the physical space and the social space inspired me. I wanted to manifest

that as soon as I got home. I started to make plans, but I discovered that I had to curb my enthusiasm, that

there were more steps to be taken - smaller steps. I realized I had to focus on the smaller steps because I

wanted the new organization to form out of a sense of belonging and I wanted it to follow a more horizontal

model than those I had seen, including at FIERCE!. At the first few community meetings that I organized

following the Fellowship, a small number of people showed a deeper interest in getting involved.


Together, we organized a lot of events - the type of events

where other members of the community could get closer

and develop that sense of belonging. We wanted (and

succeeded) these events to be more inclusive of people

who are not usually included. More specifically, to

include people who are introverted or have social anxiety,

so we organized a regular study group where participants

simply shared a space while they study, read, draw, or

work. We had game nights inclusive of blind people. For

those who live in smaller towns, we held living libraries

in Turda (population: 47,000) and Targu Mures

(population: 134,000). In November 2019, together with

five other Professional Fellows, we launched the project

Intersectional with a day-long workshop bringing together

people with disabilities, LGBTQ, and Roma people, as Community meeting with Romina Kollarik.

well as a group of architects working in inclusive design

(25 participants total). In fact, we are very happy to have had the support of other alumni in all of our

projects. A great contribution in setting more realistic expectations came from Romina Kollarik who is also

an alumna of the program and my European mentor from Slovakia. We estimate that we have impacted at

least 100 people and probably many more.

The organization we set out to create does not have a final form but is just going through the process of

building it. We already know we made a difference in people’s lives. To illustrate, the following testimonial

is from someone who attends all of our events: “My situation changed when I decided to stop isolating

myself from others since isolation was aggravating my problems. I decided to meet you because you

introduced yourselves on your Facebook page with your names and a few words about yourselves. And

from the first meeting I understood what it means to be part of a community, to belong to a group. This


Success Story by Madalina Marcu

Fueling Community Organizing

By Madalina Marcu

Organizers need help to sustain what they do

The interest in community organizing in Romania is high and the need

for it even higher. There are civic groups active in Bucharest’s

neighbourhoods that fight around issues that deal with the quality of

life: green areas, illegal buildings, abusive decisions of local

authorities, transportation infrastructure etc. Other groups around the

country are working on ecological, housing and LGBT issues, for

Roma rights and for people with disabilities. We have seen the interest

in community organizing grow over the last 10 years with more diverse

groups learning how to apply this process to improve their work, but

organizations need a stable source of income and there are few who can

afford to budget for this type of activity.

The interest is high even though there is still little access to know how

and to community organizers who can help the groups in their efforts.

A lot of the community foundations active in Romania are interested in

incorporating community organizing as a tool for helping citizens in

their cities to take back their power and build community organizing

groups. Community foundations support organizations that work in 16

of the largest cities in Romania identifying issues that affect the

community and putting those leaders in contact with donors and



Madalina Marcu traveled to the

U.S. in the Fall of 2018 and

had her internship at MCAN in

Boston, Massachusetts.


In order to do more community organizing, there is a need for potential

donors and funders to better understand the community organizing process and become familiar with what

it can accomplish and why they might consider supporting it.

This is why my work has been around talking to major funders in Romania about the need to provide

funding for community organizing and developing a training program for fundraising for this activity.

Together with my colleagues in ARC Romania and

with CeRe we submitted a proposal with OSIFE to

allow us to pilot a project for 2 years, working with 4

community foundations who will train community

organizers and also start fundraising for this type of

work. The proposal was accepted and after the pilot,

we will have better knowledge about what works and

what does not and share this information with other

organizations and donors.

U.S. mentor, Lew Finfer, leads a conversation on

developing fundraising for community organizers.

Also, after a meeting with my U.S. mentor, Lew Finfer

(MCAN, Massachusetts), and follow-up conversations

I had with their staff members, a major funding

foundation in Romania is considering opening a grant

line for community organizing initiatives starting Fall

of 2019.


Success Story by Elena Racu

Sharing Power with the Citizens

By Elena Racu


Elena Racu traveled to the

U.S. in the Fall of 2018 and

had her internship at PATH-

WAYS in Toledo, Ohio.


the project implemented. From the 10, selected 3 people.

Bicycle rack project for Iasi

Out of 18 people that proposed

projects, I selected 4 people with

whom to work with on their action

plan. I established meetings and

talked multiple times with the

initiators: Alexandru Ioan Paicu,

Ioana Amariutei Popa, Raluca

Iordachianu and Alexandru

Sescioreanu. Besides Ioana

Amariutei Popa, all of the other

initiators decided within a few

months from the events to stop

implementation for different

reasons: lack of time, or new and

different priorities in their lives.

“Citizens in charge”

Through the NGO ‘CIVICA’ we built this project, which aims to build a

citizen’s agenda within the local politicians’ regular workflow. It

establishes the grounds for direct participation and citizens co-working

with local politicians, within joint ventures initiated by people. We

organized 6 public meetings in one year where the citizens promoted

their ideas/proposals/projects to local politicians. Local councilmen

were invited to adopt a project per meeting and contribute to its

implementation in a transparent and collaborative manner together with

citizens who endorsed the selected project.

So how did it happen?

During the 6 events, 18 people (3/event) from Iasi proposed projects for

the local community, each of them covering a specific theme extracted

from the topics and problems that chronically affect the local

community: Social Change through Cultural Events, Public

Transportation and Mobility, Entrepreneurship, Youth Social Needs, A

Friendly City for Children, and Social Neighborhoods. Each meeting

followed community organizing processes. For each event, we made a

call in Iasi for people to present proposals for projects they would like

to implement with the help of the local councilmen. At CIVICA, we

selected 10 people for an interview to better understand their idea,

motivation and resources the initiator would be willing to invest to see

A picture representing Ioana's proposal of a car shape bicycle rack.

So far, I have been working with Ioana Amariutei Popa and her team with the support of CIVICA. Her

proposal was to set up 5 bicycle racks in the city in the shape of a car to suggest that 10 bicycles can be

parked in the parking space of a single car. Their location was supposed to be on the main streets and


Success Story by Elena Racu

parking places in Iasi that are visible spaces frequented by cyclists and pedestrians. The bicycle racks would

have a strong visual impact on people, whether they are pedestrians, cyclists or drivers, demonstrating how

much space a car can occupy in comparison to bikes.

During this past year and a half, the project has had a

slow but steady development, one that promises the

project will be successfully implemented. The first step

was to identify at least 10 public spaces where the

bicycle racks would be installed. Local councilman,

Eduard Boz, went in person and forwarded the request

made by Ioana to the City Hall. The answer was delayed

for months and Ioana went by herself a few times to try

and solve this blockage. The City Hall also offered to

pay for the bicycle racks, but with the compromise that

the bicycle rack couldn't be in the shape of car anymore,

but instead in the shape of a U. So, the team has decided

that each bicycle rack should have the shape of a car

painted under it on the concrete to suggest the idea of Final spot picked by Ioana's team.

how much space a car takes in comparison to bicycles.

The new shape also demanded that the racks should be installed in a place that would offer bicycles a lot of

space to be parked, so the team redid the list with the requested spaces for the racks.

This past fall, Ioana had a meeting with Gabriel Harabagiu, the Vice-Mayor of Iasi to go over the actualized

plan. The final proposal to be implemented before the spring of 2020 includes 10 bicycle racks in the shape

of ‘U’. Ioana will have to put pressure on the people from the City Hall to take action on what they have

promised as our experience showed us that the activities won't evolve in a normal flow without requests

from us.

“Citizens in Charge” started as a project focused on

generative politics, promoting citizens' initiatives

and direct action to improve the city. We wanted

citizens to work together with the local councilmen

and encourage them to take part in the life of the

city. For that to happen, citizens needed to have

trust in the governmental institutions and the

politicians that represent them. For a functional

democracy and a healthy city, it is important for a

constant dialogue to exist between local politicians

and citizens. People need to generate their own

reality and take part in its implementation. Our

project was a small step towards creating a context

The event Public Transportation and Mobility.

where power is shared with the citizens. We

managed to have a better understanding of the local

community, of the motivation people have to be

involved and also see the capacity of the local institutions and the will of the councilmen to build together

with the people they represent. All in all, we had 10 people actively involved in the project and managed to

impact 1,000 people.

Sparking the spirit of initiative

Because one of CIVICA's main goals is to increase public participation, I chose to organize 2 events from

which citizens could benefit from my U.S. mentor, Paula Ross, her background and experience when she


Success Story by Elena Racu

Promotional flyer for the civic workshop.

Paula Ross addressing the audience at the event “ Women Power, 30

years of empowering women in a nutshell”.

came to visit me in Iasi.

One of the events was a

civic education workshop

where we talked about the

importance of taking action

in our own community and

ways in which a person can

get involved: from small

volunteering to taking on a

cause people truly believe in

and expect to invest much

time and other resources.

We offered different types

of examples, had an open

discussion about what

functional democracy

means, the differences

between the American and

Romanian systems and the

responsibilities of citizens in

a democracy.

The second event

‘Women & Power, 30 years

of Empowering Women in a

Nutshell’ was dedicated to

women’s empowerment.

From our experience (the

team of CIVICA), many of

the citizens we worked with

were women. The NGO

environment in Iasi is

mostly represented by

women and we have seen

much initiative and drive

from women that are part of

the community. But there is

an opposite and visible

gender imbalance in the

political system.

Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur

with Elena in Toledo, Ohio.

At this event, Paula presented her life-long experience of womanhood,

with the stages she has been through (mother, wife, employee, activist,

politician). The discussions were focused on how women can empower

themselves and others, on politics, and social limitations that others or

women inflict upon themselves. There were 70 participants in the room.

Among them there were women we have interacted with CIVICA and

Citizens in Charge. We have met many new people from the local

community with whom we had discussions on the importance of

growing the local group of women that offer support to each other.


Success Story by Alexandrina Dinga

They Represent Us — A Community “Octopus”

By Alexandrina Dinga

Challenges remain, but we have a voice

Almost 4 years have passed since that day in June 2016 when prior to

local elections, CIVICA launched “They Represent Us”. The NGO

itself was born the very same day the local authorities planted back the

very symbolic local linden trees they decided to cut without prior notice

back in 2013. Two years of conflict between civil society and local

representatives were the endowment of CIVICA. And now the NGO

was launching a transparency project. One which organically grew into

an octopus, incorporating other civic projects until it became something

else. What was meant to be simply a watchdog grew into a diamondshaped

tool, which now provides exclusive information about local

representatives and city projects, one that allows people to take action

and ultimately, the one which made room for common citizens within

the official structures of local administration. Between conflict and

collaboration, there lies the story of a wiser community facing

politicians no more in fear or rage. It takes place in Iasi, the major

cultural city of Northern Romania.

Back in June 2016, CIVICA had no material resources to rely upon.

There were instead enthusiastic people willing to build change together,

and that was a lesson to always be remembered. I met them in various

places due to the NGOs I was previously part of. They were also

seeking a way to improve social life. So, we found each other and

started to gather our friends. We fancifully named our working sessions


Alexandrina Dinga traveled to

the U.S. in the Fall of 2015 and

had her internship at Go

Bronzeville in Chicago, Illinois.


“Citizens Science Workshops” the first of their kind in our community and probably, in the whole country.

The idea was simple: “Together we can”. We had to be able to read and sort out for the first time in our

city, all the meeting agendas issued by the Local Council after each plenary decision-making meeting along

the past four years. We had to do it in order to see clearly how our interests as citizens were represented.

And we did it. We also tidied up the website showing the public activities schedules in the City Hall. A lot

of public information was lacking, either completely or by being buried in stuffy reports. “Who cares?” was

the first answer received from those in power.

Citizens Science Workshop.

The Unlikely Beginnings

We compiled lists of prospective changes and

we insisted for almost a year to see them

implemented. People sent emails, we asked for

meetings to address the issues and we religiously

published every piece of promise or conclusion.

Another year passed and They Represent Us

became a public portal for tracking in real time,

all public decisions and the deeds of our elected.

At the same time, another civic project was

planned to begin. Citizens in Charge was meant

to familiarize local citizens with the practice of

generative politics, a branch of participatory


Success Story by Alexandrina Dinga

democracy that holds that people should be allowed to create their own solutions for the social problems

they are faced with, while the role of representatives would be to assist them into doing so. Bad timing

though for such a collaborative framework. Romania was on fire. Night after night, protests grew larger.

The National Government was falling while lashing out against protesters. Not a good day for trust and

mutual collaboration. Not even a good month, nor year.

Within Citizens in Charge locals were asked to

provide solutions for several topics, like

mobility, cultural change, urban planning or

urban friendliness for youth. Thinking about

solutions was not enough though. The authors

had to have the inner drive to voluntarily work

on their ideas and implement them with the

voluntary help of other dwellers of the city.

Local councilmen were asked to come to public

community presentations and to vow to

symbolically support at least one citizen

proposal. It seemed feasible at the time and it

was quixotic, so it had to work.

Public community presentation for Citizens in Charge. The city was renowned for the lethargy of its

civil society despite the historical mobilization

around our linden trees. We were planning not for a gradual change, but for a transformative one. At first,

it was surprising to see that people actually sent ideas and solutions in great numbers even though they

weren’t crystal clear about what was supposed to happen afterwards. That moved us forward. Then, we

were again surprised to see that the number of those willing to implement them voluntarily while placing

their trust in other citizens and local politicians who were not so great. That made us think. But then again,

people were coming to our community meetings and were talking and listening to their representatives,

amidst the highest peak of national protests. And politicians were listening to them. That moved us

forward again.

The Earthquake

Public community presentation for the Citizens in


After another year spent under the sign of

finding collaborative solutions, They Represent

Us received a pale, different shade. In our view,

it became not so much a simple transparency

tool, but one to foster honesty and collaboration

between citizens and their representatives. Not

many citizens’ projects made significant

progress. We felt defeated. We thought we were

wrong but didn’t want to recognize it. We were

clinging to the idea that we had done something

wrong. Maybe there weren’t enough sleep

deprived nights. Maybe we didn’t give our best.

Maybe we’re simply not bright enough. And

then, our mentor from the Open Society

Foundation that was funding the project,

dropped us a visit. He was radiant. Proud of us.

We didn’t even believe it at first.


Success Story by Alexandrina Dinga

Then, when we supported our city in the race for Open Government new city cohort and Iasi was admitted,

we had a glimpse of trust. Something might have been good. Many people from those we met during

Citizens in Charge agreed to be part of the local community forum which was supposed to work with the

City Council to co-create city projects. Some of them had no direct encounter with a representative or with

the mayor before Citizens in Charge. But they saw that all of us were regular people and they felt

respected, so they were eager to give collaboration another chance. The City Council and other public

institutions also had their first direct encounter of that type, with citizens. They were sceptical, but they

also saw citizens are not that scary. They admitted they are not much into participatory processes, but they

trusted the citizens to work as freely as they wanted. It wasn’t enough.

Citizens needed public servants’ help and they received less than they needed. But trust was built little by

little. Another project, Design4Community, soon after began using Design Thinking as a method to

harmonize public servants and community members to work on innovative solutions for common


The New Beginnings. Or Not so New.

By the end of this stormy journey, every step led to another in quick succession. They Represent went on

with monitoring the elected on a regular basis, but it expanded into much more than that. Collaboration is

based on genuine care for a city, and genuine care you build on top of understanding, data and information.

So, the monthly Citizen Newsletter was launched. Each edition comprised a synopsis with all the

interpellations and projects debated and/or voted during Ordinary and Extraordinary Public Sessions of the

Local Council along with a top of 2 to 3 most relevant interpellations made by local councilmen, doubled

with short analyses on the respective topics. In addition, there is a Civic Calendar of events which fosters

community health and another top 2 to 3 most important projects debated and voted by our representatives.

Each month, an interview with a local councilman is published. All of them are voluntarily run by several

young women who want to contribute to a better understanding on how things work inside public decisionmaking

forums. They ask everyone for questions to address and then they compute their own interview


Each Newsletter also backs a call to action to ease the engagement of citizens in civic life. 900 people

received 11 such newsletters and we are still counting. Many became collaborators, contributing to the

design, writing materials and distribute its content further into their social circles.

Victories that Count. And New Challenges.

Together, we stopped a big building project which

was about to erase a great green area of the city.

During the overlap between They Represent Us and

Citizens in Charge, many people migrated from one

to another taking further steps into community

involvement and contribution. One of them, Anca

Gherasim, was the project initiator and her

community project raised European recognition

during Mobility Week. In the first months of 2019,

she became a member of the local forum and then,

the first citizen to be admitted within the Traffic

Interview with a local councilman in our office. Commission of the Local Council along with another

person to represent the community of those who walk

or travel by bicycle. City Hall accepted the idea to make place for two civil society representatives to take

part in the Traffic Committee. Soon after in May, we developed a campaign asking people to send to their

citizens-fellow’s pictures with problems they encountered while walking. Forty problematic locations

surfaced and corrections already started in order to make crosswalks accessible for everyone.


Success Story by Alexandrina Dinga

Anca’s story mirrored another bittersweet victory. In March 2019, after the City Hall cut down some fir

trees in front of the Palace of Culture (the symbol of Iasi), we used the call to Action section to launch a

consultation process. We asked people what should be done afterwards. We remembered still our linden

trees and our promise to change the rules of the game so things like this wouldn’t happen again.

Out of 341 people who cast their vote, the most desired option was to be informed and consulted prior to

any other cutting of healthy trees We demanded that each cutting be proceeded by public consultation. We

found these best practices in UK, but we were declined.

The Flexible Approach to Stay Focused on the Goal

However, the citizens part of the Traffic Commission gave all of us not only hope, but a precedent. So, we

asked for citizens to be part of the decision structure. This time, our call to action received a positive

answer. We asked people to nominate themselves or others they think are best fitted for the position. After a

self-eliminatory process of all the applicants, in June 2019, two citizens representatives were selected and

accepted by the officials. Their first meeting was supposed to take place in September 2019. And they

missed it because they were notified only two hours in advance. We know from Anca’s experience that this

is the norm, rather than an exception and not a deliberate bad intention. “I was flexible, so I succeeded to

attend most of the meetings of the Traffic Commission. Everyone including politicians, as well as public

servants who are members are always short notified. They work there, so they just put their activities on

hold. It isn’t easy for citizens who have different jobs. They were also sceptical about my intentions at first,

but now they started to trust me so much that they get surprisingly open to me. I better understand now the

real challenges we face as a city”, Anca told us this month.

Having citizens in official decision-making structure is not a small thing and it also doesn’t instantaneously

solve all the problems. Still, trust is getting more and more consistent and slowly replaces conflict-bychoice.

People see how they may be both critical and cooperative with those who make decisions for us all

in order to keep them accountable, but without hindering the growth of the city. The great lesson we

learned, is that every little thing leads to another and people are tremendously far more important than other

resources. It’s a challenging job to empower them to contribute, instead of simply asking from others the

change they want to see. But that’s the quixotic horizon and we are on track. We know that now.

My fellowship in the U.S. helped me develop my leadership skills, be more courageous, more persevering,

to understand that the results that matter do not appear overnight and, most importantly, empower others.

Because civic power is about the ability to build networks and help people have a voice. What I am today as

a civic activist was greatly influenced by my experience in the U.S. and I am truly grateful for that!

Part of the CIVICA team (3 alumni Alexandrina Dinga, Raluca Onufreiciuc and Elena Racu)

upon receiving a distinction in the Values Gala of Iași in 2017 for activities in the community.


Alumni Joint Project Report by Andreia Bruckner and Team Members


By Andreia Bruckner and Team Members

‘Intersectional’ workshop held in Cluj-Napoca

The aim of this project was to bring a different approach to the concept

of intersectionality. For this, we decided to bring together a mix of

representatives of various minorities subject to discrimination in all

forms and to help them better understand each other: finding out what

defines them as a minority (disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity or

citizenship), what are the problems they struggle with and what

approaches each group takes in overcoming them. The last step was to

find out commonalities between their problems and to devise common

measures of fighting them.

The project team organized three online meetings to plan the workshop

using the zoom platform. It was decided that there will be a one-day

workshop that will bring together 3-4 members from each community

that the team members work with (Roma, blind, LGBT and migrant).

They would preferably not be community leaders already involved in

activist work, but regular people that have had very little contact with

other minority groups. This way, the impact of the workshop would be


The whole activity would be preceded by a meeting of the project team

on the evening before the workshop for last-minute planning and finalized by another meeting the day after

for conclusions and decisions for future actions.

We also decided to hold the workshop in Cluj because that part of the country has the most need for such

projects, having a large, but rather segregated minority communities.

We met on the weekend of November 1 st and all activities followed according to plan. Claudia Macaria and

Loredana Mihaly contacted and brought to Cluj a group of four Roma youth from Baia Mare. Andreia

Bruckner, Anca Irimia and Larisa Nechita contacted four blind women from Cluj. Andreea Lupascu

contacted the migrant community in Cluj and one woman responded. Iulia Merca found two young gay and

trans persons from Cluj.

In the week preceding the workshop, another interested

party appeared, namely three members of AMAis

Association from Bucharest. They work on subjects like

universal design and inclusive architecture and were

very interested in what different minorities consider to

be a safe and accepting space for them. They joined the

workshop and we decided to keep in close contact and

plan future projects together.




Spring 2016 Alumna


Spring 2016 Alumna


Spring 2018 Alumna


Spring 2018 Alumna


Fall 2018 Alumna


Fall 2017 Alumna


Spring 2017 Alumna

The workshop was split into two parts – the morning

activities were dedicated to exploring the question of

“who am I?” and consisted of one on one discussions

Iulia Merca and Andreia Bruckner facilitating the



Alumni Joint Project Report by Andreia Bruckner and Team Members

between members of the various communities where they presented themselves and their personal method

of coming to terms with their life as a person facing discrimination. Afterwards, all members of a

community gathered together and conceived a presentation about themselves (who we are, how do we like

or do not like to be called and why, what are our needs in order to feel included and accepted). This part was

followed by a group activity where a representative of each community came and presented the conclusions

to the rest of the group. A lot of questions were asked and answered and a lot of things were clarified.

The last part of the workshop was dedicated to finding intersection points between communities, both in

their problems and in the means of solving them.

The final day

Our team planned the final day to be dedicated to forming plans for the future, including ideas for future

projects and where to find funding for them. We decided that the distance between Bucharest and Cluj is too

big to organize such meetings on a regular basis but that it would make more sense to organize regular

meetings for the groups in the Ardeal region and the Muntenia region (and to involve some alumni from

Moldova too) and hold one big meeting annually for groups from all historic regions of Romania. There is

also the issue of migrants. In Cluj the number of migrants is small and their involvement in the workshop

was modest. In Bucharest the situation is different and Bucharest meetings would be very important in

bringing this category into focus.

‘Intersectional’ workshop participants.

In the following weeks the participants from Cluj kept meeting in mixed groups for lunch or dinner. Such

socializing contexts are very important for maintaining interest and also in forming long-lasting

relationships between people belonging to different groups.

All in all with 20 participants and over 100 people impacted, we consider that the project was a success and

that, with constant activities focused on bringing not just the leaders of the communities but the

communities themselves closer together, there can be real progress that will lead to significant changes

inside the communities.

Anton Andreea Diana: “It was a wonderful experience. I met great people and I had something to learn from

everyone. This event made me think more about other groups’ issues and also from now on I will be able to

look beyond the visually impaired community’s difficulties. The workshop made me more ambitious to

fight for my own rights and also I felt that we can move forward together as a team made up of different

marginalized people without prejudices.”


Alumni Joint Project Report by Alexandrina Dinga and Team Members

Public Services Focused on People through Design Thinking

By Alexandrina Dinga and Team Members

Design Thinking, a new concept

On Friday, November 15 th 2019, we organized the workshop Public

services focused on people through design thinking in Iasi, at which

over 30 representatives from local public institutions, academia, private

sector and non-governmental sector learned how to make use of the

design thinking method.

Design thinking is a creative problem-solving method used in many

areas. It is an iterative process that starts from the deep understanding of

the challenges of the user/citizen through empathy and continues with

the exploration of innovative solutions, the creation of a prototype, as

well as its testing.




Fall 2015 Alumna


Spring 2012 Alumna


Spring 2017 Alumna


Fall 2018 Alumna

The workshop was facilitated by two of the best specialists in this field

in Romania, Tudor Juravlea and Adelina Dabu from Design Thinking Society. The two form, together with

their colleagues, a consultancy and facilitation team that help organizations innovate and work in

transformative and innovative projects, coordinating teams that solve complex problems.

Starting with the ‘why?’

The idea of the workshop came in the context of Iasi being selected as partner in the Open Governance

Partnership (OGP). In September 2019, the municipality of Iasi officially began implementing the Local

Action Plan for OGP, which is set to take place over the course of 2 years.

The Local Action Plan is composed by three main measures, one of which was proposed by CIVICA. The

measure, Design4Community - Mechanism for co-creating solutions for public problems, aims to develop

a mechanism of public participation that requires a collaborative process between the local public

administration, academic institutions, private sector and civil society, in order to identify, prioritize, and

develop innovative and intelligent solutions to some community issues.

Design4Community involves the use

of the design thinking methodology at

the stage where solutions are

identified to the problems prioritized

by the community. As such, we found

it both useful and necessary to

organize a workshop on design

thinking for people who work in the

local public administration,

universities, private businesses and


Design Thinking workshop participants challenged with starting

with the WHY?

How did the event flow?

The event was organized at the

Google Digital Hub of Iasi, a space

set in the Economics and Business


Alumni Joint Project Report by Alexandrina Dinga and Team Members

Administration Faculty of Iasi and is generally used by private entrepreneurs, university professors, as well

as other people involved in the community. They offered the space and all their facilities to us free of

charge, as they understood the need we were addressing.

The first who showed up at the hub were the two facilitators, Tudor and Adelina, who started to organize

the space for the workshop. Soon, they were accompanied by the rest of the organizing team and the

participants, who started showing up earlier than expected.

Contrary to the expectations of the participants, design thinking is more about `thinking` than `design`.

Adelina and Tudor emphasized for the participants that it is a human-centered method which seeks to find

the solutions best adapted to the real needs of the audience using creativity and expertise in the most varied


The first step is always the hardest

The first step was to analyze the in-depth

‘pain’ of the people who report a problem in

order to discover other needs than the ones

that come up at first glance. For this, the

teams choose a client from the other

participants: a person who has had one of the

proposed negative experiences, which were

selected on the criteria of being common to

anyone from the room.

Once the client was chosen, each team

interviewed him/her, using carefully

constructed questions as the facilitators

indicated. Thus, the heterogeneous teams

would increase their chances of finding a

solution that best matched the reality of the

client to whom it is addressed and respond to

his/her real needs.

‘DesignThinking facilitator, Adelina Dabu, instructing

participants in the workshop.

In the next step, the teams analyze what they have learned from their clients in terms of an on-going

process. It results in a map of the experience which leads to their new challenge: to formulate the problem

from the point of view of the client and from the perspective of the need he/she had at that time.

The most interesting and entertaining part comes next: for the specific need the teams have chosen, they

moved on to the ideation process. They went through several methods of ideation, each with its own

requirements. After three rounds of proposing ideas, they were challenged even more: come up with

solutions with as little money as possible, but with the help of a lot of people. The ideas kept on coming.

In the final part of the workshop, the teams had to select a limited number of their ideas and integrate them

into a solution. The fun part: the teams had to build a prototype of the solution, which would have to be

scrutinized by their clients. Did he/she understand what it is? Did he/she find it useful? Would he/she use it?

Would it help him/her? Each team received constructive feedback to their proposed solution and were then

able to improve on them, when and if necessary.

What was the outcome?

At the end of the day, it was a rewarding experience as the participants went through all the steps of the

design thinking method. We were more than pleased to gather and see all the different people at the same


Alumni Joint Project Report by Alexandrina Dinga and Team Members

table in the workshop and we believe that most, if not all 35 of the participants were impacted deeply and

walked away with more confidence in the fact that more creative solutions for the city can be found

through a multidisciplinary approach, dialogue and efficient collaboration.

A testimonial from Lavinia Chiburte, alumni of the Spring 2012 Professional Fellows Program who has

also participated in the workshop, offers more insight:

`Participating at the Design Thinking workshop was a great opportunity to gain skills and go through a

process of generating ideas on a subject of importance for a community. It was empowering to see how

many facets an issue has and how many solutions you can generate.

Working in communities and on civic problems always presents the challenge to accurately define a

problem, and finding proper solutions. These are 2 processes that are always needed when working with

communities of any kind: neighborhoods, issue-based communities, small towns and villages, etc.

Thus, the workshop answered to these needs, and offered the necessary context and tools to better

approach them. Also, reconnecting with other alumni was an excellent context for sharing ideas of future

collaboration in Romania. The event’s agenda was well-crafted, and the workshop was clear, well-defined,

and it contained real-life examples.

This experience made me very excited about design thinking, and left me wanting to apply its principles in

my day to day work.`

‘DesignThinking participants celebrating their positive experience in the workshop.


Full Joint Project Report by Sylvia Nichita and Team Members

We want a city without barriers!

By Sylvia Nichita and Team Members



Fall 2017 Alumna


Fall 2016 Alumna


Fall 2017 Alumna


Fall 2018 Alumna

Focsani will be a city without barriers!

Our team project ‘We want a city without barriers’ was held in Focsani

as a two-day workshop with 70 participants attending both days. The

team consisted of alumna from the Professional Fellows program that

all of participated in the U.S. We also organized an important visit to

the Union Museum from Focșani. It was an urban exploration with

almost 30 people including people in wheelchairs or similar vehicles.

Using social media and print and visual media, we project we reached

an audience of 4,000 persons. Following the workshop, we organized

another meeting of the group on the 10th of November, in order to

prioritize the issues of the community in Focsani and to stand up to

challenge the authorities to solve at least part of them.

One of the most important post-conference activities is well underway. Volunteers are being trained in

accessibility laws and methods of documenting conditions as they are now and suggest improvements. A

survey form has been developed and is in use with the purpose of establishing a set of minimum conditions

of accessibility in Focsani. The initial focus is on governmental and other public buildings, in addition to

parks and sidewalks. Supermarkets and large store chains will also be in focus. The aim of the survey is to

develop a map of accessibility in Focșani.

Media coverage included:

Agerpres, National Press Agency, Radio

Romania Actualitati, RomaniaCurata.ro,

stiriONG.ro, pre-promotion of the event, as

well as coverage by local radio stations,

newsprint, and bloggers. Pre-promotion of

the event, as well as coverage by local radio

stations, newsprint, and bloggers.

Feedback from Maria Larisa Nechita,

Anca Cristina Irimia and Aurora

Martin, alumni of the Professional

Fellows Program

Together with Anca Irimia and Aurora

Participants of ‘We want a city without barriers’.

