Just over a month ago after returning home from Madeline Island, we had a few days to clean house and prepare for the arrival of our Open World Leadership guest. This weeks post will help you learn more about the Open World Leadership program. I’ll get to what Open World is in a minute but first the backstory. We are members of the Madison chapter of the Friendship Force, an international cultural exchange group focused on promoting understanding, cultural education and citizen diplomacy through homestay travel and personal friendships. Open World is a non partisan international exchange agency in the US Legislative Branch and under auspices of the Library of Congress. It was founded by Dr. James Billington after he accompanied President Reagan to the 1988 Soviet Summit in Moscow. After a successful pilot program in 1999, since 2000 this initiative has brought over 14,000 emerging young Russian political leaders to communities in the US and more than 2,500 others from Ukraine and other successor states of the former Soviet Union.
How it works is that a local organization such as the Friendship Force of Madison commits to hosting a delegation of 5-8 delegates and develop a program around a theme of importance to the participating country. While the hosting organization receives some Open World funds for transportation, some meals and other costs, the rest is voluntary such as the planning and the home stays. That’s where we got involved. In a very cold and snowy February 2013, we home hosted Oleg, an up and coming local leader from Ukraine. He had been recently elected to his local council much like our US county boards of supervisors. Oleg was a farm manager and had a wife and two small children. He was part of a delegation of six Ukrainians whose interest was on learning more about local government and developing initiatives their units of government could undertake. The delegation visited both the City of Madison Mayor’s office, city council, county executive and board of supervisors as well as other points of interest at the university and state capitol. We really enjoyed hosting Oleg even though our communication was sometimes through the Google Translate app on my iPhone! Here’s photos of Oleg and the delegation.
So when the opportunity came around to host another Open World delegate, we jumped at it. This time we hosted a young woman, Alina also from Ukraine. She currently lives in Kylv (Kiev, the capital city) with her husband. She works for an NGO that combats false (dare I say “fake”) news and is just about completed with her Ph.D. in Political Science. She and her husband used to live in Sevastopol, a city on the Crimean Peninsula on the Black Sea where she was a teacher. After the Russians annexed Crimea, they left Sevastopol with what they could take in their backpacks. A compelling story and it explains why she is so passionate and focused on the future of Ukraine.
Alina was part of a delegation of five plus a team leader and interpreter. Their focus was on Countering False Information and Media Literacy. Wow, what a great topic for these times! The delegation arrived late on a Friday evening, very tired after a couple of days of orientation and touring in Washington, DC. While the formal program didn’t begin until Monday, some weekend activities were planned but also allowed for some time to rest up from the long flights and short nights since arrival.
On Saturday, all the delegates and many of the host families attended the Badger Bash at Union South. They found it interesting and exciting as a way to cheer on the team.
As we were heading up the the Dane County Farmers Market and the State Capitol, we ran across this guy with a skinned (I think!) badger on his head, this attracted the attention of our guests, they all had to try it on and have their photos taken for the folks back home.
The rest of the day we leisurely made our way through downtown Madison and then over to the Union Terrace for lunch. We did see a peaceful demonstration on the Capitol steps by Madison area Dreamers, democracy in action.
Sunday there was a Friendship Force chapter ice cream social with the delegates and Russian and Ukraine students from the UW-Madison. It was a fun time and a chance to meet more people.
We also had a little time to travel to a nearby apple orchard.
Alina wanted to make us some traditional Ukrainian varenyky (called pierogies in most of the US). They are dumplings with a wide variety of fillings such as potato, sauerkraut, cheese, mushrooms, sometimes meat and fruit. They can be topped with melted butter, sour cream, or fried onions or a combination of those items. So we stopped at the nearly Slavic grocery store for some supplies and when we got home she got busy. She didn’t have a recipe but keep adding ingredients and mixing until the dough was ready.
The filling was cottage cheese based with sugar and cinnamon added. Here’s how the varenyky looked before they were steamed.
That evening, we along with our neighbors and a couple who lives near us originally from the Ukraine enjoyed trying these delicious staples of the Ukrainian culture.
The delegates were very busy the rest of the week often into the evening. We did have time to have meals with other club members who home hosted meals. In addition to hosting, a couple of days I also drove the van that delivered them to their meetings and activities. That was a fun experience, one evening they attended the budget hearing for Dane County Social Services. The delegates were amazed at the number of people attending, at least 150 or so and found the stories of some of the citizens and their advocates fascinating.
As we were leaving the hearing, the sun was setting to the west and I couldn’t resist stopping to taking a photo.
The sun set on the week very fast. We really enjoyed having Alina stay with us and learning more about the Ukraine, some it’s strengths and opportunities for improvement. Her enthusiasm, focus and passion gives us hope for the future of Ukraine and the world. If you have a chance to participate in an Open World program by hosting or presenting, I’d recommend taking it without hesitation. It helps them see the good in this country and we learn about their country and culture.
Until next week, travel safe.