The secret of the project, “Financing Our Future with Village bank”

written by Morxay Vongnakhone from Laos

I am having the chance to do my fellowship at Operation HOPE which is a non-profit organization that provides services to help the working poor, the under-served and struggling middle class.  Operation HOPE has become a best- in-class provider of financial literacy empowerment for youth, financial capability for communities, and ultimately, financial dignity for all.  Because of Operation HOPE’s work, my supervisor has shared such a surprising thing I have never even thought about. She shared that there are over 1,500,000 non-profit organization in the U.S and in Atlanta itself where I am based has more than 37,000 organization (2013), the figures made me shocked for awhile because I haven’t though or imagine that in the U.S there would be so many nonprofit organizations available. I immediately felt that I could do something more for the society.

During my fellowship time, I have participated the program called Banking on Our Future which is actually the first and oldest program of Operation HOPE provides financial literacy class for their target groups including high school students. This was very exciting for me because it caused me to think about what my home organization is doing, it is almost the same thing what we are doing at home but the difference is that in my organization in Laos doesn’t offer financial literacy for high school students. My supervisor explained me the benefits of providing financial literacy for high school students, she has included some important points like they could prepare early for their life after high school, they could start saving for their universities, startup their own small businesses, settle down, create generational wealth and so on. After that, I got the idea what I want to take back home, what I want to do for my outbound project, I want to do a project called Financing Our Future with Village Bank or FOFVB. This program will teach high school students about financial literacy and how they can manage their money to start saving with village bank for their own futures, it is truly significant idea that must be implemented.

Morxay Vongnakhone at Operation Hope

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Building bridges instead of building walls

written by Ketevan Vashakidze from Georgia

 

“Building bridges instead of building walls” – this is the massage you often meet in Colorado justice system. Lighthearted people with shiny eyes, extremely competent in their field, eager to share all their skills, show their best practice to a young fellow from Georgia. They don’t want to waste even a second and involve me in every occasion – whether professional or cultural.

I have been staying in Denver (capital of Colorado) for 20 days, but it seems to me I spent all my life in this wonderful city. I could hardly imagine the scale of confidence and respect I gained from my American colleagues in this short period.

I just found that my new friends surf web to explore Georgian culture and history. They ask me about my country and I never get tired of telling about it again and again. I feel how they imagine beautiful sunset of Batumi seaside, smell the fresh air of the mountains, listen to birds singing in forests, look from high castles, support Georgian warriors in battles, celebrate stories of victories and support me for every war we lost. These emotions are so vivid, I can hardly help myself from tears.

Americans also know how to amuse me. Sa’ krart’ le …. They try to pronounce Georgian name of Georgia – Sakartvelo. Then they ask me my family name, Vashakidze and try to repeat it va’ka’…. They have real trouble with it and we laugh. Many of my hosts have already learnt main facts about Georgia. Regarding to their respect I feel more responsibility towards them. I am loaded with new emotions, tremendous volume of information and precious relationships.

Events going on in Colorado justice system never let you be quiet. If you look at my schedule, you will find some meetings with regular names – such as Parole board meeting, meeting with victim rights act specialist, meeting with diversion directors, etc. They sound like a relief after thrilling days of lawmaking process and the chain of exciting conferences I participated in the very first quarter of my fellowship. But if you think so, you are totally wrong. These ”mere” meetings appear to be sessions of extremely important frameworks, involving brainstorming, heated debates and negotiations for future development of Colorado justice system.

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For those, who intend to raise qualification in Colorado, please, remember, striving for perfection never stops here. Let me tell you about some of them.

Juvenile Parole Board meeting is held on May 9th, 2018, in Lookout Mountains Youth Services Center. Members attend presentation of the research held on decisions made by board and their consequences. They are analyzed in scales of discrimination and effectiveness. The session is followed by interactive training about adolescent development. Board members realize importance of their qualification and professionalism for decision-making process. They are open to new information and experience. This friendly and hospitable team really impresses me. Obviously they should work on juvenile parole board.