Martin we organized a training in Focșani in

order to promote accessibility and to talk about the obstacles that disabled people are facing in that region

of Romania. A group of people with different mobility issues was welcoming us shyly. At the beginning

they thought that we have the main role in leading the discussions, but in the end they noticed that they

were the main speakers and that their opinions are valuable for everyone. Their shyness quickly turned

into the desire to speak up due to some energizers and fun games that we put in practice, which included

everyone. The success of this training was that instead on emphasizing on everyone’s disability we

focused the activities on everyone’s ability. This is the reason why, we preferred to call the new team a

very united mixed abilities group, to encourage them to use their skills during the day.


Alumni Joint Project Report by Sylvia Nichita and Team Members

We introduced the concept of community organizing, explaining to our new friends that individual work is

important, but what brings real changes is a very well-done group work. They felt comfortable around us,

talking about their daily obstacles. During the course of the we identified group leaders that will take the

responsibility for their future meetings and for our first gathering we obtained more than we planned and

hoped. This means that by the end we felt the group spirit.

The team helped them identify common goals and objectives and they were happy to find

out how much they were able to achieve together.

Through our workshop, we wanted to convey an essential message, that they are useful for the whole

community and that their presence in different places educate. They were having the tendency to

underestimate themselves, but after this weekend spent together we left under the impression that they are

more confident in their abilities. The start was promising, and we are trying to mentor them as much as

possible in their future meetings.

We are glad that they understood

the importance of integration and

accessibility, that they were

willing to learn new ways of

tackling issues and that they were

open minded to our suggestions

and recommendations. Moreover,

we introduced the Professional

Fellows Program, and let

everyone know how much this

experience broadened our

horizons. They had lots of

questions about our American



accessibility, integration and the

life of disabled people there.

Participants of ‘We want a city without barriers’.

We ended the training with a plan that they will follow in order to accomplish their common goals faster.

All in all, it was a wonderful experience where everyone felt understood and included. We hope that we

brought a meaningful contribution to their development as a team and we are looking forward to have the

chance to work with them again. We kindly thank Silvia Vrînceanu Nichita for her huge efforts and we

appreciate her work as community organizer!”

Feedback from Iuliana Negoiță, leader of Disabil.eu Civic Group

The two day workshop "We want a city (Focșani) without barriers!" was intended for people with reduced

mobility, meant for the members of the DizAbil.eu Civic Group the opportunity to learn community

organizing techniques, to explore together the City of Focșani, but also to draw public attention on

accessibility issues they are facing.

The workshop helped us realize that we must be more visible in the public space and have a common voice

if we want our message to reach the decision makers.

In the future we want to put into practice everything we have learned, thus advocating for a Focsani who

will give more autonomy to people with disabilities, a more accessible Focsani, a more friendly Focsani.

Thank you, WSOS/GLC, “Me, you for them Association”, CeRe and the U.S. Department of State.


Photo Gallery: “Taking Acon—Changing Lives in Minority Communies”—Volume V

“Taking Acon—Changing Lives in Minority Communies”—Volume V



Bulgaria: Bringing Communities Together for an Intersectional Social Change

Emil Metodiev and Vladislav Petkov, Country Directors

2018 Poster - Professional Fellows Program Alumni from Bulgaria


Empowering Deaf Young People

Alexander Ivanov

Coalition Building to Enhance Women’s Rights

Valentina Gueorguieva

Organizing for the Environment: Saving the Kresna Gorge

Desislava Stoyanova


Learn and Grow Together: Creating a Community to Address

Youth Unemployment

Paulina Petrova

Empowering Young People in Samokov: Hub-a as a Place to Stay

Georgi Nikolov

To Boston and Back: Open Spaces for Youth Empowerment

Dobrina Kisova

Establishing a Youth Center in Razlog

Kostadinka Todorova

Empowering Youth and Promoting Sex Education

Julia Jurieva

Empowering Roma Students in Rakitovo

Angel Kochev


Eat and Meet: Building Bridges Through Food

Vesy Deyanova, Diana Nedeva

Antiracist Wave

Emil Metodiev, Vladislav Petkov

5 th GLC Professional Fellows Alumni Reunion in Bulgaria
















Taking Acon—Changing Lives in Minority Communies—Volume V

Bringing Communities Together for an Intersectional

Social Change in Bulgaria

By Emil Metodiev and Vladislav Petkov, Country Directors

Continued successes and developments

In 2018-2019 the Professional Fellows Program in

Bulgaria continued its successes and developments

using the foundations of knowledge and

relationships which have been built in the last 7

years since the program was introduced in the

country. Within the FY 2017 grant managed in the

U.S. by WSOS/Great Lakes Consortium we have

sent 10 more fellows in 2018 to the U.S. program,

expanding the total number of our national GLC

alumni network in Bulgaria to 52 people (by the

end of 2018 and growing further in 2019 on FY

2018 grant). The alumni network has been an

active source of ideas, inspiration and action, which

has supported alumni to continue their work in an

ever-worsening national climate when it comes to

social issues.

As of 2017, there is a clear worsening of the

political and social environment in Bulgaria when

it comes to social issues. The political backlash

against the Istanbul Convention (2017/2018) was

followed by a similar process in relation to the

Strategy on Children and the Act on Social

Services (2019). These documents were finally

withdrawn with the government doing next to

nothing to properly communicate or defend

positions on human rights. In the process, civil

society has been demonized. This happens with the

Alumni and supporters during Equality League

meeting, July 2019.


Fall 2013 Alumnus


Spring 2012 Alumnus

support of the nationalistic parties which are

currently part of the governing coalition and use

their highest level to spread disinformation and

sometimes pure hatred. The Roma, LGBTI and

immigrants have been the main scapegoats of these

processes. There is a general impression that

perpetrators feel empowered by the political

narrative against disadvantaged groups. 2019 was

particularly harmful for social issues with 2 rounds

of elections (May 2019 for European parliament;

October 2019 for local authorities). Nationalistic

parties ran on clear hate-driven campaigns against

Roma and LGBTI communities. The mainstream

parties also engage in nationalistic trope or ignore

the issues altogether. Nevertheless, vibrant

communities are organizing both in the LGBTI

movement (around Rainbow Hub and the 3 NGOs

supporting it) and in the Roma movement (around

Roma Standing Conference).

Bulgarian national alumni network

For our national alumni network, the biggest

accomplishment in the last year has been the

establishment and launch of the Equality League:

an informal coalition of organizers, activists and

organizations, working with disadvantaged

communities with focus on Roma, LGBTI and


Taking Acon—Changing Lives in Minority Communies—Volume V

Deaf people. The Equality League became possible

due to the relationships built between leaders from

different disadvantaged groups within our alumni

network. More than 15 GLC alumni are

occasionally or permanently participating in the

planning, decision-making and/or implementation

of initiatives by the Equality League. This unique

coalition has become one of the major outcomes of

the GLC program in Bulgaria.

Since its launch in November 2018, the Equality

League has organized 2 residential seminars for 20

participants (50% or more of which GLC alumni), 3

Thematic months (Ability month in December

2018, Roma month in April 2019 and LGBTI

month in June 2019), pre-election debates with

major campaigns running for local seats in Sofia

(October 2019) and a diversity fest with Equality

March in the town of Plovdiv (November 2019). In

the meantime, the League came up with several

public statements on important social issues and

was organizing regular meetings with its members

and supporters.

Bulgarian alumni on the frontline of the Equality

March in Plovdiv, November 2019.

Among all these activities, 2 stand out. The preelection

meeting with major political players

running for city councilors in Sofia on equality

policies towards disadvantaged groups was a big

achievement for the Equality League, as it was first

of its kind and sparked interest with all invited

campaigns sending their representatives around the

table. It was an important process of holding elected

officials accountable when it comes to equality

policies on local level. The second milestone for the

Equality League was the Diversity Festival in

Bulgarian alumni meeting with Laura Johnson,

October 2019.

Plovdiv, which consisted of 7 events in 3 days,

engaging Roma, LGBTI and Deaf people, along

with wider audience. The peak of the festival was

the Equality March which took place in the central

streets of Plovdiv on the International Day of

Tolerance – November 16 t, 2019. The march was

led by a Roma band and gave space to Roma and

LGBTI flags for the first time in an outdoor event in

Plovdiv, which in 2019 was the European Capital of

Culture. GLC alumni from Slovakia joined the

activities in the Diversity Fest. The Equality League

uses the human resources, expertise and networks

of the GLC alumni in Bulgaria, but has also secured

funding from the European Commission for some

of its activities.

Along with the numerous activities and meetings

around the Equality League, GLC alumni in

Bulgaria stayed engaged through various events

organized around visits of U.S. mentors. In

February 2019, alumni met in Hub-a in Samokov to

discuss social entrepreneurship with 2018 fellow

(and Hub-a manager) Georgi Nikolov and his U.S.

mentor, Tamera Jacobs, from Rockaway Youth

Task Force. In the same month fellow Valentina

Gueorgieva organized a public screening of the

documentary The Organizer, followed by a

discussion with her U.S. mentor, Wade Rathke. A

public event on community organizing with strong

participation of alumni was also organized by

Desislava Stoyanova with her mentor, Mo George.

Fellow and LGBTI activist Denitsa Ivanova has

also welcomed her U.S. mentor in 2019 – Jay

Gilliam from Human Rights Campaign, who was

able to attend Sofia Pride along with many other


Taking Acon—Changing Lives in Minority Communies—Volume V

fellows who marched behind the Equality League

banner at the event. A meeting with U.S. mentor,

Laura Johnson, in October 2019 was also a great

success and brought together 20 alumni for a

discussion on faith-based organizing. Finally,

Bulgarian alumni were excited to welcome Dave

Beckwith, GLC Project Advisor on the

Professional Fellows Program since 2011, for the

first time in Bulgaria in November 2019. Dave’s

first day in the country included a protest against

gender-based violence, organized and attended by

many GLC alumni and continued with field trips

and working with alumni throughout his short, but

impactful visit.

Along with the regular 1-week visits by U.S.

mentors to their Bulgaria-based fellows, Bulgaria

was the first country to host an American organizer

for a longer 3-week period as part of the new U.S.

alumni engagement effort. Her visit was organized

by alumni Denitsa Ivanova and Valentina

Gueorgieva. U.S. mentor, Mo George, worked on a

long-term training course with 2 groups of people:

1) a strategy-building training with staff from the

organization LGBT Deystvie, which resulted in a

hands-on campaign strategy for introducing civil

partnerships in Bulgaria; 2) an open group for

beginner organizers working on different issues.

The campaign that Mo supported the planning of

was launched with a direct action in front of the

Bulgarian Parliament in December 2019 and will

run for the next 2 years.

International relations integral

The international relations between Bulgarian

alumni with U.S. mentors, as well as with alumni

from other European countries were intensified

with the Bulgarian alumni network hosting the 5 th

international reunion for GLC Professional Fellows

alumni. Taking place at Sunny Beach in June 2019,

the event brought together more than 70 people

from the 5 European countries within the GLC

program and the U.S. It has allowed for discussing

challenges, sharing successes and drawing

inspiration from the efforts of others. In addition,

Bulgarian alumni took part in 2 international joint

small grant initiatives, supported by GLC:

Vladislav Petkov traveled to Bratislava, Slovakia to

support an LGBTI process, initiated by Albanian

alumnus Arber Kodra; Milenko Milenkov traveled

to Budapest, Hungary to prepare a new project with

other Roma alumni initiated by Bulgarian alumnus,

Dzhevid Mahmud.

Nine of 10 Bulgarian fellows who participated in

the U.S. exchange in 2018, implemented their

individual follow on projects using their U.S.

experience and help of their U.S. mentors. The

success stories that they shared highlighted the

impact that these fellows made in minority (incl.

disabled, Roma, women, youth) as well as small or

rural communities, and on the environment.

In October 2019, the collaborating partner in

Bulgaria was changed and after 7 years of

coordination by C.E.G.A. Foundation, the project is

now taken over by association Pro European

Network. This formal change is not expected to

create any major changes on this program in

Bulgaria, as the program will be still led and

coordinated with people who were engaged in it

since its very beginning and are also alumni. The

program is now co-coordinated by Emil Metodiev

(2012 Fellow) and Vladislav Petkov (2013 Fellow).

We are looking forward to continue working on

5th GLC Alumni Reunion in Sunny Beach,

Bulgaria, June 2019.

this project which has fueled various social

movements in Bulgaria and has not only introduced

community organizing in the country, but has made

it so that it becomes more and more popular and

recognizable approach, especially among minority

communities. This gives us confidence and

motivation to continue our fights. Onwards!


GLCAP / Great Lakes Consortium for International Training and Development

“Shaping Participatory Democracy”

European Fellows traveled to the United States in 2018

on FY 2017 Professional Fellows Program from BULGARIA

The program is funded by the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational

and Cultural Affairs, Office of Citizen Exchanges, Professional Fellows Division.


Success Story by Alexander Ivanov

Empowering Young Deaf People

By Alexander Ivanov

Empowering young Deaf people

The year after my participation in the GLC Professional Fellows

Program has been a great success for the Deaf community in Bulgaria.

I concentrated my efforts on further developing the Youth Organization

of Deaf Activists (in Bulgarian, the abbreviation of the organization

also means ‘I can’). In collaboration with Listen Up and many other

partners in Bulgaria and abroad, we managed to make progress in 3

main directions: 1) engaging more young Deaf people and fostering

their identity and motivation for change; 2) advocating for the

Bulgarian Sign Language Bill; 3) raising awareness about the Deaf


Deaf identity and youth engagement

In 2019, the Youth Organization of Deaf Activists organized a number

of events, specifically addressing young deaf people that gave space for

discussing various issues our community faces and which served to

bring new people on board of our movement. In March 2019, we

organized meetings with the Deaf community in Sofia and Plovdiv

with the special participation of my U.S. mentor from Gallaudet

University, Professor Kathleen Wood. Both meetings were dedicated to

the topic of education through sign language. In June 2019 we had a

very successful meeting in Sofia called ‘The Deaf community – issues,

solutions, actions’, which was an important step for enhancing


Alexander Ivanov traveled to

the U.S. in the Fall of 2018 and

had his internship at Gallaudet

University in Washington, D.C.


leadership among the deaf youth community. We also used the meeting to promote the idea of diversity

within our community. In October 2019, we held deaf youth meetings titled ‘Are we a community?’ and

‘Are we Deaf people equal?’ with the second one being dedicated to the upcoming local elections in

Bulgaria. In November 2019, we had a meeting with the title ‘Citizens of the world’ which looked at our

identity, role and responsibilities as global citizens. Finally, in the second half of November 2019, we

organized a trip to the European Parliament in Brussels for 25 young Deaf people. During the meeting we

met with 2 Bulgarian members of the European Parliament and explored and discussed different issues

concerning us. The trip sparked a big

interest in the community, and we had to

make a selection among the people who

applied to join.

'The Deaf community - issues, solutions and actions',

June 2019, Sofia.

In each of these community meetings, we

engaged between 20 to 30 people and had

a big impact on 150 of our growing

community of engaged young Deaf people.

The meetings allowed so to explore the

idea of Deaf identity (also the reason we

spell it with a capital D) and have

supported community building, trust,

motivation and alignment on priority issues

for us. The Deaf community is traditionally

marginalized and structurally disengaged,


Success Story by Alexander Ivanov

the emergence of more and more people willing to speak up and act has been a big success for us and allowed us

to act on our 2 other priorities.

Young Deaf community members in front of the

European Parliament, November 2019.

Bulgarian Sign Language Bill

2019 has been a great breakthrough for legal changes

that would lead to the recognition of Bulgarian Sign

language and improve access to Deaf signers to

education, social services and overall participation in

social and political life. This commitment is now shared

by Bulgarian authorities. This was officially announced

during the conference ‘Sign Language and education for

Deaf people’ which took place on March 20 th 2019 in

the Hilton Hotel in Sofia. The conference was organized

with the support of alumni Deaf organizations, the

Ministry of Education, Sofia Municipality, National

Children’s Network among others. During the

conference, the then deputy minister of education,

Denitsa Sacheva, reconfirmed the willingness of the

government to adopt a Bulgarian Sign Language bill that will recognize the importance of Sign Language for the

Bulgarian Deaf community. A working group on the bill has been created that includes Deaf activists from our

group. The draft of the Bill is nearly ready and is expected to be voted in Parliament in 2020. The conference was

organized during the visit to Bulgaria of my U.S. mentor, Professor Kathleen Wood, from Gallaudet University who

spoke at the conference.

Raising awareness

Along with our advocacy aspirations and community

building, we also continued working on raising

awareness about our community in general society and

among other vulnerable groups. In December 2018, we

supported the organization of a few events within the

Ability Month that is organized by the Listen Up

Foundation within the framework of the activities of the

Equality League. The Equality League – being a

coalition of organizations and activists from different

minorities – has been a great platform for us to promote

During the conference ‘Sign Language and

the issues of the Deaf community in collaborating with a

number of other GLC alumni from Bulgaria and abroad.

We’ve been also an active part of the Diversity Fest

which the League organized in Plovdiv in November 2019. The Deaf community was the biggest group that attended

the screening of thematic movies within the Fest, while many of us also joined the Equality March on the

International Day of Tolerance on the streets of Plovdiv. As part of our awareness raising activities, we have been

very active in media and other platforms where we could share our stories and raise the overall awareness about our

Deaf community, our identity, challenges and fights.

The past year has brought a lot of success for the Deaf

community in Bulgaria. Part of them were possible due

to my participation in the program, which has given me

both insights and motivation to invest in community

building because it became clear that any social change

needs a community to push for it and carry it out. We

made important steps in this direction and the way

forward is clear.

Equality March in Plovdiv, November 2019.


Success Story by Valenna Gueorguieva

Coalition Building to Enhance Women’s Rights

By Valentina Gueorgieva

Inspired to Action

I came back inspired from my fellowship in the U.S. where I had the

chance to learn and experience community organizing with my U.S.

mentor, Wade Rathke, at ACORN International in New Orleans,

Shortly thereafter, I started cooperating with the Bulgarian Fund for

Women on building a wide coalition of organizations and groups for a

protest on women’s rights to take place in March 8 th 2019.

Women’s rights in Bulgaria

The International Women’s Day has a complicated history in Bulgaria.

During the socialist regime, like in other Soviet bloc countries, the day

was observed, but has been gradually stripped out from its political

meaning and has rather become an occasion for women to receive

flowers by their male colleagues and partners. There has also been a

strong narrative for the day to be celebrated as Mother’s Day,

implying motherhood is a precondition for being a ‘real woman’. It

was not until 2017, when the Bulgarian Fund for Women organized

the first March 8 th protest that civil society and women’s rights groups

started reclaiming the political potential of the day and putting forward

important issues for women’s equality and liberation. In 2017 and

2018, the marches were rather small. It was in 2018 when more and

more actors in the field realized we needed to strengthen

collaborations and work together to enhance the fight for women’s



Valentina Gueorguieva

traveled to the U.S. in the Fall

of 2018 and had her internship

at ACORN Intl. in New

Orleans, Louisiana.


2018 has been a tough year for women’s rights

Bulgaria was supposed to ratify the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence

against women and domestic violence (more commonly known as ‘the Istanbul Convention’) – an

important international document which offers comprehensive measures to tackle gender-based violence

and which we have already mentioned earlier. The Convention got attacked by conservative and

evangelical groups, claiming it will ‘open the

door for same-sex marriage’, will impact

procedures for accepting refugees and that

society will not be able to differentiate

between men and women. This narrative was

embraced by the nationalist junior partner in

the governing coalition and through media

and social media, the issue turned into a

‘moral panic’. In the process, the President,

the Orthodox Church, governing and

opposition parties all came out with positions

against the ratification, usually with baseless,

but homophobic and transphobic arguments.

Participants in Protest for women's rights, March 8th,



Under the pressure of public opinion, the

government announced they will postpone the

ratification and members of the parliament

Success Story by Valenna Gueorguieva

took the issue to the Constitutional Court. In the summer of 2018, the Constitutional Court announced that

the Convention introduces concepts which are unclear (referring to ‘gender’) and is thus in breach with the

principle of ‘rule of law’. The panic around ‘gender’ did not stop there: the word has become a trigger and

is currently used as an insult, while the non-scientific term ‘gender ideology’ was taken from the depths of

conspiracy theories narrative and normalized in official language, in the Constitutional Court decision and

statements of ministers.

Discussion in Club for Eclectic Feminism: Where to now? December 20th,


In parallel with these

developments, spaces for

discussion of like-minded

people became more and

more important. One such

space was the Club for

Eclectic Feminism which I

have created along with likeminded


Organizing different types of

events and discussions, the

Club has gradually become an

important platform to

exchange ideas about the

women’s rights movements

and to build relationships

between actors and groups

with shared interest. In 2018, the Club had more than 10 events bringing together more than 200 people. In

December 2018, it gave space for reflection on the very successful protest against gender-based violence

that took place on November 25 th for aligning ideas on how to move forwards. It was during this meeting

that we laid the groundwork for a wider coalition to work together on the next March 8 th street action.

Political protest on International Women’s Day, March 2019, Sofia.

Coalition formed

In the following couple of

months, a coalition of 9

organizations and groups was

formed to carry out the

International Women’s Day

political protest. The value of

this coalition was in its

strong intersectional

character: it engaged

women’s groups, LGBTI

organizations, human rights

organizations, a student

equality club, a feminist

leftist collective and Roma

Standing Conference. The

march was embraced by 9

more actors, including

Greenpeace Bulgaria, service

providers for victims of

violence and human rights


Success Story by Valenna Gueorguieva

organizations. The coalition came together in several meetings and prepared comprehensive protest

demands. They included: freedom from domestic and gender-based violence, guaranteed reproductive

rights for women and girls, gender equality in both private and public spheres and dignity and rights for

women from marginalized and vulnerable communities. The diversity of actors was also made visible

during the protest itself – people with different profiles and coming from various groups took the stage for

short speeches, advocating for the rights of women in different communities and life situations.

Common ground

The 8 th March rally for

women’s rights 2019 was a

success. More than 700 people

attended and wide media

coverage was secured. It was

yet another indicator and proof

that different actors need to

work together for advancement

of women’s rights and for

ensuring the voices of women

from the most vulnerable

communities. Working in a

wide coalition like this is never

easy and poses a lot of

challenges and sometimes

tensions. It is however,

crucially important that the

interests of the different actors

Political protest on International Women’s Day, March 2019, Sofia. are well aligned and common

ground is articulated and put forward. This is how coalitions work – and is one of the important lessons

I’ve learned during my participation in the Professional Fellows Program.

Many of the actors who took part in the coalition which organized the rally for women’s rights on March

8 th collaborated again for the protest against gender-based violence on November 25 th, 2019. This is an

indicator that coalition building has been successful and is gradually becoming the engine that keeps

women’s rights on the political agenda.


Success Story by Desislava Stoyanova

Organizing for the environment: Saving the Kresna Gorge

By Desislava Stoyanova

Invaluable skills learned for community organizing

When I left for the U.S. to engage in the great experience that was the

Professional Fellows Program managed by GLC, I was mainly hoping

to focus my efforts on working with people who collect trash to sell it

for recycling. This is why I was more than excited to be placed in

Picture the Homeless in New York, an organization that was

organizing homeless people – a very similar group to the one I was

addressing back in Sofia. However, diving into the depths of

community organizing through my fellowship, has also fueled another

campaign that I have been working on in the last 10 years – Save

Kresna Gorge.


Desislava Stoyanova traveled

to the U.S. in the Fall of 2018

and had her internship at

Picture the Homeless in New

York City, New York.


The narrow Kresna Gorge is Bulgaria’s richest biodiversity site –

containing EU protected snakes, tortoises, 12 species of bats, golden

eagles and griffon vultures. Linking the Balkan interior with the

Mediterranean, the Gorge is a crucial north-south migratory corridor

for bears, wolves and other species and it is a Natura 2000 site

specially protected by EU law as a haven for 35 rare European habitats

and 92 rare species. But Kresna Gorge’s wildlife and the livelihoods of

its local people are both at risk, if the construction of the E79 Struma

motorway goes ahead through the Gorge.

Locals have been protesting for over 20 years to protect the Kresna

Gorge. However, the Bulgarian government is sticking to their

damaging plans even though there is a reasonable alternative to the

motorway. 2019 was a crucial year for this fight.

Got rejected, but not stopping


In August 2019, Bulgaria applied for EU

funding for the Struma highway.

However, in October the European

Commission rejected the application,

stating that the project would impact

protected Natura 2000 zones and that the

submitted application form was in

violation of the European directives. The

Commission’s official letter makes clear

that the route approved by the

Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)

2 years ago is not the same as the route

that financing is sought for. In practice,

the Commission letter signaled that the

project cannot be financed with European

funds, and if implemented, there is a risk

of infringement procedure for Bulgaria

Working on a sign on the route "Motorway out of the gorge",

September 2019.


Success Story by Desislava Stoyanova

breaching the EU Habitats Directive.

Nevertheless, the Bulgarian government was not impressed and announced that if EU funding would not

be available, they will build the motorway as planned with resources from the national budget. It was time

for new opposition against this move.

With my colleagues at Za Zemiata (For the Nature) and other environmental organizations and groups, we

have initiated one local, one national and one European-wide petition, to support the multiple direct

actions and protests we have organized so far.

The attacks kept coming

The European petition which was

supported by the platform WeMove

has collected 211,318 signatures. The

Petition was taken to the European

Parliament and a hearing was

organized by the European

Parliament Petition Committee on

December 2 nd, 2019. Bulgarian

Members of the European Parliament

from different political families were

united against the petition, stating

that the plans of the Bulgarian

government were in line with the EU

legislation. They have also attacked

the petitioners, implying the latter are

working against the Bulgarian

Demonstration for Kresna Gorge, September 2019.

‘national interest’. Finally, the

petition was closed and the European

Parliament will not follow the case

further, as they believe the European Commission will not allow any breach of EU legislation in the

implementation of the project.

A national online petition has been collecting support in parallel in the span of 2 years. Over 10,000 people

in Bulgaria have signed it, calling the Prime Minister to change the plans for the motorway so it doesn’t

cut through the Kresna gorge.

Its not over yet

Finally, on December 23, 2019, 481 signatures of residents of Kresna Municipality were submitted to the

Council of Ministers. The residents of Kresna want the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Bulgaria to

build the highway and transit traffic outside the Gorge, so that they bypass the town of Kresna, Kresna

Gorge and the most valuable agricultural land in the municipality of Kresna. The signatures were collected

in support of the Civic Initiative "Rescue the City and Municipality of Kresna" and represented by a local

initiative committee of 7 people.

The petitions were only a part of bigger efforts including on-the-spot protests, online information

campaigns, videos and media efforts. The battle for Kresna was especially intense in the past years and

media close to the governments has clearly taken sides, attacking us and the locals who oppose the passing

of the motorway to the gorge. My name and photo were published in media and I was blamed for

sabotaging the motorway and acting against the ‘national interest’. Nevertheless, we have persisted and

managed to mobilize support on local level and raise awareness on national and European level.


Success Story by Desislava Stoyanova

Direct action in the Kresna Gorge, September 2019.

The battle for the Kresna Gorge is not yet over and

we will see new developments in 2020. However, I

feel better equipped with community organizing

techniques and tactics and still rely on support from

my mentors. What is more important, I draw

motivation and strength from fellow alumni, both in

Bulgaria and from other countries. During the 5 th

International GLC alumni reunion in Bulgaria in

June 2019, alumni from different countries

answered my pitch and donated money for our

campaign. The feeling of support that this gesture

brings is crucially important for any organizer to

keep up the fight.

Desislava with U.S. mentor, Mo George.


Success Story by Paulina Petrova

Learn and Grow Together: Creating a Community

to Address Youth Unemployment

By Paulina Petrova

After I came back from my extremely useful learning experience with

the GLC Professional Fellows Program in the U.S., I have gone

through all the materials I have gathered from Brian Perea, my U.S.

mentor and the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, schools and

other NGOs I have worked with in Chicago. Some brilliant ideas were

born from the experience I had. I continued putting my effort on

building a community of young people and stakeholders to effectively

tackle youth unemployment, especially among young people from

vulnerable groups (from ethnic minorities and with different


My activities and achievement go in two main directions: 1)

supervising a group of volunteers who work directly with young people

in school age to better prepare them for entering the labor market; 2)

sharing experience and engaging stakeholders for addressing the issue

of youth unemployment, especially among young people from

disadvantaged groups.

Direct work with young people

In 2018 and 2019, a group of international and local volunteers have

consistently worked with young people on their skills for employments

and social entrepreneurship. Under my mentorship, supervision and

support, they ran educational and motivational activities with young

people both in school settings and outside of school. The focus is on


Paulina Petrova traveled to the

U.S. in the Spring of 2018 and

had her internship at Logan

Square Neighborhood Assoc.

in Chicago, Illinois.


work with young people who are particularly vulnerable to unemployment: young people from ethnic

minorities (especially Roma) and young people with specific learning needs. It is estimated that more than

200 young people engaged directly in such activities and our evaluation shows that they feel better

equipped to enter the labor market. The school activities took place in 140 th Secondary School in Sofia,

located in the Obelya neighborhood.

Volunteers run an out-of-school workshop making candles with kids in Sofia.


Success Story by Paulina Petrova

Building community of supporters

In parallel, I have made it my mission to

build relationships and raise awareness

among different stakeholders about the

need for systemic change and work with

young people from vulnerable

communities on their access to the labor

market. Doing that, I have organized a

number of meetings, conferences and

presentations with a wide number and

profile of participants: non-governmental

organizations, educational authorities,

teachers, resources teachers among

others. One such meeting took place in

February 2019 where we presented the

achievements of our direct work with

Meeting with stakeholders, February 2019.

children and youth in front of more than

20 stakeholders and young people.

Similarly, in October 2019, we had a much bigger meeting with educational experts and staff, and we

discussed ideas for sustainable change in the field with more than 100 people. Meetings like this have

helped us raise awareness on the issue and build a community of like-minded experts and stakeholders,

which we will continue growing until we are strong enough to demand a systemic change. Until then, we

will keep on working directly with young people on their skills and attitudes towards employment and selfemployment

and will keep on collecting data which would support our demands in the future.

Walk what you talk

My experience of the U.S. has made these developments possible for a number of reasons, but the most

important is that I have seen how important it is to build a community of stakeholders and supporters who

share your views on an issue. This is the path for change and we are walking it.

Meeting with stakeholders and supporters from the field of education, October



Success Story by Georgi Nikolov

Empowering Young People in Samokov:

Hub-a as a Place to Stay

By Georgi Nikolov

An alternative creative space for youth

I was born and raised in Samokov – a small town with a little more

than 20,000 people, an hour drive from Sofia. As most places of this

size, Samokov has little to offer to its young people, many of whom are

disengaged or leave the place altogether. As a person living here, I did

not see a creative and constructive space for the youth. I wanted to

create an alternative to the public and private spaces around. I pitched

the idea for such a space to the Municipality of Samokov and it was

well received. They provided a place and funded a small renovation,

meanwhile my like-minded colleagues and I did the rest ourselves. The

place – called Hub-a – was officially opened in November 2017, a

couple of months before I left for the U.S. to be part of the GLC

Professional Fellows Program.

