A group of young Ukrainians and their host families from the Raleigh Friendship Force wrapped up a week of activities with a farewell dinner at the Clayton Woman’s Club Feb. 9. Clayton town councilman Art Holder joined the visitors and welcomed them to Clayton.
The five Ukrainian men, a facilitator, and a translator, were in the Triangle as part of Open World, a program set up by Congress after the Soviet Union fell. The program provides leadership training for officials in the Eurasian countries that border Russia. The young men, who ranged from 33 to 41, are non-paid city councilmen in their respective cities. This was their first time in the United States.
They met with the mayors and staff of Wake Forest and Raleigh, Wake County officials, North Carolina legislators and Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, U.S. House of Representatives’ staffs, and former Governor Jim Hunt. They also toured the Research Triangle Park, the North Carolina School of Government in Chapel Hill, the N.C. Rural Economic Development Center, the Wireless Research Center, the Capitol, and Raleigh museums. Ambassador John O’Keefe, Executive Director of the Open World Leadership Center in Washington, joined the group for their final day of activities and the farewell dinner.
The Raleigh Friendship Force planned the week’s activities and members, including Brenda and Bob Gay of Clayton, served as host families.
None of them are fluent in English, though some have conversational skills, so they spoke through their facilitator Oksana Shabas. The team members told the group gathered at the Clayton Woman’s Club that they learned several things they will work to establish in their own home towns
“I will remember how strong and organized and wonderful Friendship Force is, and my experience of seeing local government and cooperation.” Taras Hupalo was impressed by “the cooperation between NGOs and Government,” said Oleh Korzhak.
“Americans have choices for whom to vote,” Andrily Osipov observed, “and they work with their commissioners.”
Oleh Yelisyeyev was impressed by the balance between work and pleasure in the U.S. “Work hard,” he said, “and it will be paid back to you.”
Oleksandr Garbovskyi has a concrete goal upon returning home. “I am a romantic personality, “ he said, “and I want to come back to my town and do parks and recreation centers like I have seen here.”
Even without a common language there was intense understanding and affection between the Open World delegates, their host families, and the government officials they met. The learning experience worked both ways.