Adolescent development is actual topic in Colorado in these days. Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice works in the format of the Age of Delinquency Task Force. One of the meeting was held on May 9th, 2018, Denver, Colorado. Commission works on improving Juvenile Justice System, their goal is providing juveniles with relevant services for rehabilitation and crime prevention, it also considers issue of criminal delinquency age. Commission consists of diversion program managers, public defenders, prosecutors, representatives of public safety department and other professionals involved in juvenile justice system. Participants speak about challenges in their fields and discuss how to address these issues. They give me opportunity to share my experience and knowledge about juvenile justice system in Georgia and in Europe.

Colorado Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice holds another meeting on May 11th, 2018. The meeting takes place on Golden (smaller town near Denver).  Purpose of the meeting is providing legislative and school safety measures updates, presenting analysis of recent reforms and parole board decision making, which appear to be successful.

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Diversion is a successful and approved practice in Colorado Juvenile Justice System and professionals continue refining this institute to meet contemporary needs and requirements. Prosecutors, diversion directors and other professionals meet on May 11th 2018 to discuss better approaches towards juvenile offenders. They welcome me to share my opinions and experience.

Youth remains to be hot topic of the current week. On May 14th, 2018 Outcomes for Youth Statewide Task Force which includes judges, social workers, lawmakers and juvenile justice professionals, holds meeting to represent new goals and strategies. Senator Bob Gardner and Representative Pete Lee attend the meeting. Extensive review of Colorado’s Juvenile Justice System is supported by state Governor John Hickenlooper who greets professionals and declares that ‘’kids don’t belong to prison”. These words are thrilling for me as a juvenile justice professional. I am proud that I share this inspiring moment with my Colorado colleagues.

You will never imagine better place for professional and personal growth.  Collaboration unites Colorado professionals around goals of progress and development. They look for gaps, analyze challenges and work on overcoming obstacles. Building bridges instead of building walls is secret of these successful people.

Understanding Hawaiian Ohana and the American Culture: Looking in between

written by Exan Sharief from the Philippines

The Hawaii community is an interesting place to unlearn in order to learn things in another perspective. While my first week exposure on the American culture started in Washington DC where I had the opportunity to talk to the ordinary people I met on the streets regarding their views and practices as part of the continental US, I could not deny my excitement as I listened to the stories of diversity by the people of this Hawaii island territory. It is a blessing that I was placed for work at EPIC Ohana where family is given a prime importance. In the same fashion, I am lucky to be hosted by Uncle Roger, my parent from a Chinese descent.

Both of these fateful coincidence have taught me new erudition and continue to open my understanding on how the US and its American practices have truly influenced their ways of life. I came to realize then that our Professional Fellowship Program wasn’t just about the concepts, practices and strategies on economic empowerment. Sure it did provide a leverage on my intent to get a good grasp on how to raise the economic capacity of the community through getting involved in the planning and assessment of the existing programs of EPIC Ohana, but more importantly, I got the chance to meet brilliant individuals who have seen themselves how communities are empowered and how their potentials are directed.

During the first Friday of this month of May, our office did a lunch potluck with a mother’s day theme. Right there, everyone prepared a delicacy and shared its relevance with their family bond. I have been sitting to discuss with program managers on youth circle, ohana conference, ohana connections, HI HOPES and youth leadership board, but at that quick one-hour lunch period, I acquired knowledge that are more than what is written on reports and proposals. I had the first-hand experience of behavioral uplift translated into an informal cultural exchange but institutionalized as a working office policy. Birthdays and graduations were announced, exemplary works were complemented and because I was new to the family, I had the privilege to start the informal sharing before the meal. What I brought was a “palapa,” a Meranao homemade spices, put in bread appetizers while others brought “Poke,” Spanish delicacies, French salads and many other mom’s recipes. I saw the assortment of food palate but one was a common favorite to everyone – the American dessert, Ice Cream. More than that, I had chit chats with my officemates on their admiration for the Filipinos in Hawaii who have ventured in making good businesses either in food, service or accessory items. Not far from the Filipino culture, the Hawaiian community, while diverse in composition, truly values family bonds especially with that of a mother to a child. So, I took advantage of the moment to share to them how a typical Filipino family looks like in the Philippines aside from those they came across here in the US.

On a separate occasion, I was able to share the concept of the Filipino “Bayanihan” spirit in one of the program conceptualization for Princess Lili’oukalani Trust for the native Hawaiian children. I was in full admiration on how the Federal government manages to respect the multi-ethnicity composition of its population. I then attended this International Trade Seminar through the invitation of the International Hospitality Center, where I was able to connect the interrelation of the economic activities of the general American Hawaiian population with those from other countries. I understood how income and business unites the different cultures existing in Hawaii into exporting a single brand that represents them all.