After my participation in the program, and especially my placement in

Rockaway Youth Task Force in New York, I came back with much

clearer idea of how to shape the Hub-a in a way that will better fit the

needs of young people in the town. I also gained immense know-how

on social entrepreneurship and how to keep the space self-sustaining

without compromising its accessibility. We have further discussed this

idea with my U.S. mentor, Tamera Jacobs, from Rockaway Youth Task

Force who visited and supported us in February 2019.


Georgi Nikolov traveled to the

U.S. in the Spring of 2018 and

had his internship at

Rockaway Youth Task Force

in Far Rockaway, New York.


Hub-a, Hub-a, Hub-a

Today, the Hub-a works as a co-working space and a cultural center that strives to answer the different

needs of young people in Samokov, particularly those working as free-lancers, studying or in seek of

creative environment.

We like to describe Hub-a by

explaining what it is not: it is

not a café, but you can have a

drink; it's not a library, but

you can get a book; it's not a

club, but you can hear a lot

of great bands and

performers; it is not an

office, though it has

everything you need to call it


Guests from Rockaway Youth Task Force (NY) in Hub-a, February 2019.

In 2019, we have hosted

around 50 events – cultural,

entertaining, educational and

creative, to cater the needs of

young people in the town.

Although we have started the


Success Story by Georgi Nikolov

place with the idea to be able to keep the

creative, young people in the town engaged, we

have gradually started attracting visitors from

other localities, including people from Sofia.

This has contributed to networking and the

friendly environment we strive to achieve. The

trainings we host are mainly focused on

leadership and entrepreneurship skills. Many of

the events we host give the talented young

people a venue to express themselves.

One of the things I got inspired about during my

fellowship in the U.S. is also adding a more

focused video dimension to what we try to do.

This is how the Groovy Office was born – an

Creative workshop in Hub-a.

online series for alternative music bands and

inspiring professions which is shot in our space.

In 2019, we produced 5 episodes of Groovy Office (between 10 and 22 minutes long) which have generated

around 4,000 views on YouTube.

It is still early to say if Hub-a will serve its purpose in keeping young people in Samokov. It can however

be concluded with no doubt, that it has provided a space where many young people feel the ownership to

set forward ideas, work together, co-create plans and products. It has proven that co-working and

alternative cultural spaces can survive outside the big cities and that social entrepreneurship can flourish in

small towns, too. Due to my experience in the U.S., I see this space as a place where community is forming

and this can lead to more change. I intend to keep this process going.

Shooting an episode of Groovy Office in Hub-a.

Entrepreneurship training in Hub-a.


Success Story by Dobrina Kisova

To Boston and Back: Open Spaces for Youth Empowerment

By Dobrina Kisova

What do you associate with?

When I asked several people what they associate Boston with, I

received different answers - choice, diversity, comfort, salvation,

opposition, democracy, home, ocean. I was also informed that this is

where the first public beach in the U.S. was introduced, the first

subway, and that this is the city with the most pedestrian spaces in the


For me, Boston is a place that manages to combine slow walks through

the blossoming streets and the never-ending business whirlwind. It is

unknown how the ocean breeze finds its way between ties and

anxieties, as progressive ideas and social innovators manage to

provoke a society that is increasingly confused in its American

political reality.

As a representative of cultural center Hamalogika, I was part of the

Professional Fellows Program organized by WSOS - Great Lakes

Consortium for International Training and Development - Shaping

Participatory Democracy. I had the opportunity not only to experience

the Boston spring, but also to be a part of the social change brought

about daily by the nongovernmental

sector in


Thanks to The

Community Training and


Dobrina Kisova traveled to the

U.S. in the Spring of 2018 and

had her internship at

Community Training and

Assistance Center in Boston,



Assistance Center and my U.S. mentors, Bill Slotnik and

Sylvia Saavedra-Keber, I not only got to meet professionals

and leaders, but also present the philosophy of Hamalogika

and the ideas of the people behind it this name.

Inspired, I sprung into action

After my visit to Boston, the first action that I undertook was

a summer seminar led by my U.S. mentor, Bill Slotnik, in the

town of Burgas where Hamalogika operates. The leadership

session focused on how to organize communities and build

effective organizations that can make a big difference. The

session were designed to help young leaders, staff and

members of community based organizations on the following

key topics: elements of effective non-governmental

organizations; strategies for recruiting and developing leaders,

how to lead during unpredictable times, the art of fundraising.

U.S. mentor, Bill Slotnik, at a seminar in

Burgas, August 2018.

Open Forum

With the participants from this seminar, we planned and

created together the "Open Forum" that was designed

especially for youngsters. It was organized at the end of


Success Story by Dobrina Kisova

September 2018 under the theme "Me, You and They - Stereotypes and Barriers in Communication". We

had 10 people involved in the planning and have impacted more than 100 youth and adults.

Together with guest speakers from the National Youth Forum, Frene School, Smokinya Foundation and

Open Spaces, we explored the factors that affect communication inside and outside of social networks, the

causes of communication barriers and how stereotypes are imposed. In an informal environment and

through innovative approaches, methods for dealing with different communication situations were sought.

We focused on communication due to its key importance on building relationships, and thus organizing


Seminar on youth organizing, Burgas, August 2019.

How we did it

The program of the forum was divided into modules that conditionally unite the communication barriers

and stereotypes into three groups - "Personal", "Hierarchical" and "Social".

During the debates on the Personal module, the personal barriers in communication were explored: how we

deal with lack of confidence and confidence itself; how to be flexible and adaptable; how to be in tune with

our emotions and their expression.

The Hierarchical module searched for answers on the questions: How do we interact with authorities in the

family, at school, at work and others? How does this affect relationships? What problems arise in such

situations and what methods/techniques can be applied in order to overcome and/or avoid conflict or poor


The Social module supported participants in understanding how we interact in a different types of

environments - friendly, unfamiliar, hostile, etc.; how we connect with other people; how we live in a

community; how we get along with people who are different from us; how we overcome prejudices and

seek sincere communication.

An important aspect of the forum was the involvement of young people in the preparation and working

process. The team of young people who prepared the event was in fact, trained in practice (learning by

doing) in the methodology of organizing an event of this magnitude and all related activities.


Success Story by Dobrina Kisova

Spaces are important

Both the seminar with U.S. mentor, Bill Slotnik, and the Open Forum afterwards convinced me once again,

how important spaces are for young people to meet, build relationships, explore issues they face and

looking for ways to address them together, as a community.

Meeting with stakeholders and parents of youth in Burgas.

My experience in the U.S. and in Bulgaria has convinced me that the administration cannot meet the needs

of the people, whether it is in the Balkans, Europe or the USA. But the real inspiration comes from people

who have turned their life philosophy into a profession as well, and they follow their urge to turn their

dreams into a professional realization. With each passing day, I am convinced that the process of building a

democratic, empathetic and society-controlled organization that is able to "create" new leaders and

effective social change is the working solution to many of the contemporary problems associated with

education, culture, arts and civic engagement.

I can safely say that while the octopus continues to crawl out of the most unexpected places on the Boston

shores, the planned social change will happen just as unexpectedly, by people like us - with a bold vision

for the future, and working for a more responsible, cohesive and active society today.

Developing a sense of self through art and games with youth in Burgas.


Success Story by Kostadinka Todorova

Establishing a Youth Center in Razlog

By Kostadinka Todorova


Kostadinka Todorova traveled

to the U.S. in the Spring of

2018 and had her internship at

Action NC, in Charlotte, North



Dream big, work hard

A long dream of the members of International Initiatives for

Cooperation (IIC) and the young people and volunteers that are

part of it, was to establish a center where the youth of Razlog can

meet, share, interact, create and develop. The region is developing

fast economically but in terms of social and educational services

there is a big gap and certain social groups are lacking

opportunities and facing difficulties in satisfying some necessities.

The project was divided in 3 phases:

Phase 1: Making the local community aware of the existing needs

Phase 2: Developing a holistic program to involve all youngsters

in the municipality of Razlog

Phase 3: Establishing a well-equipped and accessible youth center

Planning session with the youth in Razlog.

During the first phase we managed to organize meetings with the Mayor and the Vice Mayor of the

Razlog Municipality who are in charge of social policies. A series of meetings were held with concerned

parents and educators. We received

very interesting feedback and

opinions that complemented our

observations and helped us further

build the future steps of our

campaign and identify effective and

successful activities for involving

the local youth. Parent took a proactive

role in signing a petition,

informing other parents and

organizing meetings with the local

government representatives. Fifty

people became active in the

initiative and 1,000 have been

Building unity session with the youth in Razlog.

impacted so far by this.


Success Story by Kostadinka Todorova

The initiative is a success story in itself as parents have never taken any leading role in such actions and

they have never been organized to stand for the development of their kids. Social media was also a tool we

used to inform and make the local community aware.

Phase 2: develop the holistic program

Based on the findings from the first

phase, the IIC team developed a

holistic program for involving

young people in the community life

and developing their potential and

soft skills. The program deployed

tools that are used in the nonformal

and informal learning and it

encompasses a wide range of topics

such as intercultural learning,

international development and



communication and conflict

resolution, building cultural

awareness and accepting values,

Developing the holistic program session with the youth in Razlog. media literacy and digital



discrimination and hate speech, ecological awareness and healthy life style, developing creativity and

artistic skills, building sense of entrepreneurship and any other soft skills that could be useful for their

future. In order to implement the challenging program and achieve satisfying results, the IIC team has

organizing training courses, youth gatherings, regular meetings, cultural evenings, youth exchanges, social

initiatives, volunteering, campaigns, debates and discussions. IIC cooperates with institutions, schools,

NGOs, social centers with the purpose to provide as wide range of activities and possibilities to be


The physical center is situated in the office of International Initiatives

for Cooperation.

Where shall it be

The third phase of the process to be

implemented is a question of time

for the municipality to be able to

provide an accessible and adequate

place for a youth center. We have

checked several possibilities, but

some of the places need to be

further renovated. At the moment,

the youth center is situated in the

premises of Association

International Initiatives for

Cooperation, but we hope that soon

youngsters will have their own

place where they can create and


To sum up the major success of our project is that we managed to make all of the interested stakeholders

aware and stimulated them to cooperate and act. Parents had a highly pro-active role and initiated a local


Success Story by Julia Jurieva

Empowering Youth and Promoting Sex Education

By Julia Jurieva


Julia Jurieva traveled to the

U.S. in the Spring of 2018 and

had her internship at FIERCE

in New York City, New York.


Putting my newly acquired knowledge to work

Using my experience from the Professional Fellows Program in the

U.S., together with my colleagues from the International Institute for

Youth Development PETRI-Sofia and the International Foundation for

Y-PEER Development, we continued working with high school

students in Sofia and from rural areas around Sofia (Gorna Malina,

Kostinbrod) on sexuality education, gender equality and violence

prevention. We used peer education approaches, as well as the

interactive and participatory methods of non-formal education. We

trained the young people in the schools to train others, to be proactive

and take initiative. We applied some community organizing approaches

as well, motivating the students to identify issues that are relevant for

them and to work on them, organizing campaigns and training sessions.

We identified community leaders among the students and worked with

them in order to train and empower them, which helps them become

successful peer educators in the field of sexuality education. In July

2019, we organized a training for 36 young people and 6 teachers from

6 high schools in Bulgaria.

The 3 aims of this training course were:

· preparing young people to work as peer educators in the field of

health promotion and prevention of risky behaviors at school,

· educating school specialists to work with youth on these topics, and

most importantly,

· creating a team of trained adults and young people who will take the “peer-to-peer” approach to schools.

The training focused on topics related to the prevention of various risk behaviors and the promotion of a

healthy lifestyle in general: awareness of

HIV / AIDS, sexually transmitted infections,

unwanted pregnancy; alcohol and drug use;

assertive behavior, leadership skills,

including decision-making, communication

and critical thinking skills through the use of

the peer education methodology, non-formal

and interactive approaches. Through

presentations, interactive workshops,

working in small groups and sharing

experiences the participants had the

opportunity to discover, analyze and

understand the goals of the training course.

On the last day of the training, after all topics

and methods related to the peer education

approach were considered, participants

planned and implemented demonstration

sessions on the topics covered. A planning

session for future school activities was also


School initiative: young educators training their peers,

October 2019.


Success Story by Julia Jurieva

Training for 30 peer educators, July 2019.

Students taking initiative

In the next phase of the project (September – November 2019), the trained young people took the initiative

and organized training sessions at their schools with my support and the support of our team of 10

constantly engaged volunteers – both international and local. An overall of 15 such follow-up initiatives

were organized, impacting up to 300 young people.

For example, our team visited the

90th Secondary School ‘General

Hose De San Martin’ in Sofia in

October 2019 to check on their

progress in the spheres of nonformal

and peer-to-peer education,

and to offer advice. We worked

with 2 groups of students – one was

from our previous and more

expanded training session, while

the other was a class from the same

school that had not previously

participated. The older group of

students had the task to introducing

the younger students to important

topics related to sexual and

reproductive health, gender

equality, communication, selfexploration.

The specific topics

they decided to focus on were selfexploration

and teamwork. The

workshop was outdoors to

experience the full potential of the

non-formal education.

School initiative: young educators training their peers, October



Success Story by Julia Jurieva

Understanding each other makes the difference

The youngsters gradually learned the key points through a variety of interactive games and educational

discussions. They found out that if they work as a team, their chances of winning the games would increase;

and that school would feel safer if they had a better understanding of each other and themselves. The

teachers had the opportunity of seeing the main advantage of non-formal education put into action: because

they were outside, the children were concentrating more on performing their tasks, and because the general

format was via games. They subconsciously soaked up all the key points of the workshop.

The goal of our visits was to show the advantages of the peer-to-peer method to as many students as

possible, and to encourage children to share information with each other in a fun way. For peer-to-peer

educational method to work however, we needed to empower young people to become peer educators. I

used a lot of my experience in leadership building from community organizing to work on youth

empowerment of young people to become peer educators and thus engage their peers. This has been a great

advantage in our approach.

Working on the topic of sexuality education and gender equality is particularly important in recent days, as

the public discourse has become very hostile. With the unfortunate debate around the ratification of the

Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence

(The Istanbul Convention), schools have become more reluctant to work on such topics. This limits the

access of young people to quality education in relation to their health and well-being, which in some cases

lead to unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases and school drop-out among others. This is why

we consider our work in the last year very successful. It is so, and many thanks to the community

organizing insight I have managed to acquire through my Professional Fellowship with my U.S. mentor,

Mustafa Sullivan, from FIERCE in New York. I have thus embedded this into our team methodologies and



Success Story by Angel Kochev

Empowering Roma Students in Rakitovo

By Angel Kochev

My neighborhood, my home

My minority community which has been my focus is the Roma in

Rakitovo, a small town in the south of Bulgaria with a population of

9,000 people. 80% of them do not have a permanent job and are forced

to work seasonally in the Czech Republic, England and other European

countries. The Roma population in Rakitovo is almost 50% and they

live separately in a Roma settlement. The main issues of the Roma

community are: unemployment, segregation in education, poverty,

prostitution, moneylenders and buying of votes during elections. I

know these problems and the community very well because I was born

and grew up in this neighborhood. I have also been a volunteer and

activist for the past 15 years to empower people in the neighborhood.

Even when I get tired and want to stop and get out ... I still have to go

back because this is my home. Wherever I go, no matter how long, I go

back and try to share what I have learned. These problems are part of

my everyday life. Considering these circumstances, the formation of a

team of people who are constantly in the position of realizing ideas and

actions in the city is complicated.

Pre-departure activities:

Before traveling to the U.S., I used community organizing tools to meet

and talk with 35 people face to face for 15 to 20 minutes. The people

pointed out a lot of problems, but the most problematic for our


Angel Kochev traveled to the

U.S. in the Fall of 2018 and

had his internship at Action NC

in Charlotte, North Carolina.


neighborhood are two: (1) The drinking water that does not reach the houses at the end of the city; (2)

Rubbish and the lack of responsible attitude towards the neighborhood in this direction by local rulers.

These were short-term problems and we tried to find solutions for them. We visited the Municipal

Administration several times with 4 of the more interested people to improve the negative things in the

neighborhood. More importantly we were able to convince the city's ecologist to visit the neighborhood to

see the place with the garbage.

In conclusion, the trucks come

twice a week instead of once as


U.S. mentor, Jessica Moreno, at a program with students in Rakitovo.

Based on this first success I

tried to engage more people to

work together on solving more

issues in the Roma community

that they identified. By this

time, I had meetings with more

than 70 members of the

community, but when I got

comments like: "Angel you are

not married, and you do not

have our responsibilities. We

understand perfectly that


Success Story by Angel Kochev

together, the community people can change the situation. We do not have time. We want to change things,

but we do not believe it is possible… and when we get back from work we prefer to be with our families".

This is when I realized that I needed more help to move forward.

Daniela Davila and U.S. mentor, Jessica Moreno, from

North Carolina with local leader at a program in Rakitovo.

Mentors are there to clarify things

I was fortunate that during my pre-departure

field work I was already connected with my

U.S. mentor, Jessica Moreno, from Action

North Carolina and one of her colleagues

who told us something very important during

a Skype talk. "If people do not want to do

what you do, then you do the things that they

do, or be with them while doing them".

Talking with the American mentor was a

great help. I realized I was doing things I did

not know. There was a problem with my

original outreach method and why I could

not get people to get together for a general

meeting. After the Skype meeting with my

mentor, I carefully analysed the public

events in the city - what are they and if I

have access to them. After realizing this, I

had to apply a different strategy. Then, I

started to do what I always did, but with the

clear idea of persuading people to get

together. I started visiting weddings in my

neighborhood. In August and September

2018 alone, there were more than 50

weddings! These weddings are celebrated on

the street where many young people come to hear the music. I also began to visit an evangelical church

where I have the support of the Pastors, but it took time to present my ideas to this community.

I had a total of 3 Skype conversations with my American mentor before going to the U.S. Jessica Moreno

gave me pretty good advice about what to do and how to do it. I shared my challenges. She said: "Angel,

do not give up, if you help one person it is worth it, it's difficult". I followed her advice. I also understood

the importance of using social media, so I made a Facebook group for the neighbohood and before going

to the U.S., I had 47 followers.

Activities after returning from USA

When I got back, I started to organize more one on one meetings with the community before my American

mentor came to the city. When Jessica Moreno arrived, she took part in a community meeting. Moreover,

Jessica did a workshop for the volunteers on how to grow our group and she also provided trainings for

community leaders and the Roma parents on the topic “How power works”.

I gave motivational talks to Roma students in different schools and explored methods of empowerment,

and how they may be able to get involved in solving some of the problems they were facing. In one of the

schools, we attended a class with Jessica where I told my personal story about what I achieved and went

through – the challenges and difficulties. Jessica talked about the importance of having goals in life and

not just goals, but ambition and the need to be surrounded by the right people in order to succeed. As a

result of my organizing work, I was able to create a strong group of leaders and partners and started doing


Success Story by Angel Kochev

more outreach to be able to organize on a larger scale. I started focusing more on the younger generation

in schools and get more interested young citizens in this Roma community.

It was also very helpful that my mentor gave a workshop and presentation to the Roma community leaders

on 2 major campaigns that she was working on in Charlotte, NC. One was a rapid response team to

respond to calls from the community on ICE sightings and the other project was a tenant organizing

resource center. The Roma community was shocked that some people in the U.S. were living in deplorable

conditions and that people were being racially profiled, targeted, and questioned about their immigration

status. They gained insight and felt recharged to continue working in their communities.

My U.S. mentor’s visit and activities were very helpful for me and my community work. She was able to

share a young perspective to organizing in our community. Her testimony of how and why she got into

this work was very impactful and important to help motivate others to be the voice they need in their own


U.S. mentor, Jessica Moreno, and myself facilitating a program in Rakitovo.

It is a very difficult and long road ahead of us in our (and most other) Roma communities, especially

where the younger generation cannot find local jobs and are motivated to leave their homes and families to

find work abroad. It is especially challenging when strong leaders of our community are leaving who were

role models for the younger people. By participating in the Professional Fellows Program, I had an

opportunity to join the alumni network in my country and connect with alumni from other European

countries, as well as benefiting from the knowledge of alumni who work with Roma or other minority

communities, as well as the mentoring by the U.S. partners.


Alumni Joint Project Report by Vesy Deyanova and Diana Nedeva

Meet and Eat—Building Bridges Through Food

By Vesy Deyanova and Diana Nedeva

Potluck — Bulgarian style


The project "Meet and Eat - Building Bridges Through Food" aims to


bridge the divide between foreigners and locals through food. The

project seeks to create an opportunity for better social cohesion between


different communities in the city through the facilitation of three potluck

Spring 2019 Alumna

-style community dinners in October and November 2019 in Sofia,


Bulgaria. Before each dinner the participants, approximately half of

Fall 2015 Alumna

whom are local residents and half – migrants, are invited to bring a dish

to share with the rest of the guests. Through facilitated, empathy-driven

discussions, participants are encouraged to talk to one another, sharing stories of food and belonging.

The 3 events were attended by 71 people in total from 9 different countries, including Bulgaria, Iraq, Syria,

the US, Turkey, Russia, Philippines, the UK and India. Participants were mainly recruited through social

media, specifically through the organization’s Facebook channel as well as other channels aimed at

foreigners living in Sofia.


While all 3 events in Sofia ran

successfully, the general

public took great interest in

the second event which ran

during the 2019 Refugee

month. This came as no

surprise as great effort was

made to publicize the event,

both in social media and

through partner organizations.

All events followed a similar

format whereby guests were

welcomed and invited to

leave their dish at a

designated place (if they

brought one) after which, they

were informally introduced to

one another. Once most of the

guests had arrived, one of the Our project poster “Meal to Share”, also our Facebook event cover.

facilitators introduced their

dish, sharing the story behind it. Naturally, guests were invited to introduce their dishes one by one. After

all dishes were introduced, guests were invited to take a plate and share in the delicious food at the pre-set

table. To break the ice, questions were randomly placed on the table to spark a dialogue between soon to be

friends. At the end of each dinner, in order to finish the activity, participants were given a small card to

write how they were feeling. To conclude the event, guests were encouraged to exchange contact details in

order to keep in touch.


Alumni Joint Project Report by Vesy Deyanova and Diana Nedeva

Potluck Dinner #1 in Sofia with community residents and migrants.

Potluck Dinner #2 in Sofia with community residents and migrants.

Evaluation is paramount

Each participant received a

feedback card at the end of

the community dinner. Guests

were encouraged to write one

word, which described how

they were feeling at the time.

In addition, everyone was

encouraged to share some

thoughts on their experience

with the other guests

attending. The overarching

comments were about how

cozy and natural the

experience was and how

people felt “at home” and

“liked having a dinner with

close friends”. Some guests

even went on commenting

that they would have similar,

big, family lunches at home

every Sunday and that this

was something they missed a

lot. Attending the event

reminded them of the

importance of being in a

closely-knit community. The

word that came time and

again to describe the

participants’ feeling was


Our experience shows that

people are interested in and

enjoy attending events that

bring strangers together. We

feel we have impacted at least

350 people with this project.

Participants’ feedback

following this pilot project

has confirmed that there is a

need and space for such

events to take place. Due to

this, further funding will be

sought in order to realize

another 12 dinners in 2020.


Alumni Joint Project Report by Emil Metodiev and Vladislav Petkov

Antiracist Wave

By Emil Metodiev and Vladislav Petkov



Spring 2012 Alumnus


Fall 2013 Alumnus

Striving to empower young people

‘Antiracist wave’ was an initiative that strived to empower young people

and activists to take action against racism in their own communities. It

was an educational and action-based project, which took place in

Bulgaria in November 2019 through January 2020.

The Antiracist Wave was developed in 3 phases. In phase one, which

was partly supported by GLC small joint alumni grant, 32 young people

from different parts of Bulgaria came together in Sofia for a 2-day seminar on November 23 rd the 24 th,

2019. During the seminar they explored together, the topic of racism and invisible racism and in a

participatory way built a catalogue of local activities which they can undertake to tackle this phenomenon

in their local communities and environment. The majority of the participants in the seminar were young

Roma. Many of them have been engaged in activities of the Roma Standing Conference.

Building understanding

In the second phase of the initiative, participants in the seminar – individually or in teams – planned and ran

their own activities, engaging young people from their communities and immediate environments. The aim

of those activities was to build understanding on what racism is (including invisible racism) and how we

can react to it and be pro-active in addressing it. By December 2019, 7 local events had taken place in

different locations in Bulgaria with groups of young Roma people. Those events engaged another 80 people

who discussed how to tackle the topic of racism. At least 5 more events were planned. The team of alumni

supervised the events and showed technical and small financial support for running the local events, which

are otherwise fully youth-led. The condensed timeframe and the occurrence of different parts of the country

is what actually constituted the “antiracist wave”.

In the third phase of the

initiative, the youth who

organized antiracist events

throughout the country came

together again to share

achievements, discuss challenges

and plan further steps in the long

-term fight against racism. The

meeting took place in January


Antiracist? Who me?

The concept of the Antiracist

wave involved a deeper

understanding of what racism

was and how it worked. It

particularly focused on the socalled

invisible racism, which is

so normalized and embedded in

our cultural environment, that it

Follow-up action plans during the Antiracist wave seminar in Sofia,

November 2019.


Alumni Joint Project Report by Emil Metodiev and Vladislav Petkov

is not always recognized or sanctioned. It can however have similar consequences to the visible forms of

racism and holds the overall power structure that enables racist thinking and actions.

Strength in numbers

The other value of the

project was the strong

engagement of young

people from minority


particularly the Roma.

Through interactive

educational methods,

they were empowered

and motivated to take

action themselves,

which has already given

visible results with a

number of actions

implemented shortly

after the initial seminar.

One of the reasons for

that was the strength

participants found

among each other. As

some of them shared

during the evaluation of

the seminar in

November 2019, the

emerging community of

like-minded people was

a motivational drive that

enabled them to work

further on the topic. We

figure that we have

impacted 350 people

and more.

The Antiracist wave is

part of a bigger

antiracist program of

Pro European Network

in Bulgaria, which also

obtained funding for its

implementation by the

Erasmus + Programme

of the European Union.

Participants of the Antiracist wave seminar, November 2019.

Youth-led follow-up community meeting in the town of Breznik, December



5th GLC Professional Fellows Alumni Reunion in Bulgaria

5th GLC Professional Fellows Alumni Reunion in Bulgaria

June 2019 Sofia—Plovdiv—Sunny Beach

The Reunion Title: “Inspiring stories of social change in

time of hate” highlighted the main condition that our alumni

deal with, both in Europe and in the U.S.

The host country Bulgaria has experienced the worsening political and

social climate since 2017 and although some of our alumni there had

some accomplishments, the campaign (and results) of the May 2019

European election was especially harmful for social justice issues in

Bulgaria. This overall theme was very important not only for Bulgaria,

but also for the rest of the participants as many of them were looking

for more energy to continue their fight against the far right and success

stories that could motivate many other people to work harder as some

countries (incl. Bulgaria and Hungary) were preparing their local

elections in the fall of 2019.


Collaboration and a year of planning

The Reunion was organized with support from the

Equality League, a collaboration that was initiated

3 years ago after the 2016 Reunion of the

Bulgarian alumni when they realized that alumni

were interested to support different minority

issues (not just focusing on their own) as many of

them were interconnected and together they can

build more power that helps them to push some

issues. Three organizations which are led by our

alumni (Deystvie working on LGBT issues, Listen

Up working on disability issues, and Youth Roma

Club Stolipinovo) started to work collaboratively

on Roma, disabled and LGBT issues. They

applied for and received European funding –


5th GLC Professional Fellows Alumni Reunion in Bulgaria

through CEGA which was the WSOS partner in the Professional Fellows Program in Bulgaria - for a 2-year

program – along with the Center for Community Organizing in Slovakia (which is WSOS partner in

Slovakia). This grant allowed them to include other European partners incl. participants of the Reunion as

they worked in some affinity groups with them (Roma, LGBT, disabled, social entrepreneurship etc.).

Over 75 participants from the 5

European countries and the U.S. joined in

the 2019 WSOS Professional Fellows

Alumni Reunion to connect, share and learn

from each other. Each alumni contributed

$100 deposit in advance to this event to copay

for the expenses. The largest group was

(as always) from the host country Bulgaria,

followed by Slovakia, Hungary and

Romania. It was great too, that Albania was

also represented by 7 alumni including the

Country Director).

The U.S. had 6 mentors participating in

the 5 th Reunion (Sondra Youdelman,

Campaign Director at People’s Action,

Brooklyn, NY; Cris Doby, Program Officer

at Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family

Foundation; Jay Gilliam, Director of Global Leadership, Human Rights Campaign, Washington, D.C.;

Hannah Willage, Alumni Relations Manager, Interfaith Youth Core, Chicago, IL; Louis Goseland

Community organizer, Illinois Alliance for Retired Americans, Bloomington, IL; Martin Swinehart,

Principal/Owner Tinderbox). In addition, from WSOS/GLC, Project Manager Elizabeth Balint was with the

U.S. mentors from their arrival in Sofia and Deb Martin, Director joined later as the Reunion started in

Sunny Beach.

This was the most diverse Reunion

we have had because we were able to

include fellows with all types of disability

(incl. a blind fellow with her service dog,

another fellow with visual impairment, a

deaf fellow, a deaf and dumb fellow, and a

fellow in a wheelchair with his personal

assistant), a variety of fellows with Roma

and other ethnic minority backgrounds,

fellows from various LGBTQI communities

and more. Diversity was well represented

also from the U.S. (African American,

LGBTQ, geographic areas, expertise, age,


LGBTQ alumni were invited to arrive earlier

as the prior weekend was the Sofia Pride so

they could participate in some of the


5th GLC Professional Fellows Alumni Reunion in Bulgaria

meetings and activities before the PRIDE as well. Some arrived early including one U.S. mentor, one

Albanian fellow and some Slovak alumni.

The U.S. mentors spent the first 2 days in Sofia with the GLC Project Manager and Bulgaria Country

director to do the final planning for the event and to participate in some of the programs with alumni

organizers/local partners. The rest of the Albanian, Slovak and Hungarian fellows flew in to Sofia by June

12th and most of them spent time together at a welcome dinner with the American and Bulgarian alumni

before leaving on the morning of June 13th with a charter bus for the Reunion location to Sunny Beach,

Bulgaria. Because this was a long drive to the Black Sea, a short visit and lunch were included in Plovdiv,

the 2019 Cultural Capital of Europe. Besides a stop for a presentation at a community center in the poorest

Roma neighborhood where one of our fellows is doing his organizing work, there was a lunch and short

sightseeing visit through this beautiful historical town.

The bus arrived to the hotel in Sunny Beach by dinner where we connected with all the Bulgarian alumni

as well as with the Romanian alumni who drove directly there.

