San Diego: Life. Changing.

written by Anastasiia Lepuha from Ukraine

Beautiful and sunny city in California with 1.37 million of residents. It is the 8th largest city in United States and fast growing high-tech hub. I had a unique chance to discover San Diego from different prospective cultural, urban, economical, self-governmental. But the most important part of this experience is people such as my host mom, co-workers, innovators, neighbors, taxi drivers, bus passengers, just some people in the cafes, on the streets, volunteers. They were sharing their insights, thoughts, ideas and personal experience of living in San Diego. And here are some fascinating points.

I was working at newly established co-working and collaborative space for veterans in San Diego M-WERX. The issue of former military servants’ integration is very important for San Diego community development. That is why here are a lot of NGOs, programs, startups which are providing with support, help and assistance for veterans. Veterans-entrepreneurs are a part of business eco-system in San Diego and a part of social entrepreneurship environment. It was interesting to work with former marines, to understand their challenges and to share innovative cases of business development from Ukraine.

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City hall budget hearings are one of the most important events in San Diego. Just once per year citizens have a chance to share their ideas, to point out at some key budget lines and to ask for additional money for city development projects. The process was without any strikes, arguments or other misunderstandings in a respectful manner. Citizens are not just asking for money, but demonstrating their active position and community engagement. Community Budget Alliance (representatives of different NGOs) organized workshop for citizens about city budget for better understanding the process and highlighted the importance of advocacy in prioritizing city budget expenses.

Cultural diversity. Because of San Diego’s proximity to Mexico, you can hear Spanish

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language almost everywhere in the buses (2 languages for stops announcement), during City hall meetings, cafes’ menus are in Spanish etc. But not only Spanish culture is a part of San Diego diversity. I had an unforgettable opportunity to visit with my host mom 3 different theatres with amazing plays about Jewish history, life of Muslim family during Afghan war, Las Madres social movement in Argentina. Different cultures, religions and stories of simple people with so deep senses. The San Diego citizens are exploring this diversity, trying to understand the history and feelings. It was really impressive for me.

These insights are a small part of life-changing San Diego, multicultural city with the

mission to serve effectively and support their communities.

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Dreams Become True

written by Leyla Aliyeva from Azerbaijan

The first time when I received an email from American Councils about my replacement I had tears because of happiness. I got information that I am going to work in Massachusetts State House. Yes, Massachusetts (MA). Now I will tell you the story about why I was so happy about being replaced in this fantastic state. For many years (since 2006) I had a dream of coming to Massachusetts and visiting Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). You could ask me why MIT? Ok, there is a good reason behind it.

As I started studying IT in 2006 in Azerbaijan, I got to know about a world-known mathematician, computer scientist, electrical engineer, artificial intelligence researcher and professor who I could say “changed our world and made it easier for us.” His name is Lotfi Zadeh who was born in Azerbaijan and always considered himself “a world citizen” not only by his words and also by his work. In 1944, Zadeh entered and received his MS degree in electrical engineering from MIT, and in 1965 he proposed a new theory of fuzzy logic. I am not going to explain the details of this theory as it is too broad and full of mathematics 🙂 But I will briefly tell why this theory changed the world.

Hence, thanks to this theory and logic now we have washing machines that know when and how to do what. Or our air conditioners know when to stop making our room fresh/cold/warm and when to start to work again. Besides, almost all the equipment including dish washers, cars, engines, cameras, computers, medical devices, etc. we use in our real life, work by fuzzy logic.

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On the other hand, Massachusetts was always the heart of technology and center of education for me and many people who know more about this state. Finally, after 12 years I got an opportunity to come and see this fantastic state and visit MIT.

In my second week in State House, I presented on the topic of “Cybersecurity in Azerbaijan” to the representatives of House and professors from Bay Path University including president of the University. Thanks to this event which was organized by my office I had a chance to make a network with professionals in the field of cybersecurity and got an invitation to visit Bay Path University which was one of the best opportunities for me. During the visit to Bay Path University I met the President, Dean and two professors of the university and had a very productive conversation on the topic of “Women in Cyber Security”. Besides I had an interview for a news TV program and some newspapers in Springfield.

 

I also had a chance to learn more about American culture and life thanks to my host family. The best thing I love about American culture is to see people reading books almost everywhere including public transportation, which is excellent feedback about the society and level of education.

Finally, dreams become true, and I am sure these six weeks gave me many chances to improve myself in my career and personal life, to achieve my goals. This was the best opportunity – internship and culture experience I have ever had.