The past two weeks in Hawaii gave a learning experience within and outside my work placement. I usually make the most of my stay here, so immediately after work, I visit different areas in downtown Honolulu. Several times, I got the casual talk with both the locals and the visitors who come from continental US. From them, I learned the importance of tourism as part of the State’s economic activities. Very significantly, I learned from them the power of referral between family members and circle of friends. This is nothing new to what I hear almost every single day from Uncle Roger, who happened to be a restaurant owner in Oahu. He shared how he had his education in the mainland before coming here in Hawaii. So, I had a bunch of comparative notes on the economic behavioral pattern from the mainland to the pacific. More than what I hear from him and the theoretical discussion, I was fortunate to be introduced to his American Chinese family as well as made part of the family workforce as each one contributes something to the family business. Luckily, my share was to simply help in the purchasing while I enjoy being treated with a tasty meal which I would take as more than just a compensation. Hearing all these stories on startup capitals that turned into successful businesses and the sacrifices of moving from Southern China to mainland US before going to Hawaii, I have seen the transitional progress into the American standard of living and kindness extended by the American culture in embracing newcomers from a variety of lineage.

Like that of a tree where branches grow in different directions yet united by a single trunk, the different backgrounds and origins of the families or Ohana living in the US, more particularly in Hawaii, are united by the common adherence to the American family values.

My Fellowship in the Aloha State is Like A Puzzle

written by Cristina Berlinschii from Moldova

Puzzles are a good way to encourage critical thinking and up to this point, I would compare my experience in the aloha state with such an activity. In order to successfully complete a puzzle, you must work with individual, disconnected parts to create the whole picture.

The first piece is the location, a world famous destination for tourists with tropical climates and swaying palm trees.

Then there are the workplaces where I am learning quite a lot. Now I know the branches of Government, how a bill becomes law in Hawaii, how people use their voice at the legislature, the process of voter registration and fighting voter suppression, the way people organize and mobilize when it comes to election security issues, youth education and advocacy, promoting peace and peacebuilding skills.

The third piece is my host family that is extraordinary. Mine are erudite people who love the tranquility of nature and the chirping of birds, watching movies and organized life. I entered their house as a guest and they treated me like a daughter.

The fourth part is extracurricular activities. Sailing on the catamaran and admiring dolphins was a great experience. I have enjoyed watching a spring school concert, attended a regognition reception at University of Hawai’i, watched a film based on the history of a local cheesecake-baking and a drug-fighting impresario, attended an art exhibition of the Young artists of Hawai’i at State Art Museum, and spent time on remote  beaches admiring the sparkling waves.32294467_1287339621399893_7683679767941349376_n

The fifth piece is the people I met and the culture that represent them. The Polynesian literature, music, culture and water sports are real attractions in Hawaii. Local people are more laid back here and they have a word when they are not on time (they blame “Hawaiian time”). They are happy to help out and really appreciate politeness. In Hawaii, being nice is the law.

All these pieces are working together to complete my puzzle, including the parts I have not yet discovered. Separated and scattered components are helping me develop new knowledge, broaden my horizons, and expand my appreciation for exploring different worlds. I am valorizing my culture while growing personally and interpersonally. After connecting all the parts, under the final photo are three printed words “learn and respect.”

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Lake City

written by Kateryna Ryzhenko from Ukraine

My placement city is Chicago. It is the third most populated city in USA situated on the shore of a majestic Lake Michigan. Honestly, when PFP sent notification of my placement back in March, I though: big city, not that much nature and a lot of skyscrapers. And oh boy, was I wrong and should apologies to American Councils for doubting them in any way… The lake made all the difference. White spacious beaches, and green parks along them just take your breath away.

When you stand on the shore you can’t see the other side and it feels like you are standing on the seaside instead of the lake shore. I am not even mentioning azure color of the water on most days. Weather in this windy city can change momentarily, so it is a great view to observe when storm comes over the lake towards the city and in several minutes covers it. If you look long enough in the window you can see lightning striking tops of skyscrapers. A fascinating picture!