The 3-day professional agenda included

plenary sessions and small group discussions,

allowing learning from U.S. and European

alumni presenters as well as time for peer-topeer

learning and planning ahead in affinity

groups. In most cases, U.S. mentors prepared

joint presentations with European alumni (that

was a new approach we did not have in

previous reunions) so participants could learn

not only U.S. examples, but European practices

and challenges. It was also a good opportunity

for European alumni to do some co-training

with the American partners and learn during the

preparation and the implementation of the


Unfortunately, some alumni did not pay close

attention in advance to the proposed agenda, so

Plovdiv – June 2019: Professional Fellows alumni

group visited the 2019 Cultural Capital of Europe.


5th GLC Professional Fellows Alumni Reunion in Bulgaria

they were surprised that the affinity groups

only included three options (LGBT, Roma

and disabilities). Several of the alumni were

very interested in sharing their experience

and getting advice on some challenges related

to social entrepreneurship that is now very

important to reducing poverty in most of the

minority populations. The organizers

arranged an additional parallel affinity group

and GLC Project Manager led a very

valuable meeting, as this was the first time

when alumni from different European

countries had the opportunity to learn about

this subject (that is mostly outside of

community organizing, although some

alumni shared experience how to use

community organizing tools in social entrepreneurship development). The flexibility of the Reunion

organizers was very well received because this allowed everyone to contribute and learn from in an area of

their special interest.

The venue at Sunny Beach was well selected and was above any other location where we had the

Reunion in the previous 4 years. There were a few participants who were overwhelmed with the hot

weather and seeing other people enjoying the pools and the sea and they were complaining that they had a

hard time to concentrate on the program while seeing other people enjoying vacation. In spite of these

comments, all of the professional activities were well-attended and fellows were very active in the

discussions and learning opportunities. During this Reunion, we had no major medical issues although we

had 3 alumni who were pregnant and one fellow who brought his own personal assistant as he is not able

to take care of himself. While the hotel was fully accessible, he needed separate transportation as the

charter bus did not have a wheelchair lift.

The venue had multiple locations where

alumni could get together in smaller groups

during the breaks and after dinner, so it

helped us to build better connections among

our alumni. There was only one night when

the whole group traveled together to Nesebar

for a neighboring sightseeing opportunity

after dinner in the hotel because the weather

was too hot to be outside during the day.

During the Reunion, the WSOS/GLC Project

leadership had a separate evening meeting

with all country directors to discuss many

aspects of the collaboration, and shared some

best practices with each other because we

have some new country directors/program

Nesebar – June 2019: Sightseeing in the historical town. managers who needed more advice in some

areas. Alumni engagement activities were

also highlighted as this is done differently in each country and it was very useful to hear about this from

each other and share ideas how to expand alumni collaboration to make it more useful for everyone.


Photo Gallery: “Taking Acon—Changing Lives in Minority Communies”—Volume V

“Taking Acon—Changing Lives in Minority Communies”—Volume V



Hungary: From Small and Difficult Steps Towards Huge Victories

Mate Varga, Country Director

2018 Poster - Professional Fellows Program Alumni from Hungary


Disability Organizing: Every Strong Building Has a Solid Base

Daniel Csango

Spreading the Word about Independent Living in Hungary

Zóra Molnár

Enhancing Roma Communities: from Services to Reaching Out for Power

Angyalka Kulcsár


Building Leadership and Increasing Young Workers Membership

Annamaria Kunert

Electoral and Labor Organizing

Beke Karoly


Keep the Trees on the Római Banks!

Szilvia Kaprinyak

Towards a Local Community Theatre

Zsuzsa Berecz

Inclusion in Education, Step by Step

Sara Horlai


Finding a Path in Changing Hungary

Annamaria Kovacs, Timea Kovacs, Agnes Molnar

Action Reflexion Society: Artist and Activist Meeting, Budapest

Balázs Horváth-Kertész, Zora Molnar, Fanni Aradi, Monika Balint,

Peter Petak, Peter Galgoczi

Democracy Lessons for Young Roma Future Voters

Dzhevid Sali Mahmud, Milenko Milenkov, Lydia Mirgova, Jolana Natherova,

Szilvia Szenasi















Taking Acon—Changing Lives in Minority Communies—Volume V

From Small and Difficult Steps Towards Huge Victories

in Hungary

By Mate Varga, Country Director

Community Organizing has grown in


Our chapter in this book stands as proof of how

colorful the Hungarian organizing scheme has

become in recent years. Demanding better social

services for people with disabilities, standing up for

Roma women’s rights, creating better opportunities

in education for Roma children, opening pathways

in political organizing, membership building in

union organizing and fighting for environmental

justice - these are all areas in which the diverse

Hungarian organizing community has been active.

We always put emphasis on small but difficult

steps that are most important in creating a

reflective community environment. These are

essential on the road to victory.

The 2018-2019 program period has also given

reasons to celebrate, bringing important national

breakthroughs in several areas.

We have reached a huge milestone in our effort to

have caring for a sick relative at home recognized

as a job that warrants the minimum salary.

Recently, civil society organizations achieved

success that is unprecedented in Hungary: as a

result of a widespread social movement born in the

wake of a joint campaign by the ‘Lépjünk, hogy

Léphessenek!’ (Let’s make a move so they can

move on) Public Association, the ‘Csak Együtt van

Budapest - August 2018: Alumni meeting in


MATE VARGA, Country Director

Assisted by Eszter Laszlo in 2018 and

Lilla Matyas in 2019 as Country Coordinators

Esély’ (We only have a chance together) Group,

the aHang (theVoice) platform and Civil College

Foundation, the nursing benefit has been raised in

every category with some families receiving 70,000

forints ($237) more than they did previously (a

200% increase).

A similarly important success is that after years of

coordinated and strategic fighting, the “Keep the

Trees on Római” group has successfully prevented

the construction of a dam that would have put an

end to Budapest’s last natural river coast. They not

only stopped a harmful investment but provided

alternatives that are based on wide-scale

cooperation and community planning.

We have also gained a great deal of experience in

electoral organizing and voter mobilization.

Following key learning occasions that our program

and the U.S. mentors provided (such as reunions or

the Citizen Participation University), many alumni

became active around the European Parliamentary

Elections in 2018, the municipal elections in 2019

and its major innovation, the first Hungarian

primary election involving the main candidates

running for the mayor of Budapest.


Taking Acon—Changing Lives in Minority Communies—Volume V

around 12.000 door-knocking actions had been

implemented, successfully supporting András Pikó

(the “C8” local NGO’s independent civil

candidate) in an epic fight and outstanding win.

Alongside with him, Balogh István Lajos (Paci),

our front-runner colleague in Hungarian Roma

organizing also got elected and became the

“Councilor of Roma and Ethnic Affairs”.

Kunbabony - June 2019: Hungarian alumni at the

2 nd National Forum of Community Organizers.

For the Primary, the recently born aHang campaign

-platform developed a data management software

for online and offline voting, organized 19 offline

voting spots throughout the city, and recruited and

coordinated over 200 volunteers for the entire

process. 68,000 people cast their vote, including

over 4,000 online. The success of the primary

election stimulated several local organizing groups

to mobilize voters for the municipal elections.

Many groups successfully promoted their issues in

the campaign, organized events and debates with

politicians and in some very important cases NGOs

and neighborhood organizations made serious

efforts to support independent “citizen candidates”,

which transformed local leadership in places such

as the 8 th district of Budapest or the surrounding

towns, like Szentendre, Budakalász or Pomáz. Éva

Tessza Udvarhelyi and Mónika Bálint were leaders

and key figures of the 8 th district campaign, where

Considering the variety of coordinative, supportive

and educational events organized around Hungary,

such as mentor visits and trainings, alumni

networking events, the newly born and large-scale

“National Organizing Meeting” in Kunbábony, the

Citizen Participation Universities and several

exchanges, we are optimistic that we are providing

the right opportunities for learning and action both

for the small and difficult steps to take, and for the

huge collaborative victories to achieve together.

We had a very successful year working on the

Professional Fellows Program and look forward to

more progress next year.

Kunbabony - July 2019: CPU with alumni

participation from Hungary, Romania and


Sunny Beach, Bulgaria- June 2019: Hungarian

alumni group at the 5 th PFP Reunion.


GLCAP / Great Lakes Consortium for International Training and Development

“Shaping Participatory Democracy”

European Fellows traveled to the United States in 2018

on FY 2017 Professional Fellows Program from HUNGARY

The program is funded by the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational

and Cultural Affairs, Office of Citizen Exchanges, Professional Fellows Division.


Success Story by Daniel Csango

Disability Organizing: Every Strong Building Has a Strong Base

By Daniel Csango

Besides meeting great people, widening my professional

network and learning about cultures, the two main takeaways I

brought home after my fellowship with the GLC program were:

1. My initial plan to develop an effective labor market integrating

program for persons with disabilities – can’t be achieved until basic

services and regulations that support Independent Living (IL) aren’t


2. In order to have these services and regulations, persons with

disabilities will need to unite and show force to pressure decision

makers. To achieve this, I need to shift from being a hero, to becoming

a leader and team up with other stakeholders.


Daniel Csango traveled to the

U.S. in the Spring of 2018 and

had his internship at US International

Council on Disabilities

in Washington, D.C.


Since returning from the U.S., I have focused on developing the first

and most vital aspect of IL which is the service of Personal Assistance

(PA). Having PA means being in control. PAs are employed by

persons with disabilities to support them with their daily needs,

making it possible to achieve the highest level of self-determination.

As a participatory co-teacher at the ELTE University, I teamed up

with some fellow activists and academic people to start developing

the service and create a movement that implements it. We organized a

number of professional events on the subject and we participated in

discussions with relevant stakeholders. Here are some major events

we held:

● Disability Studies Conference - we invited Tom Shakespeare as a keynote speaker, who

summarized the conclusions of a research project about PA relationships in the UK. His lecture was

followed by a panel discussion about the possibilities of introducing PA services in Hungary. It was an

open event attended by nearly 500 people.

● Let’s Talk About PA - we invited

disabled persons, allies and potential personal

assistants to talk about their experiences. It

was an open event attended by nearly 20


● Working with Allies on IL - we invited

disabled activists, experts from NGO’s and

the academic field to see how we can

cooperate and form a strategy. This event was

partly funded by the Professional Fellows

Alumni Grant. It was an invite only event

attended by nearly 20 people.

Working with Allies at Independent Living Event.


Success Story by Daniel Csango

● “Freedom of Choice” through PA, Celebrating the European Day of Independent Living

in Hungary - it was the first time that our initiative celebrated the European Day of Independent Living

with our partner organization, the European Network on Independent Living (ENIL). The primary target

group of the program were persons of different support needs and we wanted to provide the opportunity to

give more in-depth information about the nature of the service, focusing on the characteristics of the

relationship between persons with disabilities and their assistants. We prepared a video for the event which

also went viral with about 30,000 views. ENIL’s activist, Kamil Goungor, addressed us via Skype. We

started registering people for our pilot program and campaigned for the European Parliament Elections. It

was an open event with nearly 70 people attending.

We are forming a Hungarian grassroots IL

movement led by disabled activists in

cooperation with academic figures from the

field of Disability Studies. To assure the success

we have been building a solid base for our

initiative. For about a year now, we have been in

the process of self-identification and strategic

planning. What makes us different from other

disability organizations is our non-charity

mindset. We think of persons with disabilities as

potential actors of the labor market, thus

highlighting the importance of involving the

private sector. Sustainability is a crucial part of

Disabilities Studies Conference with Tom Shakespeare.

our approach. Our long-term goal is to set up a

social enterprise instead of a nonprofit

organization. Until now our engine stakeholder

team was made up of 5 people. To further build our team and movement, we applied for a grant at the

American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC). JDC is now our partner organization.

After winning the grant, we are working on a campaign to showcase the process of empowerment, by

highlighting what PA means in everyday practice and how the service can improve the quality of life of

people with disabilities. The campaign will be based on a multi-part video series with potential for service

users, their relatives, future assistants and the wider community. This grant is also an opportunity for

branding our initiative, strengthening empowerment, community and movement building. The majority of

our engine stakeholders’ team are persons with disabilities who are inexperienced as organizers of such a

campaign. We worked with them in the past on projects, but this will be the first time they will have more

responsibilities. We believe that by involving them in the planning and implementing of the whole

campaign, they will gain new skills resulting in larger self-esteem and a stronger community. To achieve

the base for our movement, we will

organize thematic events after each

video is published and activate our

members to get engaged. Our team

will be built up of 9 people who will

work on designing and implementing

the campaign. Throughout the

campaign we plan to reach hundreds

of thousands of allies with the videos,

register a couple hundred future

service users, and activate a couple

dozen new community members at

our events.

Disabilities Studies Conference with Tom Shakespeare.


Success Story by Zora Molnar

Spreading the Word about Independent Living in Hungary

By Zora Molnar

Living Independently in a Community

I work as a community organizer with the grassroot advocacy group

”Living Independently in a Community” that is made up of people with

physical disabilities. Our group started to function in the frame of a

participatory action research which was conducted by the School of

Public Life Foundation in 2016-2017. We have been working as an

advocacy group since the fall of 2017. I joined the group at the

beginning of the research project because as a wheelchair-user, I

experienced in my own skin how important it is to fight for the

conditions of independent and autonomous living for people with

physical disabilities in Hungary.


Zora Molnar traveled to the

U.S. in the Fall of 2018 and

had her internship at Michigan

Disability Rights Coalition in

Lansing, Michigan.


At the moment, our group counts 20-25 members and 80% of them live

with physical disability. They were engaged in all actions described


I took part in the Professional Fellows Program in the fall of 2018. I

spent my 4-week internship in Lansing, Michigan, at the Michigan

Disability Rights Coalition (MDRC) under the supervision of my

mentor, Theresa Metzmaker. She came to Hungary in February 2019.

During my time at MDRC, I learned a lot about the topics I had been

working on back home, such as independent living of people with

physical disabilities. I also got to know some key concepts of disability

activism, such as disability pride, intersectionality and the importance

of collaboration between different actors and organizations.

Building cooperation with artists

– learning about independent

living on the countryside

I came home with a strong motivation to

put these principles into practice.

During the year after my fellowship, we

developed a strong cooperation with the

Hungarian Civil Liberties Union

(HCLU) which resulted in a joint

exhibition titled ”We don’t really like

each other with the walls”. The concept

of the exhibition was based on the

cooperation of young contemporary

artists and the members of our group

with reduced mobility. The exhibition

was presented not only in Budapest at

the end of 2018, but in 6 different towns

in the countryside of Hungary (Pécs,

Szeged, Győr, Debrecen, Nyíregyháza

U.S. mentor, Theresa Metzmaker, is attending the weekly

meeting of the Living Independently In a Community group.


Success Story by Zora Molnar

and Miskolc) 2019. At each venue, the exhibition was accompanied by an interactive 1-day workshop on

local issues related to independent living. We put together the agenda based on the principles of nonformal

education and critical pedagogy. By the occasion of these workshops, where I was one of the

facilitators, we discussed not only problems and good practices, but tried to show the participants how to

focus on their own knowledge and skills and become active to achieve a positive change together on local

level. This intention was driven by the disability pride approach which I got aquinted with for the first time

in the U.S.

My U.S. mentor, Theresa Metzmaker, and I are meeting

Anna Rubi, coordinator of the ”We don’t really like each

other with the walls” project.

The project aim was to display the exhibiton at

a wide range of public places including, but not

limited to: coffee places, a university, a library

and a shopping mall to break down the

stereotypes of the non-disabled audience

towards people with physical disabilities. It is

difficult to estimate how many people saw the

exhibition in each town, but our goal was to

attract as many visitors as possible when

choosing the venues.

Intersectional relationship building

Along with the exhibitions, we worked on a

series of workshops titled ”Let’s act together for

independent living”. In this case, we did not

want to reach out to the broad public, but we

had a well-defined target audience which we

were going to invite, primarily people with

physical disabilities, and – as a secondary target – we also welcomed their family members and the

professionals working with them to join us. It turned out during the preparations of our first workshop that

mobilizing people with physical disabilities in the countryside to attend a public event is a challenging

task: even more challenging than we expected before. These difficulities made us more careful regarding

our expectations in relation to the number of participants. On average, 10-15 people attended each

workshop including both the locals and a few members of our group who accompanied the tour on a

regular basis.

The participants of the ”Let’s act together for

independent living” workshop in Debrecen.

Although it cannot be considered a large scale

participation, the workshop series still has

important outputs, which I am definitely proud

of. First of all, we created a safe space for those

who were present, where they could freely

discuss their needs and demands. Secondly, this

project managed to bridge the barriers which

usually prevent people with disabilities who live

in the countryside to meet their fellows living in

Budapest. Therefore, these occasions offered

unique opportunties to exchange their

experiences. However, the most meaningful

takeaway for me was always to witness to what

a great extent the example of our group

members – who all live independently – inspires

the local participants, many of whom could not


Success Story by Zora Molnar

even imagine to live with more autonomy. By the end of the workshop, some of them already started to

make plans for taking the first steps how to achieve greater independence.

Continuous fight for accessible public transportation

The second most important field of our activities is the advocacy work we do for accessible public

transportation. We have been dealing with the reconstruction of the metro line 3 in Budapest quite

intensively. We submitted a public data request to the public transportation authority in Budapest to learn

about the exact dates of the recontruction, both in case of the metro stations and also the underpasses. We

are now in the process of publishing the responses we received.

I brought a new perspective to this campaign from the U.S. I learned that it is important to open the scope

of cooperation as broad as possible between different subgroups of those who are affected by a certain

problem. Therefore, we started to engage also the elderly and families with small children into our events

and actions.

Self-development: exploring new segments of my professional identity

One of the most important takeaways I brought from the U.S. and, to be more accurate from my internship

experience – is the attitude on valuing people with disabilities. I was lucky enough to learn about the

disability pride approach which points out that disability should not be seen as a barrier that prevents the

individual from living a life they wish to live, but rather as a special feature which makes them unique.

This is the most important message I conveying to the participants with disabilities whom I met during the

workshops we held in the countryside.

Besides, my fellowship in the U.S.

had a significant affect on my

personal development as well. I

started to realize that people tend to

judge my skills and abilities based

solely on the single fact that I sit in a

wheelchair. They often think that

working in the field of disability

issues is the only professional

opportunity where I might be able to

do my job properly. The experiences

I gained during my internship and the

discussions with my mentor, Theresa

Metzmaker, during her visit in

Hungary and beyond made me aware

that I need to broaden the range of

my professional activities and apart

from being a disability activist,

develop my skills also in other areas.

One on one meeting with my U.S. mentor, Theresa Metzmaker.

This will be the way to demonstrate to the public that although I live a harmonic life with some special

features that stem from a disability, it does not determine my personality, or my professional career path.


Success Story by Angyalka Kulcsar

Enhancing Roma Communities: From Service to

Reaching out for Power

By Angyalka Kulcsar

I chose to make a difference

Coming from a small village in Zala County, Hungary, my background

as a Roma did not play an especially prominent role in my life initially

at school or at home, and was certainly never a hindrance. In my

family, in fact, being Roma was considered a privilege. Only as I grew

older did I encounter negative attitudes or prejudice towards Roma –

and, as a result, towards me personally. After overcoming the initial

sense of helplessness, I decided I wanted to contribute to providing a

counterexample through my behavior, work and the values that I hold

important. In order for me to join debates where decisions are made

affecting the Roma, I realized I have to become a role model by

studying, working and taking action.

In 2005, I joined the Ferencváros Directorate of Social and Child

Welfare Institutions working as an assistant, and later as a family

mentor, working with disadvantaged families and serving as an

intermediary between the families, the local government and various

service providers. Through my work, I realized that social workers

help those at the periphery of society manage their own lives and

become a part of the decision-making processes affecting them.

I decided to enroll in college in 2008 at the age of 27 earning my

degree as a social worker in 2012. By the time I graduated at the John

Wesley Theological College, I had been working in the field of social

work for a total of 8 years, in various capacities. In 2012 and 2013 I

completed 2 courses on mediation: “Managing conflict in the family”

and “Conflict management”.

Meeting on January 4, 2019, with women interested

in improving the lives of their local community.


Angyalka Kulcsar traveled to

the U.S. in the Fall of 2018 and

had her internship at the Trade

Unions in Boston, Massachusetts.


During this period as a family mentor, I had the

opportunity to organize a “Neighborhood

Celebration”, a day when local residents could not

only meet one another but could learn about each

other and the community’s problems while looking

for solutions together. We as organizers encouraged

them to offer their help to each other (for example

home painting, minor electrical work, going to school

together etc.). I was particularly proud of my role in

organizing the Neighborhood Celebration and I

consider it as one of my biggest success stories.

Similarly, in a building where each of the tenants

lived was a client of the Family Mentor Office.

Together, we helped residents create a “community

garden” with the goal of increasing the cohesion and

integration of the residents. The community building

project helped overcome conflict and also educated

participants about environmental protection issues.


Success Story by Angyalka Kulcsar

In addition to my work in the field of social work, I also performed volunteer activities. For several years, I

tutored Roma young people in mathematics and physics in an after-school program, and I worked as a

volunteer in a legal assistance service run by the local government.

I knew I was capable of more

After a while, I felt that my work at the time was suitable only for solving individuals’ short-term problems

even though I am capable of more. The Professional Fellows exchange program in 2018 also helped me to

better see my own potential. In a way, my goal was to move from being someone who puts out fires (as I

did as a social worker) to someone who helps prevent them to begin with. In order, however, to play a

greater role in the long term, I know I needed to learn more.

For the past almost 13 years, I worked in a variety of office and administrative positions in the field of

social work and dealing with Roma advancement. Most recently, at the European Roma Rights Centre, I

worked as a management assistant before being promoted to the position of Litigant Care Specialist and

Executive Assistant, a role which allows me to be in direct contact with Roma settlements and


Meeting on January 18, 2019, with women interested in

improving the lives of their local community.

In order, however, for me to have a say in

decisions affecting society and public policy,

and to continue working for the community, I

felt I must elevate my skills and knowledge to

a higher level.

I very much believe GLC’s Professional

Fellows Program has helped me take this

leap, and start out on a new path while

building on my existing experiences. As I had

hoped, it has helped me to improve my skills,

expand my horizons through a multicultural

environment and enrich my own toolset by

meeting new people and best practices. New

opinions, new challenges and new

opportunities are some of what I encountered

in the Professional Fellows Program.

Some important highlights of my time in the United States included the experience I had with my U.S.

mentor, Paula Ross, at Pathway Toledo, my host and host organization during the program. They showed

me that it is possible for one organization/office to provide a full range of services for people and families

in need by preparing people for job interviews, organizing clothes drives, helping those in need make it to a

barber, for instance before a job interview; or by offering other kinds of counseling to make their lives

easier. I found the group Women of Toledo particularly interesting: their entire board consists of women of

various cultural backgrounds and their approach to helping women in need is one of a mentor through

which they can present role models to their clients. At the Sophia Quintero Art and Cultural Center, it was

interesting for me to see how they support the local community to be self-sufficient. For instance, by

creating community gardens along with a kitchen, or by renting out their spaces for family events /

graduations and for different programs like free dance lessons for local residents. Adelante, which is similar

to a family care center, supports the local community in coping with a serious opioid crisis in addition to

providing basic services like teaching adults to read and write. Something that was new for me was an “At

home conversation” with a candidate for the position of Lucas County Common Pleas Court Judge; in

Hungary, it is not common for people interested in a particular topic or local politics to be invited to


Success Story by Angyalka Kulcsar

someone’s home and be given the opportunity to ask questions. The NGO Food for Thought, which at

first would seem like a group handing out meals to poor people is actually an organization which listens:

they invite poor and needy people to come and share their problems and thoughts. They are also one of the

most environmentally friendly organizations I have encountered. Finally, I was able to attend a fundraising

event for a local Ohio representative. Fundraising as such, is not very well established in Hungary, so it

was interesting to see how well-established this is the U.S. allowing people not only to collect donations,

but also to network. It is important to note that all of these meetings/visits were organized by my U.S.

mentor, Paula Ross. She clearly saw that it would be through examples like these that she could show me

those best practices which she already knew, but felt that I could learn more about through meetings such

as these.

Returning from the United States

I was able to organize two meetings in early

January, where we first discussed how to

approach the leadership positions which are

important to us. For the second meeting,

everyone took stock of what opportunities they

have to attain these positions.

During the spring as a result of these 2

meetings, it soon became clear that entering

political and official life (or for women to

assume elected positions) is quite a bit less

appealing today when the current situation in

Hungary is rather closed and strongly favors

the male roles.

Meeting on January 18, 2019, with women interested in

Currently, we are working on collecting the improving the lives of their local community.

bios and at the same are assessing the

background of each participant; we have also begun compiling their successes and struggles.

What is certain is that reaching the target objective is far more difficult than anticipated, and we may even

have to modify our goal. The steps taken over the course of the project, however, show how diverse and

sensitive this question and this segment of Hungarian society are today, with highly unique needs.

November 2019 meeting with U.S.

Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur in Washington,


Angyalka Kulcsar and U.S. mentor, Paula

Ross, meeting with Women of Toledo, Inc.


Success Story by Annamaria Kunert

Building Leadership and Increasing Young

Worker’s Membership

By Annamaria Kunert


Annamaria Kunert traveled to

the U.S. in the Fall of 2018 and

had her internship at the

MCAN in Boston, Massachusetts.


As a labor organizer, I need to build new leadership in our


I was a member of the delegation that visited the United States through

the GLC Professional Fellows exchange program sponsored by the U.S.

Department of State in the fall of 2018. I spent my intership at MCAN

in Boston with my U.S. mentor, Lew Finfer, and learned a lot about

civil organizations, trade unions and fundraising.

After I came back to Hungary, I started integrating my new knowledge

into my work at the Hungarian Trade Union Confederation as President

of the Youth Federation of Trade Unions, an NGO. Our biggest

problem in my work field is to engage young workers in trade unions

and to support them in becoming more active citizens.

Increased apathy and shrinking rights

In Hungary, the decreasing labor union membership and increasing

apathy in society and shrinking employee rights are big problems. In

my individual project plan my long term goal was to raise the interest

of young workers and increase the levels of trade union membership. It

was succesfully achieved, but not the way I initially envisioned in my

individual project plan. At the end of 2018, the Hungarian Government

initiated a modification of the Labour Code. Trade unions raised their

voice against this modification very loudly and the Youth Section took

to the streets and organized demonstrations. We decided that we have

to protect not just our members, but every single worker – especially the young ones – from vulnerability.

The result of our active participation in the public life is a higher interest in labor organizing and increased

membership of workers under 35. We measured it by a survey, so fortunately it’s not just a subjective

impression, but evidence-supported fact.

Furthermore, we continued our

training program for 30 new members

and as a result we identified and

trained new youth leaders too

impacting 500 people. I integrated

what I learned in Boston and I made

efforts to pass this knowledge onto

our trade union activists. It was

imortant to explain why change was

needed, because according to my

individual meetings with labor union

leaders in Boston, they are willing to

change and it brought positive

outcomes in the membership.

Media workshop at Boston Teachers Union's conference: Union

voices in the public interest! — in Dedham, Massachusetts.


Success Story by Annamaria Kunert

The year after my experience in the U.S., I was dedicated to increasing the number of active members and

to build potential leaders who would replace the current leadership. I assess both of these objectives as

succesfully achieved, because it seemes we have identified and supported new leaders of the youth section.

In the begning of 2020, there will be leadership elections and we are working to get some of these new

leaders elected. They are new activists that can bring new ideas and energy in the labour movement.

In addition

One of the most interesting

experiences during my time

in the U.S. was exploring

fundraising activities,

because in Hungary I have

never done that before.

After I came back to

Hungary, I got an offer to

make a fundraising strategy

for an online magazine.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t

successful, partly because

in Hungary there is no

culture of fundraising.

One of the issues of climate change is how to transform the economy

without little damage to the workers. What can the trade union do and what

is the mechanism for a fair transition?

Basically, my experience in

the United States shaped

my approach in ways that I

find very useful because I

feel the world has opened

for me. This is what I want

to share with my colleagues

and members: let’s expand

our horizons and push our


Protests against slave law, successful strikes and strike threats have again

shown that there is a union in Hungary too. The debate on what is needed

for a good union, whether the current system is needed.


Success Story by Karoly Beke

The Real Partnership

By Karoly Beke


Karoly Beke traveled to the

U.S. in the Spring of 2018 and

had his internship at Local

Progress in New York City,

New York.


More emphasis on local officials

Local governments are weak in Hungary, having lost financing and

power during the past few years. Small town elected officials have to

work alone without opportunities to collaborate on modern and

progressive policies. Based on my experience at the Center for Popular

Democracy I planned to implement a new program “LOCAL

MATTERS” in Hungary to strengthen locally elected officials and start

to build an effective network with/for them to advance progressive

change. With this new network in Hungary, locally elected leaders can

co-create and exchange policies, share their best practices and ideas.

The goal of this network to help local elected officials to improve and

enrich the lives of their constituents and to support local elected leaders

as they debate questions like “What can we do to decrease poverty?” or

“Which policies help us to fight against social exclusion?” All politics

are local, begins by organizing in our neighborhoods and communities.

The small communities – where half of the Hungarians live -– have the

power to lead on critical public policy issues. By creating space for

information and innovation, we can help to create a sustainable and

progressive agenda, which ensures prosperity for all.

My mentor’s visit in February 2019 and the local elections in

fall 2019

In order to establish this network, we had to win elections on local level

first. My mentor’s February 2019 visit had several added values on this

which we could use during the fall 2019 local election campaigns. My mentor, Ivan Luevanos, the

Organizing Director of the Local Progress

from New York could personally introduce

the values, the ideology and content of their

network, which is the base of my vision.

We needed to build a great cooperation

with totally different organizations and

politicians all around Hungary. The real

agreements on common ideas during the

personal meetings with the important

progressive local leaders, mayors: Szeged,

Hódmezővásárhely, 14 th District Budapest

and 15 th District Budapest helped a lot to

find the best methods for that. My mentor

also got a great picture of the real

Hungarian situation in meetings with the

leaders and was able to get some from

Hungarian heritage and cultural values.

For my mentor, meeting the various elected

officials and their staff was very

February 2019, Ivan stands together with Gergely

Karácsony, running for mayor of Budapest (elected in



Success Story by Karoly Beke

interesting, but meeting with the Mayors of Szeged and Hódmezővásárhely provided more context to the

current political climate in Hungary. Each mayor represents very distinct jurisdictions and are from

different points of the ideological spectrum yet they have a working relationship that enables them to share

information and resources.

During his trip my mentor gave an overview about his work at Local Progress, which is the national

network of progressive elected officials from cities, counties, towns, school districts, villages and other

local governments across the U.S. Hand-in-hand with community-based organizations and unions

committed to advancing a social justice agenda, the elected officials and staff of Local Progress are

facilitating a genuine “inside/outside” strategy to reforming local policy and politics. He also shared

various materials that they produce like their yearly policy guide and reports that they have developed in

partnerships with community and policy organizations.