Volunteer Work as Part of Community Service in San Diego

written by Akmal Sabaruddin from Malaysia

During my stay in San Diego, I had the opportunity to volunteer in the food redistribution program – feeding the hungry. This is a weekly (every Thursday) event and organized by Dharma Bum Temple, 4144 Campus Ave, San Diego. We gather to prepare peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and carry it directly to those who are hungry especially to those who are living on the streets of downtown San Diego. From this activity, I have learnt about being generous and taking care of others that are in need. Practicing generosity means to give our time, energy and resources to help others without judgement. Generosity is the first of the Six Paramitas and is practiced to remove the conditions that lead to greed, which causes our suffering. I love this activity and I did it twice on 10th May and 17th May 2018. There were 2 other fellows, Midha Karim from Indonesia and Anastasiia from Ukraine joining this activity.

San Diego Fellows Volunteering

Other than the food redistribution activity, I had the opportunity to volunteer in beach cleaning activity too. The event was held in Imperial Beach on Saturday, May 19, 2018 from 10:00 AM to 12:00 PM and organized by I Love a Clean San Diego (ILACSD) and City of Imperial Beach Council. Volunteers are met at the corner of 13th Street and Imperial Beach Blvd for briefing and equipment distribution like buckets, garbage plastic, thongs and gloves. Snacks and waters were also provided by the organizer too. All volunteers are required to fill out a waiver form to participate and anyone under the age of 18 needs a waiver signed by their parent or guardian. It was a great event with a mission to have a zero waste, litter free and environmentally engaged San Diego region. Two other fellows were also involved in this activity: Midha Karim from Indonesia and Sirasar Boonma from Thailand.

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Michelle Morales of Mikva Challenge: On Family, Women & Leadership, and Being a Servant-Leader

by Fleire Castro from the Philippines

Michelle Morales is the CEO of Mikva Challenge Foundation, a nonprofit that was founded on the premise that youth voice and participation matter, and that our civic and political life will be stronger when youth participate and help shape their own destinies.

She has been running the organization for three years and has been working hard to take the 25-staff nonprofit here in Chicago, Illinois, taking care of both management and focusing on fundraising to support the programs of the organization.

In this interview, Michelle talks about being a servant-leader and managing time for work and family. She talks about how she balances time between fundraising, running the org, and also being a mother and wife. She also talks about how self-care is done and how women leaders should have the empathy to be able to run projects that has the buy-in of her staff at Mikva Challenge.

Aside from that, Michelle also talks about how women leaders also need networks to make sure that they are able to talk about their challenges in management and

Listen to the interview by Fleire Castro with Michelle Morales below:

 

Fellowship in DC

written by Liz Liew from Malaysia

DC excites me for so many reasons – beautiful sunsets, walkable meanders, social messages enveloped in artistic street murals, talented buskers around every corner playing instruments of sorts, just to name a few. For an outdoor enthusiast, politically savvy nut and a lover of arts and music, Washington D.C IS living a dream.

After 2+ weeks of working in the capital of the nation, I’ve fallen in love with this city.

I love the massive safari-like zoo, the endless row of well-maintained museums and monuments, the free outdoor fitness events, the cultural festivals in Kennedy Performing Arts Centre where I watched the U.S Army Blues perform, the diverse food truck options parked just outside my office and the reasonable proximity to stunning national parks just outside the city. I love the Free Speech corner, a physical space for small and large political rallies outside the White House, where people protest, demonstrate or just stand up for a cause or concern they feel strongly about – no one is judged, hated, or prosecuted: I have never seen nor felt so engaged in power of expression on a daily basis. But most of all, I love how the spirit of social justice binds activists and passers-bys like myself.

Every spring, DC’s Mayor Muriel’s team organises a series of free outdoor activities for the D.C community – Yoga, Pilates, cinema, live jazz music, and even an outdoor office “Outdoor Office at Farragut” – a co-working space in open green space in the Golden Triangle of D.C.

Last week, as sirens blared and cars honked, as heavy clouds loomed across the grey sky, threatening to rain on us, and more than 100 women held themselves up in side plank, the Yoga instructor said something that summed up my gratitude for this experience: “Breathe and close your eyes. Focus on your breathing. Now ladies and gentleman, how amazing is this – to be in the middle of the city, the capital of USA, in downtown Washington D.C, amidst this chaos, amidst the threat of thunderstorm…we are here doing core Yoga with a hundred different strangers.” That moment is one I will always remember.

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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.