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Questions are the best way to open up new horizons!

written by Veniamin Kizeev from Russia

When I found out that my Placement would be at the University of Utah, I did not know anything about Utah. I did not understand where I was going, so I decided to write to my supervisor as soon as I received his e-mail. I received a detailed answer, what is Utah, what should I take with me, even what clothes are best to take 🙂 But, most importantly, my supervisor Paul and my colleague Spencer made a detailed schedule of our meetings! It was great!

Veniamin at PFP Orientation

Then there was the pre-departure orientation in Washington. So many things you do not know! It’s unusual, and sometimes you feel helpless. The best way is to ask! Staff of the American Councils are really open people, ready to share their knowledge! Also, it was good idea to make a chat in WhatsApp, because you can always ask each other about something and also you can share your knowledge!

Veniamin U. of Utah

 

When I came to Utah, here you understand the value of the Professional Fellows Programs. There are an infinite number of opportunities for learning new experiences and cultures. People in Utah are friendly and willing to share their knowledge. I was lucky with my supervisor and colleagues. Every day I have at least 2 meetings, and sometimes 5-6. But, most importantly, I asked more questions and learned not to be afraid of not knowing something and not understanding. And it does not matter if it’s professional issues or everyday issues. One must never be afraid and ask, ask and ask 🙂

And of course the main test and new experience for me was the celebration of my birthday! I bought a birthday cake. But I did not know how to do it in the USA, so I shared with Spencer and Paul! It was magical. They made a meeting at lunch, and I met all our great team, told about what I do in Tomsk, about our city, about universities, about our culture, answered the questions about how we work and live! And my colleagues gave me a gift!

Veniamin Birthday Meeting

The main thing that I realized, do not be afraid to ask questions, to communicate with people and be yourself. We are very, very similar! We are people!

My PFP Experience

written by Ion Schidu from Moldova

My Fellowship in Boston, Massachusetts, it has been so intensive so far! Wow!

I should start by saying that Boston is an absolutely amazing city! It is one of the oldest cities in the United States, which played a key role in several events of the American Revolution; a city with phenomenal historical sightseeings and United States’ many firsts (first subway system, first public school, etc.). Also, Boston is known to be the home of the best and oldest universities and colleges in the world, such as Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and many others. Boston is also a very vibrant city, with many fun things to do and events to attend to for each and every one: sports lovers, technophiles, art enthusiasts or gourmands, you name it!

Sounds intriguing, isn’t it?!

From the first days of my fellowship, Boston Mayor’s Commission for Persons with Disabilities – my fellowship placement – has facilitated my introduction to the US standards on the rights of persons with disabilities and connected me with professionals and events relevant to my field of expertise – human rights, including disability rights. Thus, in the following days after my arrival I had the opportunity to meet activists, students and distinguished professors of human rights from the University of Massachusetts Boston and other local universities, participated in a training on inclusive education for the Disability Commission staff, attended to a conference on minority health policy at the Harvard Medical School.

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The next week continued with even more substance and intensity: I have assisted at the meeting of the Architectural Access Board (institution totally new to me) which is a collegial body that develops and enforces regulations designed to make public buildings accessible for use by persons with disabilities. On May, at the Supreme Judicial Court of for the Commonwealth I have assisted at a though-provoking hearing initiated by a person with disabilities against the Department of Housing and Community Development regarding its refuse to place people with disabilities in motels if other housing options don’t meet their needs.

At the same time, I have gladly accepted the invitation of my colleagues from the Boston Mayor’s Commission for Persons with Disabilities (Disability Commission) to facilitate a brief induction training for the staff on the UN Human rights mechanisms and their interaction with Member-States. At this moment, I am involved in delivering a succinct assessment of the different aspects of work delivered by the Disability Commission, in order to contribute to improving the human rights based approach in the work of the Disability Commission.

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When it comes to extracurricular activities, Boston has a lot to offer and I prefer to do a little of everything. I ran for a world without hunger and breast cancer, visited the Boston tattoo convention, had an inspirational tour at MIT, enjoyed the sightseeing of the Old Town and tried a few traditional national cuisines, volunteered in the support of those suffering from hunger and malnutrition in Massachusetts, met with the Boston’s underground nightlife and wandered through the oldest public park in the US. What an amazing experience!