Strengthening coordination

Two things that he emphasized during the meetings: the collaboration with community and grassroots

organizations and coordination that they are doing with state and federal officials. Local Progress is housed

in the Center for Popular Democracy (CPD), a network of 48 community based organizations around the

country. Partnerships with community and labor organizations helps provide resources and create

environment for elected officials to work toward bold actions. Simultaneously, they have been

strengthening the coordination with state and federal officials which helps push progressive policies

around individual states and uplift local work at the federal level.

Organizing local elected officials is a fairly new concept in the U.S., so sharing the goal and vision of

Local Progress was interesting to community partners we met in Hungary since it presents our inside/

outside strategy. Local elected officials can play a significant role in issue campaigns and coalitions,

especially when you can have multiple municipal governments take local action to implement policies.

Coordination between community organizations, labor and elected officials helps to bridge the gap that

exists between grassroots movements and legislators.

Ivan Luevanos with Karoly Beke Feb 2019 in Budapest.

Our trip with my U.S. mentor within

Hungary to meet with elected

officials in February 2019 had

several added values because there

could be some real agreements on

common ideas – like a real exchange

program based on personal

involvement for the Hungarian local

election in autumn – during the

personal meetings with the important

progressive local leaders and mayors.

Our meetings started laying the

foundation for creation of the

network. Each local elected official

stated the importance of working

across jurisdictions and in some

cases they are already collaborating

with one another. One important

component that we were taking into

consideration is ensuring that there

geographic diversity in the


Success Story by Karoly Beke

representation in order to have real impact. There needs to be a way to bridge the rural and city divide and

connecting people from varying ideological backgrounds.

While I completed some action steps in my individual project to start building a diverse network of local

elected officials in Hungary, I could not complete the project within this timeframe because we first had to

win the local election in many places across Hungary. 2019 was enough to prepare several local leaders and

candidates for the upcoming local elections in the fall. Ultimately, we achieved that, even if it was a long

and difficult fight against several things. Many of the Hungarian alumni from the Professional Fellows

Program were actively involved in electoral organizing and our U.S. experience really helped us during the

first Primary election for the Mayor of Budapest and in the fall 2019 local election. The changes in several

Hungarian towns and in Budapest can be the real opportunity to build a great network for the local leaders.

I knew that we need more time to implement this new idea and originally, I proposed at least 3 years to

realize a strong community of practice which creates deep connections with Hungarian mayors and local

government members, community organizations and policy experts. This will enable them to create

innovative and progressive local policies in their fight for a better Hungary. A new network which has a

website, holds conferences and meetings, has a board and staff, does actions, campaigns and exchanges

with the U.S. and potentially will have other

international partners. In this process over the

next year, it will be a big help in that in 2019

another Hungarian fellow, Peter Szabados, was

placed also at the Center for Popular

Democracy and he is very interested to work on

this concept, especially after the success of the

fall 2019 local election. Since his U.S. mentor

will also come to Hungary in February 2020, it

will be a great opportunity to reach out to all the

newly elected local government leaders, as well

as others whom I worked with earlier.

The more successful story

While I was not able to complete my individual

project so far, I was able to establish a true

partnership with some of our alumni and

complete other projects. What can be an added

value of the Professional Fellows Program, if

not a network created for the members to know

each other? They know each other's strengths,

activities, weaknesses and goals. They know

about each other and who can help to the other

and how.

People attending the fundraising event to benefit the

Charity Taxi nonprofit organization in the Szent Istvan

Park in XIII. District of Budapest.

I was lucky to meet with people in the

Professional Fellows alumni network like Szilvia Szénási, Gabriella Mezeiová and Tamás Horn in the

Alumni Reunion in Bulgaria. We have proven in the recent months that we can cooperate with each other

and help to each other.

Our collaborations and cooperation can most assuredly be an example for others. We created a charity

event in our cramped neighborhood with Tamás Horn which could help to continue the program of the

Adománytaxi in 2020. I was the main organizer of the event where we collected the local Christmas


Success Story by Karoly Beke

vouchers from more than 130 families and we cooked together with them and served 800 people at the

outdoor event at the Szent Istvan park of District XIII of Budapest before the holidays. We raised 656,000

HUF (2,210 USD) while cooking together with hundreds of parents from our neighborhood to support the

Á-lom project which gives beds to the poorest children is in Hungary. The program can be continued in

2020 with this money.

I was able to attend an event

in Bratislava with Gabriella

where I learned more about

the method of ‘design

thinking’ and I got an

extraordinary experience

from actors from different

sectors that create a valuable

product in a short amount of


We could show and introduce

the integration program of

Szilvia’s foundation where

they never thought they

could: in the 15 th District


People attending the fundraising event to benefit the Charity Taxi

nonprofit organization in the Szent Istvan Park in XIII. District of


To be honest – this is the real

success. The real partnerships

built among alumni of this

program. The fact is that we

all work together and work on

strengthening each other.

This will generate more

success stories in the future!

I am attending Gabi’s workshop in Bratislava.


Success Story by Szilvia Kaprinyak

Keeping the Trees on the Romai Banks!

By Szilvia Kaprinyak


Szilvia Kaprinyak traveled to

the U.S. in the Spring of 2018

and had her internship at

Tides Advocacy Fund in New

York City, New York.


Private interest vs public interest

Our community has been organizing for more than 6 years due to a

dangerous and environmentally damaging flood protection

development. The current dam is 200 meters away from the river on a

protected, higher road which has served us well for decades. The

municipality of Budapest plans to complete the flood protection of the

area beneath the Római banks on the riverside with a 3 kilometer

mobile bearing wall. This solution wouldn’t ensure the safety of the 55-

100,000 inhabitants of the area and it would destroy the last natural

parkway between the city and the Danube in Budapest. As the current

decision-makers serve private interest against community interest, the

sport and recreation functions of the floodplain would be replaced by

housing estates.

Our group has several mailing lists and groups of 20 very active

member, 10 experts and 150 less active people where a lot of

information is shared. We meet every 2 weeks with 8-12 people

attending and there are many extra smaller working group meetings.

More and more local activists join! Parallel to community building, we

also tried our best to involve our online community of 13.500

Facebook followers and 250 activists who offered to help online. My

U.S. mentor, Nelini Stamp, visited us and we set up a workshop on

community organizing methods and empowering citizens. This

involved 15 citizens and impacted our group of 35 people. We started

to work in teams in order to involve more and more active member with special responsibilities and we

are planning to establish an association.

Real estate or quality of life?

Next to our safe flood protection, our main

goal is to save the natural Római Riverbank,

its pebbly beach and rich flora and fauna. We

want to create more public spaces with

community functions to implement long-term

and economically sustainable development

based on social needs. This is why we are

opposing the mobile bearing wall investment

that is promoted by real estate speculators and

would considerably worsen our quality of life

and environment.

In the summer of 2019, in order to promote

rowing and leisure activity on the Romai

coast, we set up a ‘builder’s camp’ where we

would build boats, designer beach furniture,

barbecue places and piers. All the items that

were built were made available for free public

We planted 100 trees along the Romai Riverbank.


Success Story by Szilvia Kaprinyak

We set up a builder’s camp to construct new kayaks.

We revived the former rowing programs.

use. With this action, our community became

stronger, better known and with more active

members joining our group. We raised money for

material costs, mainly before and during the builder

camp. Our supporters could participate in the kayak/

canoe building workshop and they became coowners

of the new boats.

After the builder’s camp, we celebrated with a minifestival

– beach opening with family and sport

programs, concerts, fundraising items, food and

drink where we could collect money for our

operational costs.

Our group uses several ways to press decisionmakers

and those who represent the opinion of

locals who are against the dam: community

programs, activist meetings, forums and

professional meetings. We had demonstrations and

collected 20,000 signatures in order to stop the

Mayor of Budapest in their plans. We started

researching the value and the ownership of the

floodplain so we could prove the sale of floodplain

land price speculations, illegal construction and real

estate speculation. It can be shown that in 20 years

state-owned plots fell in value from 70% to 20%

and while we can’t reverse this, we can fight for the

remaining 20% of public land for recreational and

sport opportunity.

It is a big success that the construction has not begun for 6 years, although the municipality has spent more

than 500 million forints on plans that have failed. The development of the Római has started, but we still

have to work for our safe flood protection and fight against the real estate speculators. The Mayor of the

3rd district has started community planning so we are ready for a long-term process with all stakeholders

of creating a shared vision for the future of this special river bank and the connected flood plain.

It is also a big step that our group is already open to

stand up for other issues effecting our neighborhood

and one of our members was elected as an

independent civil candidate in the 3rd District's

Urban Development and Environment Committee.

Community members and their families enjoy the

natural beauty and resources along the coastline.

I am grateful to have been a part of this process and

I have learned a lot. The Professional Fellows

program and my experience in the U.S. were very

useful for me as I could experience how community

volunteerism works with youth or seniors and how

people get involved. I made progress with my goal

to organize a strong, self-conscious community that

is brave enough to express itself.


Success Story by Zsuzsa Berecz

Towards a Local Community Theatre

By Zsuzsa Berecz

Theatre as a community forum

Working with communities and making art are inseparable to me. Art on the

one hand is of course about rendering things beautiful, but on the other hand it

can help imagine and create new spaces around us – a social space, a city

space, a personal space etc. – a space where things are changeable. ”Art is a

tool to steal from the future” – an activist friend of mine told me once and it

stuck in my mind as it points out how art can be a tool for creating a life that

might not even be possible at this very moment.


Zsuzsa Berecz traveled to the

U.S. in the Spring of 2018 and

had her internship at Chicago

Coalition for the Homeless in

Chicago, Illinois.


Throughout my work I’ve been exploring the ways of making change. In

2008, I started doing art projects together with some friends in Budapest. We

focused our work on Budapest’s 8 th district (Joseph Town), the city center’s

“problem zone” at the same time one of the most rapidly gentrifying areas

with a high percentage of immigrants, Roma population, severe housing and

poverty. We became intrigued about creating links between people who would

otherwise never get in touch with each other. In 2012, prompted by the

inacceptable political solutions given to street homelessness, our group

Pneuma Szöv. launched a project called 20 Forint Operetta. It was a research

into housing poverty in Budapest and at the same time an attempt to organize

an active community in our neighborhood. The artistic frame for us was a

common street fantasy inspired by Bertolt Brecht’s and Kurt Weill’s

Threepenny Opera. Throughout the summer we established a giant mobile

squirrel along with a legend of a homeless sailor travelling the “8th Sea”.

Homeless artists joined us as well as social workers from the nearby shelter

houses. We opened a garden on an empty plot that attracted diverse people.

We experienced how humor is able to establish links between people and how

such an absurd venture as building a squirrel can create trust. By the end of the

summer a colorful community formed and organized a street procession.

Beautiful Trouble

With projects like this one our group

started to cause beautiful trouble to the

local government which normally ignored

to deal with the conflicting interests and

common problems of the inhabitants.

Between 2012 and 2018, we enlarged our

network by contacting local NGOs,

activists, artists, and over exchange with

grassroots urban planners (from Germany,

Serbia and Slovenia). Within and besides

our art projects, we collaborated with

groups such as The City is for All (AVM)

or Workfare Movement for the Future. I

realized that through artistic work we are

able to make people more active, yet they

rarely get involved in action on a long run.

Art and power?

In 2018, I applied for a professional

fellowship with GLC/WSOS to gain new

Fellow Ivana Nováková, I and Mike, a leader with CCH, lobbying

for a criminal record sealing bill in the Capitol of Springfield, IL.


Success Story by Zora Molnar

inspirations for my work. I felt the need to learn how to use the community potential of artistic work more in service

of social justice. Within GLC/WSOS’s fellowship, program I could spend almost 2 months in the U.S., most of

which with the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH). The insight I got at CCH has changed my perception.

With CCH, I learned that power is an important thing.

Power is not just something that pushes us, but we

can also create power together and push back.

Working with community organizers of CCH,

participating at meetings and lobby events, I had the

chance to witness

how people power is created through a unified voice,

how anger can transform into shared power. I learned

new ways to encourage, motivate and agitate people

to make something for themselves and others in the

world as it is anticipating a world as it should be.

Towards a sustainable local theatre

as a community forum

Upon returning to Budapest, I got in touch with an

Hungarian alumna of the project. I participated at a 2-

day workshop organized by the School of Public Life

Meeting with U.S. mentor, Mo George, in 2019. (one of the trainers was alumna, Tessza Udvarhelyi)

on local governance. In the next months, a local

community formed in preparation for the upcoming municipal elections. Besides following the work of the local

group C8 and supporting their mayor candidate, I started to work on making our group’s work more sustainable. We

organized regular meetings and workshops with our network members and invested into community building.

Unfortunately, my U.S. mentor wasn’t able to visit me, but I could meet Monique George, organizer of the Picture

The Homeless group in New York and have an exciting exchange with her. We engaged 30 people in a workshop

and through our channels were able to impact 2,000 people.

Due to a successful fundraising process, by the summer of 2019 I got financial support from the U.S. Embassy in

Budapest and the European Union’s Creative Europe Program to set up a mobile TV studio as an experimental

community medium. From the summer of 2019 on, we have been developing our TV studio format, organizing talks

shows in our neighborhood and on other locations, dealing with topics like housing crisis, social change and climate

change as well as the 30 year anniversary of the

Fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

The October 2019, elections brought success to

the local C8 group – Budapest’s 8 th district has

a new mayor, a local citizen fighting for social

justice, enjoying the support of a wide coalition

of inhabitants of the district.

This change has given hope to many of us,

artists, active citizens, social workers,

organizers. In the coming years, we will stay

devoted to our goals and work towards a stable

and diverse community in our neighborhood.

By renting our own project space, we have

already made a step towards our dream: a local

theatre in our district, Joseph Town, a

sustainable institution that is able to serve and

involve the local community and give a space of

trust and hope for people who would not share a

common space in our segregated societies.

Talk show organized by the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union

(TASZ) in September 2019.


Success Story by Sara Horlai

Inclusion in Education, Step by Step

By Sara Horlai


Sara Horlai traveled to the U.S.

in the Fall of 2018 and had her

internship at West Virginia

Healthy Kids and Families

Coalition in Charleston, West



Inequities in education

Segregation in education is among the top causes of social isolation and

reproduction of poverty in Hungary. Geographical segregation,

segregation within and in between schools, classrooms are more and

more prevalent in the country. Roma students and students coming from

low income families are overrepresented among students receiving low

quality education and are cut from developing relations with students

from different socio-economic/ethnic backgrounds. The segregated

school in Csobánka village was closed 2 years ago and reopened

recently. Together with the village community we aim to organize an

inclusive, integrated school.

The community gets engaged

We founded our organization, Csodamuhely Association in the village 5

years ago and by then we were already maintaining an afterschool

program for the local disadvantaged Roma students to help them

advance in education. We founded our organization to expand our

activities. Since then, besides the afterschool program, we run an adult

education program and a program for families with young children, the

“Toy-Library” program. We were always very concerned about the low

quailty of education the children in Csobánka received, but when the

school reopened, we decided to support it. I started to organize meetings

for local professionals (teachers, social workers, etc.) and parents to

think how we together can support the school so it can become an

inclusive place offering quality education for all local students. After a

year of discussions, together we decided that we will seek funding for trainings, where parents and

professionals can develop themselves, learn new practices and work together for their shared goals for

school. We received funding and the preparations of the project barely started when I left in September

2018 for two months, to go to the U.S. to learn and practice community organizing.

The trip to the U.S. was amazing, we saw so

many great initiatives, talked to people, went to

community events and I had an especially good,

down-to-earth U.S. mentor, Carey Jo Grace,

from whom I learnt many useful practices.

During the time of my travels I was constantly

rethinking my project back at home.

When I got home in December 2018, I was eager

to start the organizing right away to make a real

inclusive school at Csobánka village. I was very

disappointed when I learned that the headmaster

left the school while I was in the U.S. and

several members of the school staff also left with

him. There was overall chaos in the school and it

Students, parents and teachers of Csobanka Village.


Success Story by Sara Horlai

was very difficult to find dates for the training we planned and for the trainer to start working together with

the remaining school staff within these conditions. Luckily, my U.S. mentor arrived in February 2019 and

we talked a lot about the project. Carey Jo met many people from the village and she finally advised me to

set-up a parents’ meeting. I met with 30 of the parents in March and some of the teachers also attended and

we asked them to share their specific wishes concerning the school. They had 2 main needs: a more

coherent and active parent community and a more advanced pedagogical program at the school. Pursuing

these needs will impact the entire school community of 200.

My U.S. Experience put

into action

This meeting helped kick start

the project again! Teachers

listened to the needs of the

parents and were more willing

to start working with the trainer

whom we hired to help them

advance their teaching methods.

In the meanwhile, a new

temporary headmaster arrived

to the school who was very

open to our cooperation.

Together we decided that we

should let go of the originally

planned 3-day training during

the school year and postpone it

until the summer because the

staff was still incomplete,

teachers constantly had to fill in Sara Horlai in fun, engaging and educational afterschool program.

for one another and they were lacking time and energy. Instead, the trainer started to teach them practices

through personal mentoring and shorter afternoon sessions concerning the main issues they identified. In

June, we sat down with the teachers to evaluate our cooperation during the year and talk about the

continuation. It was very clear from their feedbacks that until they will have more staff and more stability,

they do not have the energy to focus on the development of the teaching methods. It was also uncertain

whether the teachers would remain in the school for next year and if the school district would find a new

headmaster and teachers. In August, we received great news: it turned out that even though two teachers

left, they were able to hire new ones and a headmaster was appointed from the village who was very

enthusiastic about our cooperation. This allowed us to plan our 3-day training at the end of August.

During the summer, I decided to learn more about the experiences and needs of the parents, therefore I

made one on ones with 15 parents, both Roma and non-Roma, from various socio-economic backgrounds. I

learned a lot about the importance of one on ones in community organizing during my time in the U.S. and

therefore, I chose this method. I asked all of them about their willingness to participate in strengthening the

parent community, to be able to act together for their shared interests concerning the education of their

children. Most of them replied yes and I started to plan on specific trainings that could bring the parent

community closer together, Roma and non-Roma alike (since it was very visible after the discussions that

there is a divide in between them).

Trainings were successful

We had a very exciting training in August at the school. Teachers and afterschool mentors both participated

in the training and it certainly strengthened their relationships, they learned from each other and how to


Success Story by Sara Horlai

think together. 7 out of 8 school teachers participated in the training, together with 4 colleagues from the

afterschool activities. The training was organized in the framework of the international Step-by-step

program, however the trainer amended the program to fit it to the specific needs of the school. The training

had various goals: one of the most important of these was to make a shift in the way teachers organized

school life from an institution-centered to a student-centered approach. Another important part of the

program is the classroom ambience. Teachers received guidelines on how to organize the physical

atmosphere in the classroom in a way that it supports cooperative learning, student autonomy and creativity.

We also gave financial support to each class to buy the necessary equipments to transition to the new

approach. Lastly, evaluation and workload were discussed in detail. This entailed the importance of written

evaluation, techniques to strengthen internal instead of external evaluation and the need to decrease the

amount of homework. The trainer received very good feedback from the teachers.

Overall, the fact that almost

all of the teachers attended the

training and we had very good

discussions together about

inclusive education is a

definite success. I am hoping

that teachers will take on an

active role in changing some

of the old practices to new

ones based on what they

learned at the beginning of the

school year. They took the

first few steps in this direction

and we will continue working

together for inclusion in

education step by step!

Step by step training workshop for teachers and afterschool staff.

Sara Horlai with Roma Community Leader.


Alumni Project Report by Annamaria Kovacs and Team Members

Finding a Path in Changing Hungary

By Annamaria Kovacs and Team Members

Creating change in the community

In 2012, I jumped into the world of community work which to me

represented the only way that seemed fruitful to create change in the

lives of communities with the help of people. A year later, I have started

my journey in learning about community organizing as an effective tool

to realize systemic changes where oppression was present. I started to

work in a rural Eastern Hungarian town with several neighborhoods and

that job brought me closer to developing my mission to work with

communities in need. During these years, together with a youth group I

was learning how to develop, empower and influence other youngsters

and the community. That was our local movement called Hajduhadhaz





Fall 2013 Alumna


Spring 2013 Alumna


Fall 2015 Alumna

Hajduhadhaz Youth

After years of community development and youth work in that rural town in Eastern Hungary, we started

to step towards community organizing by creating events, forums and learning opportunities that were

raising awareness of the needs and voices of local youth. We called the group Hajduhadhaz Youth and

involved local youngsters mainly from Roma backgrounds, ready to get involved and progress. In 2017,

the group was ready to raise awareness on a major issue that influenced the whole community.

Unfortunately, that issue has been bigger than our power. Although, we managed to raise country-wide

awareness, the local power managed to postpone it with no legal decision and the group has also ceased to

be active.

Finding a path in

changing Hungary

The concept of this Small

Alumni Grant program was

to create a safe place and a

reinforcing process for

encouraging further youth

work or community

organizing work within the

former active Hajduhadhaz

Youth group members. The

activity of the SA Grant

Program had two parts: first

a series of interviews, led by

Annamaria Kovacs, to have

a clear view of how the now

young adult group members

are seeing their future and

their community roles with

all the difficulties in

education or work and life

influenced by the social

policies of Hungary.

Reflections of Hajdúhadház and Debrecen through a photographers lens.


Alumni Project Report by Annamaria Kovacs and Team Members

Interviews, reflections and goal setting

Secondly, we had a workshop with the aim of

helping the 18 participants realize their

current state of life and positions, to plan

ahead and empower their role as community

members and community leaders for further

work. The workshop focused on personal,

group and community roles. Some of the

interviews and the whole workshop took place

in the fruitful community space of Baross16

in Debrecen, led by alumna Ágnes Molnár.

Hajduhadhaz Youth Group reflecting on life and work

at workshop in Debrecen.

One of the results of the workshop was to

create a video that is showing what is the

strength of a group that is working with

youngsters, youth work and community

organizing. The video was built on the

Saturday workshop and aimed to encourage

other youngsters to act and participate in

community work. Both the time spent

together, and the creative process were very

empowering. Through this project, we were

able to impact 200 youth and community


Hajduhadhaz Youth Group creating a video at workshop in

Debrecen to inspire and encourage other youth to be

active in their community.


Alumni Joint Project Report by Balazs Horvath-Kertesz and Team Members

Action Reflexion Society: Artist and Activist Meeting, Budapest

By Balazs Horvath-Kertesz and Team Members

At first sight...

The idea came up when I talked to a well-known artist, David Gutema,

who has been designing graphic covers for HVG magazine for years and

are very popular throughout the country. These graphics often portray

serious social problems. When he listed his favorite socially committed

projects that he thought were good and important, to my surprise, there

were several alumni programs.

We realized that artists and organizers have something to say to each

other, and decided to jointly organize a large public exchange meeting

for artists, activists and alumni. We believe that good examples and

opportunities should be provided for in-person meetings between

activists and artists in order for creative energies to refresh the activist's

efforts. The impact is two-sided since, on one hand, the struggle for

social change often exhausts self-organizing groups who lack the ability

to make their important issues visible. On the other hand, artists are able

to evoke emotions and formulate messages with astonishing efficiency,

but they do not find the points that are most important in social

processes. Joining together opens the door to effective social change.




Fall 2016 Alumnus


Fall 2018 Alumna


Fall 2017 Alumna


Fall 2015 Alumna


Spring 2015 Alumnus


Fall 2016 Alumnus

The starting point is research

During the research, we asked 50 people — alumni and their friends about projects and tactics that they

have considered important for social change. It focused on the appearance of creativity and artistic

influence based on what we compiled a list of good practices and contents of pieces of training and

workshops, also we asked what kind of presentation would be appropriate for people.

Organize a public event

Following the evaluation process,

we organized a public event called

the Action Reflection Society. It was

a great opportunity to showcase 8

amazing art and activist

collaborative projects, including

three alumni. We also held a forum

where many artists and activists are

committed to new projects and


The interest exceeded expectations.

The open call was accepted by over

300 and many were young artists

and leaders of art institutes. More

than 50 people attended the event. In

particular, we focused on issues

affecting marginalized social groups

Dávid Gutema, graphic designer, new media artist (Mayor of

Budapest is holding a poster in the picture).


Alumni Joint Project Report by Balazs Horvath-Kertesz and Team Members

such as housing, accessibility, and discrimination. But we also addressed general social issues such as

corruption and civic participation. Besides artists and activists, there were people with serious social

problems, their presence was very important and we were able to assess what happened so far and find new


Some topics of the


· Gabriella Csoszó is a famous

photographer who works with

homeless and marginalized

groups. She presented

stunning images that utilized

the emotional impact of

photography to persuade the

judge in strategic litigation.

The picture was taken by a

homeless person who took a

photographer's course. Gabriella Csoszó, photography presentation.

Through education, Gabriella

transforms society through her own artistic means. She realized that it was a much more effective

strategy to pass on a thorough knowledge of the arts to those involved. When an artist says something

about someone, it's strong. But if someone who rarely talks about himself, and everyone is accustomed

to this silence, suddenly starts to speak the language of art, he or she has a stronger influence than an

artist. It's a superpower that can shake down supressing institutions. Gabriella has long collaborated

with one of the alumni, Péter Galgóczi (GLC fellow, 2016), who represented people with disabilities in

America and has spoken at our forum.

· Wheelchair resistance was represented in the series of lectures. Zóra Molnár, community organizer,

spoke about an exhibition that presented members of the “Live independently and belong to a

community" group. She pointed out that the resources of a series of cultural events could provide an

opportunity to set up a nationwide activist network. The exhibition was curated by Anna Rubi and

sponsored by the TASZ. It is worth highlighting the role of a community organizer, who through their

personal history can further increase social sensitivity to social resistance.

· Fanni Aradi, community

organizer in Pécs, involved

architect students to create a

social meeting point for

homeless people in the city

center. A community meeting

point is a key element in

organizing and empowering

communities. Using our

creativity and imagination is

what young architects are


Fanni Aradi community organizer and members of Drukker group.

· The community organizing

profession was also represented by Andrea Homoki who mobilized people and created a strong

community through a street art action and successfully fights against the corrupt city management of

minority groups.


Alumni Joint Project Report by Balazs Horvath-Kertesz and Team Members

· Mónika Bálint, community organizer CKA), is one of the founders of Workfare Movement for the

Future. Her project, a humorous game, highlighted the problems of one of the most vulnerable groups

generating a lot of media coverage and providing opportunities for different social groups to

meet. Humor and creativity also played a key role in the artists' performance when graphic artists, poets,

demonstrated how they worked on social issues.

Archiving and Sharing Information

We made professional video

recordings of each presentation of the

event and a short film summary of the

forum. The films were published on a

youtube channel and sent to more than

300 participants that we have


New platform created

One of the aims of the project is to

pool activist artistic capacity through

community building and joint projects.

A suitable tool on site was a forum,

followed by the creation of a FB

group. Shared brainstorming has begun

and participants who are looking

forward to continuing and are

committed to more project plans.

Forum and brainstorming.

We are: Action Reflexion Society

”An event where activists, artists and

active citizens meet up. A series of

creative ideas, individual missions and

local initiatives mark an intersection of

the artistic-creative community and

civil activism. There is plenty of us in

this shared field, but there are too few

live relationships between us, there is

no common narrative; social reach and

resources are limited. We need

comprehensive get-togethers if we are

to enhance our visibility and ability to


Premier conference room, Budapest, Hungary.


Internaonal Alumni Joint Project Report by Dzhevid Mahmud and Team Members

Democracy Lessons for Future Young Roma Voters

By Dzhevid Mahmud and Team Members




Spring 2013 Alumnus


Spring 2013 Alumnus


Fall 2017 Alumna


Fall 2012 Alumnus


Spring 2017 Alumna

Alumni reunion sparks action

At the 2019 GLC/ WSOS Alumni Reunion, a group of 5 Roma organizers

gathered to discuss what challenges that Roma community members face in

Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Slovakia. After sifting through the issues, we

confirmed that voting practices for us and misinformation in our countries are

issues worth addressing through our alumni network.

As it is not easy to change a culture in anyway, so we have decided to focus on

democracy knowledge and voter participation of First Time Roma Voters –

those 17 and 18 years old boys and girls who attend high schools in Bulgaria,

Hungary and Slovakia.

The call for applications

In September 2019, the Professional Fellows Program (PFP) opened a call for

small grants for PFP Alumni that ACIE manages. For the call for entries,

several alumni from Bulgaria, Hungary and Slovakia decided to apply with a

proposal to organize trainings for a minimum of 60 First Time Roma Voters.

From Bulgaria, Dzhevid Mahmud and Milenko Milenkov would perform a training in Lom, Bulgaria. Dzhevid would

also join the trainings in Slovakia led by Jolana Natherova and Lydia Mirgova. Dzhevid would also join the training

in Hungary led by Szilvia Szenasi. Our group also applied to GLC/WSOS to co-fund the project in Phase I for

preparation of training material that would be used to perform the workshops with the Roma Youth. Both ACIE and

PFP approved the project for funding and implementation with the objective set.

On November 23 rd and 24 th , 2019, Alumni from Bulgaria, Hungary, and Slovakia gathered in Budapest under GLC/

WSOS funding to develop training material and agree on the implementation Phase II of the project “Democracy

Lessons for Roma Youth - Future Voters Civic Education”.

The alumni in the workshop agreed on – Project

Implementation Plan, Timeline of Implementation

and of Training Workshops, Training Workshops

agenda, modules and Activities, as well as the

logistics and supplies needed for performing the

trainings. A team structure was also constructed

with the roles and responsibilities set.

In terms of its further activities, the project team

decided to finalize the training material, translate

them into Bulgarian, Slovak and Hungarian. In

Phase II of the trainings based on the training

material would take place in Bulgaria, Hungary

and Slovakia. The final event of the project would

take place in April in Bucharest with all project

winners at a conference organized by PFP.

We are all very happy for the support provided by

GLC/WSOS and ACIE and we look forward to

continuing implementation of our project

“Democracy Lessons for Roma Youth - Future

Voters Civic Education”.

The Team (l-r) : Lydia Mirgova, Jolana Natherova,

Dzhevid Mahmud and Milenko Milenkov. Szilvia Szenasi

- 5th member not pictured.


Photo Gallery: “Taking “Taking Acon—Changing Acon—Changing Lives Lives Minority Minority Communies”—Volume Communies”—Volume V V



Slovakia: From Projects to Achievements in Community Organizing

Veronika Strelcova and Maros Chmelik, Country Directors

2018 Poster - Professional Fellows Program Alumni from Slovakia


Rural development in the region of Lucenec

Jana Bielikova

The Walk towards Equality

Adam Engler


School as the Center of Community

Maria Bilova

Organizing Homeless People in Capital of Slovakia

Ivana Novakova


Educating Young Roma on the Values of Democracy

Jolana Natherova, Martin Klus, Veronika Strelcova, Lydia Mirgova

Community Organizing in Photographs

Miroslav Ragac, Jolana Natherova, Veronika Strelcova, Maros Chmelik

Roma Communities in Parliamentary Elections in Slovakia 2020

Lydia Mirgova, Jolana Natherova, Daniela Batova











Taking Acon—Changing Lives in Minority Communies—Volume V

From Projects to Achievements in Community Organizing

in Slovakia

By Veronika Strelcova and Maros Chmelik, Country Directors

Jana reached the group of businesspeople in city

Lucenec, close to the town she grew up in.

Together they organized a seminar focused on

social business. As an outcome, few of the

participants started to work on their business plans.

Jana continues to build the network to link together

existing resources connect stakeholders, build trust,

select information about existing support services

for visualization and collect ideas for the pilot


Veronika Strelcova

Spring 2012 Alumna

Maros Chmelik

Spring 2013 Alumnus

Achievements of 2018 alumni

The 2018 Slovak alumni of the Professional

Fellows Program again proved their community

organizing skills and performed well in the work

with their communities of focus. Both delegations

had 2 members. In Spring, Maria Bilova, building a

community around the school and Ivana Novakova,

who fights the issue of homelessness. The

members of Fall delegation, Jana Bielikova

motivates leaders from rural areas to grow their

social business and Adam Engler empowers

members of the LGBTI community in a small town

to stand up for their rights.

Each of these fellows experienced an inspiring 4

weeks of learning and sharing with their host

organization in their field of their expertise. They

all hosted their own and other U.S. mentors and

organized their field visits to enable multiplied

learning experience. Their fieldwork is based on

their interest and one can feel the motivation and

patience they have in building and empowering the

community in solving their issues.

Adam works on rising the LGBTI community in

the region of Banska Bystrica and his home town

Brezno. He also launched cooperation with

businesses in Banska Bystrica and the mayor of

one of the cities in the region that is a member of

the community in order to empower the

community. In June 2019, Adam co-organized a

second edition of Pride march in Banská Bystrica

with a non-formal group called INOKRAJ. Adam

patiently works for equal opportunities for people

of (multiple) minority identities. He is an artist, and

this craft he engages in the work with vulnerable

groups. His idea is to go step by step to a more

inclusive and equal society using community

building and establishing support groups in


Slovak alumni at Alumni Engagement


Taking Acon—Changing Lives in Minority Communies—Volume V

Maria started a community primary school in the

city in Eastern Slovakia, together with parents and

other people in the community. Its called “A good

school Kosice” and they have already passed a

school year and launched a second, with 2 classes.

The school is typical for its focus on pupil ś needs

and strong aim to build relationships with families,

school and wider community. The students truly

feel good there. More at www.dobraskolakosice.sk

Ivana is a first community organizer hired to work

with homeless people in Slovakia. She works with

community in Bratislava at several places,

organizes regular community meetings that are very

new to the community and they learn a lot from it.

Besides, Ivana started a job at Habitat for Humanity

that had a headquarter for the Eastern part of the

world in Bratislava. She intentionally combines

In June 2019, Slovakia was represented by 12

alumni to take part in the 5th Alumni Reunion in


both jobs that complement each other in order to

magnify the positive effect on the community and

help tackle issues of homelessness more effectively.

Having already more than 40 alumni members of

the Professional Fellows Community in Slovakia,

We can proudly declare that our alumni network is

strong and supportive of each member. The 4 new

alumni of 2018 became a great contribution to the

group, sharing both their international practice from

hosting organizations and their professional

experience and experience in field at home. This

aspect is an invaluable contribution to CKO ś effort

to strengthen and connect the communities and

organizations in joint fight for human rights, well-

Slovak alumni at Pohoda Festival which is the

biggest Slovak cultural festival to raise awareness

of the issues of civil society.

being of vulnerable communities, the health of civil

society and balance of powers in the state.

The 2019 year was an ongoing fight for better and

just civil society. It was also a test of state that our

leading political representatives did not pass. The

political fights are ending in a more and more

polarized society and growing support of far-right

radicals. But this year was a year of victory when in

February 2019 an activist was elected for a

presidential seat. She became a symbol of justice,

hope and also civic power. This win gives us

energy to work even harder in coming

parliamentary election, which is held in February

2020. There won't be any victories without

compromises. Our role is to mediate, mobilize and

fight for values of democracy.

In September, we were invited to get to know the

new Ambassador, Bridget Brink, and introduce our

program to her.


GLCAP / Great Lakes Consortium for International Training and Development

“Shaping Participatory Democracy”

European Fellows traveled to the United States in 2018

on FY 2017 Professional Fellows Program from SLOVAKIA

The program is funded by the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational

and Cultural Affairs, Office of Citizen Exchanges, Professional Fellows Division.


Success Story by Jana Bielikova

Rural Development in the Lucenec Region

By Jana Bielikova

“We plan to go on in cooperation and focus at the young

people in the region.”

I reached the group of businesspeople in the town of Lucenec that

opened the first co-working space there in July 2019. Together they

organized a seminar focused on social business. As an outcome, a few

of the participants started to work on their business plans.

Based on the good practice examples given by my mentor, I continued

in mapping of the organizations and active individuals interested in

rural development or social entrepreneurship in the region. I got in

touch with a female entrepreneur starting development activities in the

region. Together, we established a connection with a regional center of

social entrepreneurship and organized a seminar on the topic and

support services provided. A local group focusing on economic

development in the rural area a small co-working place was


In July, there was another workshop with my U.S. mentor, Blanca

Surgeon, from Rural Community Assistance Corporation. Based on

the methodology that she introduced, we plan to go on in cooperation

and focus on young people in the region. Future activities were

planned in line with the results of a workshop with Blanca Surgeon,

one of the mentors dealing with rural development issues.


Jana Bielikova traveled to the

U.S. in the Fall of 2018 and

had her internship at the Rural

Community Assistance Partnership

in Washington, DC.


I continue to build the network to link together existing resources

connect stakeholders, build trust, select information about existing

support services for visualization and collect ideas for the pilot actions.

Our project involved 45 people and we impacted a minimum of 100.

Our work is built person by person and more people want to get


Workshop with my U.S. mentor,

Blanca Surgeon, and with social

entrepreneurs in Lučenec in July



Success Story by Adam Engler

Walk Towards Equality

By Adam Engler


Adam Engler traveled to the

U.S. in the Fall of 2018 and

had his internship at the

N.E.A.T. in New York City,

New York.


“In the USA, I learned new skills helpful in my work with the

community campaigning for human rights. Since I returned, I

have applied them in my work with the LGBTI community.”

After returning from the U.S. Professional Fellows exchange program,

specifically from N.E.A.T (National Equality Action Team) based in

New York, I focused on the next steps that we had planned with our

local activist group Inokraj.

I used all the experience and knowledge that I gained during my

internship with my U.S. mentor, Brian Silva, and from the Amendment

4 campaign. After Brian's visit, I/we (from Inokraj) agreed to

communicate with local institutions and companies. As part of the

community project, May 17, 2019 (IDAHOT Day), we approached

more than 30 restaurants, bars, and public spaces to place the LGBTI

friendly label on their businesses on that day or display a rainbow flag

in a visible place. The event was successful. More than half of the

owners who were asked agreed to place the sticker to show solidarity

with the LGBTIQ community.

INOKRAJ is organizer of PRIDE BB

The main organizer of Pride BB 2019 was the informal group Inokraj,

which since 2015, has been trying to create a program to support

LGBTI people in the Banská Bystrica region and remove social

prejudice against this minority. The goal of PRIDE BB 2019 - “Walk

toward Equality” was to unite communities involved in environmental and social issues. We discussed the

importance of dialogue in a polarized society, the life and social status of LGBTI+ seniors, climate change

and natural engineering. We believe these issues in the world are interrelated.

I met with the community and developed a step

by step program and action plan for PRIDE BB

2019. The community decided on the ways how

to provide visibility for the event. They made a

real step in organizing the PRIDE march -

democratically and with dignity to show their

openness to our minority. Through community

meetings in Banská Bystrica and Brezno, we

listened to various ideas and facts that directly

influenced the organization of public events.

PRIDE March 2019 in Banska Bystrica.

Ongoing community meetings were held and we

discussed how to ensure a positive course of

action, work with the media and work with other

friendly communities. We wanted to bring the

ecology-environmental communities together and


Success Story by Adam Engler

combat the narrative about the LGBTI people endangering family and society. We turned the narrative

around and pointed to the fact that what we are threatened by is the alarming climate crisis that concerns us

all and connects us regardless of skin color, orientation, identity. Among the invited guests was also Petr

Doubravský from the Fridays For Future environmental movement from the Czech Republic, who came to

present and discuss climate change and challenges for the future, with an ironic subtitle: What to do when

the planet is warmer than us? Michal Zibrin, activist and builder also presented the ecological theme -

natural construction in the context of social and environmental justice and social justice.

We also collaborated with Roman Švantner - Mayor of the Village of Mýto pod Ďumbierom, who is openly

gay. We had an interview with him, his identity and work in the office which was published in an

independent newspaper. By doing so, we wanted to show that LGBTI people are among us every day and

that we are a legitimate part of public life, but without legal recognition, respect from the state and social

space. Such a situation often creates feelings of shame and discrimination.

March Pride Banská Bystrica - Transition to Equality

The march was launched on Saturday, June 29 from Dolná Street in Banská Bystrica and moved to the

cultural center Záhrada, where open discussions and activities continued. The music headliner for PRIDE

BB 2019 was the rapper, Rudo Danihel, from the Czech-Slovak border of Čavalenky. The half-Romani

artist raps and talks about harsh street life, racism, gambling, gambling, drugs, indebtedness and subsequent

seizures. Amnesty International Slovakia at PRIDE BB 2019 brought an educational discussion to the ‘Live

Library’ during the afternoon giving everyone the opportunity to listen to the stories of people from the

LGBTI community and ask them what interests them.

Exhibition: Be Yourself

During PRIDE BB 2019, Inokraj organized a public exhibition entitled ”Be Yourself“ by photographer

Dorota Holubová, at the Záhrada KC . He is an activist-photojournalist, and the project is about transrodic

people in Slovakia. The aim was to bring together different communities and initiatives that focus their

activities on solving various local, social or environmental problems and are willing to define themselves

against labeling and fear of being different. The aim was to broaden social awareness and help eliminate

prejudices against transgender people through real stories of people and to support the trans-community.

Four community members also shared their stories in the Living Library format.

Art dialogue for the change of the social climate

How do you conduct a dialogue with those who consider LGBTI people sick or sinful? Where are the

boundaries of this dialogue? What way do we need to take to make the social climate change for the better?

We believe that dialogue and respect for the opinions of

others is the most appropriate form, how to resolve

conflicts. In the framework of the PRIDE BB 2019

program, Ondrej Prostredník, a Theologian who has long

advocated minority rights and engaged in interreligious

dialogue, and Mrs. Karolína Miková, facilitator and

trainer, focused on resolving and preventing public

conflicts. With 15 people, we managed to organize an

amazing event that brought together different

communities and spread a message that there is a strong

LGBTI community in Central Slovakia, and they are a

legitimate part of the world around us. The attendance of

the event was surprisingly high, around 160 people joined

Photo exhibition at PRIDE March 2019. the march through the city and at the cultural program.

The team did great volunteer work. I am extremely

pleased that the first PRIDE BB was successful.


Success Story by Maria Bilova

School as the Center of Community

By Maria Bilova

“My main mission is the local school in Kosice to become a

center of the community. This way I would like to use all

that I have learned in the U.S.”

I am keen to work with children and to give them a chance to study in a

rewarding and stimulating environment. I took part in the Professional

Fellows Program to get encouraged and inspired about how to

transform the school environment and this came true.


Maria Bilova traveled to the

U.S. in the Spring of 2018 and

had her internship at the Community

Training and Assistance

in Boston, Massachusetts.


I spent my fellowship with a great professional organization in Boston,

Massachusetts, the Community Training and Assistance Center.

Having returned from the U.S., I shared the know-how and experience

from my U.S. trip with my colleagues who have been working with me

on the project. Together, we framed how the ”School as the Center of

the Community“ principle was interpreted to us, and how we

envisioned it working in practice in Košice, Slovakia. The school is

located in, and therefore is planned to gradually impact, the Košice-Old

Town city district with a population of 20,000 inhabitants.

My U.S. mentor, Bill Slotnik, visited us in April 2019 and provided

invaluable insights and experience into what ways and means to use to

build the school ś credibility in the eyes of the public. This included

how to invite the community at large to help and shape the community

character of this institution while it, of course, maintains its

independence and functions.

The school opened in September 2019, for a group of 25 first-graders. Ever since its opening, My team

and I, as the School Headmistress, have been involving other groups of people such as parents, relevant

experts, volunteers, other schools, non-profit organizations, etc. into our operations and activities in order

to build the desired community-wide platform for an inclusive school environment.

A day in Good School Košice.

Another U.S. mentor, Timothy McKinney, visited

us to share good practices from his work in

a community school in Central Florida.


Success Story by Ivana Novakova

Organizing Homeless People in the Capital of Slovakia

By Ivana Novakova

“I have achieved a big success. I think that one of the

biggest steps was connecting 2 of my jobs together to

prepare a press-conference and discussions - at the

Pohoda festival about the housing issues of homeless

women. We held a community organizing training and many

meetings and discussions with local candidates in the night

shelter for homeless people.”

Working with the homeless in Bratislava

I worked with homeless people during my university studies. I saw that

the most important thing is to work with the community. I started with

community organizing in autumn 2017. From 2018, I had been

working for Habitat for Humanity and Depaul Slovakia together. I

hope I will work at social housing possibilities in the next few years. I

believe in communities, people and changes. I hope that every person

can live a decent life.

I work with people. I listen and talk with them and then I try to

empower them and put people together with the same motivation for

changes. It was a learning experience for me to be in the U.S. through

the Professional Fellows Program. To be able to be a part of the team

at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless gave me a lot of ideas for

my work. My informal contact with a U.S. mentor, Rachel Ramirez,


Ivana Novakova traveled to the

U.S. in the Spring of 2018 and

had her internship at the Chicago

Coalition for the Homeless

in Chicago, Illinois.


who came to Slovakia several years

before I traveled to the U.S., helped

me with regular calls on organizing

and that was a good start. Before

the trip, I held community meetings

about the issues connected to the

election and a better road to the

night shelter. I built a network in

the city by working with

volunteers. We trained homeless

and volunteer leaders and there is a

full functional group of volunteers


Ivana and members of her team from Depaul Slovakia working with

homeless people in Bratislava visited the CKO office to share their

community organizing experience with the CKO team.

However, it was a lot of work. I

was an informal mentor for 2

colleagues (community organizers).

They helped me with community

work in outreach programs and

religious communities. Besides, I

have been working on a Women's


Success Story by Ivana Novakova

Housing Campaign with Habitat for Humanity Int. EMEA. I have connected Habitat and DePaul. There we

organized a press conference and a couple of exhibitions with stories with our leaders.

Fighting for rights takes preparation

I designed 2 trainings - one with a U.S. mentor, Mo

George, from New York and another with the

advocacy director of Habitat for Humanity, George

Sumeghy. He is open to be the advisor for social

housing platform in the future. We involved 50

people in our project and will impact 500 people in

the end. The beneficiaries are the homeless people,

but also the community workers as well.

Ivana Novakova and U.S. mentor, Mo George, at

DePaul Slovensko in February 2019 in Bratislava to

do a training and consulting with us on organizing

A map to progress

The outcome is that I fought with people for a better

road and street lighting to the homeless night shelter

for almost 2 years. There is a plan now for

reconstruction of the road created by a city activist

and we are waiting for the new road to be done.

Besides, at the end of summer I started to work

more with architects and urbanism specialists in

Bratislava. They are open to doing research on how

to build a more homeless people friendly city. I ́ve

joined their conference and my aim is to strengthen

the relationships and to work on building more


Our proposed map displays where the

homeless people would like to see

more lights and changes to the streets

in the neighborhood.

July 2018 U.S. Independence Day participation at the U.S.

Embassy event with other Slovak alumni.


Alumni Joint Project Report by Jolana Natherova and Team Members

Educating Young Roma on the Values of Democracy

By Jolana Natherova and Team Members

Education requires real life experiences

The project we realized brought a real experience of functioning

democracy by visiting Parliament in the capital of Slovakia. We

brought 21 young people to meet with the Vice-Chairman of the

National Council Committee, Martin Klus, who is an alumnus of our

Professional Fellows Program. Through the lecture, Martin led us

through the evolution of the political scene in Slovakia. He explained to

young Roma the importance of the Velvet Revolution which

contributed to building democracy in Slovakia.

In the 2018 Roma Early Childhood Inclusion report, the Demographic

Situation describes the Roma as the second-largest ethnic minority in

Slovakia, although according to some sources it is the largest minority




Fall 2012 Alumna


Spring 2013 Alumnus


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Fall 2017 Alumna

(Šuvada 2015). In the last census in 2011, only 105,738 Roma registered for membership in the Roma

community which represents approximately 2% of the total population of the Slovak Republic. The census

is based on the voluntary identification of citizens to one or another nationality or ethnicity. Most Roma,

perhaps because of ignorance or fear of subsequent discrimination, don’t volunteer for the Roma ethnicity

and choose a different nationality category, usually Slovak and Hungarian (Vaňo 2001).

History tells it all

The current situation of the Roma in Slovakia can only be understood if we apply the historical

perspective. The Roma have lived in Slovakia since the Middle Ages with the first known official

references from the 14th century. For centuries, Roma have repeatedly experienced periods of state-led or

state-supported persecution and frequent discrimination, including expulsion and violent assimilation

(Fraser 1992, 156).

In the 20th century, the position of the Roma did not

improve significantly and the persecution and

genocide of Slovak Roma tragically resumed during

World War II. During the communist regime, state

policy focused on the assimilation of the Roma.

Only in 1991, two years after the Velvet Revolution

did the Roma in former Czechoslovakia acquire the

right to identify themselves as an independent

minority within the census. However, since the

establishment of the Slovak Republic, the Slovak

government has failed to replace the assimilation

policy with the integration policy or to create

effective administrative and judicial mechanisms to

remedy discrimination against the Roma. Despite

numerous declared commitments, integration

strategies and partial measures, genuine integration

and inclusion of Roma, respecting their dignity̌

remains one of the greatest challenges for Slovakia.

Many Roma children and their families continue to

live on the margins of society.

In the Slovak Parliament with Vice-Chair, Martin

Klus, alumni of the Professional Fellows Program.


Alumni Joint Project Report by Jolana Natherova and Team Members

"The report clearly points out that the potential of Roma children to succeed in their future lives, equal

opportunities for higher education and the labor market is often lost because of the lack of quality early

care and education services," says Vladimir Rafael, head of the research group and nonprofit director.

EduRoma. "If they get the same and earliest chance, it then gives them a chance of success and reduces the

risk of being in poverty later in life," V. Rafael said. This is one of the main reasons why I work mainly

with children and youth. The objective was the development of democracy and election opportunities with

Roma youth. In the project, we focused on the development of democracy and the possibilities available.

In our project, Martin Klus Vice-Chairman introduced us to the spectrum of political parties and their

election programs. With the Roma youth, he discussed politicians and their views on how they promote

democracy and how it affects their daily lives. The participants of the project had the opportunity to see

the most important space of the Parliament where the deputies of the National Council sit and decide on

the law which has an impact on the everyday life of the citizens of Slovakia where the Roma minority


After the visit, we continued with the exhibition on the Velvet Revolution and recalled its importance for

the democratic establishment in our country. We realized that even today it is important to promote

democratic values, not only in politics, but also in everyday life.

The activities took place in October and November 2019 and Veronika Strelcova helped with the

coordination. Lýdia Mirgová sent suggestions for educational meetings and information on the Velvet

Revolution. Martin Klus made possible the visit to Parliament with a lecture. Jolana Natherova was

responsible for preparing the groups’ education, and evaluation.

In phase 1, we were acquainting the target group participants with the project and traveling and staying in

the capital, Bratislava, before visiting parliament and exhibitions on the Velvet Revolution. A total of 21

people visited Parliament and we spent 4 hours in parliament. Another 24 people have impacted by this

project. In Phase 2, we went to the Parliament and visited together the exhibition for the Velvet

Revolution. Phase 3 was focused on education for democratic values in connection with elections. We

realized education in 2 groups. Participants received information in the following areas: a Brief history of

democracy, Velvet Revolution and its impact on the democratization of the state, Functioning of

Parliament and powers of the Members. In Phase 4 we started an Evaluation of ongoing projects.

Going to the photo exhibition in Bratislava.

Evaluation and a workshop at the community center

after the visit to the Parliament.


Alumni Joint Project Report by Miroslav Ragac and Team Members

Community Organizing in Photographs

By Miroslav Ragac and Team Members

20 years of community organizing in photos

Our project was the result of a joint effort of alumni connected to

Center for Community Organizing (CKO) who have engaged their

colleagues and community organizers in the joint project of a

photography exhibition, showing 20 years of community organizing in

Slovakia since its beginnings in large high-rise neighborhoods, up to

current work in small rural areas inhabited by those most vulnerable and

underprivileged. It was an amazing project with a wide outreach.

Conservatively, we directly involved 15 people and impacted another

60 people with the project.

In creating the exhibition in Banska Bystrica, we cooperated with local

young artists and created a scene that was complementing the pictures

from the 2 decades of organizing work, memorizing campaigns and




Spring 2013 Alumnus


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Spring 2012 Alumna


Spring 2013 Alumnus

community groups all around Slovakia. The exhibition was dedicated to the 30 years of the Velvet

Revolution and democracy in Slovakia, but

it was also connected to the 20th

Anniversary of our organization where we

work as colleagues (Jolana Natherova,

community organizer in Roma

communities, Maros Chmelik as director,

Veronika Strelcova as a coordinator for

Professional Fellows Program and I in the

role of community organizer in rural


Don’t forget to celebrate

Moreover our founder, Chuck Hirt, who is

an advisor to the Professional Fellows

Program is now the head of the board of

CKO. This event was very symbolic and

raised a lot of awareness and brought close

attention to our work not just in the region,

but in a whole country and across borders.

We invited our partners, supporters,

volunteers and collaborators to host them

at the reception and show our success in

the last two decades. The process of

preparing the exhibit, looking for pictures

and reaching out to the people connected

with CKO was enriching and a very nice

learning experience. The event itself

proved the claim of the 10th rule of

community organizing as we all know it:

“We need to celebrate the success!” And

so, we did.

20 years of Community Organizing in Photographs opening

reception in Banska Bystrica.


Alumni Joint Project Report by Lydia Mirgova and Team Members

Roma Communities in 2020 Parliamentary Elections in Slovakia

By Lydia Mirgova and Team Members




Spring 2017 Alumna


Fall 2012 Alumna


Spring 2013 Alumna

Learning the process… and why it is important

I learned in the U.S. that no one is alone. If a person has a problem, it is our

duty to help and support them. Our people in the Roma community are alone.

They live in conditions that are dehumanizing for people. It is important to

build civil society in segregated locations because their voice is important if

they want change and freedom.

The aim of these series of workshops and trainings is to educate community

leaders and invite as many adult men and women as possible to community

centers. We wanted to show them how to vote properly in polling stations, why

elections are important and what are the election programs of the parties.

Why is this activity important? Certainly, it is to increase the turnout in Roma communities during the parliamentary

elections 2020 in Slovakia, to communicate democratic values and to help the voters recognize parties with the profascist

background and orientation.

Roma in Slovakia are very often faced with a negative attitude by the majority. The Roma are still a marginal issue

for the majority political parties. Today they only use it as a tool for obtaining constituent's votes. When we look into

the past, we can see that, for example, nationalist parties during electoral campaigns promised a "majority order" and

an "end to social abuse" to the majority of the council system by the Roma minority (Hrustič, 2005). It should be

added that almost all parties sought Roma votes in the election period, and that the politicians lacked any long-term

work with the Roma minority. “At a time when Slovakia entered the European Union, the topic of integration was

intensely present in the public discourse, therefore even political parties could not completely neglect it ”(Hrustič,

2015, p.112). After Slovakia's accession to the European Union in 2004, however, the representation of the Roma has

not changed very much in the majority of political discourse, and so far, does not have the topic of integration,

political participation or relevant political representation by the Roma.

During a series of presentations and workshops in: Velka Lomnica and Rakusy) we learned:

· Everyone aged 18 must vote.

· We presented the program of political parties, including leaders.

· We learned which political parties are open to minorities, human rights, and justice.

We presented films about Nazi parties, including public statements from political leaders in the media against the

Roma. At community centers, we will continue these activities to be ready for the February elections 2020. So far,

we have involved 80 people in the project and have impacted at least 1,500.

Meetings with Roma leaders in Velka Lomnica and Rakusy.


Photo Gallery: “Taking Acon—Changing Lives in Minority Communies”—Volume V

“Taking Acon—Changing Lives in Minority Communies”—Volume V



Albania: New Beginnings: Community Organizing in Albania

Lorena Gjana, Country Director

2018 Poster - Professional Fellows Program Alumni from Albania


Social Artistry: Colorful People

Lorela Musta

Organizing Families of Children and Youth with Disabilities

Alda Kondakciu

My Story is What I Have, What I Will Always Have.

It is Something to Own.

Arber Kodra

Empowering Women Economically Through Social Enterprises

Suela Koçibellinj


Empowering Rural Youth to Build Communities in the Cerrik Area

Albana Hasmeta

Empowering Young Girls in Rural Areas to be Active in the Community

to Prevent Domestic and Gender-based Violence

Marsela Allmuça

Volunteering Is an Act of LOVE

Erisa Mercolli


Youth Empowerment in the Gramsh Municipality

Nensi Dragoti

Assembly of Freedom—AFA

Ivi Bejtja

Involvement of the Concerned Public in Environmental Decision Making

Arion Sauku


The LGBTI Civic Engagement Project

Arber Kodra, Vladislav Petkov, Alexandru Palas

Youth Involvement in Decision-Making for Better Democracy

Ivi Bejtja, Nensi Dragoti, Albana Hasmeta, Marsela Allmuca,

Lorela Musta, Brejdon Xhavara

Empowering Youth, a Potential for Community Development

Nensi Dragoti, Marsela Allmuca, Lorela Musta

Start Up Your Own Enterprise

Suela Kocibellinj, Alda Kondakciu, Albana Hasmeta

1 st Albanian Professional Fellows Alumni Reunion

Lorena Gjana



















Taking Acon—Changing Lives in Minority Communies—Volume V

New Beginnings: Community Organizing in Albania

By Lorena Gjana, Country Director


Co-PLAN and community organizing

Many studies have demonstrated that Civil Society

(organized structures or independent activists) has a

salient role in helping consolidation and deepening

of democracy anywhere in the world.

Unfortunately, the CSO scene in Albania seems to

be as bumpy/turbulent as the sociopolitical context

itself. Amidst the several top-down reforms,

questionable high-profile decisions and un-kept

electoral promises, the civic response is either

lacking entirely or it has been very poorly argued

and slow to follow. The reasons for the current state

of the Civil Society Sector in Albania are numerous

and as recent dynamics have repeatedly shown,

they stem mainly from: A general lack of trust;

weak internal organizational structures and

governance; lack of an evidence-based approach;

few alternative voices and lack of the

diversification. In order to contribute to the making

of young CSOs and newly emerging activists,

capable of being active drivers of change and policy

influencing, Co-PLAN has been engaged in

introducing community organizing principles and

practices through the GLC/WSOS “Shaping

Participatory Democracy” Program, funded by the

U.S. Department of State.

Albania becomes the 5th country

As the newest country to be part of the program,

Albania still has a lot to learn when it comes to

community organizing. Unique in its nature and

particularly in the Albanian case, the program has

for the first time given the opportunity to activists

and organizations to gain knowledge and hands on

experience of how communities can get together

and find solutions. This approach while not

practiced, is very much needed. Although it was

difficult comprehending the focus of the program as

it is in every beginning, the interest is great. The

CSO’s scene is very much in need and looking for

opportunities like this. The experience gained by

the exchange provided participants with a new set

of skills to improve their work, communication and

interaction with the communities, but also is a great

opportunity to connect with U.S. and European

organizations that have been using these methods

for a much longer time.

Community organizing spreads its roots

Even though in its beginnings, the program has

already had an impact on the way organizations

interact with each other by forming a network of

fellows that support each other and work together

on common projects and initiatives. They are not

just alumni any longer, they are partners for future

Lorena Gjana and Aida Ciro of Co-PLAN lead

Albanian program.


Taking Acon—Changing Lives in Minority Communies—Volume V

from advocacy to community organizing with the

aim of attracting more organizations and

introducing it into the work they have with


Fellow alumni have joined us on National Activism

Day (NAD) for 2 years in a row, ….youth’s positive

energy with the know-how.

cooperation and this falls in line with one of the

objectives we have as country directors to

consolidate a network of organizations that

strengthens the CSO scene in Albania. From our

standpoint, we have been engaged to organize

frequent meetings and social events to not only get

to know each other more, but also to form

connections beyond projects. This has also helped

us as Co-PLAN on our initiatives outside of the

program to engage organizations and build their

capacities in empowering activists and change

makers. Fellow alumni have joined us on National

Activism Day (NAD) for 2 years in a row, an

annual event we organize with the support of the

U.S. Embassy in Tirana, aimed at pairing youth

with positive energy with the know-how and

experience of CSOs to drive tangible change in

local communities. Through NAD, and the

involvement of almost all fellows from the

program, we were able to highlight the importance

of civic engagement particularly by engaging youth

groups, acknowledging the contribution of activists

from various fields and provide alternative views as

to how responsible citizens can become active.

Activities with communities were organized by

fellows on a local level, coordinating and training

youth groups. As part of the activities, they were

present in the marches organized on the same day

to raise awareness of social justice and human

rights. They gave full support to this initiative that

Co-PLAN started 2 years ago but intends to make it

a tradition. From the first year to the second

because of the experience we have gained through

the program, we have shifted the focus of NAD

Senior alumni welcome freshmen alumni

In addition, frequent meetings are organized among

the fellows to introduce the new fellows to the

other ones who had been part of the experience and

also to get more detailed information on the

program. Moreover, the participants share their

experiences regarding their organization and their

individual work, as well as their aspirations for the

future. We try on every occasion to promote the

program and introduce the program process from

the beginning and also inform newcomers to the

group about the activities that are organized in

collaboration with the fellows in line with the U.S.

mentor’s visits. Cooperation and support of each

other is always advised for activities organized in

the framework of the Professional Fellows

Program, but also on individual activities that each

fellow organizes for their work.

During the first visit by the U.S. mentors in

February 2019, we had the opportunity to organize

many activities where we could utilize their

experience to promote the program, to talk and

explain more about community organizing and to

inspire students and young activist to be more

engaged in their communities. We gathered our

forces, Co-PLAN in cooperation with all the

fellows that hosted their U.S. mentors to organize 2

big activities, one in Tirana and one in the city of

Durres. The gathering in Durres was organized at

the University with students from the social science

department where 5 U.S. mentors: Wade Rathke,

Fourteen Albanian Professional Fellows gather to

plan their 1st Albanian alumni event.


Taking Acon—Changing Lives in Minority Communies—Volume V

Carey Jo Grace, Mark W. Poeppelman, Brian Silva

and Jessica Moreno all made short presentations

and interacted with the students giving them advice

on what they could do to get involved to bring

about positive change. The second activity

organized as a joint effort among the fellows and

Co-PLAN was a meeting with more than 50

professionals and activists discussing how to adapt

community organizing tactics to the Albanian


Inagural Albanian alumni reunion

In August 2019 for the first time, we were able to

organize a 3-day Albanian Alumni Reunion where

we had the opportunity to bring together Albanian

Alumni and 6 European Country Directors, and

WSOS/GLC Project Manager, Elizabeth Balint and

Deb Martin, Community Development Director

from the U.S. It was conceptualized as 3 full-day

reunion outside of the capital city of Tirana in

different locations aimed at having all the sessions

in a more quiet and comfortable setting. This way,

we could exploit every opportunity to get to know

each other better, plan and strategize potential

upcoming Alumni activities. Overall: the 3-day

Fourteen Albanian Professional Fellows gather for

the 1st alumni reunion on August 30-31 and

September 1, 2019.

program was very valuable in building stronger

collaboration among alumni, planning ahead for

alumni activities, including the September 2020

WSOS/GLC Alumni Reunion and help the fall

2019 fellows be part of this alumni group early and

prepare them for their U.S. experience and for

follow-on activities.

Albanian Professional Fellows celebrate their 1st alumni reunion on August 30-31 and

September 1, 2019, with a bit of recreation by the lakeside.


GLCAP / Great Lakes Consortium for International Training and Development

“Shaping Participatory Democracy”

European Fellows traveled to the United States in 2018

on FY 2017 Professional Fellows Program from ALBANIA

The program is funded by the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational

and Cultural Affairs, Office of Citizen Exchanges, Professional Fellows Division.


Success Story by Lorela Musta

Social Artistry: Colorful People

By Lorela Musta

The Professional Fellowship Program with GLC and the skills that I

gained through my experience in the U.S. helped me in the work we are

doing at the "Ramazan Kabashi" Institute (INNSH) The Institute of

Blind and Visually Impaired Children). Its aim is social inclusion and

improving the emotional state of students with visual impairments,

using art as a social tool, tele-works, creating hand-made and recyclable

works. Students and professionals in the arts and psychology field are

involved in this volunteer program, bringing a breakthrough in working

with the Institute's children. Through this program, a number of

exhibitions were organized where students of INNSH had an active role

in presenting their works.


Lorela Musta traveled to the

U.S. in the Fall of 2018 and

had her internship at the Trade

American Council of the Blind

of Ohio in Columbus, Ohio.


Visit at National Centre for Rehabilitation of People with

Disability in Prush, Vaqarr

In May 2019, during my U.S. mentor, Vicky Prahin’s visit to Albania,

together we visited with the Albanian Blind Association’s director, staff

and some volunteers/interns at the National Centre for Rehabilitation of

People with Disability in Prush, Vaqarr (QKRV). The President of the

QKRV, Ardjan Hysa, made an introduction and helped us understand

the purpose of the centre. It is the only institution specializing in the

provision of services for blind persons in Albania. The goal of this

centre is to integrate blind citizens into society with specific services.

QKRV is designed to conduct the training of blind citizens for the use

of multi-level typhlo-tech devices which is equipment that facilitates

the process of their work, employees, entertainment, self-service, etc.

Unfortunately, the centre is now in need of

support and financial resources from the

government to keep their services operating.

During the meeting, we also shared some

information about the Professional Fellows


During this meeting we had a productive

discussion about the blind people’s situation

in Albania: the clear vision for our future,

the challenges in education and employment

as the 2 main pillars of integration. We

talked about the challenges of preparing

blind people for employment, setting up

institutions for quality education of the

blind, integrating people into education,

infrastructure, etc. The participants asked

questions on how to improve their situation

and the U.S mentor gave some advice and

Visit to the Albanian Blind Association and Workshop about

the guide dog concept, independent living and

opportunities for visually impaired.


Success Story by Lorela Musta

shared her experience in advocacy and lobbying and suggested some methods on how they can be more

effective in their activism. Vicky also shared her experience in independent life, how the guide dog has

helped and some useful information about the U.S education scholarships and other facilities. The meeting

finished with a promise for further collaboration.

We also visited the “Ramazan Kabashi” Institute (The Institute of Blind and

Visually Impaired Children).

We visited “Ramazan Kabashi” Institute (The Institute of Blind and Visually Impaired Children), where we

had a meeting with the Institute staff. We talked about the services, needs, how children benefit from the

Social Artistry program and how this program helped in our daily work.

My U.S. mentor, Vicky Prahin, was introduced to our program and volunteers and children who are part of

the Social Artistry program shared their experience with it. The children were particularly interested in the

guide dog as it was the first time they saw a blind person accompanied by a guide dog. Vicky explained to

the children how a dog could help a person in their daily life.

Exhibition and social awareness


Together with visually impaired youth/

children, we organized an Exhibition and

Social Awareness Activity with paintings

and artwork created by visual impaired

children/youth in an open space at city

center, Tirana Castle.

The exhibition was open throughout the

day and the group of children who had

produced the work, government leaders,

other alumni, staff of "Ramazan Kabashi"

Institute, youth, representatives of

companies and Tirana Castle visitors were

present at this event. Each child who

created an artwork gave an explanation for

the exhibition visitors. During the event,

many visitors, activists and volunteers had

the opportunity to briefly share their

Participation on Social Artistry Program at Institute of Blind

and Visually Impaired Children.


Success Story by Lorela Musta

experience with the U.S. mentor, to be informed about the Professional Fellows Program, the community

organization, and guide dog, etc.

Children’s art exhibition at Tirana Castle for public visitors to experience and interact with youth.

Together with Vicky Prahin, we had a closing meeting with a group of the volunteers of the Social Artistry

program, youth workers and activists. During the meeting, the young people shared their experiences and

challenges during their engagement with the community. Vicky shared some useful tips about how we

could continue planning for the future. She also shared more information about community organizing,

advocacy and lobbying and many participants were interested to transfer this information into their daily

work. We also discussed about awareness raising campaigns through media and alternative methods.

Meeting for Increasing the level of information

about community organizing, advocacy and

planning for the future.

Together with Vicky Prahin, we had a closing

meeting with a group of the volunteers of the

Social Artistry program, youth workers and



Success Story by Alda Kondakciu

Organizing Families of Children and Youth with Disabilities

By Alda Kondakciu

Insight and better understanding

I work for Partnere per Femijet (Partners for Children) Organization.

During my 11 years’ experience working in remote rural areas with

vulnerable groups of people, I gained a great insight and better

understanding of the needs of different groups of people in the


As such, families of children with disabilities have been among the

most vulnerable groups who face numerous challenges due to the

inadequate availability of specialized and supporting services, social

isolation and other effects ranging from prejudice to exclusion.

Gaps in the public support system

There is a need for efforts to improve the support system for families of

children with disabilities. Based on this, in previous projects that we

have initiated such as the Self Support Groups of Parents of Children

with Disabilities – which was a way to help family members. We

helped them come together to share trust and support, exchange

experiences of caring for their children, their challenges and ways they

had addressed those issues related to access to health and education

services, as well as coping with the needs of the child.

The visit by my U.S. mentor, Carey Jo Grace, from West Virginia

Healthy Kids and Families Coalition conducted several meetings and

had valuable discussions with the parents providing them with hope

and tools for leadership. As a result, we did take advocacy actions with


local municipal structures to establish a service at the local level to provide family-centered service. This

new approach was based on our

holistic needs assessment of the

family to link families to the

available services at the local and

national levels. This contributed to

the level of support provided to the

family and the positive impact on the

quality of life of the child and the

family unit.

Our efforts and actions with parents

and families of children with

disabilities to ensure access to

services for children with disabilities

at local level (while navigating the

system they faced with significant

Meeting in Kukes Municipality with Parents of Children with

Disabilities facilitated by my U.S. mentor, Carey Jo Grace.


Alda Kondakciu traveled to the

U.S. in the Fall of 2018 and

had her internship at the WV

Healthy Kids & Families

Coalition in Charleston, West



gaps) were successful. They led to

quality services that met a variety of

social and educational needs of the

children and youth with disabilities.

Success Story by Alda Kondakciu

Without support, attendance declines

Occasionally, I visit the Day Center for children and young people with disabilities in Kukes Municipality,

north of Albania. Every time I went there, I saw that the children and young people with disabilities were

not engaged in activities. Each time I visited it, there was a drop in the attendance because the parents could

not afford to transport their children from the rural areas to the urban areas where the center and the service

were located. I have been in contact and had several individual visits to these families of children with

disabilities. During these visits, I had the opportunity to listen first-hand to their concerns, needs and desire

to act to improve the quality of services.

Following my participation in the

Professional Fellows Program focused

on community organizing, I felt

empowered to transfer my newly

acquired knowledge and skills and

leadership to the parents and families

of children with disabilities.

Together with parents, we organized

several meetings to discuss their needs,

prioritize them and develop actions to

bring forward the development of local

services for children with disabilities.

Meeting between the Families of Children with Disabilities and

Head of Social Services, Kukes Municipality.

Review Meeting between the Families of Children with

Disabilities and Head of Social Services, Kukes Municipality.

Nothing will happen without


Parents sent a request for a meeting

with the Head of Social Service

Department. The meeting was

successful because it contributed to

integrating the need to improve the

quality of services for children and

youth with disabilities into the Social

Service Plan. Following that, the

parents of children with disabilities

continued their efforts to participate in

the process of approval of the Social

Service Plan at the City Hall meetings.

Parents felt empowered as they

overcame the barrier of exclusion from

local decision-making processes that

affected them.

Additionally, my organization and I

have supported the group of parents of

children with disabilities in their

fundraising efforts – as a way of

contributing to meet the needs of

children and young people with

disabilities so they could reach their

full potential through practical and

qualitative activities at the day care



Success Story by Arber Kodra

My Story is What I Have, What I Will Always Have,

It is Something to Own

By Arber Kodra

My story… I am proud!

I am proud to be myself, to speak as myself, and to have the power to

use my voice. It takes time to change people’s hearts and minds. Even

though I feel very fulfilled on the work I do to advance equality for

LGBTI rights in my country, of course there is still a lot of work to do.

We are making progress on this matter. Change happens slowly and we

are planting seeds of change, the fruit of which we may possibly never

see and that’s why we have to be patient.

After I came back to Albania from my Professional Fellows Program

internship experience in the U.S., I continued doing my work online for

my mentor organization because I wanted to continue giving my

contribution for what I believe in. I worked together with my U.S.

Mentor, Mr. Brian Silva, and during his time in Albania, he assisted me

in implementing my individual project that I was surprised to realize

that I achieved more than I expected. This program inspired me to grow

and make bigger achievements personally and professionally.

A few of my new achievements:

1. UNDP Free & Equal Campaign, I was chosen as the National

Consultant for the family education program proposed by me with the

title ‘’I AM YOUR CHILD!’’

2. Establishing a strong Collaboration Agreement with the Municipality

of Tirana to work on LGBTI issues.


Arber Kodra traveled to the

U.S. in the Spring of 2018 and

had his internship at the

National Equality Action Team

in New York City, New York.


3. Working with the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) in Washington, D.C. as the only Albanian chosen to

establish a program for businesses to engage employers in advancing equality in the workplace, and to

increase understanding of and

support for the LGBTI


4. And, I am continually dedicated

to more achievements.

Arber Kodra (left) chosen as National Consultant for “I am your

Child” family education program.

Together with my U.S. Mentor,

Mr. Brian Silva, we participated in

roundtable discussions with

students in Durres and Tirana to

discuss community organizing,

LGBTI rights and to assist my

work to empower and increase

awareness in Albania. Also, Brian

helped me a lot in providing

trainings to other LGBTI

community organizers and

organizations on their

development; and assisting all of

us in our efforts to increase


Success Story by Arber Kodra

funding for our work; and therefore, we have generated several fundraising ideas for our future work in a

challenging environment. We visited LGBTI friendly places to meet and talk with the local community.

Together, we promoted the Professional Fellows Program to encourage others to apply and help bring the

change they want to see. I am lucky that my mentor’s professional portfolio includes supporting community

organizing and LGBTI rights in the Balkans. He has worked hard and visited all the countries in the

Balkans and Albania was one of the last countries he has worked in. I am sure that during our exchange of

experiences, there are also models or approaches that he may consider for his work in the U.S. It was truly a

gift to spend the time with Brian and work together, to feel connected to the community, and supported in

my continued journey.

I close my testimonial with one of my

favorite quotes from Barack Obama:

“Change will not come if we wait for

some other person, or if we wait for

some other time. We are the ones

we've been waiting for. We are the

change that we seek.”

Establishing a strong Collaboration Agreement with the

Municipality of Tirana to work on LGBTI issues.

Arber Kodra conducts meeting on LGBTI issues with

Albanian alumni in Tirana.


Success Story by Suela Kocibellinj

Empowering Women Economically Through Social Enterprises

By Suela Kocibellinj

We shall find a solution

VIZION OJF has been working for more than 10 years now as a nonprofit

organisation, focused on supporting the development and

empowerment of women and youth in rural areas of Albania. This has

been an everyday challenge for me. The area of northern Albania is still

suffering a lot from socio-economic problems. Unemployment is high,

and for women the chances to work are close to none. The patriarchal

mentality dominates the relations in the family and society from a girl’s

birth. Education is still a problem in these areas because it is considered

as not necessary for girls. They are discouraged from attending high

school which becomes an obstacle for their development and career.

The lack of education and the difficult socio-economic conditions most

families live in increase the chance for women to face unemployment

and even worse, domestic violence. Women are not only being left

uneducated, they get married too soon, have children and stay at home.

Gender expectations dictate that the man of the house makes the

decisions and provides for everything.

Education is key

We have been working in schools, promoting education as one of the

main mechanisms for development. At the same time, it is very

important to work together with mothers. We are striving to create a

sense of strength and


Suela Kocibellinj traveled to

the U.S. in the Spring of 2018

and had her internship at US

Together in Columbus, Ohio.


opportunity because they are looking to compensate for

their missed opportunities. That is why in 2016 we

started some small initiatives on social enterprises

together with the women in different rural areas. We

have been testing our small initiatives trying to see if

they can be sustainable and involve as many women as

possible. The experience I received in the U.S. as part of

the Professional Fellows Program and being placed at

US Together in Columbus, Ohio, was a good practice.

Their focus is on development of social enterprises and

women’s economic empowerment. It was a direct way to

gain experience on new possibilities for creating and

sustaining social enterprises.

VIZION OJF team with women from the City of

Peshkopi in the Home@Home co-op space.

Social enterprises

Starting an enterprise and being social is a choice that

everyone who believes in social development, inclusion

and fair chances for everyone can do. There are a lot of

chances, a lot of inspiration, a lot of possibilities where

doing business and running an enterprise and including

the social value-added factor in it can be successful.

After the fellowship, being back in Albania, full of

inspiration and stronger in my focus on the economic


Success Story by Alda Kondakciu

empowerment of the women in rural areas, we started a new social enterprise project Hope@Home in the northern

Albanian Region of Dibra, City Peshkopi, supported by SDG U.S. Embassy in Tirana. The project gave us the chance

to train a group of 30 women for 6 months in agriculture, handicraft/loom traditional production, and medicinal


We have been learning and working together with the group of women aged 19-40 years old. I shared with them my

personal story of being in the U.S. through photos and videos. I presented small examples of the social enterprises

that women all over the world do to be active and to get stronger economically. This was a real inspiration for them

and motivated the women and girls to start rethinking the local resources that they have and how they can be used.

Co-op work space

Since June 2019, we started the new social enterprise

in the City of Peshkopi, a co-working place where we

have one loom that the women use to produce

handmade products and sell them there. It is a minimanufactory

and a retail shop at the same time. We are

producing mostly scarves and traditional products for

tourism but, we are offering the opportunity to every

woman of the region to present their own handmade

traditional products at our retail shop.

After the first 3 months, we identified the need to be

Team meeting at the Hope@Home workspace. more efficient in our production. The women got better

in the quality and their efficiency of production. We

applied under the programme ‘Embrace’, sub-granted from EU Grants in Albania to support small social enterprises

and we have been selected for funding. That means that we will have financial support to pay the rent and to secure a

new loom, as well as cover some other materials for 9 months. Working together with the group of women and

exploring new products in weaving is a wonderful challenge on the road to economic empowerment.

In the meantime, we continue our work with another social enterprise which we started 3 years ago, Hopla - Hope

and Love, clothes with conscience in Tirana, the small manufactory is still producing new models from up-cycling

adult large size clothes to bed sheets. Meanwhile, we expanded the market for clients who want to up-cycle their own

clothes for kids. The products are mainly sold in Tirana and a few other places. Right now there are 3

underprivileged women and moms with kids working in Tirana.

My Shop retail space for entrepreneurial sale items.

My Shop

Another new initiative that I launched after coming

back from the U.S. was the concept of ‘My Shop’,

which is aimed at supporting women in need in

Tirana. Tirana is the capital of Albania, where the

population has been growing rapidly during the last

25 years because of demographic changes and a lot

of families are coming from rural areas to the capital

looking for a better life. However, not being well

educated and with fewer employment chances leaves

some of these families and especially women, very

vulnerable. With 'My shop' we have supported 3

women in need in Tirana to start their own small

shops selling second-hand clothing. During the last

year, they have learned how to manage their small

business and to become sustainable. That is what I

see as my biggest achievement so far: having a lot of

women and girls who never worked before, who

have been suffering from socio-economic problems,

all working and getting stronger step by step.


Success Story by Albana Hasmeta

Empowering Rural Youth to Build Communities

in the Cerrik area

By Albana Hasmeta

When low incomes collide with a weak infrastructure

People living in the Cerrik area are faced with many difficulties. They

have very low incomes; families are supported by remittances; the

major labor force has emigrated to find employment elsewhere. Due to

the low economic levels, only a small number of students manage to

attend the university. Another problem for people in the area is the

weak infrastructure where several services are not offered properly.

When asked about working in agriculture, the majority of the locals

refuse to do so since it is more profitable for them to work in

agriculture abroad rather than on their own land.

There is a lack of organizations and of community organization. There

are very few organized groups or civil society organizations that

operate in the area. Consequently, there is a lack of participatory

processes and citizens were never asked about their needs or what

could be done to improve their livelihoods.

We begun to tackle the issues

Through different activities organized in the frame of Professional

Fellows Program during 2019, we were able to tackle and address

some of those problems, especially during the U.S. mentor’s visit. We

directly involved over 70 people in our meetings and workshops

impacting 140 or more people in the community.


Albana Hasmeta traveled to

the U.S. in the Fall of 2018 and

had her internship at the Rural

Community Assistance

Partnership in Washington,



Meeting in the Cerrik area facilitated by my U.S. mentor,

Blanca Surgeon.

The first activity

“Visit to ANRD offices” was

dedicated to introducing the U.S.

mentor, Ms. Blanca Surgeon, to the

work of the Albanian Network for

Rural Development (ANRD). A

joint meeting with the ANRD

National Coordinator, ANRD

Chairman and other staff members

was organized to discuss the

Network's agenda, activities,

priorities, mutual areas of

intervention and possible

partnerships. This meeting was

important to connect the work of

the Network with developments in

organizations in the U.S. Blanca

also introduced the work of the

U.S. organization that she

represents and various successful


Success Story by Albana Hasmeta

intervention models which can be implemented in Albanian rural areas. A key point discussed during this

partnership meeting included additional opportunities was that ANRD is highly interested in having Ms.

Blanca Surgeon as one of the Guest Speakers/Experts at the 2nd Albanian Rural Parliament to be organized

in May 2020.

The second activity

“Open Talk: Community organizing, participatory development and active youth” was organized on June

27, 2019 with Blanca Surgeon being our keynote speaker. The event’s aim was two-fold: 1. raise awareness

among youth on the importance of civic engagement and participation in the development processes, and 2.

providing a space for discussion and sharing of positive models of development. By bringing together 12

young participants, representatives of various organizations working with young people and in rural areas,

the event proved very useful in focusing the participants’ attention on aspects of mobilization, innovation,

new resources of development, and partnerships.

The third activity

“Exchange of Experiences with the U.S. Fellow Mentor” took place in the Dibra area on June 28, 2019. The

event consisted of an exchange of experiences between my U.S. mentor and members of the rural

community from Dibra. Among others, this exchange was important to present participants with concepts

of entrepreneurship and its various models. Using the ‘potato exercise’, Blanca Surgeon managed to

introduce participants to several opportunities they can use from single products and services. Participants

were encouraged to discuss differences in working practices and forms of engagement; they were

encouraged to think in terms of an being an entrepreneur and were exposed to several models of


Entrepreneurship exposed

After the event, several other meetings with rural entrepreneurs from the area took place. The sharing of

experiences from rural entrepreneurs in the Dibra area served as a discussion of some of the most recent

initiatives by active community members in the area. It also served as a discussion of development practices

from an American perspective. One of the meetings was with Mr. Veip Salkurti, farmer and owner of Kop

Frut Company that collects, stores and processes fruits). During the visit at his company, Mr. Salkurti

presented his work, his story of how many years it took to establish the company, the partnerships he made

and the factors impacting his work. It is a true success story in Albanian rural business! Mr. Salkurti

proudly spoke to us about the challenges and opportunities coming from this enterprise.


Success Story by Marsela Allmuca

Empowering Young Girls in a Rural Area to Be Active in the

Community to Prevent Domestic and Gender-based Violence

By Marsela Allmuca

SAWG, a history of service

The Shelter for Women and Girls in Tirana (SAWG) is a

nongovernmental organization that was established as a social service

center in 1998. The Shelter shares a strong history of fights,

interventions and commitment that advances women's safety and

security, the quality of life and societal acceptance. It represents the

first effort and response to emergency situations such domestic


During the years SAWG directly assisted more than 800 women and

870 children to find an “escape” from abuse; it supported 550 families

to fresh and new starts during the years. The SAWG operates a 24-hour

service for women and children and offers 5 main programs: 1) Basic

Services: housing, feeding, relaxing, cleaning, training with personal

hygiene skills, education on main life skills, education with parenting

skills, and some communication skills. 2) Children’s program; 3)

Counselling program: emotional support; raising of the self-esteem of

the clients; identification of strong and weak points, opportunities and

difficulties; referring to other specialized services, etc.; 4) Follow-up

Program: prevention from revictimization, from any other form of

abusive life style/situation; 5) Public Awareness and Lobbying



Marsela Allmuca traveled to

the U.S. in the Fall of 2018 and

had her internship at ACORN

International in New Orleans,



New skills for a sensitive community

My involvement in the Professional Fellowship Program gave me the opportunity to bring a new set of

skills to the organization that are necessary when dealing with a sensitive community. We were able to

organise many activities with the experience and support of the U.S. mentors.

Open discussion / sharing experiences with local NGOs at

“Community Organizers Talks”.

Open lectures on Community

Organizing, February 2019

Co-Plan in cooperation with

University of Alexander Moisiu

Durres and Professional Fellows

alumni organised an open forum

with students on community

organizing in February 2019. More

than 50 students from the Education

and Social Sciences Department

participated in the event and

discussion. Mentors from the U.S.

presented their work and experience

on community organising, students

asked questions on how they can

replicate the model in Albania.

During the event, Professional

Fellows alumni presented their


Success Story by Marsela Allmuca

work and experience with the program, including our work at SAWG. This gave us the opportunity to talk

about our work and the problem with domestic violence to a wider public.

In February 2019, my U.S. mentor, Wade Rathke, visited us to share his knowledge and experience, mentor

us, and be a cheerleader for our cause. We planned a series of meetings, community events and activities.

These included:

· An open discussion Co Plan in cooperation with Professional Fellows alumni organised the

“Community Organizers Talks” event on February 13, 2019, in Tirana where 56 activists and students

attended. During the event, through an interactive and proactive methodology the U.S. mentors talked

about the methodology and methods of community organizing. Some participants showed interest to

learn more about community organizing and ways to be involved in their communities.

· An interview at a local radio station Together with Wade Rathke and Brian Silva, we talked on

the national radio (RTSH) show “Individuals and Society” about the Professional Fellows Program, our

experience and community organizing. The main topics were: poverty, social justice and LGBTI Rights.

· A meeting with the U.S. Embassy

in Tirana During the U.S. mentors visit to

Tirana, mentors and fellows had a meeting

with U.S. Embassy in Tirana where they

shared their experience with the program

and discussed the sustainability of the


National Radio Show talk on Professional Fellows

Program with U.S. mentors Wade Rathke and Brian Silva.

Open discussion with U.S. mentor, Wade Rathke, and

activists from the Roma Community.

· A film screening We planned to have

a public event in Berat with the screening

the documentary film “The organizer”. It

was impossible to get a public space for the

filming and as an alternative, we organised

an open discussion with a group of local

activists from the Roma community. They

have been working with their community on

housing and education issues for the last 7

years. They shared their experience and

challenges to organize the community and to

address community problems. The U.S.

mentor shared his experience and suggested

methods and ways on how they could be

more effective.

· A Training/Meeting with various

community groups in the field

Together with Wade Rathke we organised a

meeting with a group of youth in Ndroq that

were part of the activities of the program.

During the meeting, the young people shared

their experiences and challenges to address

the community problems. Based on specific

issues they raised (like missing the public

spaces for youth, playgrounds for children,


Success Story by Marsela Allmuca

housing, infrastructures and transport) Wade discussed ways and methods they could assist the

community with their problems and ways to be engaged in their community.

· A meeting with a group of

youth activists in Tirana

Wade Rathke and I met with a

group of youth activists at the

Human Rights Center in Tirana in

February. Activists presented their

work and their interest in

community organizing. Wade

shared his experience in addressing

the issues like housing which

remains to be a problem in the

Roma community and activists

from the community asked question

about effective ways and methods

to address this. We identified 4-5

activists who are very interested in

community organizing and the


Mentoring / planning for future


We had a closing meeting with the U.S.

mentors on planning for future

intervention and ways to follow-up on

issues identified during the meetings.

We discussed the possibility of training

a group of youth on community

organizing who showed interest to

learn more about community

organizing and ways to directly involve

them. We also discussed an awareness

raising campaign that I organised with

young girls in Ndroq and Lezha and

plans for the future.

Meeting with a group of youth activists in Tirana.

Mentoring and planning for future intervention with U.S.


Preparation of flyers/postcards.

Together with a group of young girls in Ndroq, we organised the awareness raising campaign in rural

communities on domestic violence and gender-based violence issues. During the campaign, the young girls

prepared and distributed flyers with messages against domestic violence. 200 flyers were prepared and

distributed in different communities.


Success Story by Erisa Mercolli

Volunteering Is an Act of LOVE

By Erisa Mercolli

“We can do no great things - only small things with great love.”

Mother Theresa


When I applied for the Professional Fellows Program, I worked as manager of

an art school in Tirana where students came to learn art and music as

extracurricular activities in their free time. Unfortunately, many students from

public schools and the minority communities could not afford these programs.

Therefore, I choose as my pre-departure field work to organize parents at

Naim Frasheri” School 6-7-th grade. We reached out to parents and students

with a survey where they could express their needs and interest to get together

for a meeting with other parents to discuss common issues and ideas. Many

expressed an interest in starting this process and the parents’ meetings helped

them rethink old beliefs. Participants were skeptical at first because by

Albanian culture, they were used to playing the beneficiary role, not the active

contributor role. In the beginning, there were positive and negative arguments,

but lastly, we arrived at a positive conclusion to have active community roles.

Soon they started to discuss how to create a mechanism for parents and their

students so they could advocate on their behalf.

Erisa Mercolli traveled to the

U.S. in the Spring of 2018 and

had her internship at the

Toledo School 4 the Arts in

Toledo, Ohio.


The key areas they identified where they wanted to see more programs in their

school: computer art, graphic design, playing instruments, acting and summer

art camps.

In order to make progress on these issues, parents needed to get more

leadership skills and empowerment to lead the process, have their voices

heard and advocate more for children. It was a long road as engagement in

community or schools was minimal, but was a good start for community

organizing and my U.S. experience was helpful to understand what the campaign steps are to get parents where they

want to be and how to work with allies and partners to make a strong case.

The main ideas I brought from my U.S. Fellowship

I gained experience from my pre-departure field work and I was very glad that

I was placed for my 4-week internship at the Toledo School 4 the Arts (TSA)

where I learned a variety of tools and new ideas that were very useful for me

and for Albania. I was grateful to all the people who helped me at TSA,

especially my mentor, Dave Gierke, because they did their best to get me

connected. The most beautiful thing was that they loved what they did, and

they inspired me and many others around them.

TSA is a tuition-free public community school open to Ohio residents entering

grades 6–12 that teaches academics through integration of the visual and

performing arts. Due to high demand, enrollment is via lottery. TSA provides

students opportunities to work with professional artists to expand their arts

experiences and knowledge.

TSA hosts “First Friday” free events throughout the school year on the

first Friday of every month. A reception begins at 9 a.m. with visual arts and

academic displays followed by a 30-minute student performance for community members, families and friends. After

the performance, student-led tours of the building are available. The TSA Outreach Program is a philanthropic effort


Success Story by Erisa Mercolli

to raise funds for the school and provide its students with artistic opportunities. TSA has a focus on fundraising

through regular communication with past donors and to engage new donors. I learned a lot from these and many

other everyday practices.

I focused on 3 areas after my return.

1. Using recycled materials to create artwork

In Albania, we have a problem with the environment because we have so

much solid waste and very little recycling. While new materials are

expensive to create art, I saw the opportunity of using recycled materials.

What I saw at TSA inspired me to test this in Albania, so in 2018 I started a

project with the children of Protestant Church in Tirana who enjoyed

learning about the arts and got better understanding of saving the

environment by creating less waste. On the “Styling and Modeling” project,

we engaged 50 students and worked with used papers to create dresses for

girls, plastic bags to create costumes for boys.

Costume from recycled material.

2. Arts Entrepreneurship

Albania has many artists who are excellent in their arts/crafts but very few

can make a decent living. It is a fact that Albanian education system doesn’t

encourage students to think outside the box or learn the basics of how to earn

a living during and after they graduate. This also contributes to the Youth

Unemployment Rate in Albania that averaged 28.98% from 2012 to 2018.

I found that the big difference is that in the U.S. there are efforts to teach art

students entrepreneurship, not just how to make nice art. TSA has a shop where student artists learn all aspects of

running a business. In the store, students take orders and work with the client to design different items (gifts, cards,

posters, logos, T-shirts, etc.) based on requests. In the Arts Entrepreneurship program, students learn to develop,

organize and manage an ART business with all of its risks. Arts Entrepreneurs create jobs, culture, products, and

services that help drive the economy.

My idea was to reciprocate this program in one of our high schools with the help of my U.S. mentor. Unfortunately,

he was not able to travel during the academic schedule. So, while I shared some ideas with various educational and

government partners, parents and students, but without financial support or commitment from the government or

education system, we were not able to introduce this program yet. I worked with 3 teachers to organize workshops

where students created artwork and discussed how they could make a business selling their artwork. In order to do

this program too, we needed a partnership with artists, educators and businesses. Our alumni group has people with a

variety backgrounds and we may consider this later as a joint alumni project.

I organized an educational arts program for 50 students with an “I am a Star” theme so they could learn acting and

dancing scenes and discuss opportunities in performing arts.

3. Civil Engagement – Volunteer community service projects

As part of our U.S. experience, we were asked to engage in community service projects in the spirit of volunteerism

outside our comfort zone. I saw TSA students doing volunteering, but no one tells them what to do as a volunteer

project. Some are helping in arts or culture related festivals, others in food kitchens or food banks, helping the

elderly, at an animal shelter or based on their interest. When I asked volunteers why they were happy to help, they

acknowledged they benefited from the opportunities not just gaining practical experience and they feel a belonging

to the community.

I realized that volunteerism is what I would like to introduce in Albanian schools as we need more collaboration and

solidarity as we are an individualistic society. Unfortunately, we do not have the concept of volunteer work and it is

important to raise the youth differently than my generation. We need to invest in the grassroots and generations that

are 11-15 years old. I would like to see student volunteer work recognized by the education system either as a

requirement or at least give the students more motivation and recognition to be involved in community service

project instead of forcing them.


Success Story by Erisa Mercolli

I believe that only an educated and collaborative spirit

can do great things like I experienced in the U.S. After

my return from the U.S., I had a successful meeting

with the Ministry of Education that deals with new ideas

and projects in education. Generally, we discussed

creating a regulation to include volunteerism as a credit

before graduation. They were interested to pilot this

project in 3 high schools. Unfortunately, the project

needed additional funds and the fundraising process in

Albania is slow and challenging and I hope to find

resources to implement this idea in the future.

“Organizing is changing the mindset through

education and changing the culture to help.”

July 2018, Creating paper flowers and discussing how to

market art products.

I always say that people shouldn’t worry about whether they will make a huge difference because even a small effort

can have an impact on the lives of others. As an alumna of the U.S. State Department Program, I found out about the

U.S. Embassy in Tirana’s Youth Council that I joined in 2018. So, in addition to my volunteer work as a Youth

leader at a Protestant Church in Tirana, I was able to contribute to various activities of the U.S. Embassy Youth


*Service Project, Cleaning Tirana and Art

Beautification in collaboration with the Peace Corps.

*Activism and Youth Engagement – Open discussion

with Dave Beckwith, GLC Project Advisor at the

American Corner in Tirana, Albania, organized by Co-

Plan, U.S. Embassy Youth Council with Lorena Gjana,

Country Director, and members of Youth Council on

Some of the projects I was involved in Tirana were:

* Solidarity for hunger, collecting donations and gathering

food for people in need

* Video message on “Violation Against Women” that was

shared on the U.S. Embassy Youth Council social media


* Traditional dancing, singing and talking with old

people on Thanksgiving Day 2018 in the Retired

People’s House in Tirana.

There were many interesting projects that I could be involved

with and contribute to. I value the opportunity to participate in

projects as member of the U.S. Embassy Tirana Youth

Council. Have contributed more than 10 years of community

work experience and organizing and other (video/technical)

skills to projects that not only make a great impact in Tirana,

but also motivates many other young people to get involved.


Success Story by Nensi Drago

Youth Empowerment in the Gramsh Municipality

By Nensi Dragoti

Taking action in my birth place

Gramsh is the city with the largest drug use in Albania based on

statistics. Also, 65% of young people emigrate to other EU countries

because there are no jobs for young people in the city although there

are some tourism related positions. The Gramsh City Budget does not

pay any attention to youth and there is a shortage of youth activism.

The Center of Development Gramsh is working with the youth in the

city and I have 5 years of experience working in the civil society

sector. Based on that, I undertook an initiative to raise the voice of civil

society in my city of birth. In 2018, I started working and advocating to

have better conditions and more opportunities for the youth in the city.

I started the project in early 2018 before my travel to the U.S. through

an Open Call to reach out to those young people who were interested to

volunteer in the community at the Center of Development Gramsh

(CDG). We made presentations in the city High School to advertise the

open call. The next step was a training that we organized for 20

selected students. Together with them, we created a survey that the

youth filled out and shared their problems and issues that they would

like to work on. I also started having meetings with high school

teachers about the problems of the youth in the city and how the

teachers think those can be solved. Additionally, I reached out to

parents of the students to talk with them about the situation and

problems of their children.


Nensi Dragoti traveled to the

U.S. in the Spring of 2018 and

had his internship at the Logan

Square Neighborhood Association

in Chicago, Illinois.


No facilities and zero budget

From the discussions with high school teachers, it also was an important issue that there is no youth center

in the City of Gramsh where young people can spend their free time. The budget that the municipality has

for youth was nearly zero. Students from the Debate Club discussed the topics of volunteering, the

importance of serving the community and having

opportunities for leadership roles through these activities.

Some of the major issues that the young people see in

their community are that civil society organizations do not

develop projects for and with young people, and there is

not enough information for young people. Teachers also

presented their main issue as the lack of basic concrete

policies to prevent drug abuse in the city of Gramsh based

on the current situation.

The meetings with the parents were the toughest because

they did not want to talk about the issues. Along with my

colleagues, we identified an important factor affecting the

young people’s current situation. That being the failure to

engage parents in their role to advocate for their

children’s needs and involve them in cooperation with

others who have the same goals. Similarly, the high

October 2018, U.S. mentor, Dave Beckwith,

meeting with youth council representatives

and the mayor in Gramsh.


Success Story by Nensi Drago

school parent's board discussions did not work either.

Based on what we learned in the individual meetings, the next step was to organize 2 discussion tables with

representatives of the community including parents and students, to discuss the challenges and the

problems of the new generation.

Those most distinguished among

the participants were selected to

present their skills of leadership

and organization and participate

in the 2-day training workshop.

Presentation of Certificates for the youth after the 2-day training


to the youth by e-mail with available activities for youth.

On March 3-4, 2018 we held a 2-

day training on "Empowering

Youth in the City of Gramsh".

Young people were trained on

topics such as Leadership, Public

Speaking, and Volunteering. The

young people developed a

calendar of activities to start

working on to improve Gramsh

through youth volunteer

involvement. They also agreed to

send out regular calendar updates

Together with the young people, we decided to prepare a Strategic Plan and Calendar of Activities for

youth so the municipality would allocate a dedicated budget. During the years 2017 and 2018 in the budget

of the Municipality of Gramsh, there were no funds for youth. As a result of the empowerment training, we

all agreed that the young people would work and lobby for this issue. With an increased capacity of youth

in advocacy, the youth will have a stronger voice to pressure the municipality to designate some funding

for youth programs in their annual budget. We also discussed advocacy campaigns for September and

October 2018 to have the youth budget included in the 2019 budget of the municipality. At the same time,

we also published the Strategic Plan and Calendar of activities for the city’s youth.

My U.S. experience and follow-on activities

I had my 4-week internship experience at Logan Square Neighborhood Association in Chicago. I learned a

lot about community organizing and many useful tools and practises that I could apply in Albania. I

participated in fundraisng campaigns, door knocking activities, lobbying days in Springfield, IL and a

variety of protests and direct actions. I also learned how to pitch an idea to an elected leader of the local

government, how to build local partnership to be stronger together, how to engage local businesses to be

part of the community and support its efforts. I did my volunteer service by serving food at a homeless

shelter where I learned about the Community Navigator program. I visited a high school and their youth

club “Students without borders” and much more. I brought back a variety of experience that helped me to

expand our work with students and implement some new activities. Overall, I directly involved 30 students,

but made an impact on 8,000 people.

My goal was to engage underserved young people through community–based education, mentoring and

employment readiness programs to help them develop skills and strengthen ties to family and community in

city of Gramsh.

The youth council is born


Success Story by Nensi Drago

I built the first youth council in the city and trained 30 students. Among the many things that the youth

learned about youth strategies were methods of advocacy and lobbying and then they started to advocate on

the local level. The process of advocacy was based on one on one meetings with representatives of city

council and participation in city council meetings. This was the first time that the youth in the city were

getting to know about city council and its

function. Finally, they achieved their goal

when the mayor and city council approved a

small but specific budget for youngsters and

for them to have an expert on youth

problems on the local level. This way, the

wider youth community also benefited from

this success.

We organized the first youth forum “Active

youth, a better future for the local

community” in the presence of female

deputy from the Albanian Parliament.

During that period, I also worked on

promoting the city by inviting

representatives from different embassies to the


I was also able to improve my work in Albanian Education Foundation. I started there as a volunteer and

by the end of 2018, I become executive director of the organization. During this time, my organization

implemented several projects, but two of the most important were the ones implemented in the city of

Shkoder with its main focus on radicalization and extremism and the second one in the city of Durres

(which is still in implementation phase) with its main focus on creating the first social enterprise in a

confiscated facility. Based on the project implemented in Shkoder, FASH trained 13 youngsters from the

university and they produced a policy paper

overview of the real situation of students in

front of radicalization and extremism.

Kinfolk Coffee Library is the social

enterprise in Durres. It is located in a

confiscated facility that will function as a

multi-functional coffee shop and training

center. The staff of Kinfolk are youth

coming from marginalized groups, poor

families and youth from the probation


While my U.S. mentor was not able to travel

to Albania, we were honored that Dave

Beckwith was able to visit us in Gramsh. He

met with students and motivated them to get

involved in identifying common issues and

Participants of the first youth forum.

October 2018, U.S. mentor, Dave Beckwith, with meeting

with students in Gramsh.

work together to find solutions with the help of parents, teachers, local government, non-profit partners and

local businesses. Learning the basic community organizing and advocacy tools were very important to

building the youth voices and get their message heard and get attention to their problems. The students

very much appreciated the opportunity to talk directly with an experienced U.S. organizer.


Success Story by Ivi Bejtja

Asembly of Freedom Albania—AFA

By Ivi Bejtja

Issues remain today

Albania is a small country located in the Balkans which sees the U.S. as

role model for democracy, rule of law and human rights respect. The

U.S. has supported Albania’s democratization processes. However,

issues are still present today in Albania. One such issue that the young

generation is facing is the educational system. Working for Assembly of

Freedom Albania and monitoring different Albanian Laws (especially

the Higher Education Law) gave me the opportunity to work with high

school and university students.


During my internship in the U.S., I gained more experience on

empowering communities, community organizing, advocacy and

negotiations with governmental institutions for specific issues. After

returning to Albania, I started to implement my Individual Project Plan,

“Youth Empowerment, Education and Good Governance”, that was

developed as a draft before departing for the U.S, and successfully

finished before ending my internship.

Ivi Bejtja traveled to the U.S. in

the Fall of 2018 and had his

internship at Action North

Carolina in Charlotte, North



Students are irritated

While I was monitoring the transparency of the education system with

students, a directive from the Ministry of Education ordering public

universities to charge additional fees for exams irritated the students. In

a few days, students of “Faculty of Architecture and Urbanistic” refused

to pay and started to protest at the university’s premises. In just 2 days,

protests started at all of Tirana’s universities. It was time for me and the

Student protests against the increased fees erupted across Tirana’s university campuses.


Success Story by Ivi Bejtja

Student protests continued in front of the Ministry of

Education for nearly 2 months.

students that I was working with needed

to get organized for what was going to


During my internship in U.S, I was

taught by very professional, smart and

experienced organizers. With their

lessons learned, I implemented those

community organizing tools and trained

potential leaders in the new community

of “student protestors”. Students

boycotted their universities and protested

in front of the Ministry of Education

against the additional fee. Then they

started to show more of their frustration

against issues that were affecting the

quality of university education. Based on

the results of my monitoring and

transparency program, potential leaders

later came with their 8 unnegotiable demands to the government and asked for immediate actions on

fulfilling them. The government did not satisfy the students’ demands and the protest escalated in front of

the Prime Minister’s office calling for abrogation of the Higher Education Law. The protest lasted for

almost 2 months. Up to date, 2 of the demands the students made are partially fulfilled. Yet, the Albanian

Government needed to hear the voice of the students more.

Working with my U.S. mentor

While the protests were going on, I consulted with my U.S. mentor, Jessica Moreno, and my hosting

organisation, Action North Carolina, in the U.S. on regular bases. Not long time after the protest ended, my

U.S. mentor came to visit Albania get to know more about the work I was doing. We worked on

elaborating the steps that the students will take in the future. Leaders of student protests were trained by my

mentor, Jessica Moreno, and her sessions were very fruitful. The training was appreciated by all the

participants and some of them have benefited from direct connection with my U.S. mentor. I look forward

to further cooperating again on future projects.

U.S. mentor, Jessica Moreno, conducts a training

session for the new leaders.

Participants of the training session with U.S.

mentor, Jessica Moreno receiving their

certificates of completion.


Success Story by Arion Sauku

Involvement of the Concerned Public in Environmental

Decision Making

By Arion Sauku


Arion Sauku traveled to the

U.S. in the Spring of 2018 and

had his internship at the Nature

Conservatory and Tinderbox

in Reno, Nevada.


Industries’ exploitation of limestone has

had several negative impacts on the

environment including damage to the

forest surface (deforestation is visible

from airplanes landing at the Tirana

airport) and surrounding landscape

area, pollution of surface and

underground water, air pollution (dust

released into the atmosphere) and noise


Discovering the values

Kruja is a small town located north from Albania’s capital and a very

easy to reach destination as a day trip for many tourists. It is well

known for its historical, cultural and ethnographic value and especially

for the beautiful nature.

Citizens living in the city and in the rural areas around Kruja have

many environmental problems. There is not enough attention from the

local and central government on the sustainable use of natural

resources. In recent years, communities in Albania have been

indifferent towards decision-making processes. Such behavior has been

intensified as a result of the loss of confidence in public institutions.

Pre-departure fieldwork experience

I started to explore and start organizing activities in Kruja for my predeparture

field experience. I met with different people to discuss the

environment problems. Referring to their story and previous experience

at my organization, Milieukontakt Albania, it was obvious that Kruja

Mountain is fully covered by businesses exploiting the limestone. This

is a big problem for the community and causes a negative impact on the

tourists visiting Kruja. First, we drafted a questionnaire that was filled

in by citizens to better understand the problem and locate the businesses

harming the environment.

The environmental impact will carry on

for the long-term because

environmental rehabilitation itself

requires a long time. The rehabilitation

process should be developed in parallel

with damage done over the years. At

the end of the exploitation period, the

company is obliged to rehabilitate the

entire damaged area and transform the

landscape into a green area, as stated in

their environment permits.

Field visits and discussion with local community partners.


Success Story by Arion Sauku

When I started to organize in early 2018 in that area, there two companies operating near the city of Kruja

with a high intensity of work, generating pollution and acoustic noise exceeding permitted norms. Many

trucks loading and unloading the raw materials emitted dense dust clouds exhaust emissions that ended up

in lungs of Kruja citizens.

The first meetings that we had were with families living near the industries’ exploitation of limestone.

During the meetings, people talked about their problems and asked us for help. They realized that they

needed to be organized. Most of them did not know the law or how to approach decision-making bodies to

solve their problems. There was a lack of information about how the community could become involved

with the decision-making processes.

Together with the local community, we organized a field visit to the industries exploiting the limestone that

were operating in the Picrraga village in Borizana Administrative Unit, Municipality of Kruja.

Some of the issues raised by the

community were related to water

resources, access to the main road, the

noise pollution level, and how the area

will be rehabilitated at the end of the

exploitation period.

Informational meetings with the community.

We planned to have informational

meetings whereby the community

would have the opportunity to learn

their rights as citizens and include

topics such as: the right to

information, the right of appeal in the

justice system and a range of other

rights related to communication and

transparency of different local

institutions. Community knowledge

and awareness of available

opportunities will help local

stakeholders become more active

members of society and encourage

them to interact with their community.

The State administration should be a corrective mechanism, the guarantor where laws are applied, but as it

turns out the civil society organization sector is the one fighting for environmental protection.

In addition to increasing the capacity of community representatives on monitoring the environmental

impact assessment (EIA), we introduced tools to involve the public in monitoring such projects during the

work. These companies are the main source of air pollution in the city. A group of 3-4 persons together

with us have started monitoring the process of an environmental permit for the company exploiting quarry

industries. Much of the information presented at the meeting was new and unfamiliar to the other citizens.

The meeting with the community made possible an agreement between the citizens and the organization on

the action plan in terms of continuity. The meeting aimed to encourage the community to take part in

decision-making and create a responsive community that takes ownership of its decisions. The objective

also was the creation of community leaders by encouraging them to participate in local council meetings,

public hearings, budget reviews, and other activities.


Success Story by Arion Sauku

If the municipality of Kruja does not take measures to stop or fine industries from polluting the

environment, then we will plan a protest within the community asking for our rights. Monitoring

companies during the permit period will be a very important part of the work of responsible environmental

institutions and local communities. The community also agreed to document (by video and photo) all the

actions showing pollution and identify the responsible person.

Continuing my work using my U.S. experience

I gained a lot of experience during my pre-departure field work in Kruja and was eager to learn more

during my U.S. fellowship. I got information about how to involve the public in environmental decision

making and how to strengthen the cooperation between the local community and the responsible local


I was able to bring back positive practices of involvement by concerned citizens in environmental decision

-making by improving the environmental peer review and strengthening cooperation between community

and local authorities in Albania. To establish more confidence in public institutions related to

environmental issues, we needed to find ways to improve the collaboration on the implementation of the

EIA, and monitor the implementation of EIA in selected environmentally sensitive projects which would

serve as pilot for us.

The following action steps were very useful in making progress:

· Organize community meetings and field visits to

sensitive areas. I learned how to organize

different community meetings during my U.S.

experience. We need to organize the community

in Albania to advocate for their rights.

· Presentation of findings to the local authority and

community with open discussion about the action

that needs to be taken. We used my U.S.

experience about how we can have a productive

discussion with the state agency and different

ways that the community can be organized to

raise their voices.

· Training for the Environmental NGO in Albania

– Fundraising (collaboration with business –

public relations promotion). In these trainings,

my U.S. mentor, Martin Swinehart, from Reno,

Nevada helped us during his trip to Albania. He

also shared his experience with helping different

organizations creating public relations material

and organizing activities with different

stakeholders to reach out to more funders.

September 2017- Tirana: Martin Swinehart

sharing his U.S. experience at Polis University on

Impactful Community Outreach and Strategic


My project directly involved about 30 people and impacted 120 people in Kruja. All the implemented

activities were important for the people in rural areas. By setting a positive example of a technical

environmental review in a profound EIA, it will have a long-term effect on decision-making of projects in

various environmental fields and will be a successful example of horizontal legislation, implementation,

information and public involvement can happen in environmental decision making. I learned that

community organizing is a process whereby those who are marginalized and excluded from society are

enabled to gain self-confidence and to join with others. They are encouraged to participate in actions to

change their situation and to tackle the problems challenging their community. For me, it was a very good

experience, when people trust you, they are ready to cooperate as a group.


Small Grant Project Report by Arber Kodra and Team Members

The LGBTI Civic Engagement Program

By Arber Kodra and Team Members

Time to organize and make change

The LGBTI Civic Engagement Project began in Bratislava, Slovakia

when 3 of the Professional Fellows Program alumni met for an update

on the status of LGBTI activism in Albania, Bulgaria and Romania. As

community organizers, it was in our best interest to exchange best

practices and to explore the potential for future collaborations.

Arber presented the objectives of his project to bring equality in the

political agenda in relation to the National Action Plan on LGBTI

People of 2016-2020 which has been lagging in its implementation

because thus far, there has not been any political willingness. Arber also

presented the research published in Albania on LGBTI politics and

representation to the group.




Spring 2018 Alumnus


Fall 2013 Alumnus


Spring 2017 Alumnus

As Romania and Bulgaria recently had their elections, Vlad and Alex provided some information and

advice on engaging political leaders.

An added value to our meeting was re-connecting with 2 other Professional Fellows alumni in the evening:

Romina Kollarik and Gabriela Mezeiova from Slovakia.

Arber Kodra, Vladislav Petkov and Alexandru

Palas meeting to organize the LGBTI Civic

Engagement Project.


Alumni Joint Project Report by Ivi Bejtja and Team Members

Youth Involvement in Decision-Making for Better Democracy

By Ivi Bejtja and Team Members




Fall 2018 Alumnus


Spring 2018 Alumnus


Fall 2018 Alumna


Fall 2018 Alumna


Fall 2018 Alumna


Spring 2019 Alumnus

How our joint project developed

This project was very important because for the first time, it brought

together stakeholders from different communities, NGO’s and Presidents

of Youth from the main political parties in Albania to the same table to

discuss important youth issues.

The seminar involved 32 people who discussed youth issues and helped

to draft various solutions for different youth communities impacting well over 160 people. New bridges of

communication were established in this session and it was noted that it is important to hold accountable

political parties to advocate, help solve and fix issues like education, poverty, health and social injustice for

different youth organizations.


The goal and main achievement of our project was that

non-profits and students became part of the decisionmaking

process to build a better democracy.

Alumni panel presenters at the seminar.

Participants at the seminar to involve youth in

decision-making and building a better democracy.


Alumni Joint Project Report by Nensi Drago and Team Members

Empowering Youth, a Potential for Community Development

By Nensi Dragoti and Team Members

Boot camp methodology

The boot camp “Empowering Youth, a Potential for Community

Development” in Gramsh was organized to occur on the two weekends

of October 19-20, and October 26-27, 2019 where 20 young people ages

15-18 years participated. They were all from different backgrounds –

rural and urban areas. During the 4-day boot camp, participants were

introduced and trained on topics such as self-confidence building,

communication skills, gender equality, domestic violence, human rights,

advocacy, leadership, social activism, etc. The boot camp methodology

was interactive which included discussions, individual and group work,

various games, video and documentary whereby the participants

evaluated the demonstrated methodology at the maximum level.




Spring 2018 Alumnus


Fall 2018 Alumna


Fall 2018 Alumna

During boot camp participants were

facilitated to design 2 awareness campaigns on

human rights and community problems. Each

campaign contained specific activities. The first

campaign consisted of 3 main activities they

must have included 1) Artistic activity in the

high school with some sub-activities such as an

essay competition, a painting competition or a

drama on domestic violence or gender-based

violence. 2) Information/awareness raising

campaign on domestic violence with women and

girls, as well as 3) Organizing a flash mob

activity in the centre of the city.

The second campaign consisted of 2 activities on Participants getting out of their comfort zone.

public spaces for youth, 1) An advocacy meeting

with the municipality council to advocate for the revitalization of a cultural centre, and 2) Lobby for the

creation of sports facilities for youth.

Hector Vaca, U.S. mentor facilitating a session with the team.

These activities were and will continue to

be developed in the community during

November 2019 and March 2020. The

Peace Corps volunteers in Gramsh have

agreed to facilitate the organization of the

awareness campaigns in cooperation with

our group of fellows and are expected to

impact 2,000 people. Many thanks to our

U.S. mentor, Hector Vaca, for consulting

with us and facilitating a session with our

team and volunteers during his visit to



Alumni Joint Project Report by Suela Kocibellinj and Team Members

Start Up Your Own Enterprise

By Suela Kocibellinj and Team Members




Spring 2018 Alumna


Fall 2018 Alumna


Fall 2018 Alumna

How our joint alumni project developed

The fellows in collaboration, organized a total of 4 activities including

2 workshops and 2 training sessions.

The workshops were held with youth ages 17-18 years old from the

Gymnasium of Kruja. The workshops were focused on entrepreneurship

and preparing youth for the future. These workshops were realized

together with alumna fellow, Alda Kondakciu who was the facilitator

and demonstrated interactive tools with the youth. There were about 40

students present at the workshop. They enjoyed it and found it very

helpful, and asked us to do another workshop together with them

because this will help them in getting prepared for their future.

The trainings were focused on a target group of women from the Kruja area, women who wanted to start

an enterprise or a social enterprise. These trainings were organized together for a group of 30 women from

the K ruja area. One training session focused on the legal issues, of how to start an enterprise and what

were the possibilities for success in that area. This session was facilitated by fellow alumna, Albana

Hasmeta. The second training was focused on marketing and social media and what are the real initiatives

for starting a small enterprise in the tourism sector including guest houses with no extra costs. The second

training session was facilitated by alumna, Suela Koçibellinj.

Montage of the project workshops for girls and women.


Albanian Professional Fellows Alumni Reunion Report

1st Albanian Professional Fellows Reunion

By Lorena Gjana, Country Director

August 30th-31st, 2019

The 2019 Albanian Professional Fellows Reunion was a 3-day event

organized in September with the participation of 15 Albanian Alumni,

6 European Country Directors and Elizabeth Balint—GLC Project

Manager, and Deb Martin—WSOS Community Development Director

from the U.S. It was conceptualized as 3-day reunion outside of the

capital city of Tirana in different locations, aimed at having all the

sessions in a more quiet and comfortable setting where we could

exploit every opportunity to get to know each other better, plan and

strategies for potential upcoming Alumni activities.

August 29, 2019, Emil Metodiev, Lorena

Gjana, Lilla Matyas and Elizabeth Balint

tasting delicious food one-day early for the

Albanian reunion starting the next day.

The first day of

reunion was used to

introduce the Alumni

to each other and with

the Country Directors.

While the Professional

Fellows Alumni from

the 2 groups from

2018 already knew

each other from

different activates

organized by the

program, the newly

introduced fellows

were given the

opportunity to get to

know more about the

Lake Ohrid, Pogradec, Albania

program and the other fellows. We used every moment of

the day to share our experiences and learn from each other,

not only during the scheduled sessions, but also using the

travel and free time.

August 30, 2019, day one — the official

opening of the Albanian Alumni Reunion.

The session started with an introduction of each and every

participant and their involvement in the Program. It was

interesting to see and hear the different perspectives

everyone had on their 6-week visit to the U.S., and what

they got out of that experience. Many of the fellows shared

their success stories and their accomplishments after their

return by highlighting what way they put into practice, the

tools and methods learned through interactions with their

U.S. mentors. The mentors on the other hand, shared their

own experiences, but from the perspective of the

management of the program and how the program has

evolved in their country over the years. Each Country


We are on the road to Pogradec, situated on

the shores of Ohrid Lake, where our meeting

will take place Aug 30th.

Day 2 of the Albanian Reunion - we are

discussing how the Albanian fellows can

strengthen their network while expending the

alumni’s group.

Albanian Professional Fellows Alumni Reunion Report

Director listed a few of the challenges and some

recommendations that will prove useful in the future as

fellows will work to consolidate their network. Since the

Albanian Alumni have been brainstorming together on

activities, they can organize ways on how they can be of

more support to each other. The progress that other

European countries have made to bring their fellows

together into a network was very interesting to learn.

Preparations for the 2020 Annual Alumni


Another very important topic discussed was the

preparations for the Professional Fellows Alumni

Reunion 2020 which is planned to be in Albania. After a

long discussion on the lessons learned from previous

experiences from country directors who have organized

these events, the Albanian Alumni elaborated on the

possible thematic and technical precautions we could

keep in mind. It was agreed that all Albanian fellows

will join forces to assist the country director in the

organization of the reunion and they also will be divided

in groups to take over different duties. It was agreed that

the sessions will be diversified to include many issues

and topics to give possibilities to more fellows relating

to their interests and field of work.

Suggested topics included:

· Social Entrepreneurship

· Social Media for Social Change

· Resilience and Mindfulness

· Environment Protection

· Youth Engagement

· Gender Equality

· Activism and Voluntarism

· Campaigning and Fundraising

The last session of the reunion consisted of consolidating some commitments for collaborations among

fellows and support for each other’s work. Alumni will use each other’s expertise for cooperation and

common projects in the future. They also committed to take charge of some of the aspects of the

organization of the 2020 Reunion in Albania. They divided into groups of 3 and agreed to help the country

director with different technical details like finding the appropriate location, transportation, logistics etc.

September 1st, 2019

The Albanian context indicates that one of the most concerning issues faced by communities and

organizations is environmental protection and more specifically waste management. It is because of this

that many organizations and Professional Fellows deal with environmental projects. This becomes even

more important when we consider that one of the priorities for development in Albania is tourism. The

rural and remote areas are generously blessed with beautiful nature and if there was better waste

management, tourism could be a great solution to some of the economic difficulties they have.


Albanian Professional Fellows Alumni Reunion Report

Environmental resources, cause for


For this reason, we organized a site visit to

one of the most visited touristic regions in

Albania where tourism is booming, but the

communities are struggling to cope with the

pollution of River Shala, a vital natural

element for the villages around it. The

fellows along with the country directors

witnessed first-hand the difficulties that the

communities around the river face with lack

of infrastructure in the villages. No roads

pass though the region and the only

communication is through the river boats.

The local government does not offer waste

collection services so the communities in

the region dispose of waste in illegal

dumpsites causing environmental pollution

Stopping for refreshment along the River

Shala, a vital natural resource for tourism


and health hazards. The Fellows dealing

with environmental issues have the

experience and together with the country

directors they discussed methods of

organizing the community to act and bring

these issues to the relevant authorities.

Alumni enjoy a boat ride on Komani Lake

during the 1st Alumni Reunion.


The 3-day program was very valuable in

building stronger collaboration among alumni,

planning ahead for alumni activities, including

the September 2020 WSOS/GLC Professional

Fellows Annual Alumni Reunion and help the

fall 2019 fellows be part of this alumni group

early and prepare them for their U.S. experience

and follow-on activities.

Albanian Professional Fellows celebrate their 1st

Alumni Reunion on September 1st, 2019, with a bit of

recreation by the lakeside.


Photo Gallery: “Taking Action—Changing Lives in Minority Communities”—Volume V

Professional Fellows in the United States, April—June, 2018


Photo Gallery: “Taking Action—Changing Lives in Minority Communities”—Volume V

Professional Fellows in the United States, April—June, 2018


Photo Gallery: “Taking Action—Changing Lives in Minority Communities”—Volume V

Professional Fellows Volunteering in the U.S.A. April—May, 2018


Photo Gallery: “Taking Action—Changing Lives in Minority Communities”—Volume V

Photo Gallery: “Taking Action—Changing Lives in Minority Communities”—Volume V

Professional Fellows Congress in Washington, D.C.—June 2018


Photo Gallery: “Taking Action—Changing Lives in Minority Communities”—Volume V

Photo Gallery: “Taking Action—Changing Lives in Minority Communities”—Volume V

Professional Fellows in the United States, October—November, 2018


Photo Gallery: “Taking Action—Changing Lives in Minority Communities”—Volume V

Photo Gallery: “Taking Action—Changing Lives in Minority Communities”—Volume V

Professional Fellows Volunteering in the USA, October—November, 2018


Photo Gallery: “Taking Action—Changing Lives in Minority Communities”—Volume V

Professional Fellows training in