Joze Moreno Pelayo – “Prevention Bridges”
Thanks to the George and Conni Slape Fellowship, I was able to take part in a bilingual project in the areas of Stavropol and Arkhys in the Caucasus region of Russia. The purpose of the program was to exchange, promote and replicate effective prevention models of youth delinquent behavior by building local capacity, and attracting qualified stakeholders among local community groups and civil society organizations. Sharing perspectives on Youth Development with local civil society organizations was one of the most enriching experiences, as well as being able to engage fully with the culture, food, and people of Stavropol and the Republic of Karachay-Cherkessia. In addition, the program constantly received the supervision of the US embassy in Moscow, which signaled that the standards for this program were very high, and it indeed met my expectations, and it even went further. The University of Oregon and the Department of International Studies, and the Russian-American P2P Project “Prevention Bridges” really provided me with a life-changing and once-in-a-lifetime professional and personal development experience. The leadership of Instructor Yelena Bogolyubova, Professor Kathie Carpenter and Valerii Mitrofanenko assured that the program accomplished its goals, and it helped to promote a mobility principle and the exchange of ideas in order to implement effective prevention strategies for youth development issues, based on the “peer-to-peer” principle.
In addition, the friendships and acquaintances that I acquired during the trip are also a lifetime gift from this fellowship. Being able to experience the diversity of ethnicities, food, and people in this region of Russia reminds us why it is impossible to generalize such a massive country. Almost everything changes from region to region, but one thing I am able to assure now is that the Russian people I met were very welcoming, friendly, and happy to have us around. The “food” experience in the Republic of Karachay-Cherkessia was obviously a highlight for me, and I am forever thankful to the Babushkas (grandmother in Russian) for their all-out meals at their guesthouse in Arkhys. As well, being able to interact with other members of the Russian group from other surrounding countries, such as Uzbekistan, took the whole experience to another level of cross-cultural exchange and understanding. This experience indeed helped me to broaden my professional and personal capabilities, by learning from the work and cooperating with local NGOs, as well as showing my work as a young development practitioner. By the end of our program, I was able to learn from their approaches to youth development, and most importantly, it reinforced my belief in the power and strength that civil society organizations can have to bring about change, and empower the local community to influence policy and decision